The Wish Garden This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 13, 2011
A mindless leaf fluttered out of nowhere and perched on my sandaled foot. In the distance, a disorganized medley of birdsong made up an unrehearsed orchestra. Idyllic as it was, I was in the middle of a fairly typical snapshot of spring. Yet I had somehow been thrown into the scene with no choice or knowledge. I never really understood how people could say "I have no idea how I got here." Even if you lost the memory of an actual event, you knew what led up to and followed it. Memory has to end somewhere, and surely those last few moments of knowledge could tell someone how they might have ended up wherever they were. It doesn't make any more sense to me now, but I scoff at it less. I had no idea how I ended up in this sleepy little town, under this burning sun, between these neat houses and picket fences. It didn't look all that different from home, but an odd feeling tickled the back of my mind—for some reason I half expected the manic smile of the Cheshire cat to creep up out of nowhere.
No cats—eerily grinning or not—crossed my path. What did pop up was a little cottage, straight out of Anne of Green Gables and swimming in a mass of colorful flowers. This seemed as good a place as any to try to figure out what was going on. After a fruitless few knocks on the door, though, I was as lost as ever.
“I’m out in the garden!” A voice suddenly floated out from the colorful pandemonium of the backyard.
The little cobblestone path somehow managed to lead me safely into the center of the chaos, and I emerged in the middle of a wildly disorganized rainbow of flowers. There were lilies popping out of the soil, sunflowers stretching lazily up the white deck, geraniums perching in the crowded window boxes. There were tiny buds, squeezing their eyes shut against the sun, and brazen blossoms opening their petals wide. There were roses, daisies, daffodils, poppies, lilacs?I had never seen so many flowers of so many types in one place.
Buried deep in this chaos was the source of the voice: a small, red-headed fairy of a woman bent over the blooms. Brushing an errant curl out of her eyes and glancing up at me from under the brim of a woven hat, she did not seem the least bit surprised. Perhaps random strangers materialized in her garden often. Or maybe she just wasn’t easily ruffled. In any case, she wordlessly handed me a trowel and began to explain the questions I wasn’t sure I had ever asked.
The story swirling from her lips seemed a fairy tale, the tale of a woman who lived in a cottage teeming with flowers. For every hopeful wish on a star, another flower sprouted in her garden. No one could be absolutely sure why that happened; all they knew, and ultimately all that mattered, was that it did. Her garden was the brightest and most abundant any passerby had ever seen, the kaleidoscope of blossoms spilling through the white picket fence and out onto the sidewalk. After all, everyone wishes on stars, even if few believe that their wishes could actually come true.
Every day she counted the wishes, recording the curly words scrawled on the vibrant petals in her many notebooks. Most of the flowers wilted as people forgot about their wishes, but there were always plenty more to take their place. The lucky ones burst into full bloom, their buds turning into gregarious smiles as their wishes were fulfilled.
“But,” she concluded, “I only collect the wishes. Making them come true is up to the wisher.”
Ignoring my incredulous stare, she pointed to a lone flower.
“And here, this is yours.”
In retrospect, there was probably a better reaction to this tale than the one I came up with (which was to laugh). This was a fairy tale, a fable for bedtime stories and children who still believed in magical castles—not the reality of my prosaic life.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t wish on stars,” I told her skeptically.
Her only response was a sideways glance and an indecipherable smile.
“No, I suppose not. But this is your flower all the same.”
A memory suddenly plopped gracelessly into my mind. My pen, poised above the poetry reading sign-up sheet, seemed to meet an invisible fence, unable to reach the paper.
“Just do it. You have a million poems spilling out of your notebook. Don’t pretend you don’t—I’ve seen them,” Claire insisted. Indecision distracted me from letting the anger at her nosiness spill out.
The paper stared tauntingly at me, harsh and cruel in its white simplicity. A notebook full of scribbled verses was all very well, but reading them out loud? In front of people? People had too many thoughts, too many judgments, too many biting voices. With a sigh, I let the pen sink down to the table. Maybe some other time.
Snapping back to the present, I saw the sparkling blue eyes still resting on my face. The easiest option seemed to be to just go along with it and hope I wasn’t in the company of a madwoman. Without a word, I took the watering can from her ivory fingers. The flower was small and wimpy, a little yellow bud wobbling on the end of a feeble green stem. I nudged a little dirt around the stem to prop it up and began to sprinkle water on the thirsty plant, feeling her knowing eyes on me the entire time.
"What do you think it means if I dreamed that my homework grew fangs and tried to eat me?"
With somewhat of an effort, I tore my eyes away from their current occupation staring blankly at the cereal boxes in the pantry and turned to my brother.
"You've been reading too many comic books?" I suggested.
"Very funny. What did you dream about then?" he retorted.
My mind flashed suddenly to a picturesque little town, a cottage with a bursting garden, a collage of blossoms of all varieties and hues. Shaking my head to dissolve the image, I turned back to the cereal.
"Oh, nothing important."
There were four hundred pairs of eyes fixed on me and only a flimsy ten feet of air shielding me from their scrutiny. For a split second, I couldn’t remember why I was standing there. What had ever possessed me? I was the quiet girl, the one who sat in the back of the classroom and filled the pages of her notebook with the words she would never say out loud. Maybe my poems were meant to stay safely tucked in those pages, away from prying eyes and harsh judgements. But then out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of yellow. A yellow daffodil? When I turned to look, it was only Mrs. Montgomery's garish yellow sweater. I took a deep breath, steeling myself, and began to speak, unleashing the words from the sheltered grasp of my notebook.
A particularly insistent robin chirping outside the window nudged the keeper of the wish garden out of bed early. Picking up her watering can, she ambled somewhat anxiously out to the garden. As hard as she tried to be unbiased, she inevitably found herself secretly leaning toward certain fragile blooms, rooting for their survival. This little yellow daffodil was one of those. Raising the water can, she began to pour, following the glistening drops as they tumbled toward the flowers. Finally she forced herself to look at the ground. A smile crept across her face. There it was: a yellow daffodil, standing up tall, its sunny petals opened proudly to greet the morning light.

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