This is my sixth public submission for Creativity Boot Camp. I'm still trying to keep up with my short story medium, but the more I do this, the more it feels like I'm creating prologues or first chapters. So, I don't know if I'd qualify this as a stand-alone short story or a Chapter One, but I liked it. I hope you do, too!
By August, the thing she hated most was the garden.
The heat of the season, coupled with the relentlessly fruitful vegetables made her want to hoe it all under and go sit in the shade. Something her mother would hardly consider helpful.
But now, in May, she didn't mind it so much. Especially on a day like today, when the ground was still wet and soft from a night of quiet rain. Feeling the damp air on her skin, she looked over the growing garden at her feet, and admired its uniformity. Everything was evenly spaced, nothing yet sprawling or overtaking their neighbor's plot, and the small plants held shivering drops of rain in their nooks and crannies.
She knelt on the grass, expecting to scrub the muddy patches out of her work dress later. The green bean stalks always took up most of her energy in keeping them well-tended, so she began there. The tops of the leafy plants were covered in shy, white flowers, reminding her of some tiny orchid. In the undergrowth, slender beans hung down, mingling with the weeds she'd need to rip from the ground. It was easy work today; the rain had loosened the soil and she barely had to tug for the roots to willingly let go. She pulled every green thing she could see, steering clear of the beans themselves, and thought about nothing.
Which is why it surprised her when her thoughts took up a topic without her permission: her body.
She thought of the way her dress was too tight in places, forming itself to new contours and making her blush with the recognition of womanhood. She thought of the way the wind wrapped her summer dress around her legs and how her childhood friend -- a boy -- had stared for just an instant too long.
There was nothing she could do to change it. She would be a woman soon.
Irritated at the turn of her thoughts, she tried to concentrate on the heat of the sun on her back, the squish of the mud under her fingers, the slip of the weeds in her palm. But in her frustration and defiance, she accidentally ripped a tender bean from the stalk. It was thin and straight. Narrow. She knew that at this point, it was worth nothing. It would only have been valuable when it had become filled with flesh and fruit, a full bodied version of its previous self. But she admired its lack of shape now, anyway, before tossing it into the pile of weeds.
She didn't want to be a full bodied version of herself. She wanted the awkwardness of maturity to leave her alone, leave her to enjoy her life without the distraction of her future looming around every corner. Because she knew what the future held. She'd seen her oldest sister change from a playful, happy girl into a boring, brooding teenager. Caring more about batting her lashes at the nearest young man, her sister had abandoned her.
Eying the tomato plants across the garden, she counted the new, marble-sized fruits that had popped up in the last few days. They were firm and pale, perfect. Even those, she thought, were useless until they'd ripened. They'd fill out and color themselves in garish skins, until finally, they'd be deemed worthy of harvesting. They'd be full and supple and ready to be sacrificed for someone's dinner.
She couldn't imagine sacrificing her joys for the idiocy of young women. Strutting and preening like a haughty cat, and for what? Nothing that could make her want to trade in the freedom of childhood. Laying by the creek under a river birch, watching the way the leaves made shadowed patterns against the ground. Sitting still in the hayloft, a kitten in her lap, a book in her hands. Even working alone in the garden on a warm spring morning. All these things would fall by the wayside when she reached a certain age. A certain shape.
But not without her permission, she allowed. Pulling a length of twine from her pocket to anchor a tomato plant to its stake, she understood that her joys and expectations couldn't be changed for her. Her sister might have wanted to flirt all day with boys from around the countryside, but that didn't mean she had to, as well. In fact, she vowed not to behave like that. The thought that she controlled her own future pleased her.
It wasn't the shape of her body which dictated her behavior. She could become soft and smooth, and it didn't have to make a bit of difference in the way she spent her time. Which was a good thing, because she'd noticed just this morning that her roundness was running away with itself. She'd have better luck stopping a runaway horse than keeping herself from womanhood.
Standing up from the plants, she straightened her back and stretched her arms to the sky. Her dress tugged at her body across the newly formed curves, and she decided she didn't mind. If being full bodied was her fate, she'd embrace it. Spinning around twice for confidence -- as a promise to herself that she'd never outgrow her true self -- she decided she'd start sewing a new dress tomorrow. She breathed in enough air to force all of her fears from her mind, and exhaled fast, blowing them away.
She was startled from her self-affirming thoughts by a throat being cleared beside her. Jumping, she turned to see who'd been watching her, and registered three thoughts, in quick succession.
First, it was a young man she'd never seen before.
Second, he was filthy and well-groomed at the same time.
Third, his was the most pleasing face she'd ever seen.