Bewildering Stories

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The Complaint Of The Gardener
and the Parable of The Vines

by G. David Schwartz


The gardener saw me, threw down his hoe, and came running to my left side. “What are you doing here? Go away.”

“Sir,” I began to reply, “I have merely come into this beautiful spot to watch and see how your garden grows. I intend to cause no harm.”

“Harm? I’ll beat you to death with my hoe! Now get out!”

“I am sorry, truly sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I simply felt there was a lack in my life. I wanted to attempt to fill this lack by getting closer to nature.”

“Nature! You stupid city people! I grow a garden here. I plant figs and sprouts. I prune rhubarb and grapes. I decide what to plant here and guess what will grow here. Generally I guess correctly. I decide what to pick and when to pick it.

“I also reap. I reap my field and I decide when and what I will reap. And if I ever get a good crop up, I choose the day when I will pick. I also decide if I will pick alone or with my son, or daughter, or even my wife. They are good helpers, but I do not always need their help.

“Sometimes there is no crop in the field. Sometimes there is just enough for me to do the picking. Sometimes I do need help and sometimes I do ask for help, but at other times I either do not ask for help, or I do not have the time to ask for or seek help. Help sought is something we sometimes need but sometimes are afraid to do or not do, depending on what our thoughts are, or what proclivities are in charge of our mind.

“And I even get good and fed up. I will choose the day I wish or want or will for work to get the job done. I will think about it how and when I want, desire, and do.

“Nature? Man you want to move into the wilderness? It that what you want? Why, there is nothing to do in the wilderness. Nothing grows there but weeds. Well, great weeds. Some even as big and large as fruit or maple trees. But the point is, they may be poisonous, or there are boa constrictors, and there may be rattlers or large snakes with bad tempers. Have you ever seen a bad-tempered snake? Well, brother, I can tell you that you do not want to.

“But you want to get close to nature? You want to get crewed up by mo-skeeters? And did anyone tell you about piranha? About leopards? Tigers, elephants, giraffes and/or mosquitoes?

“Now go, get off of my property. Quit leaning on my fence.”

“There we go!” I respond. “But at least we are talking now.”

“Look, man,” he resounded with a response, “I don’t need no smart ass hanging around here, interrupting me... and my work,” he said as he pushed himself into a stand from his previous slouch. Then he continued with his rough but not so gruesome voice, “Go away, go far way. Go way, way away. Stop interrupting my work. Go away, damn sophist!” he held a smug look in his face believing the person next to him did not know what a sophist was.

“Sophist? Do you think I am a sophist?”

“Damn right! Look at you. You all are all alike. Writers, authors, playwrights, religious mystics, religious theologians, religious bankers. You are all alike! Teachers and skeptics. You certainly haven’t come here to buy the farm. You haven’t a callus on your hands.”

“Perhaps I am an entrepreneur?”

“Now look at how you’re dressed! You won’t impress anyone dressed like that! No. I’m sorry, you are not an entrepreneur. And you haven’t brought a child along, so I think you are just out on a simple outing.”

“Perhaps I simply wanted to get away from the city!”

The gardener waved this statement aside. He did so by wiping his forehead with a swift sweep of his thumb beneath his bright and sweaty forehead. Then, holding the glassing thumb at an angle about forty-five degrees from the line (imaginary) from the tip of his nose to the point of his toes, he mumbled something about Herman Broch’s The Death of Vigil.

Then he sharply darted his dripping thumb toward me and shouted in a bureau voice, “No, sir. You are. You are a sophist. It’s as plain as the clothes on your back.”

He stopped a moment with me not knowing it he either had or was finished, or if he had more to say. I thought he had more to say, so I began to think about two old friends, Martha Wolfgang and Bev (a.k.a. Beverly) Newman.

My love for Barb Landman is still intact and will never be daunted. I was interrupted when he rudely said — but it was so rude I cannot even say he said it but shrieked in a nervous and loud voice: “Now please, just get the heck away from me and from this place and vicinity.”

“Sir, I don’t understand,” I queried. “What is your complaint against the sophists? Apparently you believe I am one!”

The gardener, who had pulled a red bandana from his shirt pocked, had by now finished wiping his brow, and now threw it to the ground in his disgust... Ms. Minerva Hushmout wants it to be said that it was not only thrown in disgust, but also thrown in his Sears and Roebuck blue serge suit and his Hush Puppy suede slippers. It also deserves mention, just for, or if only for the sake of completeness, that it was also in Ohio, in Hamilton County, in Golf Manor, on Hammel Avenue, in the house owned by (address held by request by Mrs. [name held by request]). ... and he started away.

“Sir,” I inquired with just enough of a mixture of curiosity and disgust.

The gardener wheeled in anger. He stared and glared at me in anger (well now that I think of it was, in fact, in Cincinnati, etc.). Oh yeah, I almost forgot: he shouted, “Young city-slicker, sophist. You really don’t understand, do you?

“No, sir,” I relied innocently

“Great gobs of goose grease,” he sighed. He was looking off with a distant gaze, who suggests he, or anyone for that matter, could, would or should (How’s that for a short poem?) give a truthful reply. But in spite of himself, in spite of the weather, in spite of his high school grades, in spite and in Cincinnati, he answered sort of thought a sigh. “You read too much into the fig tree and vine. All you are is a sophist, engaged in sophistry in Cincinnati, in Mrs. Horton’s class.

“Sophists attribute not only a symbolic function, but a primitive form of consciousness, intelligence equal to a rhubarb plant. You, yes you, disturb, oh I mean distribute, no, no, I mean disturb an intention or purpose to the vines, that they simply do not possess. You show no (small poem, again?) love of understanding of the plant. You have to cherish them, manipulate them, turn them into something they are not now, and can never be. You can’t accept them for what they are: growths! They are simply simple growths, which spring from the earth through our labor on the earth, which is through our labor and for our (small poem?) benefit. You just can’t accept them naturally.”

“But ‘naturally’ means jungle burns and mosquito bites. You yourself said...”

“I know what I said!” He paused. Wind whistled between us. He and I noticed, with current conversation, that tension was worn warmly from his face. His eyes showed a new tiredness. I don’t mean simply that he got suddenly tired, but suddenly there was suddenly a new ontological definition of tiredness. It was (and still is) a definition not only of tiredness, but also of being tired, and being sleepy.

“Forget it! You are just a sophist and will never understand. Why do you waste my time? Come on now, that was a question. Why do you waste my time???

“I am terribly sorry,” I both implied and instructed. “Terribly”: I never thought about it before, but I really admired the word “terribly.” It suggested not so much something horrible and dreadful but something engaged in tension and world, an almost ontological arrangement.

“I am sorry ...” he paused a second to think back and make sure he did not say he was “sorted.” He did not finish that thought, so he went wandering on in and through his sub- and unconscious. He may have enjoyed his wandering wondering but sudden, as sudden as can occur in a short ...

“Sorry?? You didn’t even understand! How can you be sorry?

I shrugged as he waved me aside.

“Go on. Get out of here will you?”

I think it is humorous or just plain silly and frustrating when people make a demand with a question. But what could I do? If you are interested you may get the book What Could I Do? A 300 page remark on how to do things in a frustrating (for them) way, and excellent (for you) Way (Cincinnati: Broken Press, 1995).

I pushed myself from his fence and turned to go. I turned west both because the Doors sang a song in which Jim Morrison said, repeatedly, “The west is the best” and because I did not feel interested in turning into the fence. I felt as if I owed him some reassurance, or, at least, some explanation. I tuned back (now that is silly, I turned both my back and my front as well as both my left side and my correct side, until my entire body was right where I wanted it. I was suddenly standing at the Kosher Deli on 33rd street New York, New York, New York. I had a strange thought about my philosophy teacher in Oxford (I wish it was England but, no offence, it was lower western Ohio) speaking about the logical (both possibility and impossibility) of an infinite regress.

So, I pushed myself from, away from, in another direction from, the fence and turned to go. I left as if I owed him assurance, or some explanation, or some money. I hurried back. But he had already picked up his hoe (at least I think it was a hoe but I am only a city boy) and was eyeing a patch of earth. At least I thought it was earth but I have no idea what these Ohio farmers call it. I watched as he planted the tool into the crust of the ... I’m still going to call it earth. I reached for my pen and hastened to scribble a note.

“Plants” I thought and said at the same time, “A parable of vines.”

No consciousness. No intelligence. No initiation...”


Plants, a parable of vines

Now consciousness. Now intelligence. Now initiation.

A vine had grown. It was gnarled and curled. It was twisted and twisting. The gardener (I suddenly just thought of Eva Gardner and then just as quick Eva Spevback (spelling does not count. I am sorry, Mrs. Horton).

The gardener warned several times that he was going to chop into brush and set fire to it. The plant promised to behave. While it could not be made straight, for such is not the nature of plants, it asserted that it would not tangle small animals or trip people walking by. The gardener relented, and decided to add manure and fertilizer to fertilize the plant in order to make or inspire it to grow both larger and healthy and pretty.

One day, in the middle of June, while the vine had been playing checkers, it noticed two things, not at the same time, of course. First it noticed it was not playing chess, and second, it noticed a strange, alien growth creeping along what might in another story or on another day be a chessboard.

“Who are you?”

“I am sorry,” the alien stated as he spoke.

“Well, get out of my garden! What are you doing in here?”

The alien took a moment to decide whether he should, as the farmer first said, or first answer the second question, as politeness said (Okay, okay it did not really say! But it did imply). After deciding what to do, he did it. Need I tell you? He spoke. He used language mixed with thought. At last, but not the last thing he did, he said, “Sir, really! I cannot at one and the same time leave as I also answer a question which may take hours in order to fully explicate.”

The farmer took a moment to decide whether or not he knew what the word explicate meant, but then decided he did not know, thought Mrs. Horton did never teach or tell him, and blinked his eyes twice, sat both restfully and worriedly on the log, and ...

Oh well, on with the story.

“No, that’s funny stuff. Get out of my garden.”

“Sir, I really do not feel as if I warrant this rudeness. Furthermore, your behavior requires explanation.”

I felt silly because I initially thought when he said my behavior needed explanation I thought the entity of behavior required an explanation, but then, when I thought that, that was silly.

Afterwards, I have been in the garden ever since I can remember. Furthermore, your behavior requires an explanation. After all, I have been in the garden ever since I can remember.

“Short memory. Or else you have no history. And you call me rude?!?! You, sir, are impetuous.”

“Really? Come on. Pack it up. Get out of here.”

“Fred, may I call you Fred? Fred, look at us. We’re one of a kind. Well, let’s be honest. I am pruned a bit better than you. I have birds, and you do seem a bit dead and dull; a bit fried and chickenseed. Still, we resemble one another. We are kin. Surely we can share this garden.

“No, get OUT!”

The strife grew until the two vines were so closely entangled and twisted that they indeed appeared as one. Knots tied them together. Now this is interesting, here we have two people in a “discussion.” Two people! Is it not interesting that they are tied together? If there were, for example three arguing would they be tied threegeather?

Really this seems like a mathematical problem, so should I not, or shouldn’t I call Mrs. Horton and inquire as well as ask.

Until then, we shall continue, well I can’t speak for you, but for myself... They were tender, plodding, rapidly growing as well as pale shoots intertwined with the deep Dartmouth dresses. Infiltration and surface phenomena shine in a slow enlivenment of development. The two came together in mutual ignorance, violence and the greed built of victimization, sunshine and rain. They drew knives and explosives. They parted with shared stupidity and apathy only to return with terror bombs (not terrible bombs from their point of view), malice, and horrible, frightening faces.

Toward the end, when each lay mutilated toward the end, as each gasped for breath and begged the gardener for water, then only did they lay aside their bitterness and fear. Then and only then did they reach out for one another.

Copyright © 2003 by G. David Schwartz

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