Once upon a time, not so long ago and not so far away, there lived a beautiful but common vine in a perfectly respectable terra cotta pot in the corner of a perfectly respectable little greenhouse at the edge of a small yard, behind an old run down house. This little vine started her life in the greenhouse in the usual way. She was planted there by a kind old woman who cared for her very well for three months before the old woman died.
It was hard for the little vine after her caretaker died. For months no one came to water her or tend to her in any way. The little vine almost died, and she probably should have by all rights of nature, but somehow she managed to hold on to her little life in her little pot in that little greenhouse.
Then one day the door slowly creaked open, and in stepped a woman with long, faded red hair streaked with gray, pale gray eyes, and deep lines carved into the fine, bird-like features of a face that must have once charmed everyone who looked upon her.
Something happened to the little vine when this strange woman walked in that day. She became aware, or at least, she finally realized that she was aware. The little vine looked out from her foliage and wondered who this strange woman might be. The woman picked up a watering pail and filled it from a faucet with a hand pump in the corner. She then began to make her rounds, watering all the little plants in the greenhouse that looked as if they might have survived.
When the woman came to the little vine she paused, then gently reached her hand out and caressed a leaf. The woman’s hand was soft and the vine was very grateful to feel so gentle a touch after having been left alone and forgotten for so long. She longed to thank the woman, to show her appreciation in some way, but she was just a little vine, and could do nothing. Soon the little vine felt cool water spilling into her little pot, seeping down through the parched soil and slowly wetting her poor neglected roots. It felt wonderful.
Over the next week, the woman came into the little greenhouse each day to care for the plants that had survived, and to plant new ones to replace the ones that had been lost. Now most would have taken those lost plants and tossed them carelessly into a can with the rest of the garbage, but not her. She gently carried each one out of the greenhouse and placed them with great care beneath the thickly tangled branches of some scrub oak at the edge of the yard. The little vine noticed this kindness.
Over time the little vine, her fondness growing for this woman every day, learned the woman’s name was Layla, and that she had bought the old house in an auction after the old woman had died. She learned many more things about this woman as well. Her favorite flowers were lilac, her favorite color was yellow, and she loved peppermint tea, especially when made from fresh leaves. The vine felt sure that her neighbor, a peppermint plant, was very grateful for this, for instead of discarding the leaves Layla picked to encourage new growth, she transformed them into a delightful smelling tea. Layla also loved to sing, the little vine discovered, and she enjoyed listening to Layla’s sad melodies about love and loss and sometimes hope.
As the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months, the little vine’s affection for Layla continued to grow. She no longer merely enjoyed the time she spent with her caretaker, she felt she needed it, needed more than just a quick watering and goodbye. She felt she needed Layla every day, and usually Layla did come every day, if only to sit in the shade and sip her tea. Those other days though, those days when Layla never came, well, those became dark days for the little vine. She would grow angry with Layla and would mourn her inability to cry tears as Layla did when she was sad, for it always seemed to help her. She bitterly resented whatever it was that was keeping Layla away, and she couldn’t understand what could possibly be so important that it would keep Layla from her. On days like this the little vine would experiment with her long, soft stems. She learned that they were good climbers, and that if she focused real hard, she could move them at will; she could reach out ever so much, away from the little wooden frame they liked to climb.
This new ability she was learning to develop gave the little vine some comfort on those dark days, for she truly believed that if she could just caress Layla’s face one time, the way Layla had caressed her leaf on the day they met, that Layla would understand; she would know how important she was to the little vine, and she would realize that the little vine was important to her too, too important to ever miss a visit. And so she practiced. At first only on the dark days when Layla missed a visit, but later she began to practice at night too. Soon she was practicing constantly when Layla wasn’t there. Oh what a surprise it will be, thought the vine, when Layla sees that I can reach out to her the way she reaches out to me.
As she practiced, her coordination improved every day, and like most normal vines she grew longer and stronger as well. Soon she felt she was too large for her respectable little pot. Layla would need to transplant her soon, thought the little vine, and she noted that her poor roots were getting very cramped in that pot. As the days rolled by, and Layla neglected to transplant her, the vine, not so little anymore, grew angry. How could Layla be so uncaring as to let her sit so long in a pot that was clearly too small for her? Why wouldn’t she transplant her dear vine right away, to a larger, more appropriate pot?
The vine began to notice the other plants more and more, and her bitterness and jealousy grew and grew. The rosemary, sage, and thyme had a pot that was much larger than hers, and the orchids had an elevated position with a grand view of the old house. The little lemon tree had a fine, large pot carved around the edge with beautiful fruit and, to add insult to injury, vines. The nerve. The vine knew she should have that pot, not the lemon tree. It had vines on it! The vine grew angrier and angrier each day, but felt it all melt away, if only for a while, whenever Layla opened the door to the little greenhouse. The vine would remind herself that on that first day Layla had stroked her leaf, and had not done so to any other plant. She would convince herself that she was special to Layla, and that the others had such fine pots and elevated positions only so they wouldn’t feel jealous about Layla’s clear preference for the vine.
By the end of the first year, the vine could move her long green arms in almost any direction at will. She had learned to grab and lift things by practicing with whatever garden tool happened to be nearby. Soon, she thought to herself, soon I will show Layla how much I love her, and how important I must be to her. Then she’ll never miss a visit, she’ll give me the lemon tree’s pot, and maybe, just maybe, she’ll never leave again. And why should she? Thought the vine. What could Layla possibly need that she couldn’t find in the greenhouse? There was water there, there was sunlight, there were bags and bags of nutrient rich soil, there was her little tea cup and plenty of peppermint leaves. No, thought the vine, there is no reason for her to ever leave me. The little vine wanted to grow just a bit bigger though, so that she could embrace Layla, this caretaker she had come to love, instead of merely caressing her face. Layla deserved at least that.
One day Layla came early, and she brought in with her a much larger pot; better by far than the lemon tree’s pot. She heaved and grunted as she tugged this new pot in through the door, and the vine knew that her time to reach out for her Layla was drawing near. But then, to the vine’s great shock, Layla turned and walked back out of the greenhouse and didn’t come back for some time. When she finally returned, she was not alone.
She gently tugged a small lime tree through the door, then filled the new pot with fresh, moist soil. She planted the lime tree in that pot. A sharp pain shot through the vine as she thought of all the hours she’d spent thinking of, and loving her dear Layla, and her new understanding that Layla didn’t care. She had worked so hard to learn to reach and to grab, and though of course Layla couldn’t have known that, the vine felt she must have. How could the vine have poured forth such love and effort for this woman without her ever knowing? It was impossible, the vine thought. Anger flooded through the vine, and without a thought, she snapped one of her long tendrils out and wrapped it around Layla’s waist, pulling her near. Layla screamed, and that made the vine even angrier. She should be happy that the vine had worked so hard just to touch her, yet here was Layla, screaming away, fighting her off, completely ungrateful for all the vine’s hard work to show her love.
She tossed out another tendril, catching Layla around the shoulders, and another, pinning Layla’s arms to her side. She was so angry, but she loved Layla still. She thought maybe if she held her tight Layla would understand, would calm down and see the vine for who she was, but Layla kept on screaming, kept on struggling. The vine couldn’t stand the sound, it hurt her leaves and her stems, so she threw out another tendril, covering her mouth, then another around her chest, and at last, one around Layla’s neck. She pulled them all as tightly as she could.
After only a little while the thrashing stopped and Layla calmed down, growing perfectly still. Finally, thought the vine, finally she understands. She gently loosened her tendrils and they fell away one by one, as the vine sat her dear Layla gently on the ground beside her. Layla slumped against the clear wall and slid close to the vine, her long faded red hair falling like a shroud over her face. The vine was happy again. Everything was just as the vine had hoped it would be. Layla would never leave her again.