The following 500 word short story was written as an exercise in my writer’s group:
The Secret of Silene Tomentosa
On Tuesday, Gerald rose as usual. After meditating, he ate a small bowl of muesli and packed a sketch pad, watercolours, and thermos of coffee (laced generously with Jack Daniels). Then he locked his cabin, joined the coastal trail, and walking stick in hand, hiked the four and one-half miles from Herne Bay to the highest cliff at Reculver. If anyone had asked why he’d done this every morning for the past six months, he’d gladly have told them. But since no one – not even his wife – had shown the least interest in his labours, he’d kept the secret of Silene tomentosa to himself.
Spreading his blanket in front of the soft, pink clump, he enjoyed a long, hard pull of coffee. Despite being delayed along the way by a group of unruly adolescents – four boys and two girls about the same age as his grandchildren – he’d still managed to arrive at Silene tomentosa while the dew lay thick. This was the only time to properly observe his darling.
With a wash of Festival Fuchsia, he outlined the ten-fingered blossom in the sketchpad and recalled how the last sighting of Silene tomentosa had been made in 1994 by a hiker in Gibraltar. Since then, scientists had proclaimed it extinct. This was a vicious, pernicious lie, calculated to delay the modernisation of European horticulture by decades.
“Hey,” shouted the unruly adolescents from the trail. “Fancy meeting you again.”
Using a thick paste of Chinese White, Gerald framed the flower’s frothy beard. The correct development of modern horticulture depended not on scientists, but on artists like him. True that in pursuit of his art, Tennyson had plucked flowers from the ‘crannied wall – “roots and all’ – and vivisected the flower as would a scientist. But Gerald wasn’t Tennyson. Gerald was Basho, the seventeenth century Japanese poet who’d simply observed.
“Painting posies?” The unruly adolescents approached. “That how you’re saving the world grandpa?”
Unlike Basho, content to read the deepest mysteries of life in every petal, Tennyson and those meddlesome scientists were incapable of leaving anything alone.
“That’s a pretty flower,” cooed one of the girls.
It was through its sheer innocence that nature evokes mans’ fondest thoughts and admiration, creating vibrations akin to what Christians called divine love.
“What’s it called?” asked the girl.
Unlike Tennyson and those scientists who cared only for curiosity, Basho cared deeply for the destiny of all things.
“She asked what it’s called,” said one of the boys.
Gerald stood up, took another pull of coffee, and packed his things.
“Hard of hearing old man?” The boy yanked Silene tomentosa from the ground and stood dangling it by its sooty roots. “What’s this fucking thing called?”
Gerald walked to the coastal trail.
Following, the boy heaved Silene tomentosa at Gerald – roots and all.
Gerald turned, struck the unruly adolescent with his walking stick, and after watching him tumble over the highest cliff at Reculver, carried on the coastal trail.