There was once a young girl who lived in a water lily garden. She would spend all day in her garden, away from the rest of the sad world, reposing in the charms of its beauty. She would bathe in the clear sapphire pool, sliding her long and slender fingers over the floating lilies, or lie amidst the soft and dreaming verdure, listening to the tender flutes of the birds. Her only companion in this strange and beautiful world was a swan named Chanticleer who would often amuse her with the most delightful conversation. They would sit and talk for hours about the joys of life, the wonder of their world and all the magic to be found in their water lily garden, so complicated and lovely, a lifetime would not be enough to talk about all its myriad nuances. They never discussed the world beyond them and they never thought about it.
But one day as they were sitting in their lovely garden talking about lovely things, a bored little cat made his way somehow into the scene. At first the Waterlilygardengirl and Chanticleer were alarmed, but when they realized that the cat was not dangerous, rather he was somewhat indolent, they welcomed him in.
“Where do you come from?” asked the Waterlilygardengirl.
“I am from the land of floating ice,” said the cat, “but I left in search of new places. I had nothing to do.”
“Did you have no one to talk with?” the Waterlilygardengirl asked.
“There was,” the cat replied,” a penguin who used to visit from time to time, but I don’t think he liked the place very much either.”
“Well you can stay here with us,” said the Waterlilygardengirl. “You will like it here.”
But the cat just yawned, looking around himself distastefully. “No thank you,” he said. “This place is the most boring place I have seen yet. Maybe I should just go back to the land of floating ice.”
With that much said, the cat turned and walked out of the water lily garden.
“Well what do you make of that!” demanded Chanticleer, who was unusually sensitive, and had taken the cat’s boredom to heart.
But the Waterlilygardengirl didn’t say anything. She had been affected by what the cat had said in a different way, and she was wondering what lay beyond her world.
“Perhaps,” she said to Chanticleer the next day, “if I try to reason it out I can figure out what’s out there without having to leave at all.”
“Leave!” cried Chanticleer in dismay, “certainly you wouldn’t just leave.”
“But if I must,” the Waterlilygardengirl said. “Because I want to know what is out there.”
“But you have never been concerned about that before,” argued Chanticleer, “and you have always been happy just staying here.”
But the Waterlilygardengirl could not be convinced. All day long she tried to discover what was in the world that lurked beyond hers and what it was like, how big it was, what other types of creatures there were; but what intrigued her most of all was the mysterious land of floating ice where the bored cat lived. At night she couldn’t sleep, and the little sleep she did get was filled up with strange dreams of the outside world and the way that it must look, although all these images just appeared to be bizarre adaptations of the water lily garden. At last, finding her reason completely helpless in the effort, she determined to leave the water lily garden and go in search of the land of floating ice.
Chanticleer was not happy to hear it. “Well I’m certainly not going,” he insisted, “and if you ask me it is a waste of time. What will I do here all by myself? Why I might end up like that troublesome cat!”
“But Chanticleer,” the Waterlilygardengirl replied, somewhat hurt, “don’t you have any desire to see what it is like out there. What if it is even more beautiful than it is here? Think of all we could talk about and delight in!”
But Chanticleer wouldn’t hear a word of it. “I think that the whole thing is silly and that’s final!”
So at last they parted ways, and many a tear was shed, although Chanticleer will insist that only the Waterlilygardengirl cried. And thus, the Waterlilygardengirl left the water lily garden.
The first thing that she saw upon leaving the garden was a landscape of trees stretching all around as far as the eye could see. There were no ponds and there were no swans and the ground was rough with sticks and stones and large plants. The Waterlilygardengirl began to walk very slowly, not quite sure which direction she should take. She was overwhelmed by the vastness of everything and she even felt somewhat dizzy. Oh, how was she to find her way back in this most cruel of labyrinths.
And yet everything was still terribly pretty! The large oak trees that anchored themselves to sky, rising in majesty on all sides of her, the blanket of leaves, a green filter of light over a sheet of serene blue sky made her tremble with ecstasy, for there was nothing that she loved more than beauty. The song of the birds was a thousand times greater than anything she had ever heard, the intertwining melodies like slow heavy drops of rain plashing in a pond. Beguiled into this lush world of prettiness, the Waterlilygardengirl wandered through the forest in a dreaming daze, one of those rare trances of imagination in which we seem to have an experience with setting. There were so many things she had never seen before and so many places to explore. Did it ever end? she wondered.
But soon night fell and it grew dark. The Waterlilygardengirl became very frightened. The moon and stars, which had always been her solace and delight at night, were obscured behind the dark and prating shadows of the leaves overhead. Heavy with terror the Waterlilygardengirl resolved to lay down and sleep away the horrible night. But nightmarish thoughts haunted her the moment she lay still enough to hear her heart beating, and so at last she was forced to keep walking, slowly through the hated night. But every sound was a fresh terror and finally, with so much fear built up within her, she began to run frantically through the chasing night. When dawn broke she was exhausted and she fell asleep.
It wasn’t until late afternoon that the Waterlilygardengirl woke up again. She looked around herself, and found that she was still lost amidst the forest, and now she had no idea how to return to her beloved water lily garden. Perhaps Chanticleer had been right after all! She tried to appreciate the beauty of the forest, but she was so distracted by all of her fears that she couldn’t enjoy anything at all. On top of that it would be night again in several hours! The Waterlilygardengirl felt very helpless. The forest seemed to her like a coffin. She pulled herself up against a great big weeping willow and started to cry. Whatever was she to do?
It just so happened that about this time the cat had been wandering the forest reflecting on how bored he was. He turned the thoughts over in his head: should I go back home? But it’s so boring there! Yes, but it’s boring here too. Well for now I guess I will just walk around a little bit more. As he contemplated these probing questions he heard someone weeping a little way off.
“Well that’s very unusual,” the cat said to himself. “Perhaps this will provide me with something to do!” And so he trotted off in the direction of the voice. It was not long before he came upon the Waterlilygardengirl, who was sitting against a weeping willow tree with her face in her palms and her hair falling all about her face and hands and shaking shoulders.
“Why if it’s not the happy Waterlilygardengirl!” the cat exclaimed with surprise.
“I’m not so happy these days as you can see,” the poor girl wept, “for I’ve lost my way in these large and scary trees.”
“Not to worry,” the cat responded brilliantly, “for I know the way back to your water lily garden- I’m quite good with direction as I have nothing better to do than wander about all the time.”
The Waterlilygardengirl’s eyes lit up. “Oh, but will you take me there?”
“Certainly. Follow me.”
“But wait one little minute mister cat,” the girl said suddenly, seizing upon an idea. “Won’t you show me the land of floating ice first?”
“I can’t imagine why you would want to go there,” the cat said, turning the idea over in his head. His friend the penguin was sure not to visit for a good long while, and some conversation might not be bad, it might even take the edge off the boredom, and so he replied after some deliberation: “but seeing how dull the water lily garden must get, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”
And so the two of them went on their way to the land of floating ice.
The land of floating ice was much more bizarre than anything that the Waterlilygardengirl could have imagined on her own. The foliage was sparse and pale, jutting out of tiny crags of rocks that loomed up morosely through the water. The water itself was unlike any water the Waterlilygardengirl had known. It was a cold scintillating blue that reflected the gray indifferent sky. Large chunks of floating ice drifted through the water, and these were the only pieces of solid ground on which to stand- the larger ones were anyway. Pale and barren trees reached up like skeletons from the frigid waters and the sun, dim in the gray clouds cast a loveless and chilly glow over everything.
“This is my home,” the cat said pleasantly, “what do you think of it?” The cat was eagerly awaiting her horrified response.
“But it’s so strange,” said the Waterlilygardengirl. “Everything is dead.”
“Yes,” the cat replied.
“And yet it is very pretty.”
“Pretty!” cried the cat. “You’ve gone mad!”
“Why no,” said the Waterlilygardengirl, dazzled by the setting’s gentle death. “It mesmerizes me.” And indeed it did, for she was once again in a dreaming daze, one of those rare trances of imagination in which we seem to have an experience with setting.
“And shall we be going back to the water lily garden now?” asked the cat.
“But I think I’d like to stay here from now on,” said the Waterlilygardengirl, and her voice was just a little murmur.
The cat wouldn’t hear of it. “This is no place for someone like you. What will you do for company? I certainly don’t plan to stay here – and there’s the penguin, but he can be very disagreeable.”
Figuring he’d settled the matter, the cat turned back toward the Waterlillygardengirl and repeated: “And shall we be going back to the water lily garden now?” But the Waterlilygardengirl didn’t respond, for she was beautifully dead: pale, jagged and frozen like the trees.
-Whit Frazier, 1998