Germinating Everyday Magic
by Amanda Cook
I’d forgotten about Aunt Matilda’s emergency seeds. One seed for each year of her life, collected from the day she was born. Their gathering was passed on to her when she was ready for the responsibility.
“They’re special seeds, Charlotte,” she mused during one of my visits to her cottage.
“What are you saving them for?”
Her gray eyes sparkled in the dewy morning.
“A rainy day.”
She died the day after her one hundredth birthday with her hands submerged in her garden’s soil. At her memorial service, neighbors spoke of her everyday magic. One gripped a threadbare blanket Matilda had once sung a lullaby into, swearing their babies always slept soundly swaddled in its folds. Another reminisced about how she would appear on neighbors’ doorsteps, a basket of stray kittens on her arm. She knew which person belonged to which cat before they knew themselves.
Impatient to catch my train back to the city, I sat and watched the village drink and laugh, trampling flowers Aunt Matilda had once nurtured. A dandelion myself, I thrived wherever the wind blew me: along cracked pavements, between traffic and project deadlines, during sleepless nights in the pub. My family’s holidays to the village had always bewildered me, and yet, I never returned home completely whole. Some part of me remained with Matilda, buried in the misty fields beyond her cottage, a whiff of sea salt still clinging to my hair.
I glanced at my phone and the darkening sky as the celebration continued. Tiny, emerging stars twinkled like Matilda’s eyes.
As her only living kin, Matilda’s cottage—and everything in it—passed on to me. I didn’t know what to do with it. My life was the city; I didn’t need a home away from home, especially one without my aunt’s smile to welcome me. Someone suggested I try to sell it, so reluctantly, I cancelled my holiday plans and trekked to the village instead.
From the yellowing wallpaper to the mismatched furniture, the peeling window shutters, and the air of must about the place, the cottage needed work. I scoured and scraped and organized, rediscovering forgotten treasures—a jar of thimbles here, a stack of faded recipes there, a hatbox spilling with feathers underneath the four poster bed. To everyone at the village jumble sale, they were piles of rubbish, but to me, they were the bits of Matilda’s life she shared when I was a kid, when I didn’t quite understand her, when I was clamoring to get back to my friends. I realized I couldn’t just chuck them out, so I tucked them away in the cupboard under the stairs, just in case.
While cleaning the cobwebs from the garden shed’s corners one afternoon, I found a rusty-edged biscuit tin sat next to a bag of potting soil. Across the biscuit company’s logo in thick black was written: TO CHARLOTTE, FOR EMERGENCIES ONLY.
I removed the lid, and found Matilda’s emergency seeds inside, each one an iridescent teardrop. One hundred seeds. One for each year of her life.
“What am I supposed to do with you?” I murmured. Unlike her other collections, Matilda had clearly wanted me to keep her seeds. But they were hers, her special seeds. Her life’s work.
They lay silent at the bottom of the tin, having no opinions of their own.
I tried to research them, but neither Google nor the gardeners at the village nursery were of any help. The longer I held them in my palm, though, the more I could feel life thrumming inside each glistening kernel.
Near the end of my scheduled holiday, I was painting the shutters when an unfamiliar cat wandered into the back garden. A half hour later, I found myself standing in front of a neighbor’s house with the cat in hand, quite certain that was where the animal belonged.
I lengthened my holiday by a couple of weeks, adding daily tea with neighbors among my various errands. Then, another month went by wherein I hardly left the village. Eventually—or perhaps, inevitably—I moved into the cottage. Country living had quietly taken root in me, along with Matilda’s magic.
The next summer was unusually dry, and the meager harvest barely kept the village fed through a terribly bitter winter. When spring arrived, hot on winter’s heels, I did everything Matilda’s recipes and dog-eared books and my own memories of her in her garden suggested, but nothing made a difference. I began to wonder if she had merely been lucky, if I had imagined her magic. And yet, the imminency of drought ached in my bones, as if my marrow would turn to the same dust lining the front pavement.
One hot morning, Matilda’s emergency seeds called to me from the cupboard under the stairs.
It’s time, they whispered.
Time for what?
A rainy day.
Unsure of myself, I trudged into the back garden, biscuit tin in one hand, trowel in the other, and widened cracks in the dirt. Dropping in all one hundred seeds, I gave them a sprinkle from Matilda’s favorite watering can.
An unexpected coolness tickled my neck, perfumed with petrichor. My fingers tingled with cautious hope, and I waited, wondering if the seeds—all one hundred years of Matilda, combined with my own germinating magic—would be enough. Or too much. What if I wasted them all for nothing?
The sky grew heavy with iron gray clouds, the air electric with a coming storm. A raindrop splashed against my cheek, and another, trailing off my chin like forgotten tears. I lifted my face to the pouring sky, welcoming the gift Matilda had bestowed upon me. The tips of thirsty shoots emerged from the damp earth, hundreds of them, enough to share with the village when they matured. Enough to gather more seeds from to pass on in my lifetime.
About the Author:
Amanda Cook lives in the middle of an Indiana woods, which grows just fine despite her habit of killing anything remotely plant-like. Her short fiction has been published at Etherea Magazine and Apparition Literary Magazine, among other places. Her climate fiction novel, When We Were Forgotten, won the 2018 Bronze Medal Independent Publisher Book Award for Best Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror E-book. She can be found musing about writing, parenting, cosplay, and life in general at https://acooksbooks.com/.