First Place Short Story: Words in the Soil

By: Karen Ingold


I was planted in the middle of spring to give me the best chance of survival. I was cared for with rich soil, water, a sprinkling of fertilizer and placed to receive optimum sunlight. My planting was to mark an occasion. To commemorate their twenty-fifth Wedding Anniversary, their Silver Anniversary. I'm a Silver Birch, so an appropriate choice.

She spent a lot of time in the garden, almost all year round. The weather didn't matter to her, but her garden did. From where I stood, I could see her get off the bus after her boring day at the office, walk through the front door, have a cup of tea, walk the dog, and change into her gardening clothes.

The first touch of the soil was restorative. Soil under her nails, she savoured it, her demeanour changed. Rubbing her hands together, she would look up and breathe as though it were the first real breath of her day.

And she talked to me, to her other plants, to the soil. With the garden spade she planted the word: "why?" Over and over. 

Her daughter would bring her a cup of tea and ask; 'Will you be coming in for supper? Daddy's getting it ready." As her daughter walked back to the house, the mother watched and talked into the soil.

"Those jeans look even looser."

More soil was carefully packed around my base, protecting my roots. Every effort was being made to ensure my healthy growth.


While springtime kept her busy with planting and weeding, summer brought additional challenges. Maintaining the balance of Nature's rain water and weeks of drought with water from the watering can.

She understood that her garden had to survive with a mix of natural hardship, but also in the early years, some loving intervention. She wouldn't be there forever, her plants would have to learn to thrive one day without her. But for now, on the summer evenings, when she thought the garden was calling her, she brought water. As the water sprinkled into the soil, quiet words poured out: "When will she stop? Does she think I can't see? That I don't know? Can't hear the flush? That I'm fooled by her leaving the tap running while she is in there?" 

Her daughter would bring her a cup of tea and ask; "Will you be coming in for supper? Daddy's getting it ready."

As her daughter walked back into the house, the mother watched and talked to the soil. Even under the sweatshirt, she couldn't hide those shoulder blades. A mix of water and fertilizer was sprinkled.

In the last weeks of summer, when her mother was at work, the daughter tended to the garden. She loved this house, this garden, this home. She carefully picked out weeds, hoping that her mother would find less to do.

While the daughter worked in her mother's garden, she too talked to the soil. Turning over her thoughts, covering over her pain. Her longing for her mother's arms around her. To be tended to. Cupping her hands around small plants, touching where her mother had touched. Looking for connection.

Seeds of a hard conversation, all in the garden. Tears that had not yet watered them into words. 


Autumn crept in making its changes to the garden. Nature's burst of energy before stripping down to conserve life for the rebirth in Spring. I could feel changes, my leaves began to drop, I felt light. Ready to hold onto what was most necessary. The rest could fall to nurture my roots, the soul of my being.

My planter, her mother, the gardener spent her time after uninspiring days in the office, giving her garden every chance to make it through the winter. She was preparing our beds for our sleep. Patting us down, while talking into the soil, burying her words. Knowing they would turn to ice.


Mother and daughter came to the garden carrying a box. Hanging outdoor lights was their project. The lights were tangled, they laughed together and slowly unwound the strings of lights.

"Next year, we should put them away more carefully."

The mother whispered; "Will you still be here, on this earth?" 

Mother and daughter wrapped me in lights. Sometimes they touched, the touch sparking a look, the look causing a smile.
When all the lights were draped, the daughter walked with the plug to connect the lights.


In a sparkling moment, the mother gently embraced her daughter, feeling not enough of her.


Spring, for all living things has an unignorable energy. It's flow of wonder - in my case, quite literally!

I watched as the gardener walked through the front door after an uneventful day in the office. She drank a cup of tea, walked the dog and then came out to her garden. I could feel her longing, needing the feel of the soil, to dig and try to make sense of her thoughts.

Her daughter brought her a cup of tea and asked; "Will you be coming in for supper? Daddy's getting it ready."

As her daughter walked back inside, the mother watched and talked into the soil. Allowing the hardest words to fall:

'Where did I go wrong?"

Time passed.

The daughter came back from a walk along the beach with the dog. She saw her mother in the garden. She felt the two rocks that had chosen her from the beach. The daughter placed them where her mother was working.

"Look, they fit together."

The mother looked down at the rocks and then up at her daughter. Below the rocks lay the seeds of the hardest conversation.


"Because I don't want to go."

"But it will be good for you to stand on your own two feet."

"Will it though? Look at me. I've been screaming my anguish for months."

The mother looked. She knew.

"Then stay. Until you are ready."