The Cactus and the Flowers

by Kathryn A

Once upon a time, there was a cactus, that lived out in the desert. He had fine, green skin, to keep in the moisture, and fine, sharp prickles to stop the desert animals from eating him. He was thick and stubby and had deep roots. And once every ten years, he grew a beautiful flower on a long stalk, scarlet and crimson and orange and gold, enough to make a botanist weep.

He lived out in the desert alone, but he was content. He listened to the desert winds (and dug his roots in when the sandstorms blew). He watched the stars at night, in the clear desert air, where they twinkled and glowed and danced their stately dances. That was the way it was, and that was the way it always would be.

Then one day, there was a rare spring rain, and the ground all about burst with desert flowers, yellow and white and blue and red, bending and tossing in the wind, and looking very lithe and pretty. There were masses of them, all gossiping and talking. The cactus had never heard such noise before.

He tried talking to them.

"Hello," he said.

"Hello," they said back.

"Nice wind blowing today," he said.

"No, it's a nasty wind," they replied.

"Well, at least the stars should be pretty tonight," he said.

"Stars? What are stars?" they answered, because, of course, like all good flowers, they went to sleep as soon as the sun set, and they never saw the stars.

"Er, never mind," he said, and fell silent.

The noise carried on without him.

And then he realized that the closest ones were talking about him.

"What a strange creature!"

"Oh, have you ever seen anything more ugly in your life?"

"All those prickles! How very unfriendly!"

"And have you noticed, he doesn't droop at all! What a cold, hard-hearted creature he must be -- no feelings at all."

At that, the cactus felt sad, while at the same time he told himself, why should he worry about what flowers thought about him? But he worried anyway, because, what if they were right? After all, he'd never seen another creature like himself. Maybe he was supposed to be like them?

Then some of the more well-meaning flowers took him in hand, "for his own good". They thought he suffered from some strange sort of disease that had puffed him up, thickened his skin, and made him grow prickles.

"I mean, it's obvious he's a freak," said one, "but that doesn't mean he can't at least try to be normal."

So they made him stand in the water to see if it would help him droop, but all that happened was that his roots started to rot. And they painted him with different colours to make up for his lack of flowers, but the paint made his skin itch, and clogged up his pores and he nearly choked.

So he gave up his quest to be normal, and sat grumpily on the hillside, trying to ignore what the flowers said about him.

Then the sun shone, and the sands blew, and the desert animals munched, and soon all the flowers were gone, and the cactus was left alone in the desert. But he couldn't forget what the flowers had said about him, and he was very sad.

Then came the time for him to make his flower bloom, and he did a good job of it, because that was what he was supposed to do, and anyway, it did feel good to make it as beautiful as he could, just because it was beautiful. And as his flower was blooming, he felt a scent on the air.

"Helloooo!" someone called out.

"Hello!" he replied.

It was another cactus. A cactus in bloom. He thought he'd never seen such a beautiful sight in all his life.

"Do you like the stars?" he asked.

"I love the stars," she said.

"And the desert wind, do you like that?" he asked.

"Well, not when there's a sandstorm," she said.

"I don't think anybody likes sandstorms," he said.

"Maybe there's somebody out there who does," she said.

"Maybe," he said.

And they lived happily ever after, and had many little cactuses.

For Mistral.