There is a tale of the Relationship Keeper in our village.
While no one has seen her face or the small cove where she lives, there is a myth amongst us that she was once a child from our very village. The story has drifted in and out of generation for so long, the truth has been clouded by fantasy. The reality has been neglected for mysticism. For, many have argued with throaty laughs that reality cannot nearly be as clever and beautiful as painted fiction. And yet, some remain to disagree – myself included. Beauty displayed at the sake of truth may tempt my flesh periodically, like a wolf dressed in the fleece of a lamb, but my mind and soul remain seeking truth – looking outward, gazing upward, dreaming inwardly.
The Relationship Keeper’s daughter was brought to me when she was a little over 6 years old, led by the hand of her hunched and hooded mother. In silence, the Relationship Keeper took the small child’s hand, and, with a vitality that seemed to only be produced by her desperation, her other withered hand quickly grasped a hold of my wrist. In tandem with a tug that sent me to my knees, the Relationship Keeper delicately lead her daughter’s hand into my own. While on my knees, I clutched the child’s small but rough hands and looked steadily into her eyes, which were now at equal level. She had no hood like her mother, and her dark black eyes seemed to pierce through my own.
“This is my daughter. She will stay with you until I come to receive her once more.”
“But why me?” I asked, my eyes not leaving the child.
“You will do well to not question. Take care of her as your own; love her and treasure her as your own flesh, and yet remember, she will always be mine.”
* * *
“Tell me about the cove, Rose.” Our hands slid together like they were designed to fit. Our arms swung back and forth, back and forth, as if we were the swing for an invisible being. Our feet walked in unison, my large, steady steps to her boundless leaps.
“It’s pretty. There are a lot of pretty plants. My momma taught me a lot about the plants.” I paid particular attention to Rose’s voice, trying to detect the emotion behind her words. It had been a little over 3 years since the Relationship Keeper had left her only child to my care. Little by little, I questioned the youth, now 9-years-old, about her mother and the cove where she had grown up for those first 6 precious years of her life. While I had unending questions burning inside of me, the love and concern I had for the child vastly overweighed any curiosity that peevishly lurked inside my breast. In all truth, it would not have been easy enough to simply verbally spew out any thought inside of my mind at the risk of the mental wellbeing on the child, but the love that had been fostering inside of him these past 3 three could no longer allow a strictly rational decision anymore. Yet, each question he had asked were very coolly answered by the child, as if simply stating facts, rather than recalling her seemingly neglecting mother and the life that she used to have before living with a complete stranger. I would not be simple enough to call her emotionless, and yet, there was air of aloofness that I could not comprehend completely. The child, as well as her mother, was nearly as mysterious in person as when face-to-face.
“That sounds lovely, Rose. Would you mind telling me about those plants?”
“We had a shed out back by the house. It had all sorts of growing things there. Momma explained it all to me… What do you want to know?” Rose’s voice wandered off slightly as she got distracted by a small yellow butterfly that was attempting to land on top of her head. Without warning, she stopped her leap-walking, so that the insect could land, causing me to stumble forward slightly.
“You’re tired, huh…” she whispered quietly to the butterfly, her voice lacking emotion but her words echoing empathy. Gazing between the butterfly and Rose, I thought through what questions I really was hoping to answer.
“Well, your momma… she was the Relationship Keeper, right?”
“Well, how… how does that work exactly? I’ve heard that those relationships take the form of trees… and that she watches over them.”
“Uh-huh.” A distracted Rose, fully concentrating on being the perfect resting spot for her new butterfly companion, tried her best to answer the question with as little movement as possible. “Shall I just show you, Papa?”
I felt my eyebrows crease slightly in confusion over her innocent words. “What do you mean, Rose?”
“Well, I could show you my memories. Hold on… and bend down. I can’t reach you.” My mind whirled about as a lowered my knee to the grass. As slowly as she could without upsetting her guest, she released my hand and extended her arm out to my forehead, lightly touching the middlemost point in-between my eyebrows.
The world did not move; it did not spin or heave or make any form of explicit movement. Time blended into each other, slid into each other perfectly like perfectly crafted wood, and a simple scene was playing behind my eyes.
* * *
It was dark.
“Hold on, let me get the light for you.” Light exploded all around me as the Relationship Keeper lifted up a small wooden plank of wood that covered an open space in the shed’s wall. The hole in the wall opened up the shed to a world of light. Outside looked dry and the trees unhealthy, and yet, the sun shone down in a piercing, unforgiving fashion.
“Come here, child. I will show you my work.” Rose stepped forward, her eyes being directed to a tiered shelf that hosted so many plants it seemed as if the shed had extended itself to fit its residence, rather than the number of plants fitting the size of the shed.
“What are these, Momma?”
“These are relationships, child. That is my job. I am the guardian of the relationships of human beings.”
“There are many different kinds, aren’t there, Momma?”
“Yes, for there are many different kinds of relationships. Some healthy-” She lightly touched a tree that was sprouting bright pink flowers and giving off a delicious aroma. “-and some not.” She nodded to a tree that had branches riddled with thorns, a tree that had a base that was being choked with weeds, and a tree that drooped perilously, its leaves a dusty gray.
“That one moved, Momma.”
“Yes, child. The trees are not the relationship themselves, but merely the essence of them. They are a physical representation of a nonphysical entity. You may not be able to understand that now, but you will some day. In other words, as relationships are built, grown, and as they die or are forgotten, these little ones will reflect the journey – much like a human heart.”
“How come this one is dying?”
“Well, it is not our job to keep them from dying, child. It is only our job to protect them from the others of this world who wish to destroy all relationships. It is the human being’s job to keep the relationship alive. You see, the more times they connect with the relationship, the more the relationship grows. The more memories that are stored in the tree, the more it is feed, the more it blossoms. And yet, if there are no memories to be fed, then the plant will die. Of course, there are some relationships that simply live off of past memories, and that alone will keep the relationship alive. That is up to the human being, though, on how often they connect with those memories and the power of those emotions they feel when they connect.”
* * *
“Were you happy there, Rose? Do you wish to go back?”
“I was happy to be with Momma… but I’m happy to be with you, too, Papa.”
“You know… that you will one day leave me, don’t you? Your mother said that she would come back for me.”
Rose looked to me with blank, searching eyes.
“Yes, she will come back when it’s my time to become the Relationship Keeper and protect the trees. But Papa, I will never really leave you… like Momma said, as long as the connection is kept – either in thought or in person – then the relationship will never die. So… so, we won’t ever be truly apart from each other.”
The words of the small, emotionless child pieced me and while a warm sensation something like comfort filled my chest, my eyes filled with tears and they stung as they crept out of my eyes and down my cheeks.
“Our time together is too short,” I thought darkly, recalling the Relationship Keeper’s words to treasure her daughter as my own and yet know that she is only on loan to me. And yet, pushing aside the darkness and bitterness that existed within my heart, I looked at Rose, put my trust and hope in the person in the extendable shed who watched over the hearts of human beings. Taking her small hand once more, I was grateful for the time graciously given to me, and reaffirmed my promise to protect her, treasure her, and love her until she went back home.