Monday Stories: Tilda

Tilda lived in a hot, stuffy, and sometimes dark room. It was noisy too—not in a crash-bang-boom way but in the steady, sturdy, unrelenting, white noise way. The noise and the heat came from the corner of the damp, windowless room where a hot water heater rumbled constantly to make sure family upstairs was warm, clean and cozy in their home. Tilda wasn’t alone in that room, but she often felt alone in her happiness. There seemed to be general discontent about the conditions in those cramped quarters and the way they were all treated with sincere indifference by the family upstairs. Long periods of light replaced long periods of darkness. And they were only paid attention to when they failed to work, at which point someone from upstairs would poke and prod to encourage a last spurt of energy. When that failed, they would be replaced. 

Tilda knew they were downstairs because she heard the footsteps above her. She heard the big thuds, the medium thunks, and the two pairs of pitter patter of the children that rarely came down. Tilda like her spot. She liked hanging out above the plastic shelves with her birds-eye view. She didn’t mind being suspended in pairs and being raised and lowered by small chains that hooked to the top of the shelves. She was on the forth row and because the shelves weren’t solid, she could see a bit down and a bit over and a bit to the side. She could see all the other lights just like her—round, long and skinny. Maybe the noise of the hot water heater bothered others, but not Tilda. Tilda only heard the hum of their collective song while they were all switched on. Or in the quiet of the darker months, she soaked in the sounds of the footsteps above her and made stories in her head. 

The first time Tilda was switched on and saw the trays she felt let down. They were black and flimsy and slid onto the shelves—each with 24 little pockets of dirt, wrapped securely in plastic wrap. Tilda could tell the soil was damp because water beads formed on the translucent covers as the trays heated from her brilliance. Once a day they trays were taken off the shelf by the family upstairs and placed on large metal racks filled with water. Then they were returned to the shelves and Tilda’s bright light. She watched the dirt for days. She watched the dirt and watched the water droplets and listened to the collective hum of energy. There wasn’t quite a thing as overnight for Tilda, since she was always on, but if there had been, she noticed overnight a little sprout emerging from the dark brown dirt. First one or two, then the rest. They were small, squiggly and not quite green. Their necks arched, then bellowed, then tiny leaves hit their heads against the plastic wrap. 

The feelings of disappointment in watching dead dirt quickly vanished and Tilda was filled with pride and awe as small life sprout from nothing. The plastic wrap would be removed, her chain would be shortened a bit, and the two tiny leaves would turn into four. Tilda became mesmerized. From above she could see the baby plants emerge, stretch and grow. Delicately but passionately and with a certain vigor they reached up, as if climbing to her and for her—her warmth and glow. Once the small plants had four strong leaves and their stems grew straight instead of arched, they were removed and replaced by fresh trays of dirt, and the the waiting game began again. 

Tilda came to feel not just pride and awe, but also power. She watched how the brave stems burdened by new leaves reach towards the center where her light was most concentrated. She couldn’t move but somehow she controlled those plants. She noticed as they danced out from the dark and sprouted and twisted and moved. She noticed that if her chain wasn’t raised or lowered, the tiny green beings below her would be stunted and short. They would emerge sluggish and tired instead of hungry and eager. Tilda also started to notice the difference among the little life that sat below her light. Some of the leaves were long and slender, others more round and flat. Some had ridged edges and other flaked up instead of out. And as she watched these differences and learned their prances and patterns and playfulness, she tried to feel their life. She imagined being able to grow, to move, to transform. For Tilda, watching those trays was watching nothing turn into everything.

Nothing to everything to nothing and back—Tilda watched the cycle until no new trays replaced old trays and the humming ceased as each light was switched off. The door to their room was left open, allowing cold air to sweep in. For many the dark brought boredom and chill and unease. Tilda liked that dark period that came at once and at length. It gave her a chance to cool her mind, which was got so hot when she was constantly turned on. It also gave her a chance to reflect on what she had seen in the times of blinding brightness.

In the damp and in the dark, Tilda could create her own everything from nothing. She took up where the little plants left off and created a world where four leaves became six leaves, and then eventually twenty. And each plant twisted and turned, and curled and sprung, until they were tall and long, or short and squat, or gnarled and wavy, each unique in their form. She created a world where the plants shared their stories and secrets and tales with each other, and with her. Where below the dirt they sent out their roots and above the ground they turned a fantasy of colors and structures and sizes. It was a world where leaves could laugh and stems could stretch and somewhere a light like her would guide these tiny plants into bright, bold beings. She imagined the family worshipping the growth of this new life, just as they tended to them from the start in their trays. Tilda imagined those plants and imagined their splendor, as they moved from her light into the light of the rest of their lives. And for this Tilda embraced the dark, because it brought beauty and color and dreams while she waited for the light that brought warmth and life and growth.