Contrary Mary

Mary, Mary quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells, and cockle shells,

And so my garden grows.

~English Nursery Rhyme “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Contrary Mary loved her garden and never wanted to be parted from it. Unless she was eating supper or sleeping, everyone knew that if they wanted to see Contrary the only way was to tromp around behind her cottage where they’d find her amongst the ferns, freesia, and feverfew. “Plants are much better than people and flowers far more beautiful,” she could often be heard to say. Her neighbor Quentin could not agree more.

Contrary did not care if it were a rainy a day. She would still spend hours in her garden, tending and babying her flowers, lucky ladies that they were. Far too busy snipping, trimming, mulching, and talking, she never bothered to protect herself from the elements. Daily her mother cried and wrung her hands while her father railed bitter warnings that she would catch her death. Contrary gave not a hoot and did as she pleased, day after day. Her parents should have known their counsel would be to no avail. They named her, did they not?

On that gloomiest of mornings when she fell quite ill, no one was really surprised it had happened, though it was sad none-the-less. The worst was to hear Contrary begging, “Do not part me from my garden, I care for naught else.”  No one could figure out how to get her bed out into the garden, so they settled on moving it to the back door, which they left wide open. Not the best of plans, leaving her exposed in this manner, but her pleas were so tearful. Contrary made all of them promise: father, mother, and older brother to bury her in her garden after she died. Her love was too great to be parted from it. It was her last wish and of course they could not refuse.

All fine and good, but Contrary happened to be admired quite secretively, by Quentin the Vampire Botanist who lived just down the road and across the way. He had long loved and admired her from afar. Viciously, he cursed his lack of fortitude, which caused him to delay and now never to tell her how he truly felt. If he had, she could be by his side, as his “Bella Vampress il Fiore” (when in a romantic mood, Quentin always thinks in Italian).  Unwilling to let her go, Quentin came up with an idea. Beware of ideas, my friend, for although some of these are quite grand, others can be just as easily quite tragic.

Utilizing his botanical science and his vampire magic, he infused her spirit with the fertile soil of her garden.

Now amongst all Quentin’s creature creations Contrary Mary’s ghost sprouts up in various guises and incarnations. She seems fond of changing her ectoplasmic outfits, as well as her hairstyle on a daily basis. What’s a lady ghost to do? She no longer has need for shoes.

As her name suggests, although she now can spend eternity with her beloved garden Contrary is, to put it mildly, annoyed with Quentin’s arbitrary decision to trap her essence this way. She expresses her annoyance in the only way available to her: by sprouting tiny thorns all over her stems. No one dare pick her, not even Quentin.

You may well wonder, if Contrary is a ghost why hasn’t she escaped? She can’t. Not yet. But if you witness the various expressions that move sometimes violently across her tiny ghost face, it’s not difficult to imagine that she’s working on it. And when she succeeds, which could be any day, I really wouldn’t want to be Quentin. Would you?

Inspired by the nursery rhyme, I drew Contrary Mary with a fine-tipped, black marker and then painted her using acrylics. Her story? After I finished painting her, she told it to me.

8 responses to “Contrary Mary

  1. Sister what an utterly wonderful imagination you have. What an enchanting tale with it’s thorny ending. I love how you come up with these stories. I really hope that you make them into a book one day – they are far too good to be left like Contrary’s essence out in the ether.

    The version of Mary, Mary that I know is exactly the same except for the last line which goes ‘and pretty maids all in a row’. I’ve always loved the idea of silver bells and cockle shells in a garden, perfection. I visited a rather stunning castle in the north of Holland once and all the paths in the grounds where covered with shells instead of gravel. When you walked on them they made a great crackling sound!

    English nursery rhymes are fascinating, they have so much history attached to them. Ring a ring of roses, a pocket full of posies, is all about the black death. Gloomy stuff but fascinating!

    • That is wonderful to hear, Lottie and thank you. My long term plan is to self-publish my writing.

      The version I grew up on was also “and pretty maids all in a row.” When I looked it up, I found out that the older version was actually “and so my garden grows.” This intrigued me more, so I decided to use it instead.

      Please, please Lottie, what is the name of the “stunning castle in north Holland” you visited? I must put it on my must-see list!

      Are we sisters or the same person living in different bodies on different continents??? Haha! I LOVE Mother Goose in all her political, gloomy, and gory history. It IS fascinating!

      • We are defo twin sisters, there is no doubt in my mind about it! I can only imagine that our careless Mother, so shocked and tired after giving birth to us, left one of us in the hospital. I’m not sure which one of us it was that was left in the hospital but the fact is that we grew up on different sides of the world. Of course it was only when I noticed your birthday on Facebook that the plot thinned and I realised beyond a shadow of a doubt that you were my twin sister! If you are rhesus negative O then it’s absolutely for sure. No doubt at all, none whatsoever 🙂

        I cannot remember the name of the castle but it was gorgeous. My mad dutch aunt was a great collector of jelly moulds. I think that she may have had the largest collection in Holland. She had an exhibition of her jelly moulds in this castle so I went to see it with her and it was a very happy day. I’ll try google and see if that rings any silver bells for me!

  2. I’ve always believed that I’m an alien that somehow got stranded on planet Earth. Depending on how many drinks I’ve had, this theory varies, shooting off into many different directions (or tangents); however, the alien theme has stuck. Until now. Sister, it has to have been me that was left at the hospital. Then they shipped me off to America. The rest? Hmm…we’ll have to have a think.

    I absolutely love that you have a “mad Dutch aunt” who collected jelly moulds! That is awesome. If you ever run across photos of her jelly moulds, I’d LOVE to see them!! And if you hear any silver bells, please let me know. xx

  3. I love this story and agree with Lottie and hope that one day your tales will be published. I hope to hear more about Mary ( and Quentin, the Mad Vampire Botanist!)

    The picture is quite lovely as well.

  4. Oh, this is so great! I love it and I hope there will be a sequel. After all, l am somewhat partial to vampires and I secretly hope that there can be a “happily ever after”! Well perhaps a “gloomy” ever after! If you do publish, I will be in line for a my very own copy!! Thanks for sharing this!

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