Why? by Zona Gale

"It's a word you learn at Sunday School," I explained importantly.

"Come over here and tell me about it," she invited, and led the way to the Eating Apple tree. And she sat down in the swing! Of course, whatever difference of condition exists between your grandmother and yourself vanishes when she sits down casually in your swing.

Well, Grandmother Beers was one who knew how to play with us, and I was always half expecting her to propose a new game. But that day, as she sat in the swing, her eyes were not twinkling at the corners.

"What does it mean?" she asked us. "What does wicked mean?"

"It's what you aren't to be."

I took the brunt of the reply, because I was the relative of the questioner.

"Why not?" asked grandmother.

"Why not?" Oh, we all knew that. We responded instantly, and out came the results of the training of all the families.

"Because your Mother and your Father say you can't," said Betty Rodman.

"Because it makes your mother feel bad," said Calista.

"Because God don't want us to," said I.

"Delie says," Betty added, "it's because, if you are, when you grow up people won't think anything of you."

Grandmother Beers held her sweet-peas to her face.

"If," she said, after a moment, "you wanted to do something wicked more than you ever wanted to do anything in the world—as much as you'd want a drink tomorrow if you hadn't had one to-day—and if nobody ever knew—would any of those reasons keep you from doing it?"

We consulted one another's look, and shifted. We knew how thirsty that would be. Already we were thirsty, in thinking about it.

"If I were in your place," grandmother said, "I'm not sure those reasons would keep me. I rather think they wouldn't—always."

We stared at her. It was true that they didn't always keep us. Were not two of us "in our rooms" even now?

Grandmother leaned forward—I know how the shadows of the apple leaves fell on her black lace cap and how the pink sweet-peas were reflected in her delicate face.

"Suppose," she said, "that instead of any of those reasons somebody gave you this reason: That the earth is a great flower—a flower that has never really blossomed yet. And that, when it blossoms, life is going to be more beautiful than we have ever dreamed, or than fairy stories have ever pretended. And suppose our doing one way, and not another, makes the flower come a little nearer to blossom. But our doing the other way puts back the time when it can blossom. Then which would you want to do?"

"Oh, make it grow, make it grow," we all cried; and I felt a secret relief: Grandmother was playing a game with us, after all.

"And suppose that everything made a difference to it," she went on, "every little thing—from telling a lie, on down to going to get a drink for somebody and drinking first yourself out in the kitchen. Suppose that everything made a difference, from hurting somebody on purpose, down to making up the bed and pulling the bedspread tight so that the wrinkles in the blanket won't show."

At this we looked at one another in some consternation. How did grandmother know?

"Until after awhile," she said, "you should find out that everything—loving, going to school, playing, working, bathing, sleeping, were all just to make this flower grow. Wouldn't it be fun to help?"

"Yes. Oh, yes." We were all agreed about that. It would be great fun to help.

"Well, then suppose," said grandmother, "that as you helped, you found out something else: that in each of you, say, where your heart is, or where your breath is, there was a flower trying to blossom through! And that only as you help the earth flower to blossom could your flower blossom. And that your doing one way would make your flower droop its head and grow dark and shrivel up. But your doing the other way would make it grow, and turn beautiful colors—so that, bye and bye, every one of your bodies would be just a sheath for this flower. Which way then would you rather do?"

"Oh, make it grow, make it grow," we said again.

And Mary Elizabeth added longingly: "Wouldn't it be fun if it was true?"

"It is true," said Grandmother Beers.

She sat there, softly smiling over her pink sweet-peas. We looked at her silently. Then I remembered that her face had always seemed to me to be somehow light within. May be it was her flower showing through!

"Grandmother!" I cried, "is it true—is it true?"

"It is true," she repeated. "And whether the earth flower and other people's flowers and your flower are to bloom or not is what living is about. And everything makes a difference. Isn't that a good reason for not being wicked?"

We all looked up in her face, something in us leaping and answering to what she said. And I know that we understood.

"Oh," Mary Elizabeth whispered presently to Betty, "hurry home and tell Margaret Amelia. It'll make it so much easier when she comes out to her supper."

That night, on the porch, alone with Mother and Father, I inquired into something that still was not clear.

"But how can you tell which things are wicked? And which ones are wrong and which things are right?"

Father put out his hand and touched my hand. He was looking at me with a look that I knew—and his smile for me is like no other smile that I have ever known.

"Something will tell you," he said, "always."

"Always?" I doubted.

"Always," he said. "There will be other voices. But if you listen, something will tell you always. And it is all you need."

I looked at Mother. And by her nod and her quiet look I perceived that all this had been known about for a long time.

"That is why Grandma Bard is coming to live with us," she said, "not just because we wanted her, but because—that said so."

In us all a flower—and something saying something! And the earth flower trying to blossom ... I looked down the street: at Mr. Branchett walking in his garden, at the light shining from windows, at the folk sauntering on the sidewalk, and toward town where the band was playing. We all knew about this together then. This was why everything was! And there were years and years to make it come through.

What if I, alone among them all, had never found out.