A Fable Aesop Didn’t Write
Does everybody remember Aesop?
He worked for a king who liked to behead people at the drop of a hat, as an advisor. So, worst job ever. And sometimes, in order to give advice, he would tell a story—a fable—and if the king liked the advice, the king would take it. If he didn’t like the advice, he would be entertained, and Aesop would get to live and breathe.
Now, I’m sure somewhere out there is a clickbait site that tells me that Aesop was running the country or the king wasn’t that bad or that this whole sitch is apocryphal—but the first person who runs out and gets me the “true, unadulterated dirt on Aesop” is going to be missing the point in a big way.
I’m about to tell a fable.
So, listen my children, to the story of the weed.
There was once a kingdom very vain about its own state. The spires were the purest gold, the flags the most fiery orange, the marble of the castle a sumptuous red, the flowers of the most outrageous hues of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet, the lawns of the deepest green, and so on.
Even the rainbows were sparklier.
It was a thing there.
This thing extended to the great pathway leading to the gateway across the moat. It was alabaster white, ebony black, and earth brown—every stone cut lovingly from the quarries that surrounded the castle, every one laid just so, so tightly not even the tiniest bit of earth or seedling could get through.
It was a marvel, really.
Everyone noticed it.
How pure and perfect and lovely this pathway to the rainbow castle was.
The groundskeepers were very vain.
And one day, one of them noticed a weed.
Oh my gods! An unsightly weed, pushing up at the corners of the multi-faceted stones. How could it! Their beautiful pathway! Their beautiful castle!
The groundskeeper plucked gamely at the weed, but the roots of the weed were far older than the stones above it. This weed had been around, in one way, shape or form, for many, many years. It predated the groundskeeper, predated the castle, predated the kingdom.
And it survived this petty plucking.
The next day, the groundskeeper saw the weed—again, and pulled—again.
And the next.
On the third day, the groundskeeper came prepared. With a crowbar and a spade, he unearthed the surrounding paving stones and dug. Finally, finally, he had a big pile of dirt, and what he thought was the tiniest hair or the tiniest root of the most pernicious weed.
He replaced the dirt, replaced the stones and swept the walkway, convinced that, although the walkway was a little dustier, and a few cracks had appeared on the fringe of the paving stones, his job was done.
The next day, he walked by the spot with a penetrating eye, and was glad. Until he got about five paces beyond, where he saw the weed had sprouted up elsewhere, while he was preoccupied the day before.
And the weed continued to spread.
He went to an apothecary and said, “I need poison.”
The apothecary had seen this before with a rather desperate young man and woman from opposing houses and said, “Fuck to the no. This story doesn’t end well.”
“But… but this weed! It is driving me insane!”
“My son! You cannot eradicate this weed from the globe. You can pluck it when you see it. There are places where this weed has grown. People have sought to understand it, have trained it, have blended it with more pleasant, healthy plants. There are places where this weed has changed, has become something rich and culturally important, and now harms no one. It serves as a warning there, to respect diversity in all things, to allow the ways of the gods to work slowly, to use kindness and not violence when changing the shape of our world. If we go to drastic lengths to destroy what offends us, we risk spreading its spores on the wind—as you have already done! And what will grow in our fits of temper and fear will not at all be a thing to our liking.”
And then the groundskeeper—who was a very proud man by all accounts—fell into a weeping fit, about how the weed was ruining his life and how it had abused him as a child and how amid the laughter of his peers all he saw was the evil face of this most pernicious weed.
The apothecary gave up—good men do, sometimes, when overwhelmed with someone who seems genuinely distraught.
He produced the poison and a spritzer marked with a skull and crossbones, and advised the man to wear gloves. Then he packed up and moved to another kingdom, because he’d seen this show before and he didn’t like the finale.
The groundskeeper went to work. He obliterated the weed. All traces of the weed. Anything that looked like the weed.
“But,” said a small child, “that’s not the weed!”
“I don’t care,” the man said shortly. “It’s growing where the weed might grow, and it needs to be killed.”
“But,” said the small child again, “that weed is growing under a rose bush, and you’ll harm the pretty roses.”
“It’s worth it to kill the roses, as long as the weed does not grow!”
“But,” wept the child, “my kitty is dying, because the poison is seeping into the ground and poisoning the mice!”
“Move your kitty elsewhere,” snapped the groundskeeper. “And get out of the way, I’m setting the poison on fire so that the kingdom might be purged for once and for all!”
The child ran away, frightened, and his fathers, who had loved the kingdom so very much, scooped the boy up into their arms and ran far, far from the kingdom, as did any wise fathers and mothers who feared the people who valued purging a weed over the health of the kingdom.
And the groundskeeper set the poison on fire, stood on top of a castle rampart, and watched the kingdom burn.
The flames died down, and the remaining townspeople looked about, heartbroken. The ground was poisoned—no plants grew. The paving stones were blackened and covered with toxic residue, as were the walls surrounding the castle, and the castle itself.
The gold was covered in smoke, the orange burnt and tattered, and all of the grounds were a toxic, putrid black, where no flowers—particularly roses—would ever grow again.
The kingdom fell apart. The king begged asylum from another kingdom far away, where his child married their child and they could begin again. The townspeople all moved to some place they could farm or weave or soldier in peace, without the risk of unholy vanity depriving them of life, livelihood and beauty all in one gasp.
The groundskeeper sank to the blackened earth and cackled, secure in his life’s mission, to eradicate the…
Oh, hello. What was that? That green thing, pushing up, through the blackened earth, through the cracked paving stones, cracking the castle walls?
It was bigger, each root as big as a stool, each stem as big as a house, and the color was now the same slimy crusty greenish black of the toxic residue that coated the kingdom. It grew like wildfire, obliterating the foundations of the once cheerful kingdom, seizing the groundskeeper in its unfurling coils and ripping him in two.
His blood scattered in a fine mist, cleansing the poison from the walls and the earth. His bones ground into a fine powder, settling into the earth to feed the thing that grew there.
The one thing that grew there.
The thing strong enough to survive plucking and digging and poison, because it fed on all of those things, and on hatred too. The thing that no amount of reviling could make disappear, but would have, possibly, learned a better way if only given some patience and a dram of love.
That is the way of weeds.
So there you go.
Amy, Aesop, whatever. I have either written entertainment or I have written something important—very often even I am not sure. But if you do find something important here, remember to treat it gently. You may pluck it—that is your prerogative—but be easy on the hate and the judgment.
They feed the most dangerous of weeds.