Augusta Bruce tells the story of an old and lonely woman, whose smothering of her acorn leads to dire and comic consequences.
Once upon a time there lived a kind old woman called Bonnie, who was never able to have any children.
One day she was tending to her garden when something caught her eye. It was an acorn, the most beautiful acorn she’d ever seen, lying quietly under an old oak tree. Bonnie knew that this acorn was special: it had a warm, golden glow about it, and when Bonnie held it to her ear it made a soft rattling sound. From that moment on Bonnie loved the acorn, and kept it by her side wherever she went, all day every day, even when she went to sleep. But Bonnie was so terrified of losing it, and would clutch it so tightly, that the acorn couldn’t breathe or receive any light.
This was very frustrating for the acorn. First it tried shouting, but Bonnie was unable to hear it. So then it sulked and stewed in silence, as Bonnie's palm gripped it, fleshy and tight, like a monstrous placenta. The longer the acorn sulked, the crosser it became. And the crosser it became, the more chlorophyll pumped round its body, until it was positively boiling with rage.
‘My my,’ Bonnie thought, ‘How warm the acorn is today,’ and she gripped it more tightly. This made the acorn crosser still, until all its rage coalesced to a point where it couldn’t contain herself any longer – it snapped. It blew its top. And Bonnie felt like a lightning bolt had shot through her hand, hot and sharp.
‘Ow!’ Bonnie yelped, casting the acorn to the ground. On her palm there was an ugly red mark from where the acorn had burned her. ‘Ow!’ she yelled again.
The acorn didn’t respond, so Bonnie left the room to search for some balm for her burn. When she came back, hand bandaged up, spirits renewed, she was ready to forgive the acorn, but the acorn had other plans. When Bonnie tried to pick it up, she found that she couldn’t even get close – the acorn was still seething.
‘Strange,’ Bonnie thought, putting on a pair of flowery rubber gloves and gently placing the acorn on the counter. ‘What’s got into you?’
The next morning the acorn was still in a stew. And the morning after that.
‘So moody,’ Bonnie tutted. Putting the rubber gloves back on, she tried running the acorn under cold water, but this caused it to blow out hot jets of sulphurous steam.
Bonnie ran for cover. The acorn continued to sizzle and spit, so Bonnie put it in the freezer.
The following morning the acorn was just the same, if not worse; its skin was now red and hewn and blotchy.
Bonnie tugged at her hair and wrung her hands when she saw it: ‘What can I do?’ she said to herself, over and over.
Then she remembered her friend Jonas, an affable seed doctor who worked in Kew Gardens. Quickly scooping the acorn up, she made for the door.
Jonas was in the Temperate House when Bonnie found him.
‘Merlin’s beard!’ he cried. ‘A crosser acorn I never saw!’
‘I’ve tried everything!’ Bonnie wailed, tearing at her hair. ‘Put it in the freezer. Ran it under cold water. Tried
reasoning with it. There’s nothing to be done. I’m at my wit’s end!’
Standing there, with her flowery gloves and frazzled expression, Jonas almost believed her.
‘Come now, Bonnie my dear. Let’s not resort to hyperbole. I know what this youngling needs, and so do you.’
‘I do?’ Bonnie blinked.
Jonas nodded, his blue eyes gleaming: ‘Nothing.’
There was a pause.
‘Absolutely nothing. The reason it's so cross is because you do too much.’
‘Nonsense! I take good care of it.’
‘Precisely,’ Jonas said, placing a kind hand on Bonnie’s shoulder. ‘You look after it too much. It's unable to breathe.’
Bonnie shrank back in horror.
‘You’ll see,’ Jonas said. ‘Leave it in peace and it'll be as good as new. Now, if you don’t mind, I have some suicidal azaleas that require my urgent attention.’
‘I’m so sorry,’ Bonnie murmured, shuffling home, cupping the acorn in her rubber-gloved hands.
The acorn was too hot and bothered to hear her.
Bonnie buried the acorn that night, under the old oak tree.
‘Sleep well,’ she sang, as she covered the acorn up with dirt.
The years slipped by. Bonnie moved on with her life, and sometimes forgot that the acorn had existed, except when she saw the scar on her hand, but even that was beginning to fade.
One day she noticed that the scar had gone, so she rushed into the garden. Her neighbours watched as she began digging like a maniac.
She was so distressed that she failed to see the little green shoot that was caught up amongst the wreckage.
By Augusta Bruce