The Cactus (2)



A cactus plant.  Photograph.courtesy, Pereskia

Original story by O. Henry. Adapted for English Language Learners

Time is very strange! When you are washing clothes, time moves very slowly. When you are with a loved friend, there is not enough time. And a  young man can remember every detail of a lost love in the time you need to take off your gloves.

     That is what young Trysdale was doing. He was standing by a table in his apartment taking off his gloves. On the table was a small green plant in a red jar. The plant was a cactus plant, with beautiful, long leaves.

     Trysdale’s friend was with him on this day. His friend was the brother of the young woman Trysdale loved and lost. Trysdale was full of gloom. The girl he loved was now married to someone else.

     Trysdale stood by the table, but his mind was still at the wedding. He was remembering all the details of the last few hours. He could still smell the sweet smell of the flowers in the church, and he could still hear the low hum of a thousand voices, and the words of the minister turning the young, innocent girl into the wife of another man.

     “How did I lose her?” he asked himself again and again. But he already knew the answer and he did not like the answer!  He was a very proud man, he knew: always thinking about himself, always talking about himself and always trying to make others know how special he was. But she was so different!  She was so pure and kind and unselfish.

     As she walked up the aisle of the church toward the altar, he told himself that her pale face was because she was sad. Trysdale told himself that she really wanted to marry him and not that other man! But, as he looked at her more closely, he knew that she loved the man whose hand she was holding. She had forgotten Trysdale already! 

     But why had it ended like this? There had been no quarrel [fight] between them, nothing was wrong … except his conceit [his love for himself]! Now it was too late even if he wanted to change. She was already married. A thousand times he thought about the events of those last few days before everything changed and he lost her.

     She always put him up on a pedestal [made him above her], and he had accepted her devotion happily! She believed all he said. She completely trusted him. She waited on his every word like a flower waiting for water. He remembered the night he asked her to marry him. He thought that she would immediately say yes. After all, he was such a great man and she was such a simple woman. She was simple, but so beautiful! He could not let himself think about how beautiful she was that night. It was too painful to remember. The last night they had been together, she had said to him:

     “I just learned from Mr. C- that you speak the Spanish language like a native! Why did you hide this great skill from me? Is there anything you do not know?! What other great things are you able to do?” 

     At the time, Trysdale only smiled. He did not tell her that he only knew one quote in Spanish. He found the quote in a dictionary. He loved to repeat it because it made people think he was very smart!  Her surprise and awe of the fact that he could speak Spanish pleased him. He liked how she looked up at him like some god. He was sure from the look in her eyes that she would say, “Yes,” and marry him immediately. But to his surprise she did not give him an answer that night. 

     “I will send you my answer tomorrow,” she said.

     The next day Trysdale waited all day for her answer. At noon a man came to the door and gave him the strange cactus in the red jar. The man said it was from his beloved. There was no letter and no message. There was just a small note on the plant with the name of the strange plant in a foreign language. Trysdale waited until night, but her answer did not come. His pride kept him from calling her. Two evenings later they met at a friend’s house at dinner. Their greetings to each other were formal. She looked at him, waiting, wondering, hopeful. He looked at her waiting for her answer. But because he did not speak, she became sad and said nothing to him. From that time on, they stopped seeing each other. 

     “Who was to blame?” Trysdale asked himself again and again. “Why did he lose her?” 

      Suddenly, the voice of his friend, made Trysdale look up and remember where he was.

     “Trysdale,” said his friend, “what is the matter with you? How lucky that you and I are still free and not married like my poor little sister!  You and I have all of our lives ahead of us! I say, Trysdale! Why don’t we go on a trip to South America? That would be wonderful, don’t you think?”

     At that moment, his friend saw the cactus on the table. Wherever did you get this cactus, Trysdale?"

     “It was a present,” said Trysdale, “from a friend. Do you know the plant?”

     “Very well. Here’s the name on this note tied to it. Look for yourself! Do you know any Spanish, Trysdale?” 

     “No,” said Trysdale, with a bitter smile, “Is the tag written in Spanish?” 

     “Yes, of course. People in South America say the leaves of this cactus reach out to you. In Spanish the name is Ventomarme. In English it means, Come and take me.”

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