It feels like evening but is only three o’clock and the woman is digging the lovely soil between box shapes. The soil is so lovely because of the worms and all the recent rain. She pulls up the dried and tangled weeds of autumn, stems of annuals and grassy wands. It is cold, mid-November, and though she wears only thin socks with worn-down sandals she also has on a thick sweater and this keeps her from feeling too cold. There is a sound of a cat crying out, a long-winded call of distress and the woman stops to listen. The cat continues, a pigeon flusters in a nearby tree and a car engine starts. She has to get on with the digging because it is really time to tidy things before winter. This is the dim spot of the garden where nothing much is supposed to grow but does anyway. It is important to remember where the gerbil is buried because she does not want to reveal any bones or traces. The gerbil died a few years ago now. So there may not even be bones to find. She had buried it in a shoe box or maybe a small box that had contained stock cubes. No, that would definitely have been too small, surely, even if the gerbil was curled up. The gerbil had been buried in a sealed box because its death had been quite grisly. She had found it one morning with its head stuck in its water bottle. The stupid creature, the tiny silly thing had chewed through the plastic of the bottle to remove the lid and then had stuck its head inside and got its head stuck. When she told her family the gerbil was dead she did not let them see. Her husband said no he would rather not see it thank you. Her children were not allowed to see because by the time they knew the gerbil was dead she had already dug a hole and buried it. Silly, stupid poor thing.
The woman plunges her fork into the lovely soil and hits something hard, it has the underground spark of a stone. Hard to explain to a non-gardener, just knowing flint from bits of concrete, but this was old stone, river stone. Though where was there a river around here? Miles down the hill, the river lived, minding its own stones. So why were there river stones in her back garden? This past summer she had spent a whole afternoon simply digging and finding the most interesting stones. Some of them shaped like ancient goddesses or animals, or bones of animals, or bones of goddesses, or birds, or fingers. She had made a small display of interesting stones laid out in a circle arrangement on the small patio. Then her husband had said: which one of the kids did this then? She had shrugged at him.
Just a few weeks ago she was digging in the garden, planting tiny daffodil bulbs under a rather distressed rose, on old variety with the fullest, darkest flower. The woman was hoping it would be happier by next summer. The rose had been given to her by a friend who was now dead. It was still hard to believe, but yes she was dead. The friend had dug up the rose bush from her own garden before she had become really ill, just weeks before she was bed-ridden, knowing this was the day, the hour to dig up the rose. There had been a morning of the woman coming to collect the rose and putting it in the back of her car and her friend waving the rose goodbye. Now the woman thinks: the daffodils will cheer the old thing up, they will keep the roots of the rose company.
She can hear that cat, it has not shut up but continues to call out. It is no good, the woman stops her digging and walks down the slope of her garden, toward the house, along the side and around to the spare bit of land that belongs to no one it seems. She thinks the cat could be there, injured. The spare bit of land is empty, except for one spindly crab tree smothered with sickly orange crab apples. It really is not a pleasant tree. It cannot help being a bit ugly and is doing the best it can, she thinks. Why did God make crab apples? The cat has stopped calling. She has never tasted crab apple jelly or any similar concoction. Perhaps she might look up a recipe and then harvest these crab apples and make them useful. No one else seems to be claiming them, so why not?
As she walks back around to her own garden the woman looks at her dark house and feels it is at peace. Everyone is out doing their own thing. She is happiest when in the garden even if the light is dim and there’s really nothing much to do except weed. There are always weeds. And weeds help, she considers now, picking up her fork. They help to remind you that in just days everything about a spot of earth can change. They help mark time. It is good to feel things alive between her fingers. There is no wickedness to pulling them up, they have had their chance. What she wants to do here next spring is plant many different kinds of seeds and just watch them grow too close together, tangled and then flowering into a mass of colour. Then she can come along and cut them, dig again.
© Cathy Cullis 2013 - please do not reproduce or blog without permission, thanks.