The sun only just managed to break through the clouds. Small beams of light spiralled over blades of grass and the dewdrops turned them into a dance. Stretching tall in my wellington boots to tug on the handle, I swung the glass frame open and stepped through to the garden. My breaths were sharp, fanning in front of me, and I stopped to pull the tulle of my dress lower on my legs.
My hand slid across slick panes of glass until I found the outside handle and gloved hands grasped out to catch it whilst the ticking sounds of pipes echoed through my ears. Somewhere further away the sounds of clattering footsteps and animal claws broke through as they spun out on laminate flooring. One yell and we were all scrambling.
The garden was a mystical wood, a park and mountainous region all, stretching and wrapping around three corners of my house. The door shut with a click and I turned for the holly tree. Crouching low beneath the bough, I pulled the hood of my coat tighter around me, careful to turn my face from the spikes. Wriggling between the rough fence and sharp leaves, I sidestepped the pebbles. Kicking up the dust, my boots slowly began to slip into twisting brown sludge; the kind that yanked at my ankles and tried to swallow me whole. Hard earth began to grow interspersed with sinkholes where the puddles had found themselves trapped. Spirals of squelching mud were soon all around, and I had to be careful to not fall prey to its traps.
I once fell down through a rabbit hole. I hadn’t realised it was there. My foot broke the surface of the earth and continued downwards. I half thought the world was swallowing me, punishing me for upsetting my mother earlier that day…the other half of me hoped I’d find Wonderland. I’d had to pull myself free, gripping onto the tree trunk to my left for leverage as I didn’t want to ruin their burrow any more than I already had. Orange and green tie-dyed leaves tickled my cheeks as I did so, their veins straining and flaring in the wind.
Past the holly tree, I was entirely hidden from view, completely safe from the rest of the world as only I could fit inside my warren. An alcove stretched outwards as the trees began to form a small dome above. Weeds lined the trunks of trees and every few meters empty ground, that sprung with wildflowers in spring, expanded on. Raindrops glowed on spiderwebs, and I used to mistake them for the Fae. Long reeds of grass, decaying and yellow, reached up to tickle my waist. The seeds embedded themselves in my hair, tangling with the tendrils until they could drop themselves, and make more soldiers that would stand to attention and protect the borders of my world.
The shrubs and branches reached out to snatch at my skirt as I breezed through the narrow slips of trodden down weeds. The only footpaths that existed out there were the ones created by my own feet from years of exploring. Cascading and swirling bands of green reached up to clasp hands above my head and from their joint arms burst through tumbling ivy.
It was magical there before everything was burnt down.
It’s harder to hide inside of a house than it is a garden. Sound echoes, voices drift, and everything seems as though it’s been squashed together like a child’s collage. Even if everything is at a standstill, you can close your eyes and listen and there is almost always something ticking away in the background. Whether it be the pipes, the internet, or a tap you’ve left on to drip water against porcelain – there’s always something.
Growing up, I used to think that my family could hear every single breath I took, even when I was tucked away in bed with the door shut. I learnt to tiptoe and creep. I can close doors without there being a click and open food packets without a rustle. I could adapt to hiding in a house, but I didn’t want to.
One time, I was running as fast as I could and forgot to close the door with a small, quiet click. I was distracted, trying to quiet my footfalls as I blew into the spare room. I’d always go in there to hide in the gap between the wardrobe and the wall where I could practically melt into the shadows. That day I ran in, footsteps thundering behind me. I couldn’t close the door in time. I knew I was caught. I shoved it, letting it slam into place as I slid between wall and wood, through the cobwebs and the dust trying not to sneeze as I did so. It was no use. My arm was nearly pulled from its socket as I was dragged from my hiding place that day. My mum was always careful to check that hiding place first from then on.
Oftentimes in the summer, I’d make my bed and opt to lie out beneath the trees with the stars blanketing my sleep. I liked the way the grass smelt in the mornings and the way the damp earth cooled my feet. Birds would chirp overhead, and water would trickle through the pond. Even the rain seemed beautiful out there, cascading from one leaf to another as it made its way down from heaven.
There was something special about being able to just lie down without a care in the world and feel the sunlight settle into my bones. Even on the days where my eyes were blocked by blue and grey, I found it easier to smile amongst the thicket. I missed those days.
‘Are you alright?’ He said, placing a hand on my shoulder.
‘Hm?’ I jolted and hissed in a gulp of air through my nose. ‘Oh, yeah. I’m alright,’ I said, ‘I…sorry.’
He smiled at me, but the corners of his mouth barely lifted. ‘Must be difficult coming back here,’ he said and frowned. ‘We can come back tomorrow if you’d prefer?’
‘No, I, uh, I’m okay.’ I coughed and turned away from the back door, allowing my hand to drop down from where I’d pressed it against the glass. ‘I just want to get it over with.’
He nodded and jutted his chin back towards the kitchen. ‘Right, well uh, shall we get to it, then?’
I pursed my lips and shook my head from side to side. ‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘do you think you can give me a minute? I just want to have a look-’
‘Of course,’ he said quickly, ‘I’ll be right here. I’ll get started in the kitchen.’ He pecked me once on the lips and then he was gone.
I had to shield my eyes from the sun as I made my way across the path. Beads of sweat caught in my brows and stung my eyes as they got caught in them and I quickly needed to take my jacket off as I walked the route I thought I remembered.
Beneath my feet the earth was dry and large cracks ran through the mud, creating canyons for the ants that were scurrying around. I could hear birdsong in the far-off distance, but they wouldn’t be coming back here anytime soon.
The flakes of white that lined dirt would occasionally become caught in the breeze and swirl around like dandelion clocks. But, there were no dandelion clocks for me to wish this nightmare away.
The garden outside of my childhood home was now haunted by a morbid kaleidoscope. Every couple metres or so green would become black beneath my feet and the grey intermingled with the two. Each time I shut my eyes lived the myriad of colours I once knew but whenever I look they’re never there before me.
The sun felt wrong on my skin. Too hot. Hotter than I ever remember it being and crueller to breathe. It choked me as I walked like phantom hands around my throat and I wore it as a collar as I turned every corner.
It didn’t smell right, either. Long gone were the lavender and daffodils and in its place just ash.
They came in the night, apparently. I wish I could say it was menacing thugs or a gang, but the truth is they were just kids. It’s a small town. School children spend as much time thinking up ways to cure their boredom as they do actually doing those things. It’s hard to be mad at someone who didn’t really mean any harm. They were the ones who screamed for help once it all got out of hand. Sure, they scarpered, but I can’t believe that they intended to cause the devastation they did.
Since Prometheus gave his gift, man has always loved fire. But, a man is no god.
Ducking low beneath the white and blue tape I was careful not to tear the delicate plastic that read ‘POLICE LINE - DO NOT CROSS’ and scurried past the pile of abandoned sparklers and matches. Forensics had already been, but it’s hard to find DNA in a garden.
I can still close my eyes and imagine that I’m running past the treeline. It would have been right here, where the kids had been hiding with their toys and traps. Stepping over fallen logs and moving between the scorched trunks, I felt as though I had been transported back to another time entirely.
I came here at thirteen when my heart was broken for the very first time. I ran to sit on this very tree stump, spirited away amongst the weeds. I drew my legs up to my chest and buried my face in them protectively. I thought I knew pain then, but I was wrong.
Over there, past the blackberry bush, was where I once fell in a twisted lump upon the ground at nine, afraid and alone as I wondered where I’d go, what I’d do when no one in the world really cared for me. I had piled berries into my skirt, held it like a little basket, and as they stained the cream purple so did my face to match.
My eyes were still closed, but this was my garden. It used to welcome me home with warm arms and extended branches. It would envelop me into its breast and would keep me safe from the brutalities of the world time and time again. So, why wouldn’t it do the same again now?
With my hands dangling by my sides, I continued to walk my path. As I drifted by, I allowed my fingertips to brush against the rough bark and marvelled in how it turned them black. Like this, it was easy to believe that the garden and myself were indeed one. We had no secrets from one another.
I found the old stump easily enough and lowered myself down to sit and pull my knees up to my chest once more. Blackened fingers traced patterns of apologies and goodbyes across the wood as the first tear fell from my eye.
My breaths came out stuttered and weak and the more I tried to calm them the worse it became. It wasn’t the knowledge that this would be the last time I could be in my garden like this; it was the understanding that the garden would continue on and inspire so many stories other than my own.
I scrubbed my hand beneath my nose and breathed in deeply three times.
‘Thank you,’ I whispered and immediately felt ridiculous.
The sound of a branch snapping caused my head to shoot up and we locked eyes. I rubbed the back of my neck nervously, wondering what a mess I must look like as his expression was full of concern.
‘I was just…I don’t really know what I was doing,’ I said, getting up from my perch.
He stepped forwards and touched my cheek lightly with his thumb, rubbing something off of my skin. ‘You were saying goodbye,’ he shrugged. ‘Are you ready to head off for today? We can come back another time. There’s no rush.’
I took another look around me, remembering the urgency to finish packing up my mother’s house I’d felt earlier, but now I didn’t feel like rushing at all.
‘Yeah,’ I said, slipping my hand into his own. ‘Let’s go home.’
Here in our little flat, I’ve placed flowers, ferns and saplings onto every available surface. We have the herb shop growing on the fridge, the flowers for the bumblebees living on the windowsills (both inside and out) and my air purifiers anywhere they’ll fit.
Every morning I wake up early to water and prune my little garden, keeping the new bulbs healthy and content. I love the scents they give off, supple and fresh. It feels like walking through a secret Eden whenever I come home. The pansies I keep in the bathroom are some of my favourites. Their colours vibrant and petals all so unique. Whenever I look at them, I find myself becoming lost. It’s like being in a museum and becoming enraptured by a painting, one glance and I can’t turn away.
I no longer need to hide in my house. In my home, there are no tiptoeing feet or gently closed doors. Of course, there are slams and screams from every corner of our home from dawn ‘till dusk…
‘For goodness sake,’ I could hear being muttered from the other room. ‘You can’t just say no to bedtime!’
I stifled my laughter as I left the kitchen with my mug of tea, making sure to keep my face straight as I turned to face our little one.
‘I want to see Mummy,’ he giggled and ran into my legs, wrapping his small arms around them so forcefully I had to be careful not to spill my drink on him.
‘Hey!’ I teased, ruffling his hair with my hand. ‘Does that mean you’re going to help me re-pot the kitchen plants? Oh, I knew you loved helping me-’
‘Daddy, if I go to bed, can I have a story?’ He squealed quickly, jumping away from me before I could drag him off.
They sprinted off together, feet slamming and laughter echoing as they made their way down the hall.
I smiled at them as I sat down on the sofa, mug in hand and green leaves from the fern caressing my cheek.