A Short Story from Sarah Bower for Easter Sunday

In the Garden After Storms

When you love someone, you’re curious about them. You long to ask questions, hunger for answers. What’s your favourite food? Bath or shower? What’s the last movie you saw? Do you read in bed? Do you like wine, gardening, knitting, boxing, country walks? You rehearse these questions carefully, because so much, for you, depends upon the answers. These questions are full of promise, pregnant with possibility.
So here’s how it should have gone.

It’s early, still cool, the light uncertain. I like to walk in the garden at this time of day because you can still breathe, and the light doesn’t knife through your eyelids the way it does once the sun is fully risen. The shadows soothe, console, and god knows, I needed consolation that morning. That morning after storms.
As I enter the garden I notice the damage done by the weather, the tall plants stooped in the dust, the olive leaves lying along the paths like slivers of silver. Fish scales. Shavings of coins. I make my way to the gardener’s shed, where stakes are kept, and twine, and a rake to comb the gravel. I will occupy myself making repairs, with simple, restorative work to ease the soul. As I pass the cave, I avert my gaze. After all, there is nothing to look at, just a smooth, blank stone.

So I see him straight away, sitting outside the gardener’s shed, nursing a mug of tea, and I run right to him, and fling my arms around him, probably spilling the tea as I do so, but that doesn’t matter. I apologise, he says he’s known worse and we laugh. ‘How did you escape?’ I ask him. ‘How are you anyway? What will you do now? Where will you stay? Can I get you more tea? You could stay with me. Why don’t we stop pretending? Why don’t you just stay with me?’

But that’s not the way it goes. I do go to the garden, in the cool morning light that feels like blinking underwater. The broken plants are there, and the olive leaves scattering the paths, but I don’t notice them, not really, because I have come to look at the cave; I can’t help myself; it is like a scab on my heart I have to scratch. So what I notice is nothing, the space where the stone was last night, the cave mouth speaking its emptiness back to the emptiness inside me. There is a mist, I think, and a small broken-branched tree, and the sense of dread swelling in my throat like a scream.

And then, before I can utter a sound, the mist seems to solidify, or perhaps the tree begins to move, and I know he’s there, even before my senses are ready to perceive him. And I stand, my arms hanging loose at my sides, my jaw dropped, and I ask him nothing. Because the ones we love are ineffable, the ones we love are figments. We are entranced by them and only once they’re gone do we return to ourselves and remember what we intended to ask them.

 

 

Sarah Bower is a novelist and short story writer. Her first novel, The Needle in the Blood, was Susan Hill’s Book of the Year 2007.  Find out more about Sarah here.

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