by James Watts
As far as he was concerned, the garden at the house where his grandparents had once lived could only ever be recalled in disparate sections – he had no sense of it as a unified whole.
He thought of the vegetable beds, constrained within railway sleepers, canes hung with climbing peas that collapsed if shaken too violently. It was connected, somehow, to the orchard with its low trees, and the nut-brown rotten apples, pitted and dusted with mould like snow. Somewhere near the bottom where the grass became mossy was an old shed, dusky with a thousand smells, from the dangerous odour of petrol for lawnmowers to the smell of earth rubbed into the grain of wood where plants had been potted. There were tools like museum exhibits hung on old nails, and a vice at the end of the workbench where rotten apples could be squeezed into a plastic bucket to make cider.
The house had the muffled stillness one finds on stepping back inside at a summer garden party. Cool, almost eerie quiet springs from everyone being nearby but elsewhere. Memories flickered before his eyes like blurred, over-saturated cinema.
He returned to the garden. Patio furniture stood as if only momentarily abandoned, as if an aunt or uncle were about to return to it. There was a shimmering, timeless haze to the place as memories and the present reality shifted past one another, giving him the sensation of looking out of a grubby window. Glass and garden were jostling for primacy in his field of view.
He found his way to the deep hedges where dens had once been constructed and his oldest cousin played the villains to his heroes. It was an act of charity he still admired her for. He would have hated to play a villain.
He hadn’t planned to climb inside, but he did. The hedges seemed endless in childhood, but he soon reached a fence that prevented further advance. He turned.
He was surprised to see nothing but foliage. The garden beyond had retreated out of sight. Surely he hadn’t come all that far? He began clambering back only to find that he must have come much further than he remembered. Just as he was thinking it was only a moment’s work to reach it, he realised he could no longer see the fence. He was surrounded by greenery on all sides, and an idea altogether too ridiculous was forcing itself upon him. His incredulity meant he was able to cling to the promise that he would emerge in a moment to dying sunlight and early evening. But he did not.
Several minutes more and a change of foliage brought him further towards admitting something he assumed impossible. Childhood memories of the volume of hedges allowed him to hope he was simply lost in them, and the garden was only just out of sight. But as he advanced, this hope diminished further, leaving him with other explanations that were yet too great and terrible to believe.