Sunday, June 18, 2006

Gardening

'That will have to be the last of them you know' he said dropping a kiss on the top of my head and handing me a cup of coffee.
'I know' I said, swallowing back the bitter pill of understanding.
He left me alone on the steps and I watched the sun, gauging its descent through the leylandii that edged our country garden.
Not long now, the sun was almost down.

I knew he was right, it couldn't go on. Two years is enough.
The move to the cottage meant an hour's drive home for me every night. It was not unpleasant, a mechanical waltz through lanes designed to test one's resolve to make it home in one piece. I quickly traded the gas guzzler and my city speeds to struggle through the last of the hidden ice.
The spring brought joy and misery in one helping. My daily return to the cottage was easier on my driving but my eyes had picked up a new horror. Horizontal rain, and a strong will to live, had kept my eyes firmly planted on the road, now they wandered, picking up new bits of road information and scanning the tarmac for the natural obstacles that littered this little used lane.

The sun was just setting as I saw him. I call him a 'him' but at that time I had no means to 'sex' a badger. I stopped the car and wound down the window. I felt like a gawper at a crash scene, searching for the means of death, the bloody evidence. He had been hit cleanly.
'Probably never knew it was coming,' I thought 'on his way home to his badgery set but never destined to get there.'
Close up the badger was quite beautiful, not true black and white but a course pattern of smokey greys and off-white. I also noticed that one of his small ears was missing, bitten off in some desperate badger event. I shuddered and shut the window.

Five minutes later I was still sat beside the dead animal. The thoughts that were running through my head belonged to someone else and the someone else was now getting out of the car. There were carrier bags in the boot, loads of them, debris from all those trips to the supermarket when I'd vowed to recycle. I laid them out and wrapped two bags around my hands. The badger was a meaty creature, his body slumped into the back of the car like a sack of sand. What the fuck was I doing?
'I'll bury him' I reasoned 'I'll make up for all the roadkill that are left to rot unceremoniously at the side of the road.'

Simon wasn't home. His company was having a crisis in accounts so he didn't have to witness me dragging a dead body across the lawn and burying it between my favourite honeysuckle and the still dormant clematis. He would never know. But then there was the rabbit and after that there was a selection of smaller rodents and a baby hedgehog. Some were flattened and I turned my face away as I flipped them into a bag. Some needed some thought as to how to tackle the many grisly pieces.
'We'll have to buy the field next door' Simon joked when my secrets could no longer remain undetected. he had thought that we had a bad attack of 'mole'.
I smiled at his thinly disguised tolerance but he didn't know the whole story.

When we moved from the city my greatest happiness was to be able to sit in a garden that was more that a postage stamp. I vowed that whatever the weather I would take a few minutes each evening to revel in this longed for idyll. As soon as the dishes were safely stashed on the drainer my habit flicked the kettle on. I would take my coffee outside and sit on the stone steps that led down to the garden.
The night after the badger incident I took up my coffee position at dusk. The rustle caught my ear long before my eye caught the impossible. A badger wandered nonchalantly out from between the honeysuckle and the clematis. I had not seen anything in our country garden since we had arrived, apart from birds and the messy remains of foxes in the un-weighted dustbin.
The badger sauntered out and stood in the middle of the newly cut grass. I tried not breathing so that I wouldn't frighten him off, but he seemed content to stand there and watch me. Strange that he had a missing ear the same as the brother badger I had buried. He watched me intently and with a slight lowering of his head he faded into the grass.

I put my delusion down to tiredness and too much coffee, but the day after the rabbit was buried under the roses the same thing happened. Lazarus like, the mottled bunny stood patiently watching me until she slipped gracefully into the earth. It was the same with the moles, voles, field mice and grass snakes and I learned over time to listen to their names as they bowed their heads for the last time and went home.

'Are you okay?' Simon asked as I watched the last of the patio slabs being cemented into position.
'Yes' I said 'I am.'
And I was. Whatever made these animals come and thank me for burial can never be explained but it is time to move on. The garden is full and winter is coming again. Come the spring there will be more roadkill and somewhere there will be a new recruit for this very special job.

2 comments:

Cailleach said...

Ooh, so this what you do!

There's a very comfortable feeling about this story.

I'll watch out for more!

Minx said...

Well, don't watch too carefully, I'm a bit of a slo-mo about short stories!!