Honourable mention, adult fiction.
by Fenella Sobchuk
There’s a naked lady in my Mum’s garden. Look, she’s over there, in front of the silver birch tree, a pale grey form with an ageless aura. She’s stooped over slightly in a graceful pose, looking down at the grass beneath, an arm resting on her upturned knee, her hand poised in mid-air. Hair is loosely scooped back from a serene-looking face, a couple of tendrils escaping. Her eyes appear closed. I think it’s because she’s looking down at the mossy grass below her feet where a stone bath is embedded; maybe the resident robin is splashing around, catching her eye. Is that a glimmer of a smile? Hmm, I like to think so.
Right now though, the lady is motionless and quiet, keeping watch over the garden growing. She’s seen the first snowdrops burst from the cold soil; the white camellia blossoms swell in the spring sunshine, revealing their creamy petals; the heat of the summer sun filling the roses with sweet fragrances; and she’s acknowledged the shortening autumnal days, heralding winter’s wicked winds.
A vision of my Mum is gradually superimposed over the naked lady. I can see Mum on her knees now, no gardening gloves on to protect her reddened hands and fingernails from dirt, a trowel in her hand, weeding out those devilish intruders. She’s immersed in the sounds around her, the scolding blackbird, the chattering blue tit on the apple tree, the buzzing of gentle bumblebees. She is ever aware of the garden world around her, exposed to the elements of a gentle mist or the warm sunshine. A light breeze dances around her as she absentmindedly dashes away that stray hair that falls into her eyes. The moisty smell of the warm soil is breathed deeply into her lungs filling her sole with wholesomeness.
Yes, it’s in this domain, this retreat from another world, that she feels a sense of contentment. This is where she is happiest. No mundane thoughts of what to make Dad for supper, who to phone and when, have the newly-washed clothes been folded yet. No one demands her out here. The garden is her closest friend and ally, and she can share her thoughts out loud if she wants to. There’s only the silence of the naked stone lade to keep her company. Mum is at peace with herself and the world here.
Has my Mum learned her life’s wisdom through watching her garden grow? She has her own memories of life and death after all. She lived through war-torn London as lives were snuffed out and friendships taken from her. She learned how to survive the loss of many a loved one, and she experienced re-birth when her children were born. She made her own sacrifices and endured a career of motherhood that maybe didn’t enrich her life as much as she might have wanted. I like to think, though, that the quietness of her garden sustained her throughout her maturing years, offering her shade and protection when she needed it the most.
Now her knees and hips are beginning to stiffen with the years, and rising to her feet becomes more difficult. The shrubs and trees still need their yearly prune, the soil still needs a gentle fork-over and the wheelbarrow is becoming more cumbersome. Clipping those dead heads and cutting beautiful bouquets of flowers for the hungry vase in the living room, all require a little more effort now. The afternoon cup of tea still beckons, but the days are shortening now.
As I look at my photo of this lovely English garden, the stone statue the focal point, I find myself pondering. I am seeing both the naked lady and my mother. This thought surprisingly gives me comfort. I won’t be alone in my garden either.