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(A short story of 4264 words)

Leaving The Garden


by Suzanne Bowen

Maureen the Assistant Librarian has spent a night in her suburban garden, having drunk too much champagne at a high class midsummer party in the Holland Park garden of her work colleague Adrian, whose style, wealth and exalted friends raise the question of why he is still working in the Library. As the perfect midsummer night passes into dawn and Maureen thinks about the events of that party, her solitary existence seems to be coming to a crisis – but someone - or something – has followed her home and is in the garden with her.

Nearly dawn. What time is dawn in Midsummer? She had left her watch on the kitchen table before coming out into her garden last night. Now she cannot move from her seat under the cherry blossom tree.

Silence – a miracle in these parts. Then, from above, (somewhere in that wretched overgrown bay tree that will have to be pruned) a burst of a blackbird’s throaty song, raucous in her ear, a reminder that the world will wake and expect something of her. She can’t feel her feet. How long is it since she has felt them? Her left buttock is similarly absent, pressed for so long against the cold grey stone of the garden seat. She shifts experimentally, feels the unsettling crawling tickle of limbs returning to life. She won’t move yet. She doesn’t want to, because then she will have to think thoughts that require strength she does not have and cannot believe that she will ever have.

At midnight, Maureen’s senses were anaesthetised by all the champagne she had drunk at the party. Actually, she had a capacity for wine that her friends and workmates would never have attributed to her, when mother was in bed, or, as was now the case, away on her respite fortnight in The Willows NHS Trust Care Home. Last night, however, Maureen had been given some of the best champagne she had ever tasted – real quality, with none of the chemical aftertaste of the cheap booze she bought for herself on the way home most days, in the grubby Mart outside the tube station.

She had expected that her own garden (her mother’s garden and the garden of her childhood) would compare badly with the one in which she had wandered until midnight; but it had just felt safe and neat and fragrant. That, at least, was a mercy. There was the white rose that she had planted two years ago. There was the lavender, honeysuckle and something else emitting a pure white smell. Jasmine? The garden gave her a simple sense of achievement. She felt pleasure, too, in noticing the emergence of things she hadn’t planted. They must like it here, she thought. Then there were the relics of mother’s efforts. She didn’t have the heart to dig them up (they had earned their place) but she disliked their bright colours and municipal park arrangements, comparing them unfavourably to the delicately-hued and stylish planting that she admired in the magazines and had just been coveting in Adrian’s garden...

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