The gentleman who made my mother’s garden comes in, for the last time. There is a lot of last time, at the moment.
I make my stepfather his eggs and then he says he will go out and have a word. I think that I will leave them together for a while, so I sit and read the paper. Eventually, I get up to go and see them. I imagine them standing out in the garden that my mother invented and this kind gentleman made into a reality. I picture them gazing at the sweeps of lavender, the delicate white roses, the tumbling clematis, the great clumps of sage, the little patch where the vegetables were grown. I imagine them speaking words about my mother and the flowers she loved.
I go out into that beautiful garden, but they are not there.
Of course they are not there. They are men. They are doing what men do. They are in the shed, talking about tyre treads.
I find this so funny that I think it will save me. I am afraid that when I say goodbye to the good gentleman I will cry. I think the tyre treads will keep the tears at bay. He is a man of the north-east, quiet, practical, without sentiment. In this part of the world, the people do not do grand gestures, or gushing, or hyperbole, or high emotion. He used to work the land, and was a brilliant keeper of sheep. I have an inordinate respect for people who know livestock. I sometimes think that if I were at a dinner party with a high financier, a brain surgeon, a film director and a hill farmer, I would want to sit next to the hill farmer. This gentleman had to give up his adored sheep because his body failed him, but he was still strong enough to work in the garden, and he made my mother’s dreams come alive. Her body had failed entirely, so she could not dig or weed or prune, but she could dream. After she died, I managed to keep it together with pretty much everyone who offered kind condolences, but it was this man who made me cry because of what he did for her.
The gardening gentleman stopped talking about the tyres and looked round the shed, a little reflective. ‘Everyone moves on,’ he said. There was a wealth of meaning in those words. I thanked him for everything he had done. ‘I just kept it ticking over,’ he said. I smiled. ‘You did a little more than that,’ I said.
In the shed, there is one of those scratched and scuffed old tables, with drawers and cubby holes, where all the odds and ends are kept. There were some old, rusty implements, and various tubs and bottles, and some string. In the end, it was not the sweeps of lavender that finished me off, but the humble bottles and tubs. I thought of Mum, leafing through her catalogues, sending off for the parcels of necessary items, sometimes dispatching my stepfather to the shop with one of her neatly written lists, on very high days when her body was just about working getting into the car and being driven to the garden centre ten miles down the valley. Somehow, it was the very ordinary collection of fertilisers and soil improvers and magical stuff for the tomatoes which sent me over the edge, because they are not needed any more.
I said goodbye quickly and turned to go, before I made a fool of myself. ‘See you around the village,’ said the kind gentleman. ‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘I do hope so.’