Green Fingers

Jessica looked at me. “You know about plants.” She thrust her phone at me. “What is this? I need to get it now!”

I looked. “I think it’s a butterfly palm. It’s a nice plant. Why are you getting a plant. Plants die just by looking at you.” I had know Jessica for years and she is the only person I knew who could kill a spider plant. She could kill anything green. She always swore that lettuce wilted faster around her.

“But my mother is coming to visit.” Jessica said. “And last time she was here, she gave me this plant.”

Mrs Ford, Jessica’s mum, was an avid gardener. She even wrote the gardening column in the church magazine. “So what happened to the plant. It looks pretty healthy and it must have been hard even for you to kill.”

Jessica winced. “I hate plants. Mum was always so obsessed over them and knew all their Latin names and everything. It put me off them for life. As soon as she was on the train back, I took it to a charity shop.”

I looked at the luxuriant plant in the picture. “Next time donate it to me. That looks beautiful, and they can be expensive.”

“What am I going to do?” Jessica said. “Mum is bound to ask questions.” Her shoulders slumped. “I feel such a disappointment.”

“She’s not disappointed in you.” I said firmly. “You two just have different skills. You know how she always gets you to check the bills and she can never cope with numbers.” Jessica stayed downcast. I gave her a quick hug. “I’ll take you shopping for plants tomorrow. We’ll pick up a nice butterfly palm, put it in a dark corner and keep her distracted with your knitting.” Mrs Ford loved Jessica’s knitting.

The next morning I was regretting my offer. Jessica was hopeless around plants. “This one looks great,” I said, picking it up.

“Hang on,” Jessica said. “We can’t get one too healthy or mum will suspect something.”

“How about this?” I found I sad specimen in the corner, heavily marked down.

“Mum would have a fit if she thought I had neglected her plant so much. You know what she’s like – they’re her babies.”

“What about this?” I picked up a slightly wilted one from near the heating duct.”

“Mmmm” Jessica was undecided. “Do you think it is the right size? I mean, it’s a little bigger than the picture.”

“Your mum was last here six months ago.” I said. “You always visit her, remember. The plant should have grown.”

Jessica looked the plant over, turning it this way and that. “It looks too nice to take to my house.” She ran a finger over the leaves.

“Which is why you are giving me that plant as soon as your mum is on the train and I’ll keep it safe for you. You can even tell your mum that I asked for it.” I said. “Come on, let’s pay for this and get it home. Your mum will be here in an hour.”

Jessica picked her mum up at the station while I finished the finishing touches on Jessica’s flat. It was a bright, sunny afternoon but the unsparing sunshine couldn’t find a speck of dust or scrap of lint anywhere. I made the coffee and put out some biscuits as I heard Jessica’s car draw up outside.

Mrs Ford came in and gave me a warm smile and a hug. “Mandy, it’s good to see you again. How are you doing? Still with Dan?”

“Dan who?” I grinned. “I’ll get you a coffee Mrs Ford.”

“Hmm, let me see, was it Kai? Or Jude? Or wasn’t there a Jason?” Mrs Ford teased as she slipped out of her jacket and looked around the room. She spotted the plant and walked over to pick it up. “That is a beautiful plant.”

Jessica rushed over as her mother expertly checked the dryness of the soil. “I bet you didn’t think I could keep a house plant alive all this time, but I did. I think I’ve done okay, actually. I call her ‘Gertie'”

“Jessica, I love you dearly, but I do wish you wouldn’t panic and fib.” Mrs Ford sighed. “I gave you a house plant last time because I thought the room looked bare without something green, but I know you very well.” She shook a sorrowful head at her daughter. “The plant I left with you was artificial.”


Photo by Kara Eads on Unsplash

I Never Knew Her Name

I never knew her name.

I took this image in Roundhay Park and I wondered about the story behind it.  
This is one of my guesses

Retirement hit hard.  For the first three months I don’t think I moved far beyond my flat.  I wasn’t completely cut off.  I would do my little bit of shopping, speak to my daughter, speak to my daughter-in-law and sometimes I would call in at the local community centre coffee mornings, but mostly I stayed in. 

Thank goodness, after three months of slowly settling into place, I decided I was not going to come to a stop.  I started with a morning walk.  I would wait until the school run had finished and then I would walk the five minutes to my local park, half an hour around the paths, and then sit and overlook the small lake while I drank a flask of coffee.  And that’s when I met her.

She looked the same age as me and had the same air of striving to find a purpose.  I saw her every morning, and after a week or so I smiled in recognition, and she smiled back.  We were two old ladies sitting in the park, and we recognised the fight against drifting slowly into the sunset. 

A smile grew into a timid, ‘Good morning,’ and then a comment on the weather, and a little chat about the day, and suddenly we were friends. 

It was only ever that half an hour, between 9.45am and 10.15am, that we met.  I brought enough coffee for two and she brought biscuits.  We talked about our children, and their partners.  Her son was finding being a parent hard.  I talked about my worries over my daughter-in-law’s job.  She told me about her volunteer work at the library and I shared jokes about my time helping in a charity shop.  Then we would dust the crumbs off and set off in different directions to go back to our lives, a little energised and encouraged by that touch of contact with someone who understood. 

We managed to meet up in all sorts of weather.  If it was raining she brought a huge golf umbrella that we wedged between us and I had an old picnic blanket to put on the damp bench.  We used the umbrella for shade if it was too hot and I brought iced coffee.  I brought back sweets from my holiday to pass on to her grandson and she gave me cuttings from her scented geranium that flourished on my windowsill. 

But we never exchanged names.  That would have been ‘odd’.  We had talked about the weather and stray chitchat for so long without names that it would almost be bad manners to ask about names now.  I knew her son-in-law’s name, and the place where her daughter worked, but not her name.  And she knew where my daughter lived and my grandson’s school, but no name.  It was an unspoken taboo.  After so long, how could we bring it up now?

Then she stopped coming.  I was worried, of course, but what could I do?  I didn’t have a name or a telephone number.  It would be intrusive to try call her son-in-law or ask those regular dog walkers that greeted her every morning as we sat and talked.  One week turned into two weeks, and then it was a month.  I started bringing my own biscuits to have with my coffee.  But I didn’t dare miss a day in case my friend, my dear friend, suddenly was able to make it one more time. 

Then, after too many weeks, one of the dog walkers stopped as she walked passed.  “It’s so sad about Gwen, isn’t it?”

“I’m sorry?” I said.

“Gwen,” he said, gesturing at the empty space beside me on the bench.  “It was so sudden, and the family are devastated.  I didn’t see you at the funeral?”

I withdrew a little at the small but definite hook for gossip. “I’m afraid I didn’t know.” A cold wave ran through me.  “What happened?”

“A heart attack in her sleep, they said.  It was very peaceful.” The dog walker leaned over me. “Are you okay?”

“It’s just a shock.” I said.  “I’m glad it was peaceful.”

“Would you like me to take you home?” The dog walker said, tugging her dog back to her.

“No, I’m fine.” I said, lying, my hands trembling as I clutched my plastic cup of coffee.

“It’s no trouble at all.” The dog walker said firmly.  “Come on, let’s get moving.  I’m Rachel, by the way, and this mutt is Bruno.”

I managed a smile at the beautiful dog.  “He’s very handsome.” I said, as Rachel helped me to my feet.  “I’m Sarah.”

“He’s a bit of a mix.” Rachel said, and chatted about nothing as she guided me home and made sure I was safe in a chair with a fresh coffee.  “And I hope I see you tomorrow on that bench.  And if you bring the coffee, I’ll bring the biscuits.”

Rachel is a good friend now, and I have her name, and her phone number and I am always glad to dog sit, but I still miss Gwen.  Gwen understood.  Funnily enough, I didn’t know her name, but I knew her birthday, after all our conversations.  So today, after Rachel has left with Bruno, I can leave some flowers for my friend, with a name on the card, before I go home to the quiet. 

Sometimes You Lose

I tried everything, using every trick in the book.  He never saw me cross or demanding and I was always, always attentive.  I made him the centre of my universe in the stolen moments he could get away. 

I lived for those moments, when he kept one eye on the clock and one foot on the floor as we snatched some tenderness.  He brought me perfume and a gold chain that I wear always.

I never faltered.  I kept myself just for him, curled up on the comfy sofa with the soft cushions, desperate for the rushed phone call or hurried text.  Why would I go out when everything else was ashen compared to his vital passion? 

Then she found out and he chose.  I heard him telling her how little I meant to him as he dashed off back to the perfect wife.  He left me behind with his spare razor and a coat and hat he forgot in the rush.  I keep them hanging near the door and sometimes I spray them with his cologne.  He is still the centre of my world, and I am empty without him, but there is nothing I can do.  Because sometimes you lose. 


Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

All About People

He looked at the stonework. “It’s all just fake because it was built to be a ruin. It’s not real. It tells you all you need to know about people. They don’t want the real deal. People built a fake castle over a fake lake because it looks nice. They don’t care if it doesn’t mean anything.”

I moved away from him, my fingers brushing the warm, rough stones. “It tells you everything about people. It shows that even in the mundane heart of a municipal park, we want drama. We want stories and legends and a sweep of wide colour. I think it’s perfect.”

This is a picture I took of a fake ruin at Roundhay Park, Leeds, UK, which overlooks a man made lake

October Frights: Haunted

Many walk past his statue.  School children sketch it and history teachers wave wildly as they walk its bounds.  His name is in legend.  But for those who have the sight, his ghost huddles at the foot of the bronze, sobbing inconsolably, his hands shielding his head, as he remembers the blood shed in his wake.

For more great reads, awesome insights and generous giveaways, check out these authors taking in part in October Frights!

Iron Crown

The legendary Iron Crown was now just rusted metal.  He pushed aside the rubbish on the floor and picked it up.  It was still surprisingly heavy.  He turned it over in his hands and even though it was so decayed he could feel the power in it.  It was heavy with more than the physical iron.  Centuries of being the loadstar for every ambitious heart had left their mark.   Had it been worth it?  Had all the scheming and plotting been worth the pain?  Had the brief season of rule been worth rending the world apart.

He glanced through the gaps in the ruined castle walls.  The sun was getting lower.  He had to leave before night fell and the Dark Ones walked.

Haunted

Many walk past his statue.  School children sketch it and history teachers wave wildly as they walk its bounds.  His name is in legend.  But for those who have the sight, his ghost huddles at the foot of the bronze, sobbing inconsolably, his hands shielding his head, as he remembers the blood shed in his wake.