This is one of my earliest stories, make of it - and it's meaning - what you will!
So, This Is?
I used to keep an allotment in Aigburth between the deer wood and the village cricket green. Rode there on my hybrid mountain bike when the weather was clement. Had this basket fitted to my handlebars for my parsnips. For my darling wife to cook, when I got home.
Used to love my old parsnips, didn’t you, Bethan?
This morning, I lifted my first plump parsnips of the season. They were rooted in the soil by ladies’ legs and hard to pull. Once I’d filled my trog, I sniffed my hands, savouring their earthy aroma, the tang of ripe manure beneath my fingernails. Then, I prised a lump of sticky fudge out of my trousers, sat on my kneeler, and chewed, enjoying the warmth of the rising sun on my cheeks. It was a beautiful, cold December morning. It felt good to be alive.
I stood up and cast my eyes over the allotments - all blanched with frost, barren, and deserted. That’s when I saw the parakeets, flocking and bustling around old Jim’s apple trees. Crazed with hunger they were, beating their wings in a turquoise flurry, gorging on the rotting russets lying strewn, like broken hearts, on the ground. Presently, a gardener appeared in their midst. I pulled off my bobble hat and went over to cry a friendly hello,
‘Lovely morning we’re having!’
Those birds all scattered in one fowl swoop I can tell you! The strangest thing is: the gardener didn’t once look up and speak to me. He seemed hell-bent on his digging. Deeper and deeper he dug, shovelling the wet sods of soil over his shoulder in a madman’s frenzy. I assumed he was digging out the dreaded bindweed.
‘Digging out the Devil’ senile Hughie used to say.
Before he kicked the blessed bucket, Hugh told me that he’d found bindweed growing six-feet underground when he dug out the graves of the dearly departed in Aigburth churchyard.
I didn’t make the connection at first: between the gravedigger, the gardener… and my angel.
The man toiled with his shirt off, streaming with thick floods of sweat. He was built like an ox: short, stocky and very well-honed, paved with slabs of rippling muscle. Thick black hairs sprouted from his ears, nose, armpits, the oily cleft between his massive buttocks, where his saggy cords and y-fronts slipped. He was sporting a red tattoo, a cherub, firing arrows of love from a golden bow into a bleeding heart on his back.
I could tell by the heavy way that he leaned onto his spade, he was exhausted. The crusty old dog paused to dab his wet brow with a polka-dot handkerchief, beckoning for me to join him. Warily, I ambled up and stared at his sallow face. His eyes were opaque, without iris or pupil. He turned wispy white, pale as autumn fog. I was scared, when he went wispy, I can tell you!
The sun disappeared. Dark clouds threatened their untold malevolence. The wind blew up a hurricane, wailing like a banshee. Rain spit-spat, spattered, splashed, then teemed down on us in crystal stair-rods, un-sacred daggers in our black hell. Searing shards rent the sky asunder, showering us with fire sparks.
The cunning, wily, old gardener grabbed my trembling wrist, dragging me screaming and kicking to the edge of his hole. My pleas for mercy were lost on the howling wind. I looked down between my green wellies, and said:
‘What in hell’s name’s that, then?’
You see, the hole was full of stars!
His sturdy hands pushed me away.
Then I was falling, falling, falling…
I keep an allotment in Aigburth between the deer wood and the cricket green. Ride there on my hybrid mountain bike when the weather’s clement. I have a basket fitted to my handlebars for my parsnips. For my darling wife to cook when I get home.
‘Love my old parsnips, don’t you, Bethan?’
‘Not nearly as much as I love you, darlin’.
‘I brought you red roses, Bethan. I know how much you used to like red roses on your grave.’
‘Oh, but they’re beautiful! I love you, Bryn, with all my heart. Come.’
‘Farther up and further in!’
‘So, this is Heaven…’