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An episode from Beloved's childhood. Her father dies so soon after the divorce she remembers them as the same thing.

Who Needs Eden?

part 16 of Common People

When he was home, Beloved's father gardened.

His hand-built pergola housed a hanging paradise of flowering cacti and ferns. His orchids were incomparable. An engineer on a mine, whose distance Beloved did not understand except as an uncomfortably long drive (or a short flight in a terrifyingly tiny plane), he regarded orchids as an exercise in perfect chemistry, where every blossom proved the mastery of his intellect over nature's flow.

In his presence, Beloved recalled everything as looking greener, smelling brighter, of the earth.

Beloved bore out his funeral easily enough, pleased to have been sent off to choose her own dress for the occasion. Attending the sobriety, she selected a shiny black sheath, modest and dour, and thought herself made adult by the occasion: first death, first self-chosen outfit, fatherless.

Through the ritual, she was otherwise unmoved. Her father had not been often home. Less, these last few years.

The eulogist was his sister, Beloved's aunt. She mentioned his green thumb.  Only then did reality descend.

Vision blurred and throat aching, Beloved turned from the crowded room. Familiar enough with her grandmother's blows, she felt as though someone had hit her now, and set the rage to boiling.

She'd forgotten his garden.

In retreat, she discovered the only place to go was outside.

'Orchids aren't showing this year, eh? They shy this time.'

'I don't think you're supposed to fertilise them with sheep poo, Nonna.'

'Is not sheep poo! Is manure.' She pronounced the word embarrassingly wrong.

Beloved remained unconvinced. The bag clearly advertised what the product was, but her grandmother rarely read, if she could at all.

'They shouldn't be in the sun. Dad kept them under the pergola. You have to move the pots back where they were.'

'Nonsense.' The pronouncement summarily dismissed the argument, the outcome judged in grandparental favour. Her labour dragged the pots to their current position, and it would not be revoked by whim of petulant child. 'All plants need sun. Next year they come out, you wait. You help with this now.'

The old woman heaved on an equally old bucket chair, the plastic grey and cracked, and the weighty staghorn fern that had taken up residence therein, out into the scorching summer shine.

Beloved took the opportunity to examine the depleted garden. Since her parents' divorce, no one had been able to repair the sprinklers he had put together, the hanging garden too complicated to maintain when watered by one old woman, by hose and hand. To lower the pots was a prudent move, made in favour of human ease.

If with no consideration for the fate of ferns.

The rage filling Beloved was not new, but this time, it was targeted.

'You're ruining it! You're ruining everything! You're killing all the orchids - you don't understand anything, you're wrecking his garden! He could make the flowers come out all year, you don't know how to do anything! You're useless, and stupid, and -'

The slap caught Beloved across the mouth, where the sharp edge of a canine cut her lip. Impotent and raging, Beloved wished the stupid old cow would die in piss and shame.  Beloved would remember her wish when he died, a year after the divorce, a year of dying plants and a concrete yard. Him, who had never been home except to garden.

In another language, Beloved's mother was named for a bitter sea. The name seemed incongruous for a woman who presented as cheerful, a child's dream mum, a schoolkid's best-loved teacher. There were no tempestuous storms from Beloved's mother, only love love love, smothering all her acrid rejoinders with concern, her bitterness deep and dark, still as frozen ocean.

From the lounge window, Bittersea watched Beloved toy with a dry leaf. Compelled by her daughter's silences, Bittersea stepped outside, into the pergola's shade, where the brick was wet, the trace debris hosed away.

'He only ever wanted to garden after he'd been off fertilising someone else's turf. Gave him a burst of energy - doing it, with others. Didn't take me long to realise what he was up to. He'd come home and dive into his pots, too excited to talk about anything except gardening, as if talking about something else would lead him into telling me.'

Beloved crossed her legs, brick scraping her bare ankles. She looked up at her mother, unmoving and quiet as the cascade of words fell about her, syllables brittle in the heat.

'Then he'd tell me anyway, days later, delighted he'd kept it from me that long. That was his kind of arrogance, to think he had the right to put his guilt on me. And he'd say, but it's alright, love, it's alright, I'm like a bee, going from flower to flower, but this is my hive, and I'm always going to come home here.'

Bittersea looked around then, at the newly Spartan presentation where once had hung his gardens of Babylon. His palace, deconstructed by her own mother's brutal hands.

'I don't like gardens much.'

Bittersea made the announcement with no particular emphasis, no obvious hurt, but for the words themselves.

Understanding the euphemism forced Beloved's maturity in a burst, come out of nowhere, hot, tidal, embarrassing. At the time of her parents' divorce, she should have been old enough to recognise herself the centre of no one's universe, had she not been the last child and most loved.

Maturity came when she recognised that once hurt, others sought to hurt.

She wished her mother had kept her mouth shut.

Beloved dreamed of him, and remembered him, always with dirty hands. While she slept, he spoke of lady slippers and delicate orchids, and the power he had to make them bloom. While around them and their discussion, aliens arrived in Beloved's childhood yard, appearing as giant eyeballs. The strangers destroyed the gardens and drained the pool, cracked the paving, the ivy-covered walls, and brought down the pergola, without anger or maliciousness, only a vague, apologetic calm. Lastly, the eyes came up through the earth, in a great tide of dirt and must, covering all good memories with reeking betrayal.

She complained to her father about the strangers and their destruction, and he did not turn from his pots.

'Everyone needs somewhere to live,' he told her.

Beloved could have hated her mother, for telling her the truth.

She did not think about hating her father, until the habit of not thinking about him became as good as ritual.

By the time he died, she had forgotten he had ever touched a plant in his life.

Spearman had been living in his house long enough that the novelty of ownership turned to boredom. He confronted the garden with a practical mind. Beloved met him, seduced him and came to his home years after Spearman had ripped up the lawns and replaced them with woodchip. Hardy plants filled the beds, and only those with an ability to survive without his attention.

On her arrival to Spearman's house, a friend of his gifted her a pot plant. Beloved knew neither the friend's name nor the plant's. Yet, despite her inadequacies, the plant clung and survived.

The plant sat on a ledge beside the front door. On leaving the house, Beloved reached out in passing, stroking the dust from a fleshy leaf.

Spearman, to her side, gave her an odd look. 'What'd you do that for?'

Beloved opted for blitheness. 'Letting it know it's loved.'

Spearman held her gaze, odd glance turning to his particular piercing intentness, as though candlelight caught in his eye. His smile lurked halfway between happiness and a smirk.

Wordless, he reached out, and stroked the curve of her arse.

November 2010

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