The following short story is 100% fiction, but it’s a theme I’ve been thinking about a lot after having dinner with a girlfriend whose marriage has hit a rocky patch. There is no indiscretion and she’s seen the piece before I showed it to you …. As always when I publish fiction, I beg your indulgence. I don’t pretend to be a great writer, I simply love to tell a tale.
Louise poured some more coffee into her favourite mug, slipped on a pair of old shoes, walked out the kitchen door and onto the lawn. It was still wet with the morning dew.
She had spent the week in the spring garden. Taking stock to begin with: remembering what used to be, dreaming of what could be again, and making resolutions. Then she had picked up garden tools and started work.
Tom was away for several weeks. He didn’t often travel that long and she didn’t know why this trip required so much time. She had meant to ask, but somehow the question was never posed.
The children telephoned now and again: “Hi Mum, what are you up to today?”. They never left her time to answer, content to babble on about their busy lives, and she content to listen, and painfully aware that in any case she’d have nothing much to say in answer to their question.
She was long past that extremely-busy stage in her life. There were no longer hungry mouths to feed at home, no homework to oversee, no school activities to run (thank goodness), less entertaining of friends. She had to admit that the less she had to do, the less she did. Instead of making full use of this new found freedom, she had let herself slip into a rut, maybe even a deep trough.
So this morning, over breakfast she had moved from taking stock of her garden to taking stock of her life and, most importantly, her marriage. In fact it seemed that her garden and her marriage were similar in far too many ways.
As a bright young couple she and Tom were unstoppable. Endlessly busy, and productive and floating high on a cloud of achievement. They had known an exciting planting season when seeds of hope had been liberally strewn and tender shoots admired. Their garden was cherished and grew well to form a strong and admirable surround to their beautiful home; interesting jobs; lively circle of friends and inevitably glittering social life.
With the groundwork well established they became more ambitious, more confident and two young trees entered the garden. As the years passed the young trees grew strong, did well and gave Louise and Tom much joy and satisfaction.
Then had come the drought years. They seemed endless. The former excitement and innovation gave way to an exhausting routine. There was never enough water, the garden was untidy and even the young trees showed signs of strain.
The grass faded from lush green to beige. The garden became dull, their busy lives carefully moving around the edges without ever taking the time to stop and take a good look at what was happening.
Tom started travelling more frequently, the children flew the nest to start their studies and then to commence their own lives, and quite suddenly, in what seemed like a blink of the eye, Louise found herself very often alone.
How had this happened, why hadn’t she seen it coming? She toyed with the idea of talking about it to Tom, but although they got on well enough together, they communicated only superficially about practical details of everyday life, never in depth ……. She knew that the garden needed attention, she knew exactly what had to be done, it was simply a question of deciding if she had the will to take on the task.
At the start of the week she had toyed with the idea of calling in a landscape gardener: hoping for a magic wand that could bring the garden back to life. She saw a small ad and dialled the number … trying to sound bright and nonchalant on the phone:
“Oh you know, it’s a mature garden now…runs itself really.. I’m not even sure you’d find that much to do…”
There was a pause, the gardener’s question came, as incisive as a scalpel… “Are you happy with the way it is now?”
She was taken aback “Oh well, it’s OK I suppose … a bit boring .. but nobody seems very interested these days, not like when we were younger. It was gorgeous then you know, wonderful, all our friends loved being here…”
“Well if it used to be that good then you must have given it a lot of love and attention”
She said nothing so he continued “If you want your garden to be interesting again, I can give you some ideas, but it’ll be all the stuff you know already. My ideas won’t have any effect unless you’re prepared to put in the hard work…do you think you’re ready to dig and prune and weed and feed again?”
They talked a little longer and before Louise put the phone down she muttered “Thank you, I’ll think about it” .. and so she had. Non-stop ever since.
She took paper and pen and wrote down what she wanted: – surprisingly difficult to define. And even more difficult to contain to just the garden. Her wish list for the green areas began to grow and spread to other parts of her life. A wish list for herself, her family and then her marriage.
She longed for shoots of hope; for signs of new life. And curiously the more she thought about all she longed for, the more she realised how much she already had. The structure of that beautiful garden was still there, nothing major had changed, with the right attention she could revive it.
By midweek her back ached, she had blisters on her hands and her shoulders had turned pink in the bright spring sunshine, but the garden was already looking better.
By the end of the week she found the telephone number for Tom’s hotel. “Everything all right ?”, his voice was surprised and concerned “you don’t normally call me like this”
“Oh yes Tom, everything’s fine, I was just thinking about you, wondered how you were and when… when are you coming home”
“I’ll be back next week, but you know that … are you sure there’s nothing wrong?”
“Tom, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this week, and working in the garden too. You’ll see a big difference. It’s lovely to feel that spring is on its way. I have great plans for the garden, I was hoping you’d be pleased, that … that we could maybe work on it together. Remember? Like we used to”
Tom said nothing for a while, then in a quieter voice simply said “I’d like that, I’d like it a great deal”
“Thank you Tom darling”, she replied ” I was so hoping you’d say that…. Hurry home, there is so much to do. You’ll see, this spring, it will be good again”