Julia sat in the park on the same bench every day. She liked to come here and watch people walking through, or having their outside lunch, to take her mind of her own loneliness. She knew some of them now. The young girl with the rosy face who blushed every time a lad smiled at her. The old man who brought a bag of crumbs for the birds and who would sit talking to them, and any one who passed, until the bag was empty, when he would pull himself back up to painfully hobble home again.
The middle aged couple who worked together and who brought the work out with them, sitting at a table, ignoring everyone, pens scribbling, holding down papers with coffee cups from the local Costa’s. occasionally they would ask each other something and then would bow heads again to scribble faster.
Dogs would run up to Julia, sniffing to see if she had something to eat or just to say hi. She would smile sadly and ruffle their hair, remembering Max, heart still contracting with the sorrow of his loss. Sometimes the owners would stop and chat a while but usually they just called the dog who would trot off to another new sniff.
Occasionally people sat next to her and she would lower her head into a book she never actually read. She just wanted to watch and be with people but not to talk, not to get involved.
She was lonely she supposed. All her friends had drifted off years ago, besides she had moved too many times to make many. She had married the wrong man, dated the wrong men and made a lot of bad decisions in her life. She had loved many people but none had loved her enough to stay around if things got tough. From her parents with their own issues, having her just so they could marry young and then regretting it from the moment she arrived to the guy who had gone out for chips and just never came back……
Oh her Father had taken an interest when she was a young teen but it was best not to think about those dark days. She did think perhaps that it had been that which led her meeting the wrong kind of guy but all that was in the past now. Now she had given up, living alone in a bedsit, no children, no animals to die and leave her, no love to lose. She had done every thing wrong. If she was ever honest with herself, which was rare, she was So damn lonely.
She had thought about having her own child.
She loved children, always had. Once, as a small girl, she had told a teacher that she was going to have 6 ‘or more!’ but life had got in the way. She had even thought about being a single Mum but she had always looked too deeply at the men she had met and not wanted a child to have a part of them. The only man she had ever loved had been her Grandfather and even he had beaten her. Not having children, a girl to give all the love she had been denied, was the one thing in life she regretted above all others but her dogs had seen her through. Max had been special, intelligent gentle Alsatian who had been her constant companion since he was 6 weeks old, but even he had left now, died younger than he should have of a heart problem, and she was unsure if she would ever be able to bear another loss again. Besides, she was in her 50’s now and life was moving too fast to look after yet another life.
She sighed, tears welling in her eyes for the 10th time that day.
She realised someone had sat beside her. He was bent over a paper bag, rustling in it, looking for something. She glanced in his direction just as he looked up, glancing sideways at her, grinning a wide, happy, open smile.
She burrowed into her book again quickly.
Rustling the bag again he started humming a tune to himself, a nursery rhyme tune she remembered from her childhood. She smiled, transported back to happier times.
‘Excuse me’ he said
Placing the book beside her she turned to face him, half smiling.
‘Oh, there you are! At last! It is you, Emily!’ he started, his wrinkled face crinkling up like crepe paper. She had an uncontrollable urge to reach out to stroke it even through her shock over his knowing her real name.
‘How di….’ she began but he jumped up and beckoned her after him….
‘Come on’ he said. ‘I have something to show you quickly. Come on! Come on!’ he demanded as she sat there still, mouth agape.
Trotting off and not looking back, he almost tiptoed through two shrubs and headed towards the back of the park. Looking around, seeing the two pen pushers still scribbling, the young girl nibbling a sandwich with a fashion magazine spread out in front of her, Julia sighed and followed.
At first she could not see where he was but, standing still and listening, she could hear, along with the distant barking of playing dogs and the chatter of birds in nearby trees, a distant sound of a nursery song being sung.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow? With silver bells, and cockle shells, And pretty maids all in a row.
Pushing through budding bushes Julia finally reached the old man who was standing in front of a empty, freshly dug flower bed.
‘Ah, there you are!’ he sang. ‘Julia Erica Patterson nee Emily Anne Jacobs!’
‘Ok’ said Julia. ‘How do you know me? Who are you?’
‘My name is Gardener’ grinned the man. ‘Just call me Gardener. I have known you all your life, I know why you changed your names, why you have tried to hide from yourself but….’ he continued, waving her protestations aside, ‘….that doesn’t matter now.’
He turned and picked some packets of seeds from his pockets, flapping them in her face. ‘These are yours!’
She took them from him and saw that there were no names on them. All the seed packets were plain green sachets, completely devoid of any writing apart from her name in old English script at the top, her real name Emily Anne Jacobs
Her knees felt weak, her face flushed. One of her mistakes had been so bad that she had changed her name to make sure he never found her again. How did this man know? Was she still safe? She turned to run away but he grabbed her arm, surprisingly tightly for such an old person.
‘These are for you’ he whispered in her ear. ‘You have to plant these. I have been looking for you a long time and you must plant these’
Julia’s knees gave way and she crumpled to the ground crying softly.
‘There, There lass’ mumbled the old man as he rummaged through his shabby old coat. he sighed happily as he found what he was after and handed her a rather earthy handkerchief. She took it without looking and blew her nose loudly.
‘Here!’ he said gently. ‘Tell you what, you choose and I will plant them for you’ He took back the packets of seeds.
‘and, what are these?’ he asked as he waved one packet and tore the top, sprinkling seeds into his hand.
‘Oh, erm…..’ she thought fast, nothing coming to her as she looked around for ideas. ‘How about Basil?’
She giggled sure now that she was finally having that breakdown people said she was due.
The man ignored her and spread his arm wide, sowing the seeds to the back of the bed. As they landed they sprouted roots which quickly buried themselves, green shoots appearing at the top, growing into small broad leaves. Basil leaves. Before long there was a line at the back of the bed of fresh young Basil bushes.
Julia sat and stared, mouth open again, eyes wide. She felt younger, lighter…… a strange uplifting to her mind.
She looked at the second packet the old man was waving at her.
‘I have always loved Iceberg Roses’ she said excitedly, ‘I want them to be roses! White roses!’
Gardener turned and threw the seeds across the bed and, as they fell, they took root, tendrils extending out as small tender stalks thrust up towards the sky, little thorns appearing, growing sharper as Julia and Gardener watched. Small buds appeared on the stems, white petals flowing open to become dainty white roses. A ladybird landed and lazily walked across a flower, stark red against the pure white.
Julia’s heart lifted. Her problems seemed so far away. This was pure magic. Beautiful magic. She had always loved magic but it had scared her somehow. Like men in masks had scared her. She could see them but their real meanings were hidden. This was real magic. Natural magic.
She realised Gardener was offering her the third sachet
Standing up she took it off him. Would it work for her too? ‘Angelica’ she said quietly. Ripping it open she dropped the seeds into her hand and sprinkled the seeds in a small space in front of her in the bed. She watched as the bush grew tall and strong, greenish white flowers opened and a horde of butterflies and bees appeared, humming quietly as they pollinated it.
Julia felt younger, more vibrant and, looking down saw her hands were unlined, the coarseness from years of work had gone, replaced with softness she had not seen for a very long time. She felt alive again and she pushed her hair back from her face, not thinking about the fact it was longer now than when she had walked into the park. Darker, bouncier.
‘Two more Emily’ said Gardener, his grin wider now and he was almost dancing where he stood.
She took the fourth packet and ripped it open shouting ‘THYME’ as she did so. She sowed the seeds widely, expecting to see the small tiny leaves of the thyme plant but, this time, something strange happened. As the tiny plant grew, she could make out small clock faces on each stem. She knelt next to one of the tiny herbs, scrunching up her eyes to make out what she was seeing. Miniscule little clock faces, each clock with hands ticking backwards. She looked up at Gardener, who winked back and who handed her the last green packet.
‘Make it count’ he said. ‘These were just practicing’
Julia thought for a moment and looked at him questioningly. He nodded, still smiling, eyes twinkling.
She slowly tore off the top and laying out the seeds reverently said, ‘Cornflour’
Gardener did dance now, legs kicking out as he twisted and turned, bopping to invisible music.
‘Cornflour!’ he sang, ‘Flower of Hope In Love’ He laughed out loud ‘She got it…. she got it!’
As the tendrils reached out to the earth they changed and grew along the top instead. As Julia watched a tiny body sprouted with perfectly formed little head, legs and arms. Teeny fingers grew and stretched out in the breeze, and perfectly formed wee blue eyes watched her steadily as she reached out to stroke the babies face.
She smiled gently and reached down to pick her up carefully. Without words, her heart singing loudly, she turned to Gardener.
He nodded and plucked some Thyme, The baby reached out and grabbed it in chubby fingers. Gardener watched for a moment and then, gently taking it from her, he tucked it into Julia’s coat pocket and patted it closed. Julia wrapped the coat around the tiny girl.
‘Come along Emily’ she sighed happily, ‘It is time to have the life you were meant to have my darling’
The young woman with her new baby walked out into the park.