In my mind, I can see The Garden. It is summertime. There is no blue snow, impasto on the lawn; nor any stripped, quivering branches; nor a layering of black leaves; nor any rain.
The Garden is square. Before The Bungalow is a pink and grey flagstone patio, chequered like the chessboard I used to lose (and “win”) on against Gar. It is laden at the edge with potted plants that confront the lawn like a line of surviving pawns. A bishop-thin bird table stands behind. A shed and summer house flank with the patience of rooks. The lawn, patinated with moss, stretches to the back of The Garden, with flowerbed strips of pink rosebushes and red gladiolas and orange lilies and purple penstemons – and in Spring there are bluebells, too. At the back, before another shed and a small pussy willow standing in a cut-out circle in the lawn, is a tall evergreen hedge, hiding the secret compost heap and the discarded, defeated parts of The Garden.
The Bungalow looks out at The Garden with the windows of the spare bedroom, the bathroom (though the glass is frosted so not much seeing can be had here), and The Room I would rather not remember, but dare not forget.
The Garden is where young me crawled across the lawn, clambering up an imaginary mountain, toy gun in hand, shooting invisible bullets at equally-invisible baddies. (Not that it stopped me from missing.)
It’s where my two brothers and I would chase a persistent Max, alternating in sweeping knightly Ls, forcing him to careen between our outstretched arms and cut across the flowerbeds, then loop back through the evergreen hedge, where he’d pop his head out, tail swaying and eyes challenging.
It’s where Mum, Nan, Gar and I would sit in cushioned deck chairs, side by side beneath an August sun, Gar’s outrageously round, ready-to-burst belly free from his unbuttoned shirt. I would say ‘Put your shirt on, Gar,’ under the pretence he might get burnt, but really I didn’t like looking at his bare zeppelin belly – in the end even the cancer couldn’t deflate it.
It’s where my brothers and I cleared out the sheds and found useless and forgotten things and newspaper articles older than each of us.
It’s where I haven’t been now for over a year and where I will never physically return to.
I had the chance to see The Bungalow and The Garden before they were sold, but I didn’t want to see everything cleared away and boxed. To see them empty. After clearing the sheds with my brothers, I stood alone on the patio, knowing, like I had in The Room those five years previously, that this would be the final goodbye. I didn’t take a photograph. I didn’t need to. I had my memory. The Garden is always with me; I can even change what’s there.
In my mind, I can see The Garden. Nan is back living in The Bungalow, propped up on one of the cushioned deck-chairs, and next to her, centred near the back of the lawn and smiling as well, is her king: Gar’s unbuttoned shirt has fallen away, airing his outrageously round belly.
[Note: sadly, I don’t have a photo of The Garden. But do I really need one?]