I always had a plot, a small plot. I grew pansies first, purple. Purple with deep amber eyes, then primulas, creamy yellow petals. Pansies, primulas, roses, pinks, all the pretty flowers, snowdrops too, pure white against hard frost, too early in the year, before we were really ready for them.
I can’t remember when I turned to ferns. The crown comes first, rust, tendrils unfurl, some delicate, some robust, lush with a damp cancerous smell. Sometimes I lie amongst them and feel what it might be like to die. Cold stone dead. In a coffin, closed. I like it, then it frightens me.
Gardening was what I learnt at the institution where I was sent when I was young. I was carrying the old priest’s baby. It was not my choice. ‘Shame, shame,’ they said and fed me pills and lies. When the government changed it’s plans I was the last to leave as they believed I was a danger to the community.
I have a house here on the Somerset levels where a cold wind drags across the marshes and the waters rise to the bottom of my window. It is not my house but they say that I can stay as long as I am no bother to any body. I smile at my neighbour’s son, but he says that I am soft and taps his head.
In the place where I lived they called me worse, retard, feeble minded, imbecile. I learned to close my ears to that and screams and jangling keys that locked us in. They said it was not a prison but we were not free to leave. It was strange at first living on my own. In the place where I was held we shared a ward, a room with fifty beds, one toothbrush and a bath with dirty water.
Now a nice carer comes and talks in words chosen not to make me cry. I take her to the library in a bus and trail my fingers across the books and look at pictures of things I’ll never see. I choose my clothes and keep them neat. In the home I thought I saw my ghost, it was only my friend Mabel wearing the dress that I’d worn last.
I visit the small church on the corner and feel the kneelers embroidered with the stations of the cross. I touch the blood below the crown of thorns and wonder why he had to die this way. I do not pray but I listen to the silence.
In the summer when the riot of sunshine and dayglo colours explode along the river and dogs bark and people come in boats and drink beer from bottles, I lie down on the dark bank. It is cool and safe and secret.
My baby did not live, she did not even cry but I still know the great pain of her birth. The midwife said, ‘It’s for the best, she’d have been stupid anyway’.
Now she visits me amongst the musky earth and ferns, I feel her cool breath on my back and the tendrils of her hair.