Wigeon was the name they called her. Not that she actually looked like a short-billed duck with stumpy legs and long pointy wings, but she certainly had a good go at it. She was everybody’s favourite Auntie and, until it was impossible, they all said it was pity she didn’t have children of her own. She had managed a few flings with stub-nosed gentlemen of the commercial traveller type, but none of them really took off.
She was a keen gardener and they do say green fingers are the next best thing to godliness. She managed not only both her gardens, back and front, but also an allotment down by the railway line. She could often been seen – in pointy headscarf – waving at the passing commuters, hoe in hand, skirts spread wide in the freshening breeze. Only to bend back, with hoe abandoned, anxious to be literally hands-on with the friable soil. Earthed to the earth, as it were. Her brow glowed and her backside tufted like a silhouette against the dying afternoon light.
Wigeon still had one gentleman caller. By the name of Arthur Mullins. He was longer in the tooth than the average male of her acquaintance, but, after all, she was no spring chicken herself. He was a semi-retired butcher with an interest in things that go crack in the night. Like bones. Or cisterns. Or anything with the propensity to shift its weight for no other good reason than settlement. Wigeon believed he had a phobia of death, hence his need actually to believe that solid, inanimate objects had a life of their own, come what may. For instance, the shed on her allotment was one of his favourite haunts because the draught of the wind literally made it sing as sweet as a nut.
“Don’t you get fed up, squatting in my shed?” asked Wigeon, one morning when a heavy cold kept her from flapping about in the even heavier drizzle ouside. She cast a mournful look at the large carriage clock on her mantlepiece as it ticked ponderously. Arthur had not even heard her question. He wasn’t there, it seemed. He was probably in the shed listening to the hiss of the elements on the creosoted wood of the shed roof. “Ah well, Arthur, it takes all sorts, I suppose.” She shrugged as the clock mis-struck the hour by at least a minute and a half. Timeliness was only a target at the best of times. She should be spraying for aphids. Her dicky condition had put the clock back a good few days and when seasons flew by so fast at her time of life, a few days was a veritable eternity, she thought.
Aphids, she further thought, were the bane of her green fingers. She looked at the liver spots on her arms as another body-wrenching sneeze took hold. Then at the cracked skin of her knuckles. The tip of one thumb was blemished with what she’d thought was a rather outlandish wart. She blamed overuse of anti-biotics liberally scattered over her corpse like confetti. She smiled at her own turn of phrase. Time for such wistfulness when all the garden and allotment jobs had been done. She grabbed a headscarf and a grubby garden coat and, ignoring the rather hefty shiverings her body now underwent from the onset of a cold fast turning into ‘flu, she wandered fitfully into the garden, only to survey the gloomiest swags of sky she had ever had the misfortune to point her tufty backside towards.
She spread her wings like a skirt and yearned to soar into those rather enticing brown blankets of cloud: to penetrate which she thought would be the quickest way to find godliness. Time was the great healer … and she staggered on under the monotony of proverb and saying. A rolling stone. A stitch in time. Time and tide.
She crested the winds over her allotment. Arthur was seen to be digging something. A rather long trench among her vegetable patch. Aphids, she thought, sucked plant juices. She wondered how many aphids made a plague. One on its own wouldn’t warrant the worry. She veered round upon the drenched thermals and glided nearer towards her front and back gardens, as a train chugged past her allotment where she had left it. No doubt, Arthur would take up the waving, with her gone. He’d be good at that. Good for nothing, otherwise. She sniffed. “Huh, men!”
The roses in her front garden looked fine even in the rain. Make a good wreath, she thought. As long as the aphids were kept at bay. Wigeon did a cartwheel and landed with a splodge in a puddle next to the arboretum. She brushed down her coat, to no avail: the dark stains seemed to be spreading as she watched. Ducks love rain. Water off their back. She tried to scratch her brain where it itched most.
Arthur could be seen wandering through the garden gate, scraping its bottom edge against the gravel of the path.
“Hey, what you doing, Wigeon?” he asked with concern in his voice. He offered to help her up. He knew that dead weights were somehow heavier. Where did the extra weight come from, though? Death should lighten a load. He heard bones crack as he raised her to a sitting position. Her eyes stared wistfully at him. Aphids come, aphids go, he sang to himself soundlessly, as he cradled her head in his arms, as its nose continued to run.
(published 'Strangewood Tales' 2002)