Why do I always wind up with the short straw?

I thought I was going to be someone. They all had high hopes. Disgusted with my failure, they punish me by relegating me to invisible door mat status.

As is his wont, my brother hustled me into taking on the garden. The sly motherfucker. Of all the cursed chores round here that’s the one I fear the most.

The garden’s gone wrong.

It’s undergone a slow process of contortion in parallel with my father’s rotten mind. Allowed to metastasize completely unchecked.

Warped into forms hitherto unseen in the gardonosphere. There’s a cure for cancer in some of these old plant pots.

When you live next to a thing, it’s easy to miss it. Change happens under your nose at the pace of plate tectonics.

But when you get out there in the shit, a series of unholy epiphanies grabs you by the scruff of the neck and repeatedly knees you in the balls. Force fed the fruits of decades of neglect. With a double tangy topping of bitter memories.

Brambles growing out of cracks between the house and paving stones. Even small trees.

My god what’s happening down there? It’s like some dark aspect of nature is trying to punish his inaction by surreptitiously reclaiming the house. An invisible fist closing around the prize, so slowly that the occupants don’t even notice until it’s too late.

All the old order has melted away. decades of spring flows and winter ebbs have tenderised the old shapes, erased the boundaries, merged the separate into one, replaced order with disorder. Entropy steps in where wise men fear to tread.

I remember a flower bed here. Semi-circular, with clearly defined deep borders. Filled with colourful roses. Dad put it there so when the football hit the roses he could come out and blame us. Now there’s a pitiful murmur of it under the surface but the borders are gone, subsumed in a plague of grass and weed. The few remaining roses strain to keep up appearances, dwarfed by trees where trees don’t belong. And other nondescript strange plants, up to no good. They heard there was some mischief going down here, so they turned up and have been loitering, looking shifty ever since. Exchanging glances, waiting till no-one’s looking, so they can kick the shit out of the roses and steal their lunch money.

The wretched shed, a dilapidated time capsule. Contents preserved since the 80s. I’d like to go in and see my old bike. Only I can’t because the key’s lost. But even if you had the key, you couldn’t open the door anyway, because a family of sapling interlopers have sprung up in front of the door. Nature’s wheel clamp. Probably just as well as it looks like it would collapse if you so much as looked at it in the wrong way. I tried peering in through the windows, but a strange green algae seems to have taken hold, almost like it’s cheating trying to see in through there, so nature devised a way of stopping it.

I remember dad pouring the concrete down in between wooden planks to make the foundation of the shed. Back when he actually did stuff, back before the madness took hold. I wonder what the old him would’ve made of all this. I wish I could lock the two of them in an abandoned warehouse until the old him came to his senses. Or maybe the old him would come out crazy too.

I look over and see my fourteen year-old brother crouching on a paving stone, manically rocking back and forth, head in hands in goalkeeper gloves, catatonic with terrified apprehension. He’d just broken the kitchen window with a badly judged volley, and he knew the blame price tag was more than he could possibly afford.

Now the paving slabs are host to a dishevelled line of plant pots. A garden redoubt. When the garden fell in the 90s, mum called in an airstrike and moved her forces back to make a new makeshift garden inside the old one. Just until dad realises the error of his ways and pulls our plane out of the tailspin at the last moment.

Poor mum.

Working on this garden is like therapy with Satan. Dredging up all the worst things that have happened, cutting you and sprinkling salt into the wounds. Made to pay twice over for someone else’s bad choices. And against all logic, blamed for doing so.

The old vegetable patch at the rear is a no-go zone. The trees claimed it a long time ago and they don’t mean to give it back. I remember working on it with dad, digging neat rows to plant vegetables. Trying to impress him with my proto-gardening skills. He wasn’t impressed with anything like that though. Everyone a quaint serf, a step to propel himself upward on, or a stepping stone to get the precious cargo across difficult water.

After the change I remember clearing the old vegetable patch one last time. I’d occasionally push the boat out and attempt something beyond me like that, because I could see he was struggling and needed help. I took an old sickle and a pair of garden sheers and spent days cutting down all the weeds, brambles and baby trees, until it was clear like before. I remember feeling like I was really doing something big to help Dad. I  was excited about how proud he would be. It felt like a rite of passage – voluntarily enduring hardship and exceeding my natural abilities to demonstrate my commitment to my tribe. Once it was cleared I made a bonfire up there and we invited friends and neighbours round for food on bonfire night. Win win.

Dad was not proud. Dad reprimanded me in no uncertain terms for doing it wrong. Apparently I cut down a most precious flower that he’d secretly been growing up there; some kind of family heirloom from his dear departed father apparently. His father hated me too so this made perfect sense.

I never risked anything like that again.

Well not until now. But at this point, there’s no flavour of blame or rancour he could level at me that could possibly breach any deeper than before. So I do the necessaries and let his bile wash over me, or scoop it up and pelt it back at him with interest.

The old wounds healed hard and meshed together to make me quasi-bullet proof.

So I hack his precious garden to pieces, and it hacks me back, a pound of vegetation in return for a pound of ingested ground glass memories.

It’s a fair exchange.


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