Scenes From a Garden
Underneath our ash tree, our own cat and a much cleverer cat called Sylvester used to shadow-box
You Magazine (Irish Daily Express), 27 June 2020
A big fat magpie stands sentry on a roof overhead as I sit in my garden, coffee in hand. I live in the house I grew up in and I’m taking a break from writing as ‘lockdown’ bites. A word I’m not fond of to tell the truth, as I don’t think it fits the bill. Conjuring up high-octane, mediocre movies, with low-satisfaction ratings. Surely there’s another word, a better word to describe restrictions imposed due to the dreaded C-word? Confinement, perhaps? No, that won’t do either, putting me in mind of period novels I read as a kid. Authors tiptoeing delicately around the subject of pregnancy and women ‘big with child’.
Searching for a suitable word, my eyes follow the magpie, strutting his stuff, suited and booted in white shirt and long black tails. Somewhere underneath his feathers hides a glass of port and cigar.
My mind wanders. I console myself saying my lack of concentration and letting my mind drift is actually a good thing. My yoga teacher calls it meditation. Allowing thoughts to drift on through, like tumbleweed through a street. Yes, I tell myself. I am meditating.
Overhead, pigeons, finches, blackbirds with ochre beaks, swoop, dart, hop, and pick their way across trees and rooftops. I note aloud the smaller the bird, the louder the noise. My companion adds somewhat drily, that this is true of people. Not being overly tall myself, I demur.
I rest my head back. Meditating. I get to thinking about stories set in gardens, going back to childhood favourites. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and the Giant in the Garden by Oscar Wilde. Images of our old family dog spring to mind. God rest his canine soul. Unlike his famous namesake, Oscar was neither debonaire nor dapper, but he sure was wild. In fairness, he had a penchant for some finer things – eschewing his own backyard in favour of a neighbour’s fountain for his morning ablutions.
I spot a mess of feathers. ‘Has the cat been roused from her slumber into a spot of hunting,’ I wonder?
‘Doubt it’ comes a swift response.
‘Why so’, I ask.
‘The pigeon would want to have been in a wheelchair. That cat’s bone idle.’
Her tail barely raises to swat away an insect. “Yeah… right enough,” I have to agree.
My eyes drift towards the house, to where French windows used to be. The ghost of Oscar past appears once more. I’m home from college getting a hand with Technical Drawing. Distracted, my friend looks up from the board, pencil in hand, surveying the noisy scene outside. “Is that dog okay?” he asks. In all honesty I couldn’t say he was, growling away demonically, pushing his bowl in circles. To be fair the bowl was upside down. A bit like himself. Poor fella. Never the same since an accident left him for dead on the Condell Road.
My gaze moves to window boxes, arranged to stop a visiting cat from windscreening his paws all over the glass. We named him Brad Pitt and until the raffish Brad arrived, I’d always thought all cat’s paws were the same. Not so.
Cats like our garden. Underneath the ash tree, especially. Where our own cat and a much cleverer cat called Sylvester used to air-box. Unfortunately, Sylvester didn’t last long. He disappeared overnight a while back. We suspect he was a cat who knew too much.
The ash tree is old. Any tree surgeon that takes stock, looks at it despairingly, bemoaning the work of all previous tree surgeons. Happily, it provides a canopy of green for many a ‘do’. I get to thinking about Communion and Confirmation parties my mother hosted. Linen tablecloths, my cousins and cream teas. The good china. And then of course the crucifixion. Or partial crucifixion.
Builders’ debris lay about when my parents moved in. Something my youngest brother discovered. Scrambling about on the tree, he fell down only to land on a plank of wood with nails. Wailing, and with his foot impaled on a nail, my mother variously implored him to ‘offer it up for the holy souls’ and to think of Our Lord on the cross.
A bird squawks drawing my attention outside the bathroom window. Once mistaken for my sister’s bedroom, where years ago a Wannabe Romeo knocked at two o’clock in the morning, high upon a garden ladder, waking up the entire house. His cheery enquiry as to my sister’s whereabouts was met with famous short shrift from my father. That same Romeo survived his ordeal and is now my brother-in-law.
I look forward to creating many more memories here. To great times to come. Suddenly, a drop of rain shakes me from reverie and reluctantly, I head inside to my keyboard, in hope of concentration.