It has been a long time since the warmth of the sun showed itself here. A pale, cold orb hangs in the sky now, but it is not the sun I know and love so well, a sun that dapples the trees, blinds the eyes and warms the skin so deeply in summer.
I cleared the dead leaves long ago, and the silver frost rimes a garden which is bare and desolate.
The garden is walled on three sides, high walls that obscure any life beyond. Only the tips of distant trees can be seen above the bricks. The wall is the only warmth in the garden now, the red tint of the bricks livening the outlook. In the furthest wall there is a gate. A locked gate, a gate that awaits the mistress who bears the key. I have not seen her for an age, and know not what has happened in the big house.
On the fourth side, there is no wall, but the border of the garden is occupied by thick woodland, bramble and briar which has not been cleared for many years.
There are people who come to the garden. They come from the wood. I can only just see them. They pass through me, as my hand passes through them, like the mist that rolls from the wood. Some are clearer than others: ladies dressed in fine fashions, men also, strolling and chatting, although I cannot hear them. These are almost solid, their colours are bright. Then there are others, in a range of appearance, the most extreme being the crouched, semi-human figures which are hazy and indistinct; shimmering visions quickly obscured by the more colourful ones. They all pass me by and show no sign of heeding me when sometimes I call to them.
I have no work this season. My only task is to exist, to persist, to await the coming of the next. Things will grow then: bud, shoot and flower. I will have my work to do, tending the growth, watching over the garden. The sun will warm the earth, encouraging life, easing its passage.
The people will be gone. I will not see them. I will not see them until winter comes again and death and withdrawal pervades all. Before the spring, the mistress will come again. It is she that brings the light and heralds the rebirth.
The mistress has not come. I have never known her fail before. The rattle of the key in the gate, the commanding voice bringing me to her bidding, the swish of her gown and the chiming of the keys at her waist, all these sounds are familiar and welcome. But they are not come, though the sun in the sky tells me the season has turned, she is not come, and the garden does not change.
There are no buds, no shoots, no growth. On the frost-rimed earth nothing shows. Yet the sun is higher, the days longer. But no warmth penetrates the garden yet.
I am desolate. Destroyed. I have peered through the gate, to no avail. In the distance, the house stands, tall and stately as ever. The sun twinkles from the windows, the trees move in a light breeze, the sky is blue, flowers abound. If I reach my hand through the bars of the gate, I can feel warmth in the air. Insects buzz.
Whatever has happened, I am not party to it. When the gate is open, people come to the garden – real people, not the visions from the wood. I speak, I learn, I hear news. But now, still, the garden lies frosted, cold, waiting …
Outside the leaves are falling, the house looks dark, black … and empty. From the gate, the frost is extending across the lawns, as if the garden is spreading its suspension to the landscape, freezing it and killing it. I am enraged. My garden, the heart of something that grows and lives, the source of joy, colour, flowers, sweet fruit and vegetables. My garden. My garden is now the source of poison, death.
I cry and rage, I shake the bars of the gate, seeking to open it, to smash it down. It is beyond my power. I cannot climb the walls, they are too high. I cannot traverse the wood, I have tried several times and have been defeated, beaten back, bleeding, enfeebled by my ebbing strength.
O God! What has happened? Where is the mistress? Where is the key that releases me, that opens the garden, envigours it and drives the world?
Soon it will be too late. I dread the chill, the cold. I look at least for the people of the wood to come again, some company in this desolate quarter.
The world is chill. A block of ice. Beyond the gate it is complete. The house is crumbled, black stones against the white ice. Not one bird flies, not one woodland creature snuffles or moves, not even a single insect crawls along its given path. Doom.
There are no people from the wood, none. I am alone, truly alone for the first time. I sit in my garden as the ice crackles beneath my feet and the last tree in the wood is encased.
It is over.