It’s finally spring, even here in the British Isles! And Judith (mummy) has arrived back to London for the Chelsea Garden Show. Except there is no Chelsea Garden Show and she already knew it. Says she: we need to keep to routine as much as possible even in shutdown. I didn’t push but since when is it routine to turn up for things that are not even happening? And turn up a week late at that?
I just looked at her for some sign that wasn’t likely to come. She’s always played her cards close to her vest and believes it her due not to be pressed. Why she'd chosen to sit out this plague-demic in the country would remain a mystery. It is, however, very clear as to why she’s made her way back—ME! Who else was going to colour her hair with all the shops closed?
She’d arrived wearing a hat and immediately floated up the staircase so as not to be seen by Father. They’ve been married longer than they’ve ever been apart but still she goes on with this pretense. I have a vision of them in their old age—sharing a bed with a curtain between them for modesty sake.
With her a captive audience for forty minutes, I took it upon myself to express how very, very unhappy I was that she and father had abandoned the compost I’d set up for them. Clearly she had failed to grasp just how critical such an undertaking was, and in typical Judith fashion she said it was really Daddy’s doing and I needed to discuss it with him. Hopeless, the pair of them, and as if our planet was just going to take care of itself?
All she wanted to talk about was Patrick this, and Patrick that, and I said, you know perfectly well that during this shutdown everyone has loads more time than they otherwise would have… take the Chelsea Garden Show, for example, and I explained all of this extra time is the only reason he stopped in—nothing to discuss! The flowers… well that’s just very Patrick.
It soon became readily apparent that it was I myself who was being held captive as she managed to find and broach every single thing I didn’t wish to discuss. Rather risky on her part, as I was only halfway through applying the boxed colour to her virgin roots. With the now obvious perfume-y/chemical smell very likely wafting downstairs, Daddy called up asking if we needed anything…tea…fire extinguisher… anything.
Judith remained unruffled and responded in the placid, collected voice befitting a woman of her upbringing, “Thank you darling we’re just getting settled…” But before she finished I'd heard the back door slap shut. Daddy had guessed her response and was now likely headlong into the garden, and having a chuckle at our expense. I'd finished up with “Beige Flirtation” and left Judith to marinate.
Tiptoeing into the backyard, I met Daddy just shy of the potting shed… at last he would answer for the reckless abandonment of the composting system I had so painstakingly researched and established! What had he to say for himself? He was a man who’d made his very career out of extracting composted matter (eventually becoming petroleum) from the ground. He was not likely to make a case against giving back— even if it was only a tiny bit of giving, and wouldn’t be given for fifty million years. STILL, he had to be in favour.
But in favour he was not, and a scowl settled into his forehead. “Bad bit of business, that,” was his only response. And I wondered how high his hopes could have been for what was literally a rotting biomass.
Who can resist?
“Bad… what exactly?? I persisted, “You can’t just do that.”
“Can’t I?” He countered. (Good God he really was serious!)
“Well no, you can’t .” I said, “you just…can’t.” He was quiet as he rummaged for just the right rusted spade.
“It was Nicholas actually, and…”
“Nicholas our gardener?”
“Yes, Nicholas our gardener,” he said, making it very clear he was going to drop the subject, but then added, “You needn’t get all broke up about it, our public liability insurance covered the lot of it.”
What could Nicholas have done? Surely he didn’t get into any sort of trouble taking my advice and actually peeing on the pile of mulch? Or having been confused with exposing himself? Men can be so careless at times.
Remembering Judith's hair was about to go nuclear, I raced back upstairs to declare her officially “done” and sent her into the bath to rinse out. There would be no rummaging around in mummy’s diary for clues to any fatalities. Which left me with no choice but to text Patrick.
Perhaps…perhaps he’d have heard something from Father over some long trek to the literal center of the earth. He texted back, “Hello Beautiful. How are you?”
- “Still wanting to know what you know about our compost.”
- “As much as I know their public liability policy covered it."
- MY GOD I was having to become Inspector Clouseau! "Covered WHAT exactly?" I texted back.
- “Well it was in the papers. Your gardener…Nicholas I believe it was…”
- “Yes, Nicholas—what did he do?
- “This really isn’t suited for texting…let me ring you quickly.” He did and continued:
“Hi, so…they found him face down—his face covered in…well it seems he took in a lungful of mould spores…and nearly died.
“Died?? ” I asked, shocked out of my gourd.
“Right, and I’m afraid that wasn’t the whole of it, someone actually did die at the composting plant—the two were not determined to be connected but rather unfortunately somewhat earlier in the season…an arborist contracted some rare form of meningitis—papers went wild. This was also never connected to your parent’s yard but they did determine it was likely from some mulch or compost and well… poor Nicholas did nearly die.”
"I killed Nicholas?"
“Nearly darling, as I said only nearly. No hard feelings. They settled out of court, all very civilised, Nicholas was really a sport about it and he’s obviously retired a bit earlier and quite a bit better than he otherwise might have done.”
“Better…I…” was all I could get out. “Thank you Patrick, thank you so much.”
“Of course…are you all right??"
“Yes, thanks, thanks so much I…unfortunately I have to finish up something, I’m in the middle of a bit of science here.”
“Of course” Patrick said. “But I’ll see you a little bit later—your mother’s invited me round.”
“Yes, of course, see you later.”
I gulped down the water on my dressing table and stared at my own image—incredulous. What magic elixir might I concoct to to remove utter shock from my face? I think this calls for a bright coral lipstick and a tropical escape. Preferably one where I won’t have to think about saving the planet. Just wow.