Thursday, 10 March 2011

Parts of a circle

“Was there an aspen tree? There. A path. Running across at an angle.”

Charlie looked for a moment at where her hand had sketched the space in the chill air. She frowned as she turned, laying an arm along the back of the curved stone bench where she sat. The mullioned windows were dull in the weak winter light.

Whether she found what she sought could not be discerned by looking at her. There was no shrug or other sign of disappointment. Equally, she did not smile or seem satisfied. Simply sat searching as her breath clouded the air.

Having examined the entire four-storey fa├žade of brown stone, she turned back to face the sundial at the centre of the garden. Its thick coating of ice crystals unnerved her and she fussed with the skirts of her long black coat by way of distraction before tucking her hands into the opposite sleeve ends for warmth.

The broom had paused in mid-sweep, thin snow piled against the worn bristles.

“Not in my time,” the old gardener replied. He studied his hands grasped about the time darkened handle, stubby fingers emerging from the frayed wool of his gloves. “It was a plain circle of grass afore this. Holy Acre, they called it. You weren’t supposed to walk on it. But that was a long time since.”

They both looked at the shabby rose garden half-concealed by the snow. There was a small circular bed at the centre surrounding the sundial. Around that a broad path where Charlie’s feet rested in a section cleared by the gardener’s broom. Eight curved benches of stone faced the centre, each standing at the narrow end of a wedge shaped flower bed, each sector separated from the others by the eight paths that radiated out to the paving around the edge of the courtyard.

When she had first seen the garden from one of the small windows at the top of the corner tower, she had been delighted. Today, all the brittle, glassy memories made the garden feel like a place of torture, a spinning wheel with no way off.

The scrape of bristles on frozen paving slabs resumed for a moment, pushing the snow to one side.

“There’s an old photograph,” said the gardener, leaning on the broom again. “In a book. Saw it once. That’s from before my time. Long before. Is that what you mean?”

Charlie huddled into her coat and wove a smile over her misery. “That must be it.”