After a long day in work I got home to find the front gate wide open. Burglars, I decided shakily, (but not without a tiny frisson of excitement). I grabbed a wrench from the car-boot as a snatch of conversation floated towards me from the back garden.
Men’s voices, I decided. Two of them – if not more.
I inched around the side of the house.
Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. Where an impenetrable jungle of nettles, thistles, dock-weeds and brambles once stood there was now just an empty space.
‘How’s it going,’ someone murmured, and as my eyes grew accustomed to the unexpected sunlight flooding the back of the house, I recognised Dómhnall, sitting on an upturned terracotta pot drinking a can of 7-up. Another lad lounged next to him on an upturned wheelbarrow, and perched next to him sat an angelic looking blonde-haired boy, smoking a cigarette.
‘Fitzie and Seánie beag,’ Dómhnall murmured, waving a vague hand at the other two.
Huge swathes of brambles and tangled grass were piled in one corner. Rakes, shovels, spades and forks were propped neatly against the creeper covered wooden shed.
I hadn’t even known there was a shed.
‘We thought you might need some help with getting it cleared,’ he added, nodding at the huge square of freshly dug earth at his feet.
‘Thank you,’ I whispered finally. ‘Thank you very much.’
Four rounds of ham sandwiches, two pots of Barry’s tea, a large packet of Mikado biscuits and two menthol cigarettes later (both smoked by Seánie beag), Dómhnall let it slip that his mother, the eccentric red-haired lady who had stalked me and attacked me with a tomato, had suggested they help me out with the garden.
‘You mean she’s not paying us?’ blurted Fitzie, half a ham sandwich frozen en-route to his mouth. ‘For feck’s sake man, you told me she was paying us,’ he muttered, shaking his head dolefully before Dómhnall elbowed him in the ribs.
‘Your mother’s paying you? To work in my garden,’ I asked Dómhnall, dumbfounded.
‘She wants to make up for things – for what happened’ Dómhnall mumbled.
Then he drained his cup of tea and unfolded himself from the chair, his friends trailing out the front door after him.
'Thanks for the tea,' Seánie beag said as he passed.
Later I went out to inspect the back. Standing on the damp soil watching the sky darken, I suddenly remembered what Aunt Dee's vegetable garden had been like.
Tee-pees of red-flowering climbers had lined the far-wall, overlooking blowsy swathes of flowers and rows of onions and lettuces. The air, I remember, had smelt sweet, and I had eaten freshly podded peas as I trailed back and forth along a narrow gravelled path that wound its way towards the shed.
This evening I miss her. I miss the place she created.