I was just about to take my first sip of morning coffee when Clementine burst in, white faced, from the back garden.
‘Carnage,’ she gasped darkly. ‘Utter carnage.’
‘What?’ I mumbled, lowering my coffee cup. ‘What do you mean?’
‘The French beans . . the broadbeans . .. courgettes . . .. red cabbages. . . ’
I yanked on my boots and dashed outside.
The French beans were lying wanly on their sides. The courgette plants were battered and bruised and the broadbeans huddled urgently together for support. The only things unaffected were the turnips. Damn those turnips, I thought bitterly, the prospect of night after night of Clementine’s curried turnip stew flashing before my eyes.
Seized by a desperate need to do something I scurried from bed to bed, banking up soil round the bases of beans, propping stones around courgette plants, coaxing broadbeans into drunken uprightness, even as I was doing so, knowing it was no good. Clementine watched me silently.
To my embarrassment I started to cry.
‘Life is cruel,’ she said finally.
‘I’m sorry,’ I muttered damply, ‘I know that should help, but somehow hearing it doesn’t make me feel any better.’
‘Alright,’ Clementine said. ‘What about . . . . breakfast at the Lakeside Hotel?’
Ten minutes later we were sitting at a rickety white-clothed table eating toast from a tarnished silver toast rack, Clementine sipping mint tea while I drank an entire pot of freshly brewed coffee.
On the way back home I drove very fast and talked and talked and talked. I talked about poetry, I talked about novels, I talked about my ex-husband, I talked about work, I talked about the oddly attractive garda (who we happened to pass on the road) and I talked about the cruelty of nature and how difficult it is to see something you have nurtured from a tiny seed be destroyed in one foul windy night.
‘Exactly how much coffee did you drink back there?’ Clementine asked faintly as I sprang from the car.
‘Not that much,’ I said, feeling suddenly anxious and defensive. What was she trying to imply? That I had a problem with addictive substances? Then I realised it was the coffee talking. ‘Maybe a little too much,’ I admitted.
When we went round the back of the house to survey the damage again, Clementine was surprisingly upbeat.
‘It’s not as bad as it looks,’ she said finally.
I surveyed the battered vegetables, my coffee high sliding away.
‘You could have fooled me,’ I murmured flatly.