HARBINGER

Daisy was named after her Grandma. Maybe that was the beginning of the close bond which grew until it filled Daisy’s world.

As Daisy was growing up, the bond was strengthened by their shared interests and outlook on life, coupled with hurt at the coldness of the woman sandwiched between their generations; Daisy’s mother.

Daisy quickly became almost grateful for the indifference that caused her mother to leave her at her Grandma’s, often for days and even weeks at a time, while she went away to conferences, got drunk and slept with whoever she was trying to do business with. She didn’t mind that her mother used Grandma’s cottage as a rubbish bin for the people she had no use for, because she loved, more than anything, being with her Grandma.

Life at Earthly Cottage was ruled by that most ancient system of government: the seasons, and maybe that was why it was so sublime.

In Spring seeds were sown, seedlings pricked out, young growth transplanted and borders weeded along with a host of other gardening projects that came up. The last of the winter vegetables were consumed and the stash of stored fruit and vegetables reduced in size as Daisy and her Grandma looked forward to fresh purple sprouting brocolli, spinach and new potatoes from the garden. Stews and casseroles were made less frequently.

As the weather warmed into summer, and the garden filled with generous brushstrokes of pink, lilac and carmine, between pleasurable garden duties they drank exotic tea on the carefully tended camomile lawn, sitting on chairs made comfortable by beautiful cushions which had been carefully embroidered on cold winter evenings. They ate homemade drop scones or madeleines, or whatever they had baked that morning.

Autumn was punctuated by the sharp homely smells of vinegar and spices, fruit and sugar bubbling in large preserving pans on the Aga. The garden was put to bed, and evenings were spent planning for next years abundance.

As winter approached, crochet hooks and knitting needles would see the light of day. The sewing machine would take up residence in the otherwise little-used dining area. Daisy learned to sew, knit, crochet and embroider to her own designs, and her achievements proudly took up residence around the cottage. Grandma would tell stories about her past, and whatever the subject matter was, whether sad or uplifting or strange, she always made them funny. The house filled with giggles which seemed to bat against the walls and sink into the furniture. Even when her Grandma was in another room Daisy could sense it peeking around corners and prodding her in the ribs.

Then there were the walks. Throughout the seasons, dressed for the prevailing weather conditions, they would take joyous walks together, sliding on ice and throwing snowballs when their world turned white, dancing around freshly budding trees when the snow had melted and the birds sang, spinning in circles and rolling down hills when the heat of the sun made cracks in the dry soil, wading through the leaves when they turned golden brown and dropped from the trees, jumping in puddles together, splashing each other and laughing. Going home covered in mud. Laughing, always laughing.

Daisy’s Grandma had a rare quality about her. It was as if she existed on a different timescale than the rest of humanity, or perhaps as if she was living three or four lives simultaniously, giving her the time to achieve three or four times more than normal mortals, and yet she was always relaxed. She never seemed to hurry.

It was a fresh Autumn day, and Daisy was taking the fortnightly three mile walk to visit her Grandma. She was thinking, as she so often did, about how her success in life was due to the love, joy and wisdom that had been poured into her all through her her developing years and beyond, by that beloved woman.

She tried to conjure up enthusiasm for her visit, but all she felt was a heaviness of heart that had recently become as familiar as breathing.

She kicked through the leaves, as she had done so many times in the company of her Grandma. She even jumped into a puddle or two, but it wasn’t the same without the sound of her laughter. She longed to see her.

She reached the old wooden gate, lifted the latch and went through. As she walked along the path she glanced down at the garland that sat in the crook of her arm, made from the few remaining late-blooming roses picked from her garden. Seed heads left over from summer’s abundance added a sad note of things receded into the past, nevermore to exist in that incarnation, and reflected Daisy’s sombre mood.

Walking through this cemetary is like strolling out of history and into the present. The oldest gravestones are closest to the church,and as she walked along, she was reminded of how fashions change. Old, rough stone with gothic influence, carved names and dates obliterated by lichen and moss gave way to boxy polished marble, etched with flowers and scrolls. Here and there an angel presided over a child prematurely taken by disease or accident, and the occasional wooden cross murmered suggestions of poverty or economy.

She stopped, as always, to read her favourite inscription:

Behold, all you who pass hereby,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be.
Prepare for death and follow me.

In her current melancholic state its macabre advice failed to amuse her.

Daisy reached her Grandma’s grave, and knelt beside it, ostensibly to remove the old flowers and replace them with her new bouquet, but more than anything to be closer to her. It didn’t help; nothing helped. She died in early Spring, and every time Daisy came here in summer she would lie on the mound of earth, hoping to feel her presence, but all she could picture was that cold, diminished body within a dark box which would eventually callapse, speeding up decomposition.

She had thought that she would find her Grandma in the cottage which she had bequeathed to Daisy, but instead the empty rooms whispered of loss and smelled of absence.

As she pulled the faded flowers out of the bowl in front of the headstone, she was surprised to see that a snowdrop had grown up, apparently from nowhere; although snowdrops reproduce avidly from tiny bulblets, and the churchyard had an abundance of them. It wasn’t the appearance of the plant that surprised her, but a single, brave early bud, pointing towards the sky. The stem was short, and the flower head had not started to droop yet, but it was there, growing quietly, preparing for the moment when its greeny whiteness would burst out of the delicate cocoon that protected it. Daisy had never seen a snowdrop in bud so early.

Daisy glanced from that infant plant to the flowers she had brought, and they suddenly seemed inappropriate; although lovely in their way they were an unhappy symbol of decay.

She pulled out one dusky pink rose, and placed it in the bowl. It looked lonely there, so she lay it in front of the headstone. It was dead already; plucking a flower from a plant kills it. Placing it in water merely slows down the rotting process.

She washed the flower bowl at the nearby tap, then filled it with fresh water. She took it the grave of a six year old boy who died in the 1970s. His remains were marked by a rough, rotting wooden cross. No-one ever tended his grave. She arranged the flowers in the bowl and left them in front of his humble, crumbling marker.

Daisy returned to Grandma’s graveside, and smiled to herself as she looked again at the unexpected new life that had emerged from the rich soil. Snowdrops, the clean opening notes which would soon be followed by a symphony of yellow daffodils and primroses to herald the season of rebirth.

She turned away without a farewell. There would be no more goodbyes, and no need to return. She began the walk home, her pace increasing as she thought of milky cocoa to be made and sipped companiably in front of the Aga.

All the way home daisy and her Grandma kicked through the leaves. They jumped in puddles, splashing each other and laughing. Her Grandma was full of energy after her season of rest. They laughed as they danced around. At the cottage, muddy Wellington boots and coats were carelessly dropped in the porch, to be dealt with later.

Daisy made cocoa in a kitchen fragrant with vinegar and spices, fruit and sugar, while her Grandma rested quietly beside the range, and the house giggled merrily.

In the garden a single snowdrop opened its petals and nodded in the breeze.

© Jane Paterson Basil

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