They said she was a gardener, although I’m sure she wouldn’t have described herself in such a way. Not that I spoke to her much. It’s true that she clipped the hedges and pruned the bushes with accurate care. Each cutting she saved in a bag or basket. The roses carefully shaped to curl around the window as if they were part of the house; intertwining with the ivy that climbed the bricks with green leaves and creepers like intrepid mountaineers reaching for the sky. Was I in love with her? Probably.
The front garden was always where you saw her, tinkering away as the sun arced around it perfectly, enticing the coloured flowers in the border to sway their sweet faces towards the light. You could almost see them move their hungry faces towards the life-giving warmth.
Each weed removed, each twig pruned, every blade of grass cutting placed tidily by her gloved fingers into the wicker basket. Any exposed soil tilled. Nothing left to spoil the pristine edges and clutter the path.
I watched her as I pathetically attempted to cut back my side of the hedge, rusty shears squeaking with every snap. Guilt that any stray leaf might blow into her garden. Guilt that I was staring.
She was as pretty as any bloom in her garden.
She knew I was there but was so engrossed in her daily summertime routine that my presence was superfluous, as if her whole existence and well-being were dedicated to this and this alone.
The back garden was a different matter. Though undoubtedly still horticultural it remained a mystery to all the neighbours. It had the highest walls in the street; unusually high for a row of terraces. So high one could never look over them, not without a ladder anyway. And even if you could you wouldn’t have seen much. From my bedroom window all I could see was the glass. A sizeable greenhouse covered its entire space. It wasn’t really a greenhouse as such, more of a large glass roof that sat on wood and metal struts atop each wall and rose like a shining pyramid above her back garden. Hinges and brackets adorned each triangle of glass but I never saw a single window ever opened. Even her back gate was bricked up to seal in its mysteries. It must have been a pig to get planning permission from the council.
When I stood peeking from my bedroom window I could still spy nothing through the many panes of glass. Below them was simply green. Leaves and fronds of all shapes and sizes pressed and patted each frame as if all the plants below were breathing in the warmth of the air within. I thought about how magnificent it must be inside but also how very dark below the foliage. At night you could just see little pinpricks of light beneath the glass, almost as if the roof were reflecting the starlight of the heavens.
The neighbour the other side called her a hermit. Said that she didn’t have a job and how lucky it was for someone to live on such a large inheritance. I wasn’t sure I believed that. I think they were just jealous of her garden. I never saw her speak to anyone. Anyone but me.
It was a Sunday morning when I finally plucked up the courage to speak to her. She was gently clipping the privet with secateurs. A wide brimmed straw hat that matched her blonde hair shaded her face from the sun.
“Lovely warm day isn’t it?” I said as I was putting the black bag into the wheelie bin.
She turned and looked at me. The first time I saw her blue eyes. She didn’t say anything, merely turned back to her work.
“I…err…I must say everyone loves your garden,” I said,
“Do they?” she said, without turning her head,
“Err…yes, well it is a beautiful garden,”
“It’s not a garden,” she said,
“What do you mean ’it’s not a garden’?” I said,
“It’s an experiment,”
I paused then, feeling a bit stumped. She continued pruning as if I wasn’t there.
“What kind of experiment?”
“An experiment in nutrition and biodiversity if you must know,” she looked me in the eye. Her eyes were startling. “It’s a kind of crossover one might say,” she said returning to the privet, “a hybrid between botany and biology at the level of DNA nucleotides,”
“I see,” I said, obviously not ’seeing’ at all,
“Well, I really must be going,” she said, “so terribly busy. Things to feed and measurements to take,”
She took the sack of clippings towards the front door.
“Listen, it’s nice to chat. If you fancy a coffee or something to…” I said, my words drying up. She either didn’t hear me or chose not to hear me. Which ever it was she quickly closed the door behind her.
That night I watched her greenhouse from my dark bedroom. Lights seemed to twinkle more than ever between the foliage beneath the glass. I felt I could hear movement, perhaps ’clinking’ or some kind of rusty squeaking, but I couldn’t be sure.
The next morning I looked again before I went to work, everything seemed the same except…except for one large leaf in a corner. That leaf seemed to have a hole in it that wasn’t there before. I didn’t think anything of it.
In the evening when I returned I expected her to be there, like she always was, tending to the front garden. But there was no sign of her. I kept glancing through the bay window at the front as I drank my tea. It was most unusual for her not to be there and I realised that I missed her. Was it possible to miss someone that you hardly knew? I now know that it most certainly is.
That night and the next day were the same. No sign of her except the odd twinkle of lights from the greenhouse and the vague impression of noise from below the glass. Now though, there were definitely more and larger holes appearing in the leaves and fronds. For the next couple of days this pattern continued. No sign of the beautiful gardener and more holes in the leaves.
I took to trying to peer through the holes with binoculars in the early evenings; but at first all I could see was more foliage below. In the second week the holes seemed much larger and I could see the bark of trees or shrubs.
In the third week I saw her face.
It was so distinctly and shockingly her face staring up at me through one of the larger holes that I fell off my chair, flat on my back. Her face had filled the vision of my binoculars. Had she seen me? I had no idea, but I steered clear of looking at the greenhouse for a few days after that. I felt such a fool. I hoped I might see her working in the front garden, maybe then I could try and explain my ’spying’ or apologise or something. But she never appeared.
By the time I dared look at the greenhouse again it all seemed the same. Lots of the leaves with great big holes were going brown but apart from that all was quiet.
I told myself I was being foolish after that. It was clear that an intelligent beautiful girl like that would never be interested in me. She must be some sort of scientist and clearly out of my league. Me; just a clerk in a bank.
So for the next couple of weeks I went about my routine of work and home as if nothing had happened; because the truth was that nothing had actually happened.
It was the night of the fullest harvest moon before something did actually happen. I was woken by the strangest mechanical creaking sound coming from her back garden so I opened my window to look.
The whole glass roof was rising, the stilts on top of the walls telescopic; pushing the whole glass contraption upwards. Not only that but each pane, each window was opening by its hinges. The whole thing folding back in the moonlight like some impossible glass origami construction. To say I stared aghast is an understatement.
The roof shuddered to a halt, garden below finally open to the sky. In the centre was a fantastically ornate monkey-puzzle tree that must have been pressing itself against the centre of the roof. And on one particular prominent branch of this magnificent tree something was swinging and swaying in the moonlight.
A chrysalis. But not just any chrysalis; this was the largest chrysalis you ever did see. At least six feet long. And it was opening, right then and there before my very eyes.
I have thought long about this since and have kicked myself for not running to get a camera and record what happened, but I suppose I am not one to have such presence of mind. Instead I was simply transfixed.
Slowly the butterfly emerged, flicking and flexing its wings towards me. Golden yellows and deep reds, silver streaks and swirls of black. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It sat for a while, antenna uncurling and wings drying in the moonlight. It was wondrous; a butterfly the size of a human.
And then it flew; wings beating a steady beat, it lifted into the air above the open greenhouse. Slowly at first it began to arc in a circle, as if testing the night air, each subsequent circle wider than the previous.
It got higher and further away in the dark sky until, oddly it hesitated and hovered. And then…and then it flew in a straight line; straight for me. A fear pushed up to my throat but I was still rooted to the spot. I was about to try and force myself to run when I saw her.
And that, dear reader, is the crux of my tale. For this was no ordinary butterfly, as you may have perhaps guessed. It was a human-hybrid butterfly. Her face was still just as pretty, encased as it was now within an insect body, but it was still most clearly her. Now I am certain that you probably completely doubt the veracity of my tale, but that isn’t my problem; I simply tell it as it happened.
She hovered outside of my window, her face level with mine, the breeze from her wings wafting my face.
“I must apologise,” she said, “I’m afraid I can’t accept your offer of coffee, although it was most kind. I have to fly you see, to meet my love, my mate; he’s out there in the warm night. Some passions don’t burn for long but when they do they burn so very brightly. I’m sure you understand…”
And yes, I think I do…
© 2014 Simon Poore