Green-tinged, somewhat shrivelled. Fragile, finger-like, waxy shoots emanating. This spud has spent too long waiting to be boiled, and is making a bid for freedom.
Mum fishes it out of the fridge and sets it aside for planting. It’s the one that got away.
I dig great ridges of metallic-smelling, crumbly brown earth – pulling out couch grass and bishop-weed, shaking soil off the roots and flinging them in the cracked yellow pail. It’s a big task, and yet I’m happy. Inquisitive neighbours look down from the pavement passing above, and cars snore by. The potatoes are gently laid to rest at 18 inch intervals, and earthed up. No watering – it would simply make them rot.
As weeks pass, dark green leaves peek through, brushing the earth from their faces and smiling at the fickle sun. They stretch themselves higher. And yet, some gardening wisdom – handed down, but poorly understood – says I must once more “earth them up”. I bury them again up to their necks.
To every cat I ever had the honour to know, however unknowably:
Toffle, great ginger hulk who sulked around the corners of a family grouping, immovable as a truculent teenager. Teela, as a young thing springing into the air, tumbling after butterflies with out-stretched paw. Pele, Hawaiian-named night-time yowler of my childhood, stalking the indoor bridge of home outside my door and haunting the misty marshes at dawn. Cassandra, who arrived, itinerant in a cardboard box in the middle of Luke’s cacophonous birthday party and yet stayed until your early death wrenched tears from my face, cradled in my arms at the top of the sloping lawn. Lapsang – you moved in uninvited with Enya and blessed our forest home with claws and corpses and a slight edge of fear, and still I mourn you. Mini and Cooper, adopted from departing neighbours – Miss Fluff and Mr Bully. Shadow and Nettle, another brother and sister duo, Shadow of the morning head butt, Nettle, Lukes’s darling, yet squeezed out by yapping dog and the Big Three.
None of you here, aloft on the third floor. You belong in the wild.
She’s lying with her head on my knees, saying nothing and yet fully present. The warmth of her neck flows through fabric onto my skin. In this small booth out on the grass lawn, I vaguely expect customers – children seeking sugary treats – but in the dewy morning hours it’s quiet for now.
It’s like one of those moments of being physically trapped by a sleeping beloved. I can’t move without disturbing her, and I wouldn’t wish to – I’ll happily surrender. I tentatively stroke the red fur – half-expecting her to rouse up and realise she’s a wild thing in rare contact with a human – but she’s not going anywhere. Her coat is silky smooth, smelling faintly of wood smoke and animal sweat.
Two children are coming now, and yet she still doesn’t leave. A message from Alice that she’s seen a black rat in the area, and recalling once being bitten. She shrugged it off with a mega dose of antibiotics, unconcerned.
There’s a long crack in one of the panes, running diagonally across the lower-right corner. Condensation has formed in the one-inch gap between the two. The strange loop hooks of galvanised steel tug upwards in response to inserted forefinger, and are swivelled to one side; then the textured metal knob on the sliding restraint mechanism can be loosened, and the window opened by nine inches, max. I guess that’s a safety feature for above ground floor.
The wind hazes its way, rippling across ripe barley in the gently sloping field above. Dark beech trees delineate the curve of the hill, rising up the field boundary. It’s a hissing, itinerant wind, gently playing the barley. From further up, the baaing of sheep on the heather-purpled top where the TV mast hides just out of useful sight.
Downstairs at breakfast, raspberry juice on yoghurt and muesli – the glut of berries mass-juiced and perhaps slightly fermented – intense and real.