Thursday, 3 September 2009

The gardener

[from Kristina Carlson's novel Herra Darwinin puutarhuri, ‘Mr Darwin’s gardener’, Otava, 2009)]

Thomas Davies walks to Down House, even though it is Sunday. He is Mr Darwin's gardener. Mr Darwin is a famous man, who has visitors from London and elsewhere in the world.

Nothing grows in the shadow of the old, thick-growing spruce-tree, but Mr Darwin is a tree that spreads light, Thomas Davies thinks. The wheelbarrow lies topsy-turvy on the lawn. Thomas lifts it up by its handles and pushes it to the holly hedge. Under one of the bushes lies a thrush with folded wings. Thomas bends down and picks the bird up in the palm of his hand, but he can feel only his own pulse, the mottled head hangs limp on bloody threads, the beak slightly open, the bird is dead, although its feathery body is still warm. Thomas guesses that the thrush is the prey of the young
ginger-striped tom. The cat does not eat the birds, it only practises killing.

The air smells of soil, decaying leaves and smoke. Low pressure drives the smoke from the house’s chimneys along the roof. In the grey light the cabbages and lettuces shine with a greenish glow. Thomas does not work on Sundays, but he prefers to be out and about because he feels hemmed in at home, even though he loves his children. He walks along the road and at the top and in the garden it is as if he were able to outpace his thoughts, the constraints of living are forgotten if there is something else to do.

Thomas gives a start when a shadow flits at one of the dark windowpanes of Down House. He straightens his back, thrusts hands in his pockets, and walks to the back gate. Herbs and cabbages rise from the borders where Mr Darwin grew common toadflax. The villagers said they were nothing but weeds, and anyway dahlias and asters were more beautiful, but what is beauty, not science, anyway. Beside the footpath grow hazel, alder, lime, birch, hornbeam, privet, dogwood and holly which Mr Darwin ordered to be planted decades ago. Thomas turns and goes across the meadow. As the heels of his boots press into the wet ground, the smell of mould rises from the long, flattened grass.

Thomas stops on the gently sloping hill. It rains large, heavy drops. He turns his face upwards and stretches his arms straight, the water flows from the brim of his hat onto his neck and into the collar of his jacket, he grimaces, neither laughing nor crying, he remembers Gwyn’s face which shrank small, yellow and wrinkled before her death. Thomas stands on the slope with open mouth, but the cry merely echoes within the shell of his skull: Release me! Help me! He swallows, coughs, shakes his orso, the drops fly off the woollen fabric: Be quiet! Come to your senses! The bells of St Mary's church are pealing. One can ask the heavens for help as they are the only place where there are no people. The raindrops fall, each drop carries the ringing of the bells and the reverberation is absorbed into the ground.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

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