This month’s story is by Val Chapman.
Val is one of the founder members of our writing group, The Whittlesey Wordsmiths.
No Stone Unturned
Barbara sat back on her heels and tilted her face to the sun.
She had spent the last half-hour on her knees weeding her garden, and her back was screaming out for a break.
Despite the pain, Barbara smiled. She loved her garden. She would sometimes get so lost in her task that she almost forgot she was eighty years old and could expect a few aches and pains. For late September, the weather had been very mild, and Barbara relished the opportunity to potter about in her garden. She loved spending time here, tending to her roses, and keeping the borders neat and tidy.
The cherry tree was her favourite; its beautiful pink blossom guaranteed to lift her spirits and, although it didn’t last long, it was worth the wait. With a sigh, she came back to the moment.
She had seen the cherry blossom for the last time.
She was dying.
Cancer, the doctor had said.
A few weeks, he had said.
That was two months ago, and Barbara knew it wouldn’t be long now. She could feel death creeping through her bones. She wasn’t sure whether or not it bothered her.
She decided to leave the rest of the weeding for now. There wasn’t much left to do, and she could always finish it tomorrow. The weather forecast predicted more fine weather, so she would be able to sort it out then.
Back in her bungalow, Barbara made herself a reviving cup of tea, and took it outside to the seat beside the back door. Settling herself on the floral cushion, she allowed her mind to wander back to when she and Gordon had moved in.
She had met Gordon on the bus. They travelled on the same route every day, and quickly struck up a friendship, leading to much more. Love at first sight, Gordon had said.
She had just started work at the local department store, and he was working for the council: an office job. Barbara was impressed: thought he was going places. Her family, coming from generations of farmers and labourers, were less sure: wary of the ‘posh bloke’ their Barbara had set her sights on.
Despite the reservations of her family, Barbara and Gordon were married quickly and moved into the little bungalow where Barbara still lived.
Whilst all the surrounding houses had changed to some degree – extensions here, conservatories there – their home had barely changed except for new double-glazed windows and carpets or wallpaper every few years. Although Barbara decided to have a new kitchen put in a few years back, that’s as far as she was prepared to go. She liked it the way it was and focused her efforts on the garden. A product of her upbringing, she was stronger than she looked, and loved being outdoors.
The pond she dug was her pride and joy for a while until she became tired of scooping out leaves and other debris and filled it in to make a rockery. She had been careful to select the right plants for the right places, and it didn’t take long to recapture the garden’s pristine appearance.
Ar first, even Gordon had enjoyed working in the garden, but he soon tired of it, leaving it the sole domain of Barbara.
She and Gordon had a few rows during their marriage; what couple didn’t? Since he lost his job, though, these became more frequent and vicious as Gordon gambled and drank his way through their savings.
It had been years now since he disappeared. Just walked out and left.
She called the police, of course, but they didn’t seem too concerned about a married man walking out on his wife, even suggesting it may have been her own fault for nagging him. If a grown man wanted to leave, there was little they could do about it. They searched for him, but soon found more important things to look into.
That was many years ago. There had been no trace of him since.
Several weeks after Barbara had finished the weeding and pruned the roses, death finally claimed her.
One of her last thoughts was for the new owners of her house. She hoped they wouldn’t be too upset when they discovered the skeleton of a man with a hand weeder in his chest, buried under the rockery.
Over to you!
- Did you visualise other endings to the story? Where would you have taken it?
- At what points did you emphathise with Barbara?
- Imagine those new owners. Can you feel a story coming on?