There’s something outside my study window. It doesn’t have sixteen eyes or antennae for ears or hands in the shape of claws. It’s not growling or pacing back and forwards. But it’s there. And it’s watching me.
Don’t panic, I tell myself. Just focus.
It’s red and green and grey but only small, perhaps no bigger than a king-sized bed. It’s luminescent, all of it. A sprawling red rose by the gate, purple irises looking regal against the wall. Celestial Violets that have finished their winter run, lavenders about to light up. Everlasting Daisies claiming the last of the spare ground. In the middle an old metal table, on it a white-orange cactus in a terracotta pot. Off to one side, covered in an autumn’s worth of leaves, an old metal chair that’s never sat on.
Yes, what’s outside my window is a secret garden.
I’m meant to be able to get in there via the gate or around the side of the house, but the gate is permanently locked and the side of the house is so weed-infested that you’d have to use a machete to get in. Whilst I can’t remember the last time I went into my secret garden, I know The Old Lady of the House frequents the place – she’s formed a path through the weeds so she can patrol the perimeter, or bury bones. Sometimes I’ve spotted Cat the Ripper slinking his way through the gate, no doubt hoping to sink his fangs into a Soldier Bird or Silver Eye.
I really do have a real live secret garden. How good is that?
As a boy I loved Burnett’s strange, dark novel about such things. There was something about a secret garden that had healing powers. And there was something about those children: Mary Lennox, precociously desperate to escape the mansion; Colin Craven stuck in bed with his bung legs; and the bucolic, servile Dickon.
I think about the three of them at night, lighting their fire and chanting magic spells. Maybe one night I should brave The Old Lady’s path and go into my secret garden. Hell, maybe I could get a fire roaring on the pavers (although perhaps it’d be more responsible to do it in the Webber). I could even start chanting. Caveat emptor! Caveat emptor! I’d need something better than that. Carpe dium! Carpe dium! No, that wouldn’t work either.
I could just rattle off some gobbly-gook: I call on you, oh Maradonna Lily of Secret Gardens, I wish…
Exactly what is it that I wish for?
I don’t know the answer to that question – it’s too big and I’m too adult. All I know is that, in contrast to the half-dead garden Mary Lennox stumbled upon all those years ago, my secret garden is beautiful. Beautiful despite the drought, despite a hose or a trowel or a pair of secateurs not going anywhere near it. All those plants I’d put in and then forgotten. And no doubt they’ve forgotten about me. It’s a sobering thought but we humans can be so unnecessary sometimes.
Maybe I don’t fear what’s on the other side of my study window at all.
Maybe I fear what’s inside this room.
(First published in Panorama, Canberra Times, November 3 2007)