What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
After her session with Trish, Hailey wanted nothing more than to go home to a hot bath, a glass of Yellow Tail and the peace and security of her own fire.
She turned into the long driveway that wound its way around the manse and parked behind, in front of a row of garages.
As she pulled to a stop, she noticed Birdie off in the distance raking leaves. She got out and walked toward her.
“Hey, it’s getting dark. Shouldn’t you call it a day?”
“Oh, hi Miss Hailey. I was just finishing. Supper’s already made.”
“I wasn’t worried about that, Birdie. I’ll probably eat later anyway. I was just thinking it’s getting a bit hard to see out here.”
She stopped and looked around the huge shadowy garden. “How far back does this lot go anyway—to the end of that black iron fence?”
She pointed to a huge wrought iron fence at the bottom of a long grassy slope, well past the patio and formal gardens
“Oh no, Miss Hailey, that’s part of the property too—that’s the Bleeding Heart Garden the vicar used to cultivate—he’d often go in there to meditate, but it’s been left untended since he died.”
Here was another little mystery about her parents she had never explored.
Birdie was preoccupied with finishing up her yard work, so she took the opportunity to satisfy her curiosity and walk down for a closer look.
She took her time; carefully navigating the slippery, leaf -strewn slope and a few minutes later she was standing before a huge iron fence. It must have been about six feet tall and although rusting in places, it still was sturdy and foreboding. It made her wonder what prompted the construction of such an imposing barrier.
What did the vicar desire to wall out or wall in?
She peered through the bars and could make out tangled undergrowth of shadowy shrubs.
She wanted a closer look.
She looked back up the hill to where Birdie, now a mere black silhouette, was still busy raking leaves.
She shouted up to her, “How do I get inside?”
The dark silhouette called back. “There’s a gate on the left side behind the shed.”
Hailey pushed back some heavy Willow branches, waded through a patch of tall grass, and slid down another rocky slope until finally reaching bottom.
She was standing before an elaborate wrought iron gate set into the fence adjacent to a high stone retaining wall.
The gate was unlocked, but rusted shut and it took her several strong tugs before it squealed on its hinges and allowed her to wrench it open.
Once inside, she again had to pick her way through shrubs and vines until she gained the middle of the enclosure.
All that was left of the former garden was a dark stone sundial covered with moss and a matching stone bench, similarly overgrown.
What once must have been a shady nook suitable for a midday retreat now was a place forlorn, mired beneath blackened leaves and the gloom of a gardener’s neglect.
She sat where her father had once sat—the vicar of Saint Justin—the stern distant man whom she had never known. She wanted to see what he saw when he sat here, but obviously years of untended growth made that impossible.
Nature abhors a vacuum, she thought bitterly, although she had to admit the garden seemed less a triumph of Nature’s persistence and more a case of order tending to disorder—but that was weird as well.
Why would Mother neglect a place that had been special to her late husband? Why allow it to grow to seed? Nothing about Mother or the family ever seemed to make sense.
The bench was not the usual garden bench—it was more like a tiny marble church pew with its high curved scrolled back.
It faced south to the lake, away from the house, but the view to the water was blocked by the high retaining wall.
She stared at the wall puzzling as to why the vicar would choose such a restrictive place. Then it dawned on her.
The wall served no useful purpose. No one builds a retaining wall away from a slope. The wall’s placement made no sense.
She got up and walked directly over to get a closer look.
As she approached, she noticed a huge marble slab set into the wall and engraved with a flowing script: Clare McAdam 1935-1985. Gone but not forgotten.
Hailey’s breathing stopped. She felt her fingers and toes tingling and had to fight the temptation to fall into a faint.
She reached out both arms and leaned against the wall panting and struggling against the cold clammy sensation that overwhelmed her.
She leaned back against the damp wall, waiting for her heart to stop pounding.
Above her, a handful of bright stars were already gleaming in the darkening sky and somewhere nearby, Birdie’s voice was calling out, “Miss Hailey, are you all right?”
“I’m here, Birdie. Hurry.”
She heard the squeal of the gate as Birdie pushed through and could hear twigs snapping as she made her way back through the tangled mess toward her. At last, she spied Hailey and hurried toward her.
“What’s wrong, Miss Hailey? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
Hailey pointed to the engraved stone. “ I have. Look.”
It took Birdie a full minute to take it all in. “This is crazy, Miss Hailey—it makes no sense. Why would Mother’s ashes be kept here?”
“So she wouldn’t be forgotten,” Hailey hissed. Her shock had now given way to white-hot anger. “I can’t believe Mother was party to this.”
Tears were streaming down Birdie’s face. Hailey had to push aside her anger at her own mother and reach out to comfort her.
“I’m so sorry you have to deal with this.” She hugged Birdie, stroking her hair and soothing her.
“It’s okay, Miss Hailey. It’s not your fault. There must be some explanation.”
“Oh, there’s an explanation alright and I know just who is going to give it.”
Birdie looked around helplessly at the overgrown vegetation. “I need to tidy this up.”
Hailey stared at her uncomprehendingly. Birdie had just discovered her mother’s remains and her first response was to tidy things up?
What had Mother done to this poor woman?
Birdie slid down to her knees and began to wail. Hailey sank down onto her knees beside her and cradled her in her arms, letting her cry. After a few minutes, she fumbled in her pocket for a Kleenex and blotted Birdie’s tears.
“Tomorrow”, Hailey whispered, “Tomorrow we’ll both tidy this up.” She squeezed Birdie’s arm. “Now, we need to go in and get warm. We’ll talk inside.”
© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.