Surrounding Mrs. Moth’s house are gardens. A series of gardens, all different. When I walk among them, I sometimes forget which one leads into another. Or maybe they move around? I think they move around, sometimes. Just so as not to get bored.
I went out the kitchen door, turned left, and was immediately in the rose walk. In summer, the rose walk is covered with roses, wild ones, small and white. It’s like walking through stars. There were no roses now. (There are no roses in this picture either, but if you are clever, and I’m sure you are, you’ll see that I’m showing you photographs from my last trip to Mrs. Moth’s house, in autumn. Then, the roses had all fallen, their petals scattered like white rags on the ground, until they were washed away by the rains. Now, the walk was just a mass of canes beginning to bud.)
If you go down the walk and turn right, you will see the kitchen garden. Mrs. Moth grows all sorts of vegetables there. My favorite are the peas. Have you ever tried fresh peas? They taste nothing like the frozen ones, and even less like the dried ones. You can eat them right out of the pod. They are sweet, like candy. My second favorite are the tomatoes. How I miss real, ripe tomatoes, right off the vine, in Boston!
If you go to the end of the kitchen garden, you will come to a set of stairs between two hedges. I like stairs in gardens. They always make the gardens seem more mysterious.
Go down them, and you will come out in the orchard. In the orchard there are apple, pears, peaches, those old European plums that taste nothing like the ones we usually get in the grocery stores, cherries. The cherries are my favorite. In Boston they cost so much that I rarely eat them. Imagine having a cherry tree and picking your own, eating as many as you want! Hyacinth and I used to hang the double ones from our ears.
At the bottom of the stairs, you will see an alley, with a wall on one side and a hedge on the other. Are you starting to get a sense of Mrs. Moth’s gardens? Of how many there are, and how easy it is to get lost in them?
If you turn right and go to the end of the alley, you will come to the secret garden. Unless it’s moved, in which case go back and turn left. That may take you there. Or not. But here is the secret garden. It has two fountains. One of them has plants growing in it.
The other has the head of a satyr, with moss growing out of its mouth. It must have been growing for a long time. Sometimes, to be honest, I don’t quite like looking at it.
But this post isn’t really about the gardens. The gardens are a way to avoid talking about loss and grief. Because as soon as I got out into the gardens, he was walking by my side: the ghost.
“It’s nice today, isn’t it?” he said. I was shivering, despite my sweater. I was very glad that Hyacinth had packed my winter clothes.
“Yes, it’s nice,” I said. I wasn’t in the mood to talk to a facsimile, just then.
“I know a riddle,” he said. “What has eyes but does not see? What has ears but does not hear? What has hands but cannot touch? What has a mouth, but cannot speak?”
“I have no idea,” I said. “What?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
If I’d been able to hit him, I would have. Sometimes I had felt that frustration with his original as well. Honestly, a man who disappears at a moment’s notice, even if it is to set the universe to rights. That’s frustrating, you know?
I had said that he’d never spoken to me as anything other than a friend, but that was not quite true. Once, I had received a letter – one of many letters, this time from the eleventh century, written with a quill pen on vellum. I had a whole collection of them: chiseled into stone, printed on a dot-matrix printer, etched into iridescent metal. At the end of this letter, after a description of the Battle of Hastings, he had written, “By the way, you may be my fate.” It had been followed by a smiley face, so I had paid it no attention. After all, he was – well, him. That may have been the sort of thing he said to, I don’t know, Marie Antoinette. Or Eleanor of Aquitaine. But I remembered one day we had been walking across the Common, after a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, when he had said to me, “Anthony and Cleopatra were a mess. Still – what would it be like, to have one of the great loves?” Suddenly, I wondered what it would be like to have one of those. Messy, probably. Still –
Where had the ghost gone? While I had been lost in thought, he had disappeared. It was only then that I remembered his riddle: eyes that can’t see, ears that can’t hear, hands that can’t touch, a mouth that can’t speak. The man in the tree. Had he found a way to speak, after all? Was this some cryptic effort to communicate? I had no idea. Perhaps Mrs. Moth could tell me.
I looked around me, at the two fountains, the hedges that surrounded the secret garden and that had always made me feel so hidden, so protected there. Not this time. I shivered, and not because of the cold.
(Just in case you were wondering, here is the difference between Thea and Dora. The first photograph is of Thea, last autumn in one of Mrs. Moth’s gardens.
The second photograph is of Dora, in Virginia.
You see? They really are quite different. And what has Dora been doing all this time? She has been working on revising the third chapter, which is due at the end of this month. Despite a truly horrible, heartbreaking week. Sometimes I think her powers of concentration are superhuman.)