I discovered a tree stump. To think I would start afresh with this garden, me standing proudly at the edge of the grass, looking over what I thought was rich, dark, deep soil – not empty, just waiting. The opposite of empty, in fact. Pregnant.
But I shoved the spade in, the first determined puncture in the earth, and there it was. Betrayal. A fat, rotten and, until now, hidden tree stump. I shouldn’t be surprised, not really; I often put pen to paper, finally knowing the opening line, and discover I’m out of ink.
Spade out, sigh, lean, think. This wasn’t the pregnancy I had in mind, but rather a tumour, which is the kind of thing I can’t say out loud because they’ll accuse me of being morbid. And I’ll start to accuse myself of other worse things. You can’t start afresh with this, can you?
The tree itself has been gone for a long time – everything above ground hacked at the base of the trunk by whoever was here before me. They couldn’t care less about what happened underneath. I pull back soil, blackening my hands, scraping away, getting my fingernails dirty just for the joy of later spending a half-hour scrubbing them clean. Maybe cut the nails, then the dirt can’t hide.
But look at this: roots going forever. All of this, all mangled under the soil, a death preserved – something not allowed to die. Can’t cover this up with flowers, can’t mask it with things that look pretty and smile in the sun. You’d think the whole stump would just rot and compost in this ground, feed the newer things, but it’s just getting in the way. Stick all the plants in, as many as you like, but they can’t reach down. They’re stopped, so they won’t come back next year when they need to, and you’ll have to start again, trying to keep up the illusion.
I’ve decided I can put a lot of anger into this tree. Shove sticks and spades, wedge it up, hauling with my hands while it clings on, until it rips. God, it just rips. That noise, all those tiny tendrils being pulled from the ground, like tearing a thick cotton shirt. The earth hiccups as it splits, and the whole thing comes out like a giant’s foot.
Cut it to pieces with the saw, burn the bigger parts when they’re dry, leave the rest to rot properly. I put it in the compost where it can fester away with its ugly siblings, gargling down the throats of enormous worms and making little splinter-grass-spiders: little long-legged things that tumble and trip their way through the blades and run. I’ll use all of this to bring up the flowers, when its ready. They’ll grow deep, because I’ll have done it right the first time. They’ll shove their buds up from the stem, reaching from the roots, like a red fist.