Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"The Wolfendens' Garden"

Print: " Pear Tree" Gustav Klimt ( 1903)
Not long ago, I arranged to meet a friend at The Cross in the centre of my small city. We'd meet at 4pm and disappear somewhere for coffee before heading home. But my friend was late ( she often is ) so I had plenty of time to stand and stare.
And I did.

School, of course, was Out For The Day.
And almost everyone in my city seemed to be 15.
Almost everyone was laughing, chattering, giggling, walking in lines, arms linked.
Almost everyone had long long legs ( boys and girls).
Almost everyone wore school uniform, customised to "suit" its wearer; baggy trousers, tight ones, floaty skirts, short miniscule ones.
Almost everyone had Life Before Them and Oh How It Showed.

And I was invisible; I really was.
I was part of the scenery: part of the sandstone church, the Rows of shops, the wide city street.
So I watched the boys.
So I watched the girls.
And their voices were loud and shrill
And their smiles stretched the length of Watergate
And their laughter rang through black and white buildings, sang into the medieval peace of quiet churches.

And my phone rang from the depths of my handbag.
My friend mumbled apologies. Coffee was Off.
So I went home and scribbled this.

It's a story called: “Wolfenden’s Garden”.

After school, they’d wander down Cuthbert Street, one big gang, past the newsagents, the chip shop, on into St Saviours Road where long gardens hid behind high walls.
Some girls (usually Kate and Allie) hitched up their skirts and clambered over the wall of one house in particular, the Wolfenden’s, and other girls squeezed through gaps in the wall into the garden, which stretched like a weary cat to the Wolfenden’s tall narrow house.
This was a house veiled from its garden by damp velvet leaves, by tangles of shrubs; veiled too by the preoccupations of the gang, high on each other’s glances, high on each other’s approval, their whisperings, their dreams of each other in the middle of last night.

Once there at the bottom of the garden, the girls lolled in the grass. They painted their eyes, ringed them with liner, and stared into tiny mirrors as if viewing their futures. They stretched their legs, giggled like golden flutes, and hid their secret faces behind floating silky hair.
And Lucy Baxter leaned against a pear tree, hands in pocket, observing them all, digging her nails deep into the palms of her hands.

Then the lads came; scrawny, villainous, scaling the wall or vaulting the wall or sheepishly following the girls as they puffed on cigs, drank from cans, slouched against trees. They smirked, they guffawed, and they sniggered together, eyes half closed.
And then the lads drew hard on their cigs, watched Kate snog Allie, Allie touch Kate, Kate move against Allie in the shelter of trees.
And the boys, blissful, scarcely able to stand it, held their breath while the girls felt strange new feelings and the Wolfenden’s garden grew wild around them; grass, high as their waists, chestnut trees, apple trees, hunched and dwarfed but shielding them with ease from the house.
And there were ginger cats with yellow eyes stalking in the grass.

Sometimes, when the Rasta guy had been hanging round school, Col and Will and Joe lit spliffs in the garden, sucked on them, giggled, and grew high on them.
Sometimes these lads stood close together, kept private their dealings and the others stared, thought of their mothers waiting for them, frying onions for supper in basement kitchens, and ironing shirts in their tower block bedrooms.
And the girls smoothed their hair, slunk beneath trees, watched as light faded across the garden.

Then Col yelled: “ Shift yerself, Simon, Bill Wolfenden’s coming with his gun!”
And white-faced Simon (who sang in a choir, shopped for his Nan on Fridays) turned towards the house, expecting to see Bill, blind with cataracts, staggering down the garden, brandishing a gun, coming at him down the garden.
Then Allie yelled: “ Shift yerself, Lucy, Marge Wolfenden’s coming with her knife!"
And sweet obedient Lucy, (who read history books beneath her duvet, cleaned the flat for her mum on Sundays) turned towards the house, expecting to see Marge, in filthy silk dress, staggering down the garden, brandishing a bread knife, coming at her down the garden.

Then Will grabbed Kate by her hand. And Allie grabbed Joe by his long greasy hair and those four beautiful ones, who knew their charm, played on their charm, they sank to the ground behind bushes while the rest, those plain sullen placid ones (girls with lumpy thighs, the shivering speechless lads) smirked and listened, tried to glimpse Kate’s small perfect breasts and Allie’s pale lovely limbs, to hear Will’s sighs, Joe’s grunts in the Wolfenden’s blackberry, gooseberry, raspberry bushes.

And Lucy cursed her freckles, her grey eyes, wiry brown hair that frizzed mercilessly to spindly shoulders; she wanted Kate’s darkness, Allie’s blondeness. She wanted hips, lips; she wanted to be the one the others watched, the one whose face they craved.

And then Will emerged, Joe emerged and Col chucked down the spliff, strolled into bushes and Col was alone with Kate and alone with Allie and other boys shivered and some trembled, scarcely able to stand it.
And the Wolfendens garden darkened.
When all was finished, Col saw Lucy beside the pear tree; he plucked off a leaf, tossed it over, yelled: "Pretend it’s a fig leaf! A leaf for a lady!” and Will yelled: "Cover yer blushes with it!” and Joe yelled: "Cover yer self with it!” and Col hunched his shoulders and the three lads sauntered away to the wall, turning to stare at Lucy Baxter’s spindly shoulders, hectic hair, sparrow ankles, and Lucy, digging her nails deep into the palms of her hands, watched Col till her body ached, till her body really ached.
Kate, laughing in the grass, nudged Allie so that Lucy heard murmurings "No chance” and “ fat chance” and “ pain in the ass chance”

At home Mrs Baxter tossed chips in a pan. Mr Baxter scanned the paper and their lads fought over something on TV; the living room was warm with family, clammy with family, and Lucy Baxter settled at the table to write up her Science.
And Col’s leaf, gold and red and frilly, lay in the centre of her notes: “In the 1750’s, John Mitchell examined the gravitational attraction of stars”...
And Lucy thought of Kate, of Allie, but she smiled because Col’s leaf was gold and red, stunning with the beauty of autumn and she stared at it, touched it, traced every vein with her fingers.


Blogger apprentice said...

I'm glad your friend called off, this really captures the beautiful agony of being a teenage girl, the type Janice Ian sang about in "At Seventeen"

12:07 pm  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

Ah, youth!

Like your crammed, magical, awful Eden, and the way you end up with an emblem of the Fall, still alluring to young Lucy.

I really expected Kate or Allie to be wearing a streak of violet... shoelaces or belt or maybe even shoes or shirt.

You know, nobody ever seems to think about Klimt's landscapes. His people,his gold, his mosaic jewels are too dominant. But there's one I love at MOMA. The pear trees are lovely.

5:44 pm  
Blogger apprentice said...


Jan this is the Kay link I mentioned re Julia Darling

12:20 am  
Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

This story had me captured from go to whoa. It describes that bitter sweet, awkward time so well. Thank you for transporting me into that orchard. I love the painting too. I like the sweet ending to this story.

2:35 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

I love songs that can run on in your mind into wonderful stories...
And thanks too for the Jackie Kay link. Funnily enough, she's just been on TV this eve; she's won an award for her 1st book of short stories. I wonder if you saw it?

Eden's a powerful place and I suppose it connects a bit with the magic of Klimt.
When I was teaching little ones, we looked at his landscapes a lot and they produced some brilliant pictures of their own..

Glad you liked being transported to that scary place.
I had this image of a neighbours long wild garden where we played when I was very young...full of secret dens and special trees...and I suppose when I wrote the story, I put teenagers in it instead..

10:41 pm  
Blogger Carole said...

This is a wonderful story and your sort of free write/poem that precedes it. Probably because I've been reading Katherine Mansfield recently, the ending with Lucy and the leaf reminded me of one of her epiphanies. I love the way you describe the teenagers. I'm a fan of Jackie Kay too and have her 'The Adoption papers'.

2:49 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

I love watching and observing and mulling over people...And teenagers are absorbing because they're SO open, often so "obvious", yet they're this great mix of confidence and vulnerability...a kind of exagerration, I imagine, of us all really.
Enjoyed Adoption Papers; wAnt to get hold of Jackie K's short stories too.
Are you doing a course at present?

10:37 pm  
Blogger apprentice said...

No missed it, but I'll google it and see what I find.

11:34 am  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

this is a lovely and beautifully written story, thank you.

8:58 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

Hope you enjoy it. Lots of her poems are stories in themselves, aren't they?

Lovely to get a compliment sent from under gorgeous Californian Skies! Thank you very much.

4:02 pm  

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