He bent down, ignoring the creak in his knees, and caressed the smooth leaf, letting the slightly moist surface rub against his skin. Who would do such a thing as this?
“If there is anything you can tell us, it would be greatly appreciated.”
The Authority man cast a shadow over the flower bed as he moved, and the gardener noticed his brightly polished shoes, and the mud that now clung to their soles, creeping up around the edges. He also noticed how the man half-stood in the flower bed itself, his weight pushing down on the edge of the grass. He could see the soil shifting, and he wanted so desperately to say something, but the words simply wouldn’t come.
“You say you saw the two of them, the man and the woman. You say the man was chasing the woman, or was it the other way round?”
“Yes,” he croaked.
“Which way round?”
“What?” The man stood with his back to the sun, and the gardener had to shield his eyes with his hand, which meant he had to let go of the injured plant.
“Who was chasing who?” This time it was the woman who spoke. She stood on the grass, and he could see where her heels had left dints in the turf, like so many others. Why didn’t they stick to the paths? That was what they were designed for, after all. Only those with appropriate footwear should be allowed to tread on the grass. If he had his way, he would erect barriers so that there was no risk of the grounds being damaged like this.
But the woman had asked him a question, and he knew she expected an answer. So he thought back, to when he’d seen them, tearing over the grass, one of them yelling.
They’d reached the flower bed, but they hadn’t stopped. They’d run on through, then across to the stone wall.
He looked up at the wall, and saw where some of the rough blocks had been dislodged. He wouldn’t mind so much, but he could see the broken lichen from here, and he thought of those insects whose home had now been destroyed. And all because some man was chasing a woman, and they couldn’t be bothered to stick to the paths and use the gate.
“He was chasing her.”
“Very good. That confirms other reports we have received.” The woman was leaning in, and he caught her scent, but it was nowhere near as sweet as the perfume from these flowers. Even as they lay broken on the soil, still they filled the air with their beautiful aroma, still drawing in those flying insects that meant so much to the garden. At least those that had not been displaced when the wall was disturbed.
The woman continued. “Now, if you could think back, is there anything you can tell us about either of these individuals? Can you describe them to us?”
Why were they talking to him like he was simple? He understood—there had been a disturbance, and these fine people were investigating. He had seen a part of the incident, and so they wanted information. But how could he think of such things when his garden needed his touch so desperately?
“He held a blade,” the gardener said, because he recalled the glint of metal in the sun. It was only a small thing, of little practical use, although maybe it could be put into service in more delicate work, or for drilling holes for seeds. But it would not cope with some of the branches and stems that he had to deal with. For that, the gardener had a proper selection of blades, from the hand-length pruner up to the saw-toothed one he used to remove the more stubborn branches, the ones the trees didn’t want to let go, even though they were sucking up moisture and would, in time, cause harm to the rest of the tree. The small blade this man held would be of little use in a garden like this.
“That is good,” said the woman again. “Not that he had a blade, but that you remember it. Is there anything else? Can you remember the size of either of them, or their clothing?”
He thought back, but all he could see was the pair tearing through these plants. She had trampled one of the pennies, the one that had grown so much better than the others, and now its red bloom was scattered in the soil. And the man had ploughed straight through the hibs, snapping so many long stems. The plant had been so full and welcoming, such a perfect resting place for bees and butterflies. Those furred tips that had previously towered overhead could now be brushed with a boot, the mud stained with their pollen.
The gardener shook his head in sadness.
“Maybe you will recall something later,” said the man, and he stepped back onto the grass. But the edge was truly trampled, and the gardener knew he’d have to spend some time fixing that. “You realise, of course, how serious this is?”
The gardener nodded, pleased that at least someone else appreciated the magnitude of the destruction that had been wrought here.
But, of course, this man wasn’t talking about the garden. All he was bothered with was some attack, or whatever had happened. The gardener had heard the cries and the screams, and the sounds of the struggle, but by that time he was already by his beloved plants. They couldn’t cry out, not in the same way, and so only someone like himself could feel their pain and come to their aid.
There was nothing more he could tell the Authority agents. Let them chase after their truth and play their little games. He had more important matters to attend to.
And he bent down once more, caressing the leaf as a tear formed in his eye.
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