Illustrated by Hong Rui Choo
As a life long gardener Patrick knows there’s something freakish about the summer he’s living through right now, 2013. Why isn’t it reaching headline news he fumes quietly, laying fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers in front of the Edingthorpe village shop as he he’s done for twenty five years. He’s quietly horrified by the lack of butterflies and come to think of it, the bees too. Where have all the insects and creatures gone my friends? Far far away. It’s a kind of subtle massacre that’s going on he concludes, brewing tea before the day starts. Insidious really. And this damage mostly invisible but it builds up in land and in people; things you just cannot airbrush out of existence. It’s July and gentle breezes cause wheat and barley crops to sway gently in the flat Norfolk fields. Sheppy, Patrick’s sheep dog, played up earlier in the drive back from nearby town North Walsham but he’s dozing peacefully now outside the shop’s front.
“Do you sell peas still in their pods at all: it’s just that I don’t see any out the front at all. Sorry, I’m new to the village and these parts and I’m just finding my feet I guess. I sound like a rapacious demanding American tourist don’t I?”
Her manner is bold yet self deprecating; she looks like a warmer version of Grace Kelly. She’s wearing heavy duty sun glasses so Patrick cannot see her eyes. He detects a slight whiff of cigarette smoke on her too but puts the steaming tea down on the counter. He’d first seen this latest village addition two weeks ago in a nearby farm field where the woman had been feeding clumps of grass to horses.
“Well; I had some last week but we sold out. The farm who supplies me will have more tomorrow so do call around. I’m Patrick by the way, local odd job man plus proprietor. Are you settling okay in to The Nook alright?”
He holds out a rough brown hand rather clumsily but it’s the thought that counts. She meets his hand nervously with her own and introduces herself as Marcia Malone from New York state. Buying loose carrots, bread and milk; she stuffs them in to a basket saying she’s getting on fine thank you. She disappears as suddenly as she’d appeared; standing there in the middle of the shop. Was she used to performing sudden such disappearing acts out of necessity? Arranging damp bags of rich dark peat behind the counter; Patrick glances at his watch. He’ll shut up shop for lunch at one; Sheppers will be dying for hampers-scampers by then.
Patrick didn’t see her for three weeks and wondered, like silent decent people do; whether it was the pressure of work, moving in or life itself that stopped her from visiting Pat’s Store to pick up some fresh picked farm peas. A suburban Londoner originally; he’d migrated away from maddening crowds keen to see open space. The gardening business in London sold; he’d used capital to re-invest turning over a new life and leaf in a place where he could hear himself think. For thinking quietly in silent places was a much prized goal these days, a luxury some would pay and maybe even die for. Flowering sweet peas form curling blots of colour in flower beds in the front of his small stone cottage outside the village. It had been a good summer for business; Pat’s Store was kept busy. Just keep your eye on the prize man; he tells himself not just thinking about the prize marrows he’s perfected out the back on the side.
Lying in bed reading local paper North Norfolk & District News, he calculates his remaining debts will clear by next year; he’d had to borrow slightly more to take on a new home and business. He’ll take the marrows to the Edingthorpe Church service tomorrow; Sunday. He likes the local woman of the cloth; a gutsy but compassionate she-vicar preaching in landscapes of cereal crops and sometime much of a muchness minds. And Donna, that skittish mare of a bar maid in North Walsham; her melons kept him buying the luke warm pints like some besotted tail wagging hound on some hunt alright. But ultimately this is all so bloody ridiculous Patrick isn’t it; he mutters to himself. Get a grip on yourself man; you can’t be serious about chasing Donna — she’s young enough to be a grand daughter. Face it; you’re a lecherous lonely old toad in need of something more than just a humanitarian shag enacted more out of pity than just pure lust.
He’d never had much luck with women; he wasn’t flashy enough and, unfashionable though it may be, he didn’t like to pour his masculinity or virility over women like some cheap disposable after shave. He’d been jealous of Pete, an old London colleague who really was rich and dark like his composted namesake and he’d finally given up on lonely hearts columns. It’d been so humiliating being rejected. These last few years though, he’d felt he’d been through a kind of nemesis period gaining fresh insight as to what on going dating-relationship games may be like for women too. And then turning over the paper’s page; he saw it. The article and photograph about Marcia Malone; best selling American romantic novelist who’d recently broken up from a lesbian relationship in NY. Angst, nascent addiction to techno Norwegian rock group Bizerk, her bullying on line and very public internet degradation. A spoilt daughter gone completely rotten in the Big Apple. The mess was all there. On top of personal crisis, her website was hacked in to, and she’d had poor quality reviews on her latest novel How to live Your Life, which admittedly had autobiographical content. No wonder she’d fled to The Nook then, having clearly suffered some kind of breakdown.
Edingthorpe Church is ancient; one of the unique 124 round-tower churches remaining in Norfolk which escaped from Henry V111’s destructive hoards. The small congregation file out of it’s wooden doors, replenished by acts of listening. It’s August now, the land grown golden in light. He’d left the marrows, which were gratefully received, by the simple altar. Then he’d seen her again, this time crying softly on a pew. What on earth could he possibly say or do now? So often when he’d read lurid stories about celebrities; he’d turned away in disgust or contempt; aware that dirt, shame and pain sells for both parties. But this seemed genuine and he could appreciate that though writers needed publicity, too much exposure of the wrong kind could actually ruin. Patrick walks away discretely, believing still in the sanctity of emotional privacy but wondering who controlled the flowing bits of information. Then it came to him and walking Sheppy that evening, he walks up to The Nook’s quaint front door step with an upturned horse shoe for a door knocker. An unexpected bee flies across the path as they approach; Patrick thinks it’s a honey bee. Maybe there are a few birds and bees still knocking about after all. Thought you might like these on the house from P is what he’d scrawled on the note alongside the sweet peas and pea pods.