19th February

The Gardener

He’d stayed out too long, walking on the shore in the gathering dusk. Now, as he came back through the rotten gate and under dripping trees, he could hardly see twenty yards ahead. The rain was ferocious. He kept thinking of the large whisky he’d have in the residents’ bar as soon as he’d changed his clothes.

The hotel grounds went on for ever. He was in a confusing network of paths with dark, looming hedges on either side. Occasionally there’d be a circle of lawn with a statue in the middle, then more paths and hedges. The place was completely overgrown. The hotel, which had been so prominent from the seashore, was not visible.

Somebody was up ahead, a woman. The moon breaking through the clouds cast a strange glow upon her. She wore a long white dress, and was dancing in a swaying motion back and forth beneath a tree.

He called out to her. ‘Hello!’ But there was something odd about her movement.

‘My God!’ He started towards her. She was hanging. She was in her nightdress and her feet were clear of the ground. ‘Help!’ he shouted as he ran.

Then he was cursing his own foolishness. His heart pounded even as he made himself laugh at the old plastic sack caught on a branch.

‘Did you call?’

An old man in overalls and a tweed cap was standing close by him. He had the weathered cheeks and big hands of a man who worked outdoors. He was carrying a spade.

‘Oh, hello, yes. I seem to be lost.’

‘Where are you trying to go?’

‘To the hotel, of course.’

The man pointed to another path to the left. ‘That way. You’ll see the lights as you go round the next corner.’

‘Thank you, thank you.’

‘You are welcome.’

A few minutes later, standing in the lobby, he wiped the water from his hair. He could almost taste the whisky on his lips. He’d have one now, before he went up.

‘Terrible weather,’ he said to the receptionist. ‘I got caught out. Luckily I bumped into the gardener and he gave me directions.’

‘What gardener?’ she said. ‘There is no gardener.’

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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