August had kept the garden since she was a child. It’s was lovely. Everybody agreed. Friends would come and sit on the ragged grey-green stone steps. Smoking and laughing, they would drink whisky until the sun had set and it was cold enough to watch the wisps of breath disperse into the dark air, mingling with the smells of night flowering jasmine.
The bird who visited were always her pride and joy, confirmation that they garden was the welcoming, happy and safe space she worked to hard to nurture. Watching the robin patrol the perimeter, marking his territory against any other red-chested interlopers, August would chat to him, passing the time of day while taking care to leave any excavated worms on the top soil. The feeder hung dripping with bacon dripping, millet and mealworms, surrounded by avian admires. August liked to imagine them sending their compliments to the chef, as they cleaned the fat off their feathers. Chaffinch, blackbird and wood pigeons congregated on subsiding brick walls, while yellowhammers and wagtails flitted through the gnarled branches of ancient trees.
One day the weather changed. The perpetual sunshine, so pervasive in the garden, withdrew, leaving flora and fauna to struggle it’s way towards the light. Constant shadows drew across the lawn, growing longer by the day, driving colour from the lawn. Moss and brambles pushed their way between paving slabs, pushing through the cracks until they became jagged, gaping chasms. August fought, slashing at the weeds, but even as she conquered one area of the garden, another was unbearably overrun. Eventually August just let the invaders run wild.
That was when she noticed the birds has stopped coming. As August cast her eyes to the achromatic clouds, she could see them circling overhead. Their calls sounded like crying, laments for halcyon rose-tinted days of light and laughter. Then they were gone, to warmer climes. The yellowhammers to Australia. Wagtails to North Africa. Other birds spread their wings for new horizons in Asia. The birds of winter, in search of glaciers, not grey, choose the fjords and peaks of Europe and beyond.
Days passed, then weeks passed, and as the garden perished, it was all August could do to watch out of the windows, as her oasis went to seed, becoming a lifeless plot of earth. Eventually event the weeks stopped growing. August turned her back on the windows.
Until one day, the rains came. A cloudburst flooded the streets with liquid silver and hammered out an unceasing tattoo on the glass of August’s tiny house. For the first time, the smell of earth and chlorophyl create beneath the doors, or seeped though the wooden frames. The smell made August’s nostrils twitch, and the knot in her stomach subsided. Like a weight lifting from her body, she ran to the windows. There was a shoot of emerald vying for space amongst the creepers. August threw open the door, running out barefoot into the rain. Thorns scratched her exposed skin and tore her cotton skirts. The deluge saturated every layer of her being, layer upon layer of fibre drawing up the moisture as dry desert draws in a shower, as if her very being was parched and arrid. Stones cut her soles, clay spattered her face and hands, as she pulled at the weeds, to give the young shoot room. Her hands we bare, her nails bent then cracked as she dug at the mean earth. Finally she stepped back to look at the space she had made. In the clearing was a single snowdrop, china-white head bowed, mirroring August’s own as she looked down at the tiny, fragile flower in disbelief.
Then behind her she heard a rustling. Out the corner of her eye, August saw a flash of orange. Her heart skipped a beat. Barely daring to breathe, ever so slowly, August turned, her eyes tracking the bright orb as it bounced from twig to twig of the dripping trees. Finally it stopped it’s flutter, with a determined shake of feathers. The robin was back.