As is my custom, I am serialising one of my past books here on the blog, and over the next few weeks, stories from my 2020 collection, Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries, Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet. I hope you will enjoy.
Animal Magic – The Gardening Assistant
The baby was gone, and not only did her body, but her heart too felt empty. At twenty weeks Molly had been sure instinctively they would be having a son, and each morning she had woken to feel a gentle flutter, as a reminder he was there. She had been at work as a part-time receptionist at the local estate agents, two months before going on maternity leave, when she noticed she was bleeding. Her boss had called an ambulance and she was rushed to hospital and examined by a young doctor.
He was very thorough, asking a lot of questions about her pre-natal visits, and he left at one point to talk to her own doctor on the telephone. When he returned she was placed in a side ward and lay in the bed hoping against hope her baby would be okay. Perhaps this was only a temporary setback, not uncommon, the doctor assured her. Her husband Chris was away on a business trip and when the staff nurse managed to contact him it still took hours for him to reach her bedside. He stayed all night, holding her hand and watching helplessly as a few hours later she lost their son.
She had returned from the hospital to find Chris had given away the baby clothes and other items bought in preparation over the last few months. The brightly painted nursery felt as empty as she did, and the door remained closed over the following weeks. Chris said he did it to spare her the pain of having to see the reminders of their loss, but he had become closed off, and she felt he blamed her for the tragedy.
Her doctor had reassured her that sometimes a pregnancy ended, and often no reason could be established. He confirmed he had found nothing concerning at her recent check-up when all appeared normal. She had no answers, and her grief and nagging doubts about whether she had done something to cause the miscarriage, resulted in seclusion.
The telephone in the hall remained unanswered during the day and in the evening, if Chris took the call, he would tell the person on the other end she was sleeping but would call them back another time.
Her parents lived hundreds of miles away and she begged her mother not to get a train and come up to stay with them. She promised to ring them each week and assured them she was fine, promising to visit them when she felt better.
She also pushed Chris away as he attempted to comfort her, and as the weeks passed the distance grew between them. He began staying out late stating extra work as the reason, but she could smell the beer on his breath when he arrived home, kissing her on the cheek, before reheating his dinner. At the weekend he would get out of bed and potter in the garage most of the day, working on his motorbike, popping in from time to time for a sandwich or a cup of tea. At night he would get into bed and turn his back to her as she lay awake staring at the ceiling.
If it had not been for Sasha, she doubted she would have had the will to continue in what was becoming an alien environment. Increasingly the temptation to pack a suitcase and walk out of the door was overwhelming, but with Sasha to think about it was impossible. She became the reason she got up in the morning, left the sanctuary of the house to walk the quiet country lanes and demanded her attention as she sat in the silent rooms of the house.
One morning as Molly stared out in to the neglected back garden, once her pride and joy, she saw Sasha chasing a butterfly, snapping in the air as it danced around her head, but no match for its aerobatics. She realised the time was approaching to plant the bulbs for next spring. For the first time in weeks, Molly felt a faint stirring of hope. She needed to create something beautiful. It could not replace what she had lost, but it would be a way to honour her baby’s memory and try to thaw the ice which had found its way into her heart.
Over the next month she mowed the lawn and despatched the weeds that had taken over the beds during her absence. She sat with catalogues from the local garden centres, planning an elaborate show of spring flowers a few months ahead. She made copious notes as Sasha lay at her feet, and even Chris seemed to make more of an effort, coming home earlier and helping with the housework at the weekends. They still remained emotionally at a distance, and she wondered if they could ever return to the easy intimacy they had shared before. She hoped he would not mention trying for another baby as she was terrified. She could not imagine being pregnant again and spending all those months wondering if she would fail again.
It was time to put her garden design into action, and with her extensive shopping list, she spent an hour in the garden centre finding a specific selection of bulbs to create the colour scheme she had in mind. On an unusually warm late September day, armed with nets of bulbs carefully labelled, she began to plant the borders. Sasha seemed to sense the importance of this endeavour and lay close by with her favourite toy, getting up from time to time to nudge Molly to let her know she was there.
Apart from a brief break for lunch, and to take Sasha out for her afternoon walk, Molly worked through the day. Finally, as the late afternoon sun dropped below the horizon, she stood up and bent her aching back into shape, surveying the three borders with their freshly turned soil protecting the precious bulbs beneath it. Satisfied she went into the kitchen to prepare dinner. Sasha as if to give her approval for the project, walked around the lawn, occasionally sniffing at the ground before coming through the open back door.
The next morning, after walking Sasha, Molly went out to the shops for groceries and decided to have her hair done for the first time since the miscarriage. She knew she had let herself go, but had been disinterested in either clothes or makeup for weeks. When she returned home, delighted with a short new hairstyle, she finally packed away her maternity clothes.
After taking Sasha for another walk, Molly sat down with the local paper, scouring the job section for a part-time vacancy, something to get her out of the house a few hours a day, so she would not be leaving Sasha for too long on her own. She had been offered her old job at the estate agents, but felt there would be too many questions about the baby that she was simply not ready to face. As she ringed some of the vacancies, she assumed Sasha was amusing herself in the garden with her toys, and an hour passed before Molly headed in to the kitchen to make a sandwich for lunch. She looked out of the window and for a moment couldn’t understand what she was seeing.
Sasha was in the middle of the lawn, resting on what appeared to be a mound of earth, and wagging her tail in enjoyment. Molly was intrigued and headed out of the back door to be greeted by an ecstatic collie racing around her and back to the mound, where she settled herself on top with pride.
Molly gasped as she recognised the constituents of the pyramid. Hundreds of bulbs, almost indistinguishable from each other, except perhaps by a horticultural expert, nestled together, collected by her muddy pawed gardening assistant of yesterday.
As Sasha waited for the praise for doing such an excellent job of retrieving the hidden delights, Molly slumped to her knees and began to cry uncontrollably. Sasha who was attuned to her human’s moods, immediately jumped up and began licking her cheeks and whimpering. Aware of her distress Molly put her arms around her and pulled her close.
‘You little monster.’
Chris had arrived home early, and after calling out and receiving no response from Molly, he headed to the kitchen and looked out the window. There was his wife, Sasha on her lap with her shoulders heaving. Concerned he rushed out the door and across the lawn surprised to hear Molly laughing so hard, tears poured down her cheeks. He looked at the pile of bulbs confused at why there would be a pile in the middle of the lawn, and Molly shook her head, still laughing.
Chris knelt beside her and began to laugh too, and then dissolved into tears. Molly immediately gathered him in her arms and finally after so many weeks of distance, they found comfort in their shared grief. Sasha pushed herself between them licking their faces in turn, until their tears turned back to laughter again.
‘Can you give me a hand to put all these back love?’ Molly waved her hand at the mound of bulbs.
‘Do you know what type of flower they are going to produce if we do?’ Chris raised an eyebrow.
Molly shook her head and then looked up at her husband.
‘I am sure it will be a beautiful riot of colour, and a reminder not everything you plan will turn out the way you expect.’ Chris nodded and stood up.
‘Come on Sasha; let’s put you in the kitchen with a bone to keep you busy, while we replant these bulbs, we don’t want you thinking this is another game.’
They kept a close eye on her when she was in the garden over the next few days, and thankfully she showed no inclination to dig up the treasures again. A few months passed, and in the late spring, the garden was a brilliant mix of bright colours; a glorious artist’s palette. Molly was expecting another baby in the autumn, and despite a natural concern something might go wrong again, Chris made every effort to ensure she felt loved, whilst nagging her to put up her feet at every opportunity.
Sasha was an attentive nanny to their first daughter Isobel, and to their two sons, Nigel and Timothy who followed in the next five years. She dispensed love and attention on all of them equally and happiness filled their home.
* * *
Molly stirred as she felt a hand on her shoulder and smiled up at Chris as he placed a cup of tea on the table beside the garden bench. They both had grey hair now, but she did cheat with a silver rinse at the hairdresser once a month. Their children and grandchildren were all coming over for their 40th wedding anniversary on Sunday, and the house and garden would be filled with laughter and love. The borders were bright with colour, and each year she emptied bulbs into a large pile in the wheelbarrow, mixed them up and then planted them haphazardly. Each time it brought Sasha to mind, even though over the years there had been two more much loved collies, just as endearing.
‘Do you think we’re too old to take on another dog Chris?’ She looked at her husband hopefully.
‘Of course not darling.’ He kissed Molly’s cheek. ‘Let’s check out the sanctuary in town and find our next gardening assistant.
Arm in arm they headed into the house, looking forward to a new addition to the family.
©Sally Cronin 2020
One of the reviews for Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries
Sally Cronin’s anthology is an entertaining collection combining sweet, wholesome tales with stories from a more jaded point of view.
I love how she takes everyday situations and infuses them with humor, such as in The Weekly Shopping;
‘What the hell does DNST mean?’ ‘Do Not Serve Treats.’
Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries- Sally Cronin
Bittersweet endings like The Wedding Day when a hero returns from the grave to see his daughter’s wedding.
I teared up think of my Annie with The Nanny. The story of an overwhelmed couple caring for their teething baby and the unexpected help they receive.
Another favorite is a poem titled The Duchess, where the author paints a portrait of her beloved parent.
There were a few stories about the dark side of life, but these just served to enhance the rest and made me appreciate the blessings in my own life.
Easy-to-read, enjoyable, and relatable.
If you need a fun escape from the winter doldrums, give Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries a read!
My latest book is a collection of poetry and was published on July 2021
Thanks for dropping in today and I hope you have enjoyed the story.. I always love your feedback. Sally.