garden where time crumbled to dust
by Frank Roger
"Harry," Vanessa called out, "I think it's still going
on," but the wind, feeble as it was, carried away her words to where
her husband couldn't possibly hear them. She sighed, and tried to
ignore the fatigue her body was suffering from her short walk in the
garden. If even this short a walk was already too much for her...
Did this mean her condition was getting worse? And could this in its
turn mean a change was manifesting itself...?
She shook her head, as if trying to shake off the
conflicting emotions that disturbed her peace of mind. Anger,
hopelessness, uncertainty. And, she'd better admit it, her failure
to understand. The strict and total impossibility to know what on
earth was happening to them. She just had to talk to Harry about it,
regardless of what he was up to at this moment.
Slowly she walked down the gravel path to the patio
where Harry was always sitting. No doubt he had dozed off again. His
waking moments seemed to be growing ever more scarce. If this went
on she would be truly alone soon, accompanied by a perennial
sleeper. Unfortunately she knew of no way to stop this process. With
unsettling intensity, the realisation dawned on her: what did this
evolution mean, and what did the very fact that there was an
evolution mean? It was simply mind-boggling. She just had to talk to
Harry about it, right now, even if this meant raising him from his
slumber. On the other hand, she had never been so bold as to disturb
his sleep in recent times. It seemed so unwise. Who knew what the
consequences of such a desperate act might be?
"Harry? Are you awake?" Her voice, already brittle with
age, trembled with concern. Maybe she shouldn't wake him. She had
only done so a few times, and that was so long ago she couldn't even
remember the last instance. It had turned out to spoil his temper,
his appetite, his entire day.
To her relief she noticed she had worried in vain :
Harry had just been raised from his "short afternoon nap" as he
preferred to call it in a natural way, and now looked at her with
barely focussed eyes.
"Yes, of course I'm awake," he said, and reached out for
his cup of tea beside him on the table. He brought the cup to his
lips and took a sip, then gently put the cup back down.
"It's still hot," he said approvingly. "You see? I can't
have dozed off for a long time. How else could my tea still be hot?"
He looked her triumphantly in the eyes, a faint smile creasing his
"You're obviously right," she said after a moment's
hesitation, not without difficulty. Would he never understand? Would
he ever do so much as notice? Wouldn't he ever listen to what she
had been trying to explain to him on so many occasions? Maybe it
would be wiser to give up altogether, but he took the initiative out
of her hands now by saying, "You wanted to tell me something,
She sighed. "Yes," she said, her voice as steady as she
could muster, "there's something I'd like to draw your attention to.
I've been keeping an eye on the flowers, Harry, and I've noticed
something strange, something unsettling."
Harry closed his eyes, and for a moment she feared he
had gone back to sleep. But then she heard him murmur, "Oh no, not
again. Do we have to go through all that again?"
"Harry, please. I have this feeling it's of tremendous
"Well, all right then, darling. I'm listening. Please
tell me what you have discovered." She could read the expression on
his face: weariness, because he was convinced these discussions were
leading nowhere, courteous acceptance of her insistence to let him
know about her findings, resignation at the inevitability of all
"Everything in the garden has stopped growing for a
considerable stretch of time by now. The grass, the flowers, the
trees. They all stay the way they are. It's as though time has come
to a standstill. I had noticed before how it all seemed to be
slowing down, but now it appears to have stopped altogether. I don't
understand it, Harry."
"But darling, there's no need to worry. How many times
do I have to tell you that it's all in your mind? Everything's just
fine. It's all perfectly normal. Why don't you take it easy, sit
down and have a cup of tea?"
He poured the two cups full of tea, set the pot back
down with a deep sigh of satisfaction. He closed his eyes and
whispered, "Oh darling, if only you knew how much I cherish these
peaceful moments we have here." He didn't reopen his eyes, and after
a while his slow and regular breathing told her he had gone back to
sleep. Vanessa left her tea untouched, went inside the house, and
wandered aimlessly through room after room, all drenched in silence.
The entire house felt cold, as if nobody had lived here
for a long time. Yet there were no signs of neglect or poor
housekeeping, not even a thin layer of dust covering exposed
surfaces. The house was deprived of human warmth simply because it
had actually been empty for a long time. There was just the two of
them, and Harry had been in his chair on the patio for too long to
remember, whereas she had been in the garden, keeping a watchful eye
on it, enjoying its atmosphere, and basking in its breathtaking
Carefully she walked up the flight of stairs leading to
the bedroom. She cringed at the slight creaking of the stairs. Even
a faint sound like this seemed to shatter the deep silence. The
bedroom appeared to be even quieter and more devoid of life than the
rest of the house. She felt a mixture of shame and embarrassment for
disturbing the serenity as she crossed the room to the window,
gently pulled aside the heavy curtains and gazed out at the garden
below. Her eyes gradually lost focus and she barely noticed what she
was looking at as recollections came flooding back of how it had all
evolved this way.
It had been a very slow process - so slow she had not
been aware of it at first. It had started when Harry had retired and
all of the daily routines and pressures could be discarded. Rising
early had no longer been required. Regular hours had become
unnecessary. At last they'd had the time and the freedom to sit back
and enjoy the days as they came. Slowly they lost contact with the
world outside - and to be quite honest, at the time neither of them
really cared. Society had been changing so quickly, at a pace they
had always found hard to keep up with. The moment it had no longer
been necessary to match its pace, they had been all too glad to let
the reins slip from their fingers. Soon it had become impossible to
catch up with society at large.
As they grew older, the chasm between the two of them
and the rest of the world grew wider. It might have been different
if they'd had any children. But, sadly enough, that was not the
case, and now it was of course too late to rectify that situation.
So their lives seemed to slow down. There were ever fewer matters to
lend a sense of activity to their days. The housekeeping chores were
attended to by a cleaning woman once a week - in recent times she
also did all the shopping.
Harry spent more and more time on the patio, reading and
drinking tea. As time passed, the quantities of tea increased, and
his reading material dwindled away. She had spent more and more of
her time in the garden. Time went by - only it passed ever more
slowly, until she had discovered it had by now ground to a virtual
She couldn't remember the last time the cleaning woman
had come - although it wasn't apparent from the condition of the
house. Harry seemed to be frozen in his favourite time of the day.
He took a nap in his chair on the patio, sipping his tea every now
and then. Tea-time now stretched into infinity. And in her garden
nothing ever grew or changed anymore. Each time she talked to Harry
about it he had replied she merely imagined things were wrong. It
was all in her mind, he kept saying. He relied on his tea as
conclusive evidence, as it didn't cool down, so the eternity she had
lived through was in reality obviously but a few moments. It was no
use indicating the flaw in his logic. By the time she had explained
that the hot tea was part of their surroundings which were now
frozen in time, he had usually gone back to sleep. But then she
couldn't rule out the possibility that he was right. If, as he
claimed, it was all in her mind, then how could she possibly
determine the true nature of things?
Of course, there was always the garden. She clearly had
not imagined what she had discovered there. But was there a way to
convince him of her findings? Was there any undeniable proof for her
theory? If only she could bring him to go along with her in the
garden, see for himself how…
She shook her head, as if waking up from a maddeningly
bizarre daydream. She refocused her eyes, and saw what she had been
staring at, however unseeing.
The garden! She had been standing here looking out over
it for a number of minutes, and only now she realised perhaps she'd
better go down and take a walk in her garden, just to check if
everything was all right. Maybe the lawn needed to be mown, some
dead leaves had to be removed, the hedge needed cutting or some
other task might have to be carried out.
All the recollections swept at once from her mind, she
crossed the bedroom, descended the stairs and walked straight into
the garden, inhaling the invigorating late afternoon air. At first
glance everything appeared to be perfectly normal, but then she
noticed with rising concern that there hadn't been the slightest of
changes since her previous visit. Flowers that were about to spring
into full bloom were still in that state of their metamorphosis. A
broken, dying leaf about to drop to the ground was still poised
exactly in that position. And these cases weren't exceptional. A
closer inspection taught her that this was the general state of
affairs. Her garden was no longer subject to change, to the passing
of time. This could only mean...
She would have to talk to Harry about this.