He thought, more than anything in the world, that there was nothing worse than holes.
The last straw came when he was walking down the street one day in London. He was looking at how Tower Bridge stood majestic against the pure blue spring sky, its two sibling towers tall above The Thames, and then the next minute his knee hit the pavement and his hand darted out in front of him to take the strain, and he was staring at the stone path so close to his face it took him a moment to fathom what had just happened.
He looked up from his position on the floor as two women, around his age, walked past. Some embarrassment, and an ‘are you ok?’ A swell of genuine caring. He nodded and they carried on, opening a door and walking in. He slowly moved his body and got to his knees. They’d entered an office block, on their lunch break he presumed, going back to work and leaving the sun and blue sky behind them as they resumed their afternoon of computer screens and Venetian blinds to filter out the brightness of the day. He was unaccustomed to femininity and for a few minutes after, he felt the tingle of their eyes when they’d looked at him, still, on the side of his face. He didn’t have a female friend, a girlfriend, a sister — not even a mother anymore.
There was nothing worse than holes.
He looked behind him at the pavement to see what had happened. There, sunken like a wound, was a pothole. He’d tripped on a pothole. He got to his feet and looked at the space where the two women had been, then behind him at the pothole.
He did it early the next morning, before even the most dedicated commuters arrived. He knelt on an old towel and he patted the springy compost into the hole around the heavy roots of the daffodils. Next, he laid around them the patch of mossy grass he’d taken from his own garden at home. He made a miniature flower bed with greenery right there in the path by the office block. When he’d finished, he stood up and gazed down at his tiny garden. The Thames shone under the early morning sun like a sea of stars. The bare pavement baked and the office windows creaked in the rising spring warmth. And when they arrived, everyone who passed him on their way to work slowed as they reached his pothole garden and smiled.
The daffodils nodded, and he felt himself filled again. He picked up his bag of compost and he imagined the two women from yesterday finding his gift of a garden, bursting from the brick ground delicate and free. He remembered the face of a female cousin he never saw anymore, and his mother, smiling. He wanted to spread that warmth that he still held onto. He would take flowers and tiny trees and he would plant in every crevice, crack, and piece of broken ground wherever he found them. It was his mission now, his forging of a new life. There would be no more holes.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and the forthcoming Orange Balloon (August 2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.