“The soil’s not very good.” he said.
She crouched down next to him and shone her torch onto the area where his hands delved into the earth like he was baking bread. It was just past midnight and the street was the black of an iced over lake.
She’d been seeing Martin for three weeks now. He was serious and sinewy like an old olive tree. He jumped out of his sagging bed every morning and cooked scrambled eggs with the energy of a young dog while she lay pulling the duvet closer up to her face. She liked him. She felt sometimes, their relationship was more than she deserved.
When he told her about this late night ‘thing’ that he did she’d been unable to stop a smile from spreading on her face. “You do what?” she’d giggled.
But Martin had looked even more seriously back at her. “Guerrilla gardening.” He said. “We plant and tend to public spaces that have been left to go to rot. Nobody cares about these places, well, they don’t care anyway.”
They were the authorities. The council. Martin said they could apply for permission, but how long would that take? When all the while they could be going around transforming these bits of scrub land, making the community a happier place to live. He was a good person, she knew that, a genuinely good person, and how many of those were there around?
“You should come out.” he’d said. “Tonight, it’ll be fun.”
She hesitated. “So…you don’t have permission to…is this illegal?”
He laughed. “Well, yes, technically, but come on, we’re gardening, we’re not killing anyone!”
She’d stopped time then and she’d felt the weight of something. He’d stroked her hair away from her face and said. “You’re such a flower. Such an innocent little thing.” Then he’d put his hand to his chest as if reciting an oath. “I promise I won’t lead you astray: It’s just gardening, honest miss. I promise I won’t get you into no trouble.”
She was still crouching on the ground with the torch. It was a pretty rough street they’d come to. She was just about to stand up again when a car came round the corner. She could see the creep of it and the unmistakable strip of lighting on its roof as it swung round, and the headlights picked her out. She froze. It had been years, but it still clung to her body every moment of every day. The way it had felt when her old Ford two door hit the man. The shape of his body as he jerked away from the corner of her bonnet. The speed she’d been going. How arrogant she was to think nothing would ever happen, not to her. And the two second glimpse of him in her rear view mirror, lying by the side of the empty road as she drove away.
She was still crouching by the patch of ground with the torch in her hand as the police car crept by them. Martin was saying something. “Evening guys.” He might even have waved, though the police car just kept on rolling past them, uninterested in their night time activity. “Just doing a spot of the old illegal gardening,” Martin was saying. “Nothing to see here, off you go, go and catch some actual criminals!”
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
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