Synaesthesia Magazine Green - Page 41

The Green Man

t was my father who first taught me the names of plants. He

seemed to me a benevolent giant, who’d scoop me up in one sturdy limb as if I weighed nothing more than a windfall apple. His hair and beard were soft, reminding me of the feathery lichen that grew on trees by the lake. Sitting on his shoulders, I would duck to avoid hitting my head on the clouds. He was so tall that I thought I could see forever. I called him Atlas because he always joked he was holding up the sky for me.

He died last week. Standing by the hospital bed, I was frightened and clung to mother’s hand, staring into a face now unfamiliar. His jaw was locked into a grim rictus of misery as the tetanus bacterium sent waves of pain through his contorted muscles. He looked smaller than before, lying in the hospital bed like a felled oak. I wanted to go to him, wrap my tiny arms around his great frame as it shuddered and heaved, to tear out the IV tubes that snaked in out of him like burrowing worms. The hospital lights were too bright, casting shadows like creeping mould. But his voice was still soft when he spoke to me, although I had difficulty understanding him and cried. I put my hand inside his for one last time, still marveling at how small and pale it looked compared to his huge weather-beaten paw, and saw tears bead in his eyes as he struggled to hold on. Then he was gone.

My mother has been busy planning the funeral. It’s due to be held today, but I don’t want to go; I would rather stay here in the garden that he loved, instead of travelling miles to a cold grey cemetery. She gave me a new dress this morning, with strict instructions not to mess it up. I think that he would prefer it if I got muddy. He was a man who devoted himself to the study of the earth, and always told me never to be afraid of getting my hands dirty. I remember mother always chided him about the grime under his fingernails. So I will stay outside, and I will scramble up the apple tree and rip ladders into my black tights, and I will sit on the stump at the bottom of the garden and get mud on my black dress, and I will go to the funeral looking as he would have wanted me to look. But mother is calling me, and I’m running – into the greenhouse, where I crouch on the floor amongst the spilled compost so that she will not see me. I can see her vague outline through the panes of glass clouded by dust as she scans the garden. But she has stopped calling and gone inside.

Now I can stand up and look around. The warmth of the greenhouse wraps round me like a blanket and I am comforted by the memory of long hours sitting with my father in this glass cathedral, watching him potting his seedlings and tend the plants too fragile to cope with the harshness of our English weather. The pots are all still here, but the seedlings are dying; they are tiny, nothing more than a stem no thicker than a needle and a pair of tentatively spreading leaves. But they dry out quickly in the heat of the greenhouse, and no one has watered them, so their stems have wilted and the leaves have curled in on themselves. There is a watering can in the corner, half-full, and as I pick it up I see that a spider has spun a web over the top. I am clumsy and slop water all over my black shoes as I try to tend to the plants my father cared for. There is a little water left in the can after I have flooded the seedlings. The chilli peppers are already dead, but I didn’t like them much anyway – their fruit was too hot and burned my tongue. He kept some Venus Flytraps here too, to catch the bugs that got in. These have always fascinated me, sprawling over the sides of their pots, pairs of leaves fringed like many-fingered hands. The quickness with which their jaws sprang shut always delighted me, and I would spend ages trawling the greenhouse floor for dead bugs to satisfy those shiny green ovals.

Now I walk over to them, still clutching the watering can. They look well, but hungry. All their jaws are stretched wide open, tiny mouths crying silently for food. I share the last of my water between them and sit down. I start to scan the floor for insects to feed them, and I see one just out of reach – but as I try to move, I feel a curious sensation: I have become rooted to the ground. There is no pain, just the knowledge that comes flooding through me: I cannot now move from this spot. It doesn’t worry me; the concentrated warmth is still comforting, and I barely notice that my hands are turning green. I kick off my uncomfortable shoes, and my tights are in tatters so they can be pulled off too. My feet are turning green as well, but this isn’t a problem as I watch my fingers and toes becoming longer and thinner. I’m laughing now, because it feels like being tickled. I lie back and kick my feet in the air, and its funny how much my legs look like plant stems. I hold my hands up to my face and see how they have become like Venus Flytrap leaves; I now have hundreds of tiny thin fingers which rustle as I wiggle them, and I cannot help but giggle when I do this with my toes as well. Looking out though the glass walls I can see that my mother has come back