A fine, damp mist falls into our urban valley as I work, quickly, against the fading light. Starting work with the old plastic trowel, I soon discard this in favour of my hands, plunging them into the bag of compost and coming up with fistfuls of warm, clean earth. In no time at all grit niggles satisfyingly behind my fingernails.
Eight budding petunias and a handful of busy lizzies make up four pots of varying sizes. Small and ungainly in their polystyrene trays, they appear to spread into their summer selves before my very eyes as I transfer them into patted-out holes and press more compost around them.
I’m aware, nowadays, of Esme’s hands working with me when I work in the garden - her know-how, her demonstrations, her advice firming the plants into their proper place. In my mind’s eye I see her in our childhood garden after my father left, heartbroken, kneeling before the borders, healing her soul with her solitary communion with the earth. I don’t remember Esme teaching much then, it’s more recent, adult times of instruction I cherish when I take up a fork or a spade.
Earlier this same day, Esme has gone to the hospital for her weekly cancer clinic. The previous night, as it happens, the episode of a popular TV drama in which Esme has a guest part was aired. Everyone at the hospital knows about this episode, because it was for this job that Esme postponed her operation. She actually phoned the consultant and asked him whether she’d be putting her life at risk if she put the op off for a couple of weeks. His secretary, a lover of TV soaps and serials, was terribly impressed with this real-life quandary of a real-live actress, and helped Esme chase the consultant round the hospital until he picked up her call.
And so it was, a few hours before my twilight planting, that when Esme walked into the chemotherapy unit for her blood test, everyone – staff and patients – cheered.
I hope my plants prosper. And I hope that my other growing project, the sleeping child in the room across the landing, has mixed into her being some of her grandmother’s grit.