We would watch for the bus going past on the lane, know it would stop outside Mitchell’s barn, run out the back gate up the farm track. The pavement of stone flags outside the houses was cracked sunken, unused. The ruts were deep, full of coloured stones, green and blue, not river-smooth, not pebbles, bright and sharp as flints. We’d run and she’d be there, turning into the track ,with her shopping basket and handbag, wearing her white suit with dark blue spot-and-shadow markings, like the breast feathers of a great solitary bird. An osprey maybe Her shoes were dark blue, with laces and tiny holes in the leather. Her hair was a white bob, cheeks apple-round with smiling. I’d get there first, hang onto the shopping bag, peep inside, the deep blue-purple of chocolate bars, and I would smile back, turn my step to hers, walking, still hanging onto the bag, chattering, though that world is silent now. That world is silent, but I remember every green stone, every throb of the starlings’ babbling on the telephone wires, every pulse of that warm, haunted heart.
I had always admired the garden, the way it held the old house in a gentle embrace, the sentinel trees, and the way the borders grew up from small-flowered creepers, through lilies, irises, hollyhocks, alliums to the climbers, woodbine, jasmine and clematis. Pergolas of wisteria and roses made a second rampart and the sky-blue paintwork of door and windows against the orange brick called back to the joyous flower pageant. She was always outside, from first to last frosts. Always adding new plants, splitting and replanting. Like a painting, or a tapestry. I asked her once how she kept the plan in her head. ‘Everything I do is stitched,’ she said, ‘with its colour, the thread holding the pattern together. There’s no mystery really. The plants all know their places.’ As did the rabbits, the birds and lizards, the small dogs. Even the unicorn.