7: Garden of Exotic Plants

by Jane Carnall

I knew you would be here. I could even have told them how you would look: you have been lying on the warm wooden bench, looking up past the thick succulents and their dramatic blooms, to the mountain dressed in winter green, and the warm blue February sky.

You sat up when you heard footsteps down the narrow cliffside path, of course, but it's easy to see that you are startled and that my presence is unwelcome. You stare at me, without your usual easy smile: when you don't smile, your face is so cold, so still. Your eyes look green, instead of blue.

You look young and friendly and - may I say this, without offence? - none too bright, when you smile. And when you grin, it lights up your face and your eyes flash blue. Blue as the sky, blue as the shallow sun-warmed sea.

But when you stare, as you are staring at me now, your eyes are green. When you don't smile, you still look young, but there's no friendliness there, and you can be quite frightening: intimidating. And yes, oh yes, you do make me afraid. One can see the intelligence your smiles usually mask: one can see - too much.

Yes, since you ask, I do know how scarily bright you are. I know how well you have disguised this, from almost everyone who knows you. I watch as you carefully match your speech and even - apparently - your thoughts, to those around you. It has been years, I think, since you met anyone with whom you did not need to curb your intelligence, as if it were a bicycle on a hill too steep for most.

But I have seen you turn to a friend and say one word, and both of you are off, flying downhill with your feet hard on the pedals, no traffic ahead, a clear road and a downhill run, and even when the hill rises you and your friend were still pedalling hard and grinning like two loons at each other, in the shared pleasure of your love of thinking hard and well, and flying with it.

When did I see you? You are staring at me all the harder now, and even though the sun is hot, I feel the chill that tells me it is winter, though we stand in the garden of exotic plants and bathe in sun. Dear one, do not be angry. I know you because I have watched you all your life. Walk with me along the cliffside path: I will stop and stare, following your gaze, over the wide blue bay to where the horizon is lost in cloud, watching the little white boats scattered like bits of paper on glass. I will lean on the stone that is carved to look like wood, feeling the height of the cliff in the cold of my bones, knowing that you can make me fall, wiping out what I have seen that you did not wish me to see. And then, if you can afford to spare me, and let me keep my memories, let us walk on to the place where the cliff widens out, where another of your servants is even now talking on her mobile phone, and we can drink coffee there, together, and perhaps you will smile at me again, and decide that you can pretend to forget what I have just told you.

577 words

12th February 2000

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