Digital Ischemia



Rose was definitely going to visit the artist. She’d looked forward to it for weeks, imagining dainty daubings and overwrought ironwork. She also expected opportunities to finger the works while no-one was looking. If she was lucky there’d be a chunky collage to rasp her tongue over. It would be a clean, clear venue with no distractions from the intended focus. It wasn’t.

The approach road wound and bumped, feinted through a copse then hugged an eight foot stone wall. It swilled through a farm yard then dodged a bonfire. She bounced down a ravine, between crumbled wall sections and finally lost interest at a ford. She left her car, the river flushing the front wheel arches.

Rose stumbled into long grass and willows. Her feet plodded away without conscious direction. A heavenly scent, like meadowsweet or hedge-parsley drew her on. This was pleasant. She happened upon a parting in the grass, followed it. On one side red-currants evolved, on the other: blueberries. She wavered, unable to resist the choice, without any hunger. Red or blue?

Blue. Tart and floral and juicy.

The path ended at a square cottage: chunks of masonry eroded by weather, weeds and claw marks. She poked her face in the kitchen door and sucked in the mildew. She picked at flaking formica. A slate clattered down the roof, silently fell, smashed.

The garden was wilderness. Rampaging potatoes, beans, and grass, grass, grass. Under a strangled sycamore, a deck chair rotted, subsiding into the froth of fronds. Willowherb and raspberry canes wove through its frame. Rose strode to it, barely inspected it, planked down. Dust and beetles burst forth then settled. The whole place had reached full flourish and was poised to settle back into the cycling earth. It felt heavy.

The sun burned across its arc, reaching the tree tops that marked the extent of relinquished cultivation. Rose sat, settled, and saw.

A man interrupts the idyll, swaying from the sun-toasted trees. Her eyes dart to his approach but otherwise she remains inanimate among the ecology. Perhaps if I stay perfectly still he won’t see me and ruin this.

At the furthest straying vine the man halts, staring right at her. Damn. I should say something to put him off.
“Where the fuck have you been?”
“Looking under every fucking stone for you.”
She can’t help herself chuckling. He resumes his approach. She tenses but refuses to turn to watch him. As he passes her, he insists.
“Oh, no, don’t get up.”
“You’re making tea?”
His turn to chuckle, out of sight. She listens to him opening a stubborn door a little way behind her.

A less weathered deck chair drops beside her. He drops. She stares steadfastly at the sun sizzling the trees, blinking away the dust and beetles. After a while their hands seem to have joined.

Inside, a stuffed lump on a stiff chair stirs. Its bonnet hinges up, its chubby, knobbly face emerges. The Caretaker shudders on to her swollen, cracked feet. In the kitchen, a pie steams two inches above the table. A convoy of pea pods leap into the sink. A sack of potatoes pops open the pantry door and six tubers bound across the floor, leaving muddy prints.

Outside, the house’s rendering heals, the weeds recede.

The Caretaker shuffles along the hall, gazing at the framed photos passing her: sixteen children, one at a time, playing in the garden. She reaches the kitchen with growing animation. She mutters, “Nanny needs a new child.”

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