1st Place Flash Fiction
Minding by Anna Harrison
She watches him from an upstairs rear window as he walks over gritty gravel, dragging his right leg awkwardly.
A recent rain shower has left an atmospheric haze from the musty, barky odour of fresh water on dry earth. Pausing for a moment, he tilts his head upwards, as if to inhale the scent that wafts freely on an August breeze.
He slips a latch on a gate in a trellis, cloaked in late-flowering clematis of dusty rose flowers, which leads to a lean-to greenhouse. Removing his jacket and laying it on top of an old upturned wooden butter box, he sits facing a row of tomato plants, stalks staked with bamboo canes, strung together with jute twine. He takes off his herringbone cap and it flops flat on its woolly bottom by his feet, and shimmering sun rays bounce off its satin lining and highlight sweaty stains.
Shoulders hunched, like a heron foraging, he suddenly shifts his gait, relaxes and leans inwards to inspect healthy green and red balls of fruit that clings to vines, like a brood of babies suckling on nipples. With a pair of tiny pruners, he snips out shoots from axils and yellowing leaves below trusses. He takes his trowel and scoops fresh moist compost, and spreads it liberally around the base of the plants. A robin skips in through a broken pane, its keen eye spotting a worm poking out of disturbed dirt, and disappears again with it swinging from its bill.
In the kitchen, the DJ on the radio is playing music from the nineteen sixties and talking about a country crooner whose name she recognises. She joins in on the chat as though they are in the room together. She sings to herself; she sings out loud, lightening her steps to the turn of the tune, as she moves between counter and table.
French doors lead onto a generous granite patio. In shady spots small mounds of soft rich velvety moss form over flagstones, like miniature cushions. An awning shelters a set of slatted teak garden furniture.
She arranges a picnic. Mismatched patterned crockery of Blue Willow and Old Country Roses and heavy handled filigreed cutlery, blackened, tarnished; on a board, yesterday’s bread, firm, settled, and a slab of soft cheese. A gentle draught catches two chequered napkins and they parachute briefly before landing on a chair. A pot of freshly brewed tea spouts out white vapour in a steamy reaction to the cool air.
Slowly bending, as though genuflecting, he hunkers down on his good knee, stooping low enough to slide a soiled wrinkled palm underneath his herringbone cap. Inside, two ripe tomatoes roll around its rim. He lifts the bundle, and gripping onto the butter box with his free hand, pushes down hard forcing reluctant stiff limbs to straighten, and levers himself upright. Cradling the cap against his chest, as if a dish made from fine bone china, he retraces his route along the gravel path.