Haunted by Paradise

By Katy Wimhurst

It was after reading a book on the film-maker Derek Jarmans unusual garden that Eve had the daring–some might say preposterous–idea. With the book resting on her lap, Eve felt a pulse of passion, the first shed had in months. She turned to Adam who, as ever, was watching television with a can of beer. Touching his arm, Eve said, If someone can grow a garden on a bleak shingle beach opposite the nuclear power station in Dungeness, then one can grow a garden absolutely anywhere.

 

Adam moved his arm away, nodded nonchalantly and continued watching The Simpsons.

 

It was spring, the time when plants should have been erupting everywhere, covering the earth in drifts of green. But Eve was sitting near a solitary daffodil, the only vegetation inside a rented, one-bedroom flat on the third floor of a house in Edenvale Street, south London. The flat was making her depressed: the floral wallpaper in the living room was torn and faded; the lime-coloured paint in the bedroom seemed like the aftermath of a bad acid trip; and even sunbeams became shy as they met the flats windows, creeping cautiously through the glass and then retreating hastily, realising they had come across a place more suited to twilight.

           

Eve sat up late that night, captivated by photographs in the book on Jarmans garden. Paradise haunts gardensand some gardens are paradises, Jarman had written. Eve was astounded by the array of plants hed managed to cultivate on such barren terrain: dog rose, peony, Star-of-Bethlehem, sweet pea, campion. Id like anyone who reads my book to try this wildness in a corner, Jarman had encouraged. In Eves mind the compelling idea was taking shape. 

 

The next day, after calling her workplace to tell them she was sick, Eve went to the local garden centre early, buying several bags of compost as well as a number of shade-loving plants. Returning to the flat, she heaved the furniture out of the bedroom and began the great work. By the time Adam arrived back from the office at 7pm, Eve had replaced their king-size bed with something akin to a garden. She saw his initial anger melt as his eyes roamed over the feathery-leafed ferns, the tall stands of pink foxgloves and the blue pools of wood anemones. The couple spent that night curled up in a blanket on top of a bed of soft compost. For the first time in several months, they made love. Afterwards, as Adam was tenderly extracting a piece of fern from Eves hair, he said, Youre one crazy lady. It was the first compliment hed given her for a long time.

 

The following day, watching from a window, Eve saw Adam come home from work to discover the contents of their living room, including his wide-screen television, in a skip outside the house. She heard him rush up the stairs and through the flats front-door, where he found the living room was now actually alive. Eve had planted several young fruit trees in deeply laid peat, and around these were clusters of bluebells, violets and marigolds. Eve had also crafted bird-like forms from clay and had painted them in cobalt blue with yellow beaks. Adam looked around with an intoxicated expression. I think Ive fallen in love for the first time, he gasped.

           

For the next few weeks, Eves curious horticultural obsession took over her and Adams lives. Both took long-term leave from work. During the day, they toured the local parks with a surreptitious trowel and a large bag, returning home later to plant their stolen green goods. When the living room and bedroom could take no more vegetation, the kitchen and bathroom had to be colonised. Wild flowers like poppies and dandelions also sprang up, their seeds carried in through open windows by visiting winds. When Adam began to weed out the dandelions, Eve said, Dont! They may have been blown here by the breath of angels.

 

More like by the farts of angels, Adam said.

 

Eve smiled and went back to watering a jasmine bush.

 

Soon Eve realised that, as if driven by some mysterious botanical exigency, the garden had taken on a life of its own. Plants grew with an unnatural speed and vigour. Flowers blossomed all over the place in multicolour. Small saplings transmuted into trees with generous girths, whose branches proffered an array of delicious fruit. Star-shaped floral forms grew down from the ceilings and, at night, glowed with an unearthly light. Eves cobalt-blue clay birds metamorphosised into living beings that sang arias so pure they made Adam weep. On one occasion, Adam and Eve saw a snake ascend into a tree, coil itself around a branch and hang there like some strange fruit of temptation.

 

The alchemical transformation of the garden was mirrored by changes in Adam and Eve themselves. The heat created by the rich ecosystems made clothes superfluous, so the couple went naked and henceforth never left the flat. Eve no longer fretted about the future or past, but dwelt happily in an absorbing present, and she noticed Adams cynicism had gone, belonging it seemed to some distant era of commuting and offices.

 

Time was no longer measured by the clock or the Roman calendar, but instead was structured by natural rhythms, by the cyclical passage of day and night, by the waxing and waning of the moon. By day, Adam and Eve fed on fruit, seeds and salads harvested from the garden. By night, they made love and then stared out at the sky, which seemed like some blue stained-glass window, framed as it was by the dark patterns of intertwining branches in the flat. In a trance-like state, Eve wrote fragments of poetry on the walls with her index finger, which she dipped in dark red ink pressed from fresh beetroot. Holy the flowers! Holy the ferns! Holy the flesh! she wrote, and Blessed be Oh voluptuous earth!

           

Soon words themselves became unnecessary and Adam and Eve talked only in the language of gestures, caresses, smiles, kisses. They lived in a continuum of gentle ecstasy, as if in some sentient sacred place. Nothing could ruin this earthly paradise, they thought. Nothing.

           

One day there was a loud knock on the door. By this time the hall was so overgrown they only managed to get to the door after clambering over considerable greenery. Opening the door they saw a man standing there. At first they could not see him clearly as the sunlight pouring through a window on the landing haloed him in gold. As their eyes adjusted to the light, they saw an old man with a long white beard. They recognised this figure as their landlord. The landlords eyes were cast down as if in embarrassment and it took Adam and Eve some time to realize this was because they were naked. Suddenly they became self-conscious and grabbed leaves to cover themselves.

           

You are being evicted, the landlord said. You have an hour to gather your things and leave the flat, or you will be forcibly removed by the bailiffs.

           

Adam and Eve were dumfounded. Butwhy? Eve asked.

           

The non-payment of rent and the complaints from neighbours were factors taken into consideration, the landlord said, But I am also a religious man and what youve been doing here is just not, well, Godly.

           

So Adam and Eve were cast out of their paradise in Edenvale Street into the primitive chaos that is 21st century London. Being completely broke, and in emotional disarray, the couple had no choice but to move in with friends in Peckham, a rough part of south London.

           

From paradise to Peckham, said Eve, with tears in her eyes. It doesnt get much worse than that.

 

Adam went back to working as an administrative assistant for an advertising agency. Eve tried to return to her job in IT but the yearning for paradise lost was too urgent and at a lecture in Kew Gardens one day, she fell in love with an ethnobotanist and moved to live with him near Kew, where they grew rare species of orchids.

           

When Eve phoned her ex-landlord one day, ostensibly to apologise for the problems she had caused him, but really to find out about the flat, the man told her hed sold the place to a property developer who was attempting to gentrify the area. A team of contractors, armed with machetes and herbicides, had apparently taken over two months to remove all the vegetation, and theyd then fitted the flat with a tastefully minimalist décor and sold it as a bachelor pad to a corporate lawyer.

           

Bastards, said Eve when she put down the phone. Bastards, bastards, bastards.

           

But although Eves garden no longer exists, she occasionally goes back to Edenvale Street. Shes heard it rumoured that if you walk along the road on warm summer evenings, you sometimes encounter a cobalt-blue bird with a song so exquisite and so sad that it sounds like a lost fragment of heaven. 

______

Katy Wimhurst, who lives in Essex, UK, originally trained as a social anthropologist before studying for a doctorate in Mexican Surrealism. She also worked in book publishing for a time. She writes fiction and non-fiction and has been published in the Aussie absurdist ezine DogVersusSandwich, the UK magical realism ezine, Serendipity, The Guardian (Unlimited), InterAction, and GlassFire. She also has a piece, “Ghostface,” coming out in the book, Hidden Voices: An Anthology of Art and Writing about ME/CFS.

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Published on June 29, 2008 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  

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