The Magician

Jun 12 2013

Out the back of his small city house, secreted away between the surrounding walls of the other small houses on the block, my uncle John cultivated a courtyard garden. “living alone i need to have a hobby” he said. But his garden was more than a hobby, and everyone we knew was always talking about it. Every year for his birthday Uncle John gave a party, and his small house filled with guests eager to experience his latest creation. There was a pussy willow that purred when it was stroked. There were violets that blossomed candied, like boiled sweets, with the most delicate flavour, and roses with powdery petals that were formed of bright pink turkish delight. There were snapdragons that breathed real little flames when they were squeezed, and from which people lit their cigarettes. There was a harebell with bells that really rang in soft tinkles when they were touched, each at a different pitch, and the plant would proceed to play an entire melody starting with the first note that sounded. “no photos no photos” he would always repeat, as though joking about fame and fortune, but then he would say again, in a more serious tone, “no really no photos please no photos”.

Against one of the walls of the courtyard was a slim glasshouse, where everyone knew the new plants came from. It was frosty with dew, and behind the droplets was plastic tarpaulin, and no one had ever seen behind that. It wasn’t that John ever actively forbid anyone from looking in there, but just that he never offered to show us, and if someone asked he would pretend he hadn’t heard, or act as though he had lost concentration, and begin talking about some branches he was grafting, or orchids he was crossing. And people would always forget they had asked and listen to what he was saying, because they always wanted to know what would come next. Once I was alone in the courtyard for a few moments, and I decided to have a peek. It couldn’t hurt, I thought. But I was disappointed by what I found. There was nothing supernatural or even unusual in there, just some trowels, potting mix, fertiliser, tie wires, secaturs, terracotta shards, the usual garden paraphenalia. I realised it had taken on some magical proportions in my mind as a place where a magician worked, but that in reality John was just a gardener.

One day I realised John was dying, and was shocked enough to remark on it. I had never thought of my uncle John getting sick and wasting away – he had always seemed as sturdy as a young sapling. “its a natural process” he explained to me. It was true; I had become an adult, and John had become an old man. When he passed away, he left me his house, and all of his plants. He said that he knew I had always loved his plants, and been fascinated by them more than anyone, so that I should be the one to take care of them. But I returned from his funeral to find that they had all withered as though under a hot sun. I watered them and fertilised them but they were determined to die. I sang to them, I talked to them, I didn’t know what to do. Their roots took up no moisture or nutrients and they shrivelled to brittle sticks and crumbled to dust.

Since then I have never thought anymore that my uncle John was a magician, and I don’t even think he was good at what he did. If he was truly good at gardening, his plants would have lived beyond him, but the fact is that they couldn’t survive without him. He wasted his life on something he wasn’t even good at. And he shouldn’t have given his plants to me if he knew they were all just going to die, because it made me into some sort of subject for ridicule. Nobody even really knows anything else about him, he is just a dead man whose plants all died with him.

No responses yet

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.