Last night, I dreamed I was a child again.
In a slightly surreal back garden, suffused in glorious hyper-real color and light, I explored all those nooks and crannies that I know so well. It was full summer, and the heat was heavy and oppressive, even just past daybreak. I slipped out the back door, and breathed deep, filling my lungs with hot air, and smelling those familiar summer garden scents of lavender and lilac. I ran my hand over the plaster sailing ship which inexplicably hung on the verandah wall forever, feeling the dust and cobwebs which were an integral part of it, and brushed off one of the leaves of the elephant ear plant permanently flourishing in the huge iron tub. A spider ran off the leaf and up my arm, and, dream-calm, I shook it off. I left the shade of the verandah and stepped into the insta-burn sunshine, feeling the joy of the morning silence, gazing up at a sky that was unnaturally blue, and wishing I could fly. I reached for the old Hills Hoist rotary clothesline and took a run off, lifting my feet and, eyes tightly closed, I let it spin me around and around, flying after a fashion. Baz, a favorite old black and white cat, watched in slit-eyed disapproval from the garden bench, but no-one else came to stop the forbidden spinning and I tilted my head back and felt the hot breeze kiss my face as I flew. Deliciously dizzy, I ventured into the shade of the cotoneaster tree, an oasis that I considered mine alone. The branches curved to form an umbrella and the interior was cave-like, always cool and dark. My sitting branch beckoned, and I shinnied up, feeling the worn-smooth solidity of my favorite spot in this favorite garden. Without needing to look down, I fiddled with the familiar crochet and macramé branch bracelets that branded the branch as my own. I was possessive of this space and rarely invited friends to join me there. The wildest of my wild dreams formed as I sat, hidden, on that branch, and even in this dream I felt the adrenaline flow.
My dream pulled me further into the back garden, even as I yearned to remain hidden within the cotoneaster branches, and I stood in front of the peculiar quince tree that was the inspiration for several ghost and horror stories that I wrote (and hid) as a child. A twisted wreck, stricken with some unknown ailment, but somehow remaining alive year after tortured year, it was a horror of a thing. Jet black branches, convoluted beyond belief, blackish green leaves and fruit that was born dead, falling almost immediately to the ground where a mushy, rotting carpet formed. The hot breeze moved the decaying leaves and they dream-whispered audibly, crying for relief, just as I wrote all those years ago. I patted the dry trunk as I moved on, sending up a silent prayer that it would recover or die. This was a garden of life, a blooming, gorgeous abundance of wild fertility, and the weird and horrific quince tree seemed to me the story of life gone horribly wrong. It reached out and stroked a gnarled branch finger along my cheek as I walked away, and I felt the familiar old rush of affection. I grasped it for a brief sympathetic moment, stilling the pain and shushing the cries. But I know that there are many ways to scream.
I sat on the old swing, hearing its constant squeaks and groans, and felt the familiar splinters of the old wooden seat digging in. The metal frame was burning hot from the summer sun, and as I dreamed that reality, I felt a weird comfort in the burn of the frame and the scratchy seat, and a passionate gratitude for this moment of reliving. From the vantage point of the swing, I could see it all. There was the pampas grass swaying in the breeze, the deadly beauty of the wisteria, looking so romantically lovely, and plotting its next strangulating attack on the abundantly blooming lilac, her rival in purple.
I dream-wandered through the huge and endlessly productive vegetable garden, lined with lavender bushes that were smothered with bees, the torment of my real summers. In dream-land I called for their attention and apologized for the few that were sacrificed to my hatred of school sport. A foot swollen to double its size could excuse me from pretty much anything. They buzzed a non-acceptance and watched me beadily as I passed by.
I drifted into an almost wakeful state, and forced myself back, finding myself in the front garden. I sat on the front fence with Mandy (Amanda now, but that’s not the way I feel her in my heart) and once more we sang Scarborough Fair as we sat in the sun. Young and beautiful in our hopes and dreams. Carefree. Artists and dreamers, both.
And I woke up satisfied and yearning, a child and an adult, still smelling the lilac and hearing the music and feeling the freedom. The house itself doesn’t hold many of the joyous memories for me, but the garden is my heart.
It’s funny, but when the screaming quince tree was finally cut down, many, many years after it should have been, the garden was not the same anymore. It was too lush, too fertile, too alive, too one-sided. In the mind of a child of dreams and wild imaginings, the screaming quince maintained the balance, and I lost some of the intense passion I had for the garden.
When the quince appears in my dreams and trails its horribly blackened and brittle fingers down my face, I feel comforting and comforted, loved and loving, understanding and understood, and I welcome the sweet, rotting scent and deathly, twisted beauty.
God, I really must find a therapist!