Doug attacks what’s left of the grass and what’s left of the bluebells and the foxgloves vibrating with hungry bees. Nothing in the garden is spared the dull steel of his spade. I watch through vinegar streaks on the sliding kitchen door. He stopped cleaning when I came down this morning. Disappeared outside, didn’t look at me. Maybe he’ll speak on the way to the hospital. Ask how I’m doing.
He shovels a chunk of earth into the skip then rips open the first bag of sand he’ll spread and compact, flattening the ground for the astroturf draped over the lifeless swing.
I take him a coffee. Low maintenance, he says, over and over, weather resistant, no puddles. I shrug. I don’t give a shit about weather resistance. I want him to hold me, tell me it’s going to be okay, and our son’s going to make it.
He takes off his shirt and I recall the day we got pregnant under a lime tree in Seville, and how back in London, he’d run miles home from work to see the red line on the pregnancy test for himself and fallen cutting open his arm, and how we didn’t mind the blood, the blood was funny.
Once, we’d have fought over the astroturf. I’d have tried to appeal to the iconoclast with wild hair I fell for ten years ago; tried to make him feel something, anything, if not for me and my love for this space, then for the fat blue woodpigeons coming day after day to peck for worms and mate on the fence, the bloated bees drunk inside our wildflowers, hedgehogs hibernating under the sprawling perm of hazelnut, and the millions of microscopic lives buried in the soil, amongst the blades of grass, burrowing and breeding, keeping this whole fucking ecosystem going.
It’s just a slab of lawn. I don’t have the energy to fight for a slab of lawn too.
The summer we learn Lenny is sick, is the summer Doug snaps at me the first time for tramping mud in the house, is the summer he gets stung by a bee, is the summer the cat takes to leaving dead birds at the foot of our bed. He sees muddy footprints in the shadows and furrows of the carpet pile, gets on his knees and scrubs. He says he hates the garden, the mess of it, the mess of my rewilding project. I tell him to give it time, trust it will stabilise the soil, rebalance the ecosystem, and when he rolls his eyes, I say we can use the sloes and make our own gin–I found a recipe. But he shakes his head like I’m just too much noise.
Lenny is barely at home anymore, his hospital stays are longer and longer. One parent only can stay overnight and the mornings I don’t wake alongside him I spend outdoors. I find consolation in the colour, in the myriad shades of green splashed with wild poppies and lavender. The undemanding blue of the sky. Inside our house, walls we painted white to make our home seem bigger close in on me. I see only dust clinging to paint-lines, raised roller marks we’d failed to smooth out, so excited were we to make a home. Besides, the colour’s the same monotone as the hospital walls and god knows, I spend enough time that summer staring at them. I don’t need more staring at shitty walls.
And Doug? That’s all he does. Stare at the walls.
In a year, I’ll stop by for the rest of my stuff. And some things of Lenny’s Doug kept. The swing will have gone in the skip, but he won’t have been able to let go of Lenny’s bike. Stabilisers still on.
Doug will have boxed and wound duct tape round superhero books and toy cars. He’ll have labelled them too. I’ll have already taken the purple bear with the bandaged head that Lenny took down to the operating theatre.
We’ll go into the garden, and Doug will show me his finished astroturf while cracking the tops off two bottles of beer. I’ll notice how he wears slippers outside and spot the absence of movement, of snails, slugs, monarch butterflies. He’ll fuss the green blades of his lawn and, for a few moments, he’ll look something like happy, as they appear to shiver and shine in unison in the glare of the sun.