In the morning I said 'Do you want to come to the garden centre?' She said 'Are you going now?' I said I could wait if she wanted to come. So I waited. We'd never grown anything before. We spoke in the car. She said Charles Dickens had invented Christmas, I said it was rubbish, then we didn't speak. At home we ask each other if we want tea, or who should cook tonight. She says 'I want to watch Whitechapel.' I say 'I'm going to do some work.' Or she sits at the computer in the corner, her back in the room, hunched. I sit in another corner, my head hung, reading about Agarttha, or something. We keep in one room, except when I'm working, or when one of us needs the toilet. We keep in one room to save money on lights, but it means the whole house is dark, and it feels dark. It was Anthea's idea, and I like it. I don't mind saying I'm afraid of the dark a little. I'll say it's natural and it shows an open mind when you can't say what's there. Anthea's always been good at that. She has an idea, like out of nowhere. That's why we sit like that, her facing the wall, me in a book, the other rooms all in darkness.
We went to the garden centre to buy secateurs for cutting back thorns and pruning the cypress. I had in mind to buy another birdbox and some seed and a sack of nuts for them. I told her 'I'd like to get something that's going to flower or smell pretty,' and she looked at what seeds we could sow in February while I looked at birdfeeders and nuts. There was a long sparrow house the size of a rabbit hutch, some small boxes for tits and wasps, one open-faced for robins, wagtails and wrens. I liked the house and I like robins, so I took both, then the nuts and two kilos of seed for a birdfeeder I found with suckers on it to stick on a window. She brought poppies and compost, then we looked at the vegetable seeds for when we'd finished the plot. We could plant parsnips and spring onions today, leeks, carrots and mange tout in March, then maybe squashes and courgettes in April. 'No point getting beans, is there,' she said. 'We never eat them.' Then some more flowers; sunflowers, lupins, some funny-coloured foxgloves – all sorts. We spent a fortune. We loaded it in the back then bought port at the Spar by Ann Summers' for while we worked. We didn't have to drive anywhere again until dark.
First thing we opened up the shed, let the door hang wide open, which made gardening a little more of an event, kind of challenged our orbit, if you see what I mean. Then we opened up the port, drew the few tools we had, Anthea said 'Do I just turn it all over with the fork?' I said 'I'll take back these brambles.'
I knelt in the dirt. I said 'Mind these buds, if you see them.' 'What are they?' 'I think they mean to be crocuses.' 'Cool. Okay. Look, there's more over here. I'll use my hands when I get to them.' 'You can see that one's got a little purple in the middle there. See?' Her hair fell out from behind an ear and hung heavily, swinging. She was looking at the bud so intently she seemed almost cross-eyed, like she was fascinated by it, like she was figuring out how it works, the cogs and wheels inside. 'Yes.'
After I'd finished I took a gulp of port and said I'd work on the tubs around the shed, and the rock garden there, which was nothing but leaves and hollow sticks and some plastic bits from somewhere. I moved the bird table in here, and nailed up the box for robins, about head-height. Anthea was still digging the plot. She had her gloves on, so she never replaced her hair once it fell, but she swung it over to one side of her head, where it curled around her neck. She leaned forward a little awkwardly. Her trousers made her arse a funny shape. They always did that. I remember when she first took them off, her skin was cold and her pubic hair pale orange and sparse. When we were back in the flat. After, I remember, in the morning we woke early, and she walked over to the window, naked waist down, and her hips moved, and she opened the curtains, the shape of a nymph, and she stood upright, her pubic hair now twisted into a single curl.
She could tell I was watching, and she stood the fork in the ground and walked her long-legged walk, bowed and robotic, to fetch her drink. As she poured it down she stood like she stood at the window again, pale fingered, her hips forward, the line of her leg. 'Am I doing it right?' she said, then I showed her what I was doing and the dirt I'd cleared. 'See how dark this bit is compared to that.' Then we watched the kites over the field and the chimney on the house over the road oozing smoke.
Around the crocuses Anthea went to her knees and crawled, pulling out small shoots. She made a pile of them, weeds and dirt, tiny roots like blood vessels, over my thorns.
We were out until dark. The geese flew overhead and we came to. Eight of them, calling. Stupid birds. We really felt the day go. 'Shall we go out to dinner?' I said. She said 'So long as we're back in time,' taking off her boots. I cleared away the fork and gloves and the secateurs and locked the shed. Anthea took in the empty bottle and glasses. There were footprints in the earth where Anthea and I had pressed down the compost over the parsnip and spring onion seeds. There was nothing else we could do now until March. Inside, Anthea said 'I'm going to change.' I took off my socks and trousers at the door, put them straight in the basket. I heard her lock the bathroom door and turn the shower on. No point putting any other clothes on yet, so I stayed as I was. I picked up my book. I turned the light on and drew all the curtains, and sat in the settee and waited for her to finish.