Civilising Nature


I wrote this short short story a few years ago as part of a creative writing course and have been meaning to go back and tidy it up ever since. I’ve made some minor changes and now post it here for your perusal. I do hope you enjoy it.


It had been six months since Stanley had died, enough time apparently. Certainly that is what the children thought. Iris had dreaded this day but now it was here she felt at peace, calm. She had a short while before the children arrived, the sun was high in the sky but a gentle breeze kept the temperature balmy. She relaxed into the chair and watched a butterfly flit across the garden, happy at the simple joy of being alive.

When she and her husband, Stanley, had moved in to the little house just a few weeks after marrying she had fallen in love with the plot almost as intensely as she loved him. Back then it was penned in by a six foot wooden fence and laid to lawn. It took ten years for the elder and hawthorn hedge to grow high enough and thick enough for them to be able to rip down the fence, much to the annoyance of the neighbours.

When their first child was born Iris had Stanley plant an apple tree.  Two years later they planted a plum and another year and half later a cherry. By the time the children were old enough to be climbing trees and building dens the little orchard was big enough to oblige. The cherries would be eaten fresh from the trees, if you could get to them before the birds, and Iris and the girls would make apple pies and plum jam as the summer waned.

The lawn hosted games of tag, teddy bear picnics and washed out nights in the tent. It became littered with brightly coloured plastic toys fading over time from the sunlight. Iris recalled the many frustrated yelps and grinding of metal as Stanley shredded yet another doll or ball with the lawn mower. When their eldest was ten, Stanley grew peas, potatoes, tomatoes and marrows with the help of the children who learned to love vegetables as never before. Iris grew herbs in pots outside the back door, more for the scent and the butterflies than their culinary uses, something she allowed herself to admit now with a smile.

Eventually the children left home and the garden became a quieter place. Stanley would mow it twice a week during the spring and summer months and in the autumn they would gather up the leaves and place them under the hedge. One Spring, Iris declared that the orchard should be left to become meadow and it thrived. Pretty blue flowers grew in abundance and a host of grasses flourished. Stanley mowed the garden less and less and the meadow grew unchecked. The hedges became thicker and stronger and attracted a mass of wildlife.  A large hedgehog would snuffle around the garden on balmy nights and Chaffinches would sit atop the branches singing their hearts out while little wrens hopped about the tangled base.

When the children arrived they planted a Rowan tree in the overgrown orchard and tearfully scattered his ashes around the roots. The boys solemnly placed a small wooden bench close by so that Iris could sit with Stanley whenever she wanted. Over the years they had all spent time there trampling a path through the wild garden, now mown just a few times a year by her son Aran.

After they left, as dusk began to fall Iris placed her glass on the wooden garden table by the bench and sat, grateful for the comfortable cushion she’d invested in two years ago. She stared lovingly at the small sapling strapped gently to a wooden post. Iris considered the aerial photograph hung on the hall wall showing her little house with its untamed garden, an oasis in a city of concrete. Humanity had spent thousands of years civilising nature, pushing it back, and she had needed just sixty five to let it back in.


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