The Secret Garden | Cassandra Voices

The Secret Garden


The leaves of Greenwich Park were the soul of Autumn as I walked slowly up the hill to the secret garden in the quiet rain. I opened the gate and entered to find there was no one there. Maybe there was nobody in the whole park. A red squirrel went on eating in the middle of the wet lawn, untroubled by my presence. Above me sat the Observatory on its perch, a great seat of learning. An opportunity for humankind to understand the universe. Once upon a time you could see the stars from here on a clear night, but not now. Not since industry. Not since work.

I opened a can of beer and lit up and made my way on through the drizzle wet, and felt lonely but not sad, this feeling of rain, delving sublime, richer than silk indigo was Inigo in ideas, deeper than feeling, in my own world almost auto stick, non-verbal, who are the same as us and yet not the same. One with everything, if only those little beauties could understand. I can’t. I went over and sat on the damp bench at the picnic table, content to be alone, for now at least. I had the plants and the trees and rain for company and that was all I needed. It’s a good time to think about people, when there’s no-one there.

I don’t remember how long I spent in the secret garden. The time pieces of Greenwich had all floated clocks among the rainclouds tick-tock until sun’s return. The great orange ball at the top of the Observatory was obscured by mist. I noticed the clouds after that and drank deeply and rolled the cherry on the edge of the wooden bench, the place was damp so nothing could set fire. I put my hood up and felt the unmistakeable tingling of comfort. My eyes were good, and ears, and legs and arms and heart, nothing appeared to be dying. Nothing at all, not even the hiding sun.

It felt good to finish the can of beer and crush the empty can in my fist. Especially as I had another one in my bag. Plenty I believe the word to be. It can be a good thing, better than drought. The trick to life is appreciation, in knowing when enough is enough, but knowing what enough is, has always been hard for me, because the memory of the shit never goes, so let the good times roll. There is a great beauty in this world of ours, remember, the world that created us, against all the naysayers. Yes, it’s beauty I made sure before I died.

The squirrel has gone and I am alone with the half Red Stripe. Keep on smoking, careful not to get it wet as the rain isn’t easing. Under the picnic table with the paper and the tobacco and then the filter and finally the lick and flip. The new lighter is a good feeling and works first time producing a burst of smoke in the downpour. Maybe shelter soon but not just yet. I can hear the rain on my rain proof hood like music. Sit a while.

I’ll leave this place before the rain lifts. I stand up and then rattle the can. I spy a bin and move towards it to leave my mark. I look around and think the place was worth visiting in all seasons, in all weathers. I am a little drunk, it was a long night, a good night, but genuinely, peaceful reader, nothing I can’t handle yet, my body holds out still as fifty approaches like an old friend I have fallen out with. The things that can’t be avoided must be confronted, who said that? Good mothers probably.

And so on up to the top of the park and the General Wolfe statue who must have defeated the French in Canada. Let’s build a statue to remember wars won. Then it will have meaning, if it is remembered. But only then. I can see the days of Nelson from where I stand, and the days of Raleigh on the riverbank and we can see what happened when we hear the toothpaste advert from the other side of oceans, in a different accent of course. Why all the war, all the carnage, all the misery and death? Something to do I suppose. “Man cannot stand a meaningless life.”

I can see all of London, but better to stay in the park and nature and rain. Different company. Maybe a teenager is being stabbed out there but maybe not, it doesn’t happen every second or every minute. Not enough for the politicians to get involved. Ten million people and a couple of hundred slaughtered youth on the street, lying in pools of their own blood. Nothing to see here, nothing to see here. Nothing to see.

I turn and make my way past the pavilion and into the Flower Garden. Good name. The Flower Garden. Rain is letting up now. They had a good drink today. Strange thing, that nature has no control over itself, it spreads where it can when it has a chance, and now beyond where was once impossible. I spy the Observatory again over the brow. Let’s build monuments to war and keep the deers in the enclosure, they’ll be safe there. Good idea. One of them looks over at me through the fence. Through the misty rain. It’s free in its own world. Like me. Maybe a prisoner could be free if he had the right mind. If he was in control of his imagination, then where would he be?

The Flower Garden is beautiful. The rain has returned so I put my hood back up. I remember I was here one hot summers day in nineteen eighty-five. Wouldn’t it be a thing to have dates for those childhood days of summer. They are now lost in time, they are time. The only time we know. The pinnacle of childhood, using imagination on everything. I look at the tree that has changed less than me since then. It is magnificent then and now. The tree, nature’s gifted form, blown about by the winds but always rooted. Only disaster and time can kill it. Like us. The rain is back for sure. I put my hood up and leave through the gate on Maze Hill. Back into the world, for now.

Feature Image: Royal Observatory, Greenwich


About Author

Dominic Mallen is a novelist and short story writer, currently living in London.

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