The Naming of Plants

Fiction
Gwenda Major


Photo Credit: Seán Ó Domhnaill/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Ok, so some people might think a graveyard isn’t a suitable place for a child to play. But I disagree. I’m not talking about one of those soulless city cemeteries. I admit they can be bleak. No, I’m talking about small church graveyards like the one near us in the village. I’d always loved it even before we had Molly: the lichen-encrusted slabs, the old trees and shrubs, the weathered headstones.

 

And since things started to go wrong at home I’ve been coming here a lot. As soon as I step in through the lych-gate I feel a sense of peace. All the emotion and anxiety disappears. I can sit for hours on one of the benches just thinking, trying to work out what to do, what the future holds. I know it’s a cliché but the graveyard really is an oasis of calm, a place for reflection and yes, even for dreaming. What might have been. What the future might hold.

 

Recently I started bringing Molly with me—only when she’s not at nursery, of course, maybe at the end of a walk or just when I can’t bear to be in the house anymore. To her it’s just a lovely green space to play in. Nothing morbid or sad about it. She loves to run about and play hide-and-seek behind the gravestones. When we came in the spring she picked wildflowers and we learnt their names together—buttercup, daisy, forget-me-not, dandelion, speedwell. I talked to her about the old trees and how some of them might have been there even before the church was built.

Of course, she asked me about the headstones and I told her the truth, that they’re to help us remember people who have gone away. I don’t believe in lying to children. Which is why I’ve been honest with Molly about what she hears at night sometimes, the shouting, the angry words.

“Mummy and Daddy don’t always agree about things, you see,” I told her. “Daddy gets cross and then he shouts because he thinks I’m not listening. But I do listen. I hear every word he says.”

“I listen, don’t I, Mummy?” Molly said. “Buttercup, daisy, forget-me-not, dandelion, speedwell.” She did a wobbly pirouette on the grass.

“That’s right my pet. Clever girl.”

 

Things got worse and worse at home. Martin was like a record stuck in a groove. Since he found out about me and Dan he’s been obsessed. I told him we all make mistakes, but you have to move on eventually, forgive and forget. But he couldn’t.

I have tried to make a go of it—for Molly’s sake. I really have. But I wasn’t sure how much longer I could go on like this. The atmosphere was poisonous. Not good for any of us. And whenever I tried to look ahead I just knew it was going to be up to me to make a move.

 

Autumn’s heading towards winter now. Gloomy days and even darker nights. The house was beginning to feel even more like a prison. So Molly and I were going out as much as we could when the weather allowed. Like we did a few weeks ago. We had a lovely walk together through the woods, scrunching through leaves, talking about the trees and flowers, dropping sticks into the little beck.

On the way home we had to pass the churchyard. I suppose I just wanted to delay getting back to the house, back to the inevitable rows and recriminations. It was only for an extra ten minutes or so as it was getting towards dusk but Molly had a lovely time racing around.

“Look, Mummy—look at all the different leaves I’ve found.”

“That one’s a sycamore and that’s an oak—you can tell by the curvy edges. And that’s a horse chestnut. It’s just like a huge hand isn’t it?”

“Can we take some back home for Daddy? He’d like to see them all.”

“Yes, that’s a lovely idea. I think I’ve got a plastic bag in my pocket you can pop them into. Off you go—see how many you can find.”

She skipped off and came back with a bagful of crisp autumn leaves, gleaming colours ranging from russet to yellow. She was so pleased with herself.

“Can I put some of these berries in the bag, too, Mummy? They’re so pretty. Like little red jewels.”

“You’re right, they are pretty. Yes, that’s fine—but not the squishy ones. Just a few of the nice round ones. Now we’d better go or it will be dark before we get back.”

 

My point is you can’t blame a four-year-old for something they don’t understand. I’m just so glad Molly was in bed by the time Martin started to feel ill. First he said he felt shivery so I told him he must have caught a chill at the weekend when we went to the seaside. But then, when he got up to go upstairs, he started to stagger and had to grab on to the banisters to stop himself falling.

“I feel so cold, Becky. Freezing cold.”

I went into the kitchen to boil the kettle for a hot drink to take upstairs with him. By the time I got back he’d collapsed, lying sprawled across the bottom of the stairs. His colour didn’t look good and I could only feel a really faint pulse.

I don’t know why the ambulance took so long to arrive but it’s no use blaming anyone now is it?

Of course they had to do a postmortem as it was all so sudden. Taxine alkaloid ingestion, they said. Had I any idea how Martin could have eaten yew berries?

I explained that Molly and I had been in the churchyard and that she’d collected leaves to bring home to her daddy. “She must have popped some yew berries in, too,” I said. “We had fruit salad for dessert—maybe she added her berries to Martin’s dish while we were out of the room? She probably thought they looked pretty. She would only be trying to please him.”

 

Everyone agrees the main thing is not to burden Molly with any feelings of guilt. No one wants her to have something like that hanging over her for the rest of her life.

So it’s early days but I think she’s beginning to accept that Daddy is in the churchyard now with all the other people who have gone away.

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Gwenda Major lives in the Lake District in the UK. Her passions are for genealogy, gardening and graveyards. Gwenda’s stories have featured in numerous print and digital publications. Most recently her short stories have been published in Dodging the Rain, Toasted Cheese, Retreat West, Brilliant Flash Fiction and Bandit Fiction. Gwenda has also written four novels and three novellas. Her novella Offcomers won first prize in the NAWG Open Novella Competition in December 2016 and others have been either shortlisted or longlisted in national competitions. Email: gwendamajor[at]hotmail.com

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