It is an ordinary garden. The plants are just plants. The flowers – flowers. Nothing special. Well, nothing special at first glance. Within this garden lies an imperceptible presence and warmth, a love that sets it apart from the common household garden or even the most majestic gardens on a formal estate.
This garden has a life that is as close to death as it could possibly be.
It has been created by many loving hands working it into what it is today, and for that matter what it will remain. This is important for this garden because it serves a specific and deep purpose. It provides solace, awareness and even peace to those who chance to pass through its influence.
A curving path which meanders through this garden joins the outside world to a building that sits silently at its centre.
The path has a life and purpose of its own with its green and sometimes colorful borders. It is somehow supportive and it seems to provide guidance for the intimate journey to those who are there to walk it. Near the centre lies a small wooden bridge. Handrails provide support for those who need them to cross, and some do. They are also there for those who want to pause and take in the pond and the small fish that are proof of life, and sometimes death.
Birds inhabit the garden and the tall trees that surround it. Their songs are noticeable and as welcome as the color that comes with them. The king parrots are stunning. Their tricolour appearance makes them easily identified and their eyes appear to be both inquisitive and knowing. These two qualities make them more than suited to the purpose of the house. The smaller relative of the king parrot is the lorikeet. They are also frequent visitors. Perhaps it is because there is encouragement in the way of bird seed placed in hanging baskets by some of the volunteers who work in the house. Other birds are also attracted to the native flora which has been used in the garden to cater for the lack of seasonal changes in this Queensland climate. Their music, as well as music that is brought into the building by musicians, needs to be part of the heart of this place.
More of the garden lies between the end of the bridge and two doors of the house. The plants here are slightly taller and a little more robust, perhaps purposely so. They form a reassuring arch through which all who cross the bridge must pass if they are to enter the house. Here the greens are greener and the air richer.
Many times, throughout the week, individuals or pairs can be seen working the garden that surrounds the house. On this day there is one, Heath.
He is a handsome young man in his mid-twenties who looks quite at home in the garden.
In this workplace he has many roles none of which is difficult for him. For someone so young he is remarkably self-aware, not that he knows this consciously. Such levels of awareness are usually the realm of those who have lived a little longer. Here Heath is more at ease, not as an act of conscious awareness of who he is. Rather, his ease comes from the realization that here there is lack of stress or conflict despite the house’s purpose. He is fond of such calm, a calm which is equally present on his surfboard, on his waves, in his sun. The water is his blue, the garden his green. Both give him what he needs to be substantively who he is, and both enable him to give in return.
On this day, Heath is quietly and meticulously going about the business of enhancing the garden’s impact. He seems to know what he is doing. His movements are slow and strong. As he does his work while moving through the garden, the impact of his presence is only just noticeable. In his wak, no clippings litter the groun, nor do any broken branches hang awkwardly, disrupting the line and flow of what grows there. He moves through the green as he moves through his watery blue. For both he has the utmost respect. This respect reflects his view that this garden has a life that makes it a character in the role the house plays. It is an important role which serves the deep purpose of the place. As such, he gives it the respect it deserves.
He knows the garden has a voice. It speaks volumes about the house and speaks soft comforting sounds to those who come to visit, and those who come to go.
He has often wondered, when he consciously considers his role here, how he ended up in the garden. It was not the primary role he took when he joined the organization. Far from it. He was, in the first instance, employed to work in the house. However, over a relatively short period of time, he found himself interacting with the garden. First, it was as menial as picking out an occasional recalcitrant weed from the path to the bridge while on his way into the building. However, it soon developed to moving through the garden to do the same. Now he sees himself as being part of the garden and its life and role.
His legacy in this garden is tidy and thoughtful, and when he sings, his song is melodious and an observer could easily say, memorable. His music is more a reflection of who he is rather than something he readily shares with others. He has been encouraged to sing within the house and does so when the request has had a special purpose.
In this garden Heath is not alone, unlike where he lives by himself where he is both alone, and at times lonely. He is a little confused when it comes to forming relationships. However, in the garden Heath has several familiar friends, not his fellow volunteers but the plants he tends. Roses, gardenias and the jasmine surround the garden, the building and Heath, with their scent providing those who work there, and those who come to cross the wooden bridge, with familiar fragrances.
Other plants remind him of several of his past relationships. While he is not as good with his romantic relationships as he is with his plants, he often tries to build sense around his lack of success by comparing them with his plants. All the women in his life have their personalities. Some are a little more stubborn than others like the Mother-in-Laws Tongue. “Tough little buggers – easy but tough,” he quietly says to himself smiling at his escape from that dalliance. “Then there was the Maiden Hair Fern – high maintenance and couldn’t handle any heat. Another escape.” He could not forget the orchid, beautiful, but too delicate, easily bruised. But now he has found Katrina. She is something else. She’s a Coprosma – vibrant, tough, colorful and resilient! “Ahhh my stunning Coprosma.”
Most days she works in the house at the end of the path, and sometimes, just sometimes, Heath dreams a little of what might just happen between them.
The sound of uncertain footsteps reluctantly drags Heath from his reverie.
An older couple are slowly making their way along the path. This for Heath is not unusual. The path to the building is often used by many who either seek the services that lie within or who have come to visit those who are in residence. As the couple move along the quiet path, they appear at times to become part of the foliage, an effect that affirms both the existence of the garden and its design. At other times they to seem glide amongst the grasses and flowers their feet hidden by the low growing borders.
Heath stops his work and lifts his head in the direction of the footsteps. The man is tall, lean and dressed well with no hint of pretense. He looks naturally comfortable in moleskin pants, checked shirt, a suede jacket and an akubra hat all of which indicate he is from a property in rural Queensland. The woman at his side, is beautifully dressed in a pure white blouse, and a subdued full-length skirt. She is wearing a ladies’ sand-coloured akubra hat indicating her own rural origins. Her very dark sunglasses, which seem to be a little out of place, give Heath a little sense of the journey she is taking. Often tears accompany those who come to visit this house. The woman’s arm is held firmly by her companion. She is confident on her feet, but not so confident, Heath thinks, on this journey.
As they approach the bridge, Heath rests casually on his spade as you would a wall. He wipes his face with his sleeve and asks quietly, “Can I help?”
The couple stop, look, their eyes searching for the source of the question. They spot Heath. If you were watching carefully you would see the woman’s grip on her husband’s arm increase slightly as her eyes alight on Heath.
“Reception?”, the woman asks, her voice faltering on the three-syllable question.
“Just through the doors in front of you,” Heath says with respect, his eyes filled with understanding and compassion.
The woman turns her head back to her husband as the couple continues their restrained journey along the path, pausing momentarily on the bridge. Here, the woman uses her free hand to take hold of the bridge’s handrail. There is a pause in their journey before they resume.
For Heath such kindness is easy. He is used to being a guide when one is needed. He knows that in this place many guides are needed at various stages of a visitor’s journey. Whether he is working in the garden or at his other job inside the building, his warmth is easy to hear and feel. As a result, this young man is liked by many, respected by all and easily loved by some.
He watches the couple enter the house and before he has a chance to continue with his work, his thoughts are interrupted by, “Heath! Heath darling!”
Heath lifts his head and smiles recognizing the call of this particular ‘bird’. Mary has a sweeter sound than some of the other birds that frequent the garden and her ‘plumage’ even challenges that of the king parrot. Heath is fond of Mary. He likes her mischief and the fact that she can smile easily despite the situation in which she finds herself. He, along with Katrina, has the utmost respect for her history. This goes for all the residents. They all have a story which is far more complex than the reason they are in the house. All the staff in the house are encouraged to see the residents this way.
Heath casually waves his gloved hand and Mary acknowledges the gesture from her room with a beaming smile.
Mary is in Room One. On her door is a star for more reasons than one.
Mary is different in a way that sets her apart from most others of her generation. She is quite memorable. She is eighty and walks like a queen when she can. She has obviously looked after herself. Her alabaster-like skin is often the envy of other women, and while her delicate hands cannot belie her age, she rarely sees the need for gloves. She wears her Dolce and Gabbanna as she would wear any expensive gown and enjoys its impact on others.
When she looks at you that is exactly what she does. When she speaks with you that is exactly what she does, and she is beautifully spoken. She has very quickly built a wonderful reputation in the house. It was once said by another resident of a theatrical background that Cecil B. DeMille could not have passed her up. When she is without an audience she is quite fond of the odd soliloquy in front of her mirror. Here she is loved. Here she is a star. Here she entertains.
Her capacity to perform comes from a long history on the professional stage, a point she is fond of mentioning to those who will listen, often adding that some had likened her to the prima donna, Dame Nellie Melba.
She has been a guest in the building for two and half weeks and has already gathered a reputation for being regal and slightly eccentric. Her small room is her dressing room, a room where she can receive her guests. Her knick-knacks, pictures, wildly colorful patchwork quilt in deep reds and blues, all reflect who she was, and is. There is an antique Edwardian hat and coat stand made of solid English oak. From the stunning rare solid brass decorative hooks hang scarves of various colours, along with one brown dotted off white ostrich feather boa. A small hallway table is decorated with small knick- knacks which are not surprising. What is surprising is a bright red Elmo sitting proudly front and centre, looking a little overly loved.
In the corner of her room behind the door is Mary’s fridge on which are photos that define her history. Inside the fridge are items which define a little more of who Mary is.
On this day Mary stands at the sliding doors of her room. However, Mary does not just stand. She has the air of the old Hollywood actress. A keen observer might say that when Mary stands at the window, she is framing herself for maximum effect. She is dressed in her best vintage Chanel robe, a robe that seems to float around her rather than one she merely wears. In the corner of her room beside the sliding glass doors is a black slimline arched full-length mirror. It is positioned so that when she catches her reflection, the natural light through the glass doors lights her in the best possible way. She is not ostensibly vain in public, but in the privacy of her room she indulges herself. Even at eighty she is still beautiful, always has been. Of this she is aware.
On this particular morning, she is admiring the garden and its inhabitants. Well if the truth be told, there is only one inhabitant in which she is interested. An un-feathered biped whom she watches whenever he is ‘lost’ in the garden, working hard. When it is hot, he is sometimes shirtless. At these times, she lets her mind wistfully wander over her past dalliances. They are sweet memories which sometimes she consciously created, knowing that one day that is all she would have.
Alas, today he is not shirtless. This does not stop her casting a mischievous eye his way. She opens her sliding door and calls again, ‘Heath! Heath darling!’
Just then, as if to hold a mirror to her mild Catholic guilt which is desperately trying to calm her slightly errant thoughts, she hears a couple walking into the main room. They would soon pass her door. She sighs, not quite sure whether she is annoyed at being caught or whether she is just sensing the onset of the guilt. To hide whatever feeling it is from the couple who had just entered, she walks to her bed and lies down. Well for Mary, it is more like a glide followed by a graceful reclining. Mary would never just lie down.
She arranges her robe for effect just as Paula enters her room with a tray and her cup of Earl Grey tea with a little milk and Wedgewood bowl of sugar on the side. Her heart leaps a little – quite a different leap than it had just previously experienced.
“Thank you Paula, my darling.”
Paula loves Mary, her grandmother, dearly.
There is a wildness about them both and while they have much in common, their roles are clearly defined, grandmother and granddaughter. The similarity is based on experience, but Paula’s choice in men is different from Mary’s. While there was never a shortage of them in both of their lives as youngsters, Paula’s choice can be described as choosing fruit from the wild, while Mary preferred in her time, the orchard as the source of her fruit. Consequently, Paula’s life is currently more difficult than Mary’s was when she was in her prime.
Paula is stubborn and at times self-opinionated. While she is sometimes, well quite often, confused by life, the bond between grandmother, and granddaughter has the strength and the passion of a youthful love.
One of the current confusions in Paula’s life is the boyfriend, Mike. He is a rough diamond with plenty of flaws. While Mary is more tolerant of these flaws than Paula, she still has reservations about him. Paula herself thinks men are idiots who are unfathomable at the best of times. Mary tries to help Paula when and where she can, calling on her own experience but knowing ultimately that Paula will have to work it out for herself.
Paula is particularly comfortable in Mary’s room, not surprisingly so, and she can drape herself on the chair or bed with the early indicators of a Hollywood goddess in the making.
Paula looks to Mary as she passes her the tea and asks, “Nanny, what is it about men?”
“Well my dear,” Mary smiles after a thoughtful and perhaps exaggerated dramatic pause, and with a sly glance into the garden says, “Let’s look at, I mean let’s consider Heath.”
“Oh Nanny, No!” Paula interrupts with feigned shock. “You’re so naughty!”
“Paula darling, I am only dying. I’m not dead!”
“But Nanny …”
“Paula, let an old lady’s mind meander around the edges of mischief.”
The sound of the front door of the building opening interrupts them, and a few seconds pass before Mike appears at Mary’s door.
“Mrs S. Hello my little PA,” says Mike in his brash but likeable manner.
“Don’t call me that Mike!” protests Paula, “You know I don’t like it.”
Mary’s description of Mike is accurate, a rough diamond, tattoos from top to bottom that are only separated by clothing. While fit, the ravages of drugs have left some tell-take signs including a noticeable darkness around the eyes, some trembling in the hands and an obvious but slight absence of a social filter.
Mike loves Paula in his own way, but there are a few things in his life that come before Paula. They can easily be listed, if you asked Mike, or Paula for that matter. Mike is a young man with spirit who likes being out with the boys. He would like more tattoos if he had more room on his body. The thought of the possibility had often wandered through Mary’s mind as it did this time, before it was sent to hell. He also likes stretching the law, not in a way that would hurt anyone, but if he was caught, he would most certainly have been ‘doing time’. Besides having the luck of the Irish, Mike is very charming. All the girls love this bad boy, including Paula.
Mike also has his own demons. Years of dope, mushrooms and even a couple of times chasing the dragon have gone into creating these demons. They trouble him, but not enough to kick them. Besides, they do make his life self-interesting. He easily rationalises some of his outlandish behaviour, blaming the product not the choice. The product even made it easy for him to streak along the Surfers Paradise beach in broad daylight! It had been an easy choice for him.
But his charm lessens these illegal acts to mischief in his eyes, and in the eyes of others of many of his closest.
“Sorry sweetie. How ya goin’ Mrs S?” says Mike.
Before Mary could react to the dropped ‘g’, the ‘ya’, and the non-existent use of her name, Katrina taps on Mary’s door. “Everything OK, my Queen?”
Mary smiles, while her hand touches and adjusts a non-existent lock of hair that may have been out of place.
“Yes, my dear Katrina.”
Katrina enjoys the term of endearment, smiles, and heads back to her desk in the centre of the main room.
“Nanny,” Paula whispers, “Mike and I are going to McDonalds. Do you want something?”
“No thank you dear. It will spoil my tea.”
Paula waves, and Mike winks at Mary as they leave the building.
As they leave her room, Mary wonders about the wisdom of Paula’s choice. Mike will never change. He is what he is. Mary knows the type and has even dated a few ‘Mikes’ in her time.