“It is not in the leaving but the return where fear truly lives and we pass from darkness to light. It is not in the breaking but in the attempting to rebuild that we find truth and hope.” – Simms
I remember a place. A place forever locked within a bubble. Where light fixtures and furnishings, manners and thoughts, even the dust itself smelt forever of some bucolic fifties dream. Set back from a country road and surrounded by the rolling fields of England’s hidden highways it was a place of rest and safety from the world. Each time that I returned I found myself drawn deeper into its warm embrace. It was, and always will be, Cinquefoil, a place as rustic and as beautiful as the roadside flower that it was named for.
There in its garden grew apple trees that boys could climb to while away the hours until dinner was called. A shed half collapsing and a kennel empty and decaying. Behind, a greenhouse slowly breaking into dust. Unfulfilled and without purpose the clay earth had turned to a cracked and broken surface. Where weeds grew they were sparse as no water fell within that hidden, visible space. No pots or bottles, not a watering can, nothing disturbed the view of dead earth and a central concrete path. The once strong wood returning to the earth held panes of dirty glass that teetered dangerously above the heads of anyone who entered. To the child it seemed a parallel to life. How easy could some breathe of wind dislodge a pane and cause the world to shatter into myriad pieces, all sharp and able to draw blood. The thick white paint that curled like bandages from the dead wood of the frame would then be splattered with the life of boys. And so I did not enter but can still hear the rattle of that glass inside my dreams.
There were compost heaps that smelled sweetly of decaying fruit and kitchen scraps. Where the rats and mice of the surrounding fields would come to dine and grass snakes hid to catch them. The old, dry skins of them caught in the rough wood of the frames which smelled of creosote. Standing as testement to hunters that grew fat on all the furry beings of the place. It was as if the house and garden encapsulated the very essence of life and death within itself. There was birth, was growth, but also death in expected and unexpected ways. While snakes would catch their prey and glass could fall to sever the jugular of little boys there were other deaths. The apples picked from climbing trees and eaten set under a golden crust, the beetroot ripped from the ground to boiled then plunged into vinegar before being eaten. These too were deaths in some way but beautiful ones. Deaths where life was celebrated and remembered through the skill of ancient hands. But I do not remember ever once hearing the obvious death or injury being spoken of. That little boy was left to climb as best he could. Was left to skin his legs against the bark and did not fall. Neither encouraged or discouraged he learned the value of the risk, how to trust or distrust boughs, and was left alone to learn the lessons of those trees.
With each changing season I remember the changing of the birds too. The honk of Canada geese in spring and Autumn, the summers filled with sky lark song. The robin, wren, and the blackbird, oh too many thrushes banging snails against the paths. The garden was alive with song and rhythm. It was a place where music was made and listened too through instruments crafted by Creator’s hand. Where rabbits ran and there were hints at foxes. Frogs in the ditch that lay beyond the final hedge and the golden fields of wheat. Life lived and death rejoiced in as a complete and perfect circle. Alive, more so than any other place I know or can remember. Not just with bustle from the kitchen door but every creature of that part of earth. Each beating heart living for the joy of life until such time as death came suddenly from out of bushes.
Of the house itself I remember very little. I remember the shade of it compared with the garden. The feeling of cool stepping in from the terrace to the kitchen through that two part door, like stepping into the river on a hot day. A slow chilling that was transition not just a change from state to state. Each room appointed in the chintz and gilt of well appointed minds and parquet floors that with the fingers of a little boy could be dissected to give hiding places for coins and secret notes. But each now seen as though through a veil. Silent pictures hanging in a museum with only the kitchen now alive. While others lived, and loved, and laughed inside, my Cinquefoil was the kitchen and the garden. The two intrinsically linked as one, the gateway and the kingdom of a lonely boy.
How I wish that you could have smelt and felt those ancient boughs beneath young hands. Rough, dusty with lichen, smelling of the darkness of the soul yet welcoming and urging little feet to climb the higher. There to be safe from all the woes of life and all the snakes that lurked in school and home. Safety and sky larks were the reward for skinned knees and tired boys. Alone, floating in a kingdom of air, and light, and dappled shade. Everything provided for both soul and body. Fresh fruit and shelter from the rain. By now those trees have probably been felled, the house torn down and some new monstrous house rebuilt, the land divided and the roses gone.
Oh how I miss that rose that grew beside the door. Orange and red and pink and gold all merging and emerging from green leaves. Kept short yet taller than the boy who stood in wonder at its petalled magnificence. And how I miss the Rose who grew it. Telling me as a child it’s name was “Harlequin”, forever linking me with it and giving me the mask and diamond clothes to be a thing of light and shade. To disappear and then appear as he did on the stage. Yet in her eyes I saw the sadness of the years but also joy and love. She was solidity as much as were the trees within the orchard. So I loved her and she loved me as much and as precisely as we could. Never quite fitting yet still tied by some invisible thread to each other. In time I gained her skills as gifts passed on and love her all the more for those. The one who later taught the value of asking the permission of trees and feeling the safety in the asking. But she just like the bush had thorns and taught me the value of the gardener’s wise saw. That we should never complain about the rose’s bite because the gifts they give mean all the more. She was, and is, Cinquefoil personified. The two intrinsically linked. Neither the owner, neither more or less than the other. Both living in my mind and both a blessing and a sorrow that we cannot come again.
Beyond the trees and house and greenhouse glassy death lay the vegetables and fruit. Well tended as best the owners could with ancient, rheumy hands and backs that could not bend. Food was born into the soil and grew under that Oxfordshire sky, where skylarks sang, and there was always the incessant drone of bees about their business. Then pulled from the earth it made its way across the orchard to the door and into the wondrous, cavernous kitchen with it’s central wooden table. There base vegetables, and stalks, and fruit were turned into the magic of a dinner. I don’t remember being asked to ever help with digging or with gathering except the mint for lamb. Perhaps my hands were still too tiny. Perhaps it was felt that I was not yet skilled. There lies regret in that. But still it seems to me that those who owned the house, realizing the nature of the boy, decided to allow him peace to climb the trees and read. Sitting like Puck, shielded from their gaze with book in hand and never told what not to read. Just left to feed his mind with wondrous words and spoil his dinner with the sour, unripeness of the fruit. Still I regret the not knowing of soil under fingernails and smelling as I do now the scent of life and death, and hopes and dreams. all merged in clay and earth.
It is a place that I regret the losing of. The dog rose in the hedges and the dusty scent of hay at harvest time. The taste of ancient apples and the tang of rhubarb. The feeling of safety and the arms which did not quite embrace me yet hands that were loving placed upon my shoulders. A distance of scant millimeters yet connection. Cinquefoil, that place beneath blue skies is now crystalized into what I believe that life and love and home should be. I have not found its like again and mourn it. Perhaps I never will find Cinquefoil again. Yet still I visit after thirty years. Feel myself shrinking to that little boy who ran into the garden and climbed trees. Reborn into the place that I should be. Where Harlequin and Rose can be, each true to themselves, both of the same family yet distinct, and always, always live in peace. That place I reach for always from within my dreams.