‘Let’s go for a walk!’ It was Maura on the phone. ‘The sun’s come out.’
‘Isn’t it still too cold?’ Beth hesitated. Since January the silent days had brought only rain and black skies. Her son had flown back after Christmas. No-one had knocked at the door except the postman. ‘I’ve got a few things to do in the house.’
‘I’m sure they could wait.’ Maura, a retired GP, always spoke with such energy.
‘I don’t know.’ Beth felt the boundaries of her life had shrunk, as she became confined by age, timidity, and bad joints. The brave days of taking a winter holiday, a flight to a hotel in the sun, were over. The expense, the fears of contagion, and now another war, distant though it was…
‘I haven’t seen you for weeks,’ Maura insisted. ‘It’s time we caught up. And the woods will be gorgeous. Just a gentle stroll.’
Beth allowed herself to be persuaded. She met Maura at the woodland car park. It was a bright day and as they walked and chatted it seemed to her that the despair of winter and the horror of the daily news must be opposed by the tireless advance of spring. New buds were forming. The hours of light would lengthen, now, no matter, and what had survived would emerge from the ground. The wild garlic, gently pungent, was still in small leaf, the bluebells not yet in bud, while spring drew dandelions bursting up from the soil. Strong sun warmed her clothes, defeating the chill of the breeze.Maura paused on the path. ‘Will you look at those celandines!’ They grew massed beneath the trees, the luscious green of their leaves sprinkled with their yellow stars, their petals outstretched to the sun like stars of hope.
‘My son used to call them ‘saladines’ when he was little.’ Beth smiled. ‘He had such a sweet way of speaking.’ She almost felt the small hand in hers, then it slipped away and she imagined him running on ahead, further and further…he was working now, on the other side of the world.
As they walked on the air was filled with birdsong. It was the nesting season. A crow flapped overhead with a twig in its beak.
‘What’s making all that noise?’ They traced a loud trilling to a puffed-up robin redbreast. ‘So small, yet he sounds like a PE whistle! Do you remember those? Did your teachers have them?’
‘Yes! The little metal whistle on a strap around the neck.’ Beth chuckled.
‘And they always kept their tracksuits on, didn’t they? They never seemed to get changed, even to teach History.’ Maura turned her head to grin at Beth, a gleam in her blue eyes, the laughter lines deepening.
‘Come for a coffee after this,’ offered Beth.
‘Don’t go to any trouble.’
‘Not at all. You’ll be my first visitor since Christmas. And I’ve got chocolate digestives.’
Later, Maura, sipping her coffee, stood peering at the china plates that hung on the kitchen wall.
‘Do sit down,’ said Beth, gesturing towards the table in the kitchen-diner.
‘I was admiring this floral design.’
‘It’s Royal Worcester,’ said Beth. ‘It’s part of a series showing the four seasons – that one’s Spring.’
‘Lovely…witch hazel…violas… iris stylosa…’
‘It used to be my mother’s. I’d bought it for her birthday. I kept it after she died.’
Maura settled down at the table and waited for Beth to join her.
‘The iris stylosa was special,’ said Beth. ‘It grew in my mother’s front garden. It would start flowering at Christmas, so that even in the coldest weather you would find those summery blue flowers. I used to love the way its long leaves turned into twists of curling straw.’ She sighed. ‘I always meant to take a piece of it for my own garden. But after she died there was far too much else to do to.’
‘My garden’s full of memories,’ said Maura. ‘I’ve hellebores from my mother, an azalea from my father. They passed away long ago, but the plants are still alive, flowering year upon year. In fact I’ve all kinds of plants: tulips, lilies, grape hyacinths from friends. In the spring it’s as though they were still there with me.’
‘You’re lucky, Maura. My garden’s populated by garden centres and supermarkets.’
‘And I do have iris stylosa. Masses of it. Actually, I was going to lift it and tidy it up, would you like a piece?’
‘I’d love one! Just a few plants to grow.
A few days later Maura arrived with a large clump of iris in a bucket.
‘I only expected a couple of plants,’ said Beth. ‘You’re very kind. I’ll divide that and grow it on.’
Maura put the bucket down on the doormat. ‘It was funny you mentioning your mother, but I was thinking, I’ve had this for years. It came originally from one of my patients, who had it from her late mother’s garden.’
Beth lifted the plant, feeling the weight of its muddy roots in her hands. ‘Perhaps this iris will outlive me. One day my son might grow it.’
‘A benediction on all mothers!’ said Maura.
‘May their spirits flourish in our gardens.’ Beth replaced the iris carefully in the bucket.