The spring sun is warm on my back. Not quite warm enough for sandals but I’d chosen a flowy skirt that blows and hustles against my legs. The grass here is smooth and green, the gravel paths weed-free, the topiary neat and clipped but the garden is silent; there are no birds, no sound of a gardener’s shears, no children running. The box has been clipped recently and the pungent cat-urine smell of it hangs in the air.
I turn a corner and find myself walking alongside a high red-brick wall. I catch the merest floral scent and look around. Here, there are pyracanthas trained against the wall, neat strips of spiky green that are not allowed to blossom or develop their exuberant orange berries. I draw in a breath that feels tight, stifled as if I’m the one being trimmed and still there is that faint scent.
Half-way along the wall, I find a scruffy old door with layers of peeling paint and grey old wood beneath. It is just ajar. I gently push the door with one finger as if less contact makes it less a trespass. Through the door are cherry trees in full bloom. The ground underneath the trees is dense with weeds and brambles. The trees themselves are neglected, but the petals spiral in the sun.
The sound of footsteps in the distance hurry me through the door and I push it closed behind me. Then the brisk, purposeful crunch-crunch-crunch passes by along the gravel. I release my breath.
The sunlight through the dense petals gives the light a fairy-tale hue. The brambles arc like strained barbed wire by the narrow path and the branches of the trees are twisted, distorted by time and disease, and over it all, this pale pink light and the faint scent and underneath the smell of petals, there is something of rotting leaves and decay, a bright note of death. I am drawn on by the gentle curve of the path and a reluctance to return to the insipid place behind me.
Ahead of me, something lies on the path. I step towards it, pulling my skirt from the grip of a thorn. The petals fall into a crimson pool of blood, scattering around the body of a little girl, her hair askew, the pink confetti landing on her pale cheeks as if it had stolen the colour from her.
A swirl of dizziness heaves me sideways and I grab a tree branch to stop myself falling and when I take my hand away, it is covered in blood. Her blood. I back away, wiping it on my blouse, my eyes fixed on the girl. Once she is hidden by the curve of the path, I turn and run to the door, my skirt tangling around my knees.
When I reach the door, I scrabble at it. There is no handle in the blank face of splintered wood and I cry out for help. My voice carries up and over the wall into a deadened silence of the other side; no birds, no chatter, no little girl’s laughter.
Copyright © Elizabeth Cutts August 2019
This was originally written for an assignment for the NCW crime course I did recently. It could turn out to be the beginning of something larger, or perhaps it’ll stay as just a snippet.