Trailing blades of grass, Victoria burst back through the yawning gap left by the open patio doors. She extended her arms to brace for impact as she sailed towards the kitchen counter in front of her.
"Whoa!" An unassuming pair of arms enveloped her, inches before any collision. "Whatever’s the matter?"
Oh my God," panted Victoria, clearly distressed. "Richard there is a man out there."
"What? Out where?"
"In the garden, where do you think," Victoria replied, gesturing over her shoulder. "He was skulking between those large trees at the far end of the swimming pool."
Richard looked at the scorn etched into the face of his wife. He couldn’t remember when he’d last seen a genuine smile light up her countenance beneath the perfect make-up. Something was always wrong in her life, something trivial always needing a scene and disturbance from his own desires of a quiet world. Not even in this idyllic location, the new summer house she had so coveted, had she been able to allow herself to fully relax. Not even being able to lay by the swimming pool in her new bikini under a perfectly served summer’s day was she able to undertake in peace.
"Maybe you should go and sit down, put some clothes on and take a minute," Richard suggested.
As so often before, Victoria mistook Richard’s concern for cowardice. "Listen," she retorted haughtily "I paid for this house, I paid for this body and this swimwear, I should be able to parade around completely naked in my own grounds if I want! Now, go check, would you."
Victoria forced herself out of Richards’ arms and disappeared upstairs.
"I’ll go take a look then," Richard said to himself, nodding in a gesture to the familiar scene of having to finish conversations alone. "It’s a new neighbourhood, you should be careful."
Richard edged to the patio doors without another word to himself. As someone whose abhorrence to confrontation was portrayed by reticence and an inner-cowering, Richard took in a hesitant breath as he looked out across the garden.
The grounds were vast, a strange yawning wilderness to Richard who had been cooped up in a one bedroom Soho flat for most of his life. The bachelor pad he had sold a long time ago to move into a more lofty apartment together with Victoria. Staring at the greenery stretching before him, he felt a sudden yearning for his little box. Everything in it had been his. The pieces of second-hand furniture, the familiar smell of the lavender window box, the old record player in the corner of the living area and the cardboard box of vinyl records sitting next to it. The barely occupied fridge and the pans sitting on top of the white stove. It hadn’t been much, but it had been his and he had been comfortable. Now the space before him looked as if it would swallow him. There were so many places to get lost in the countryside. So much of nothing, so much quiet that it was louder than a busy Saturday morning in the city high street.
This country house was supposed to be a tranquil escape for retirement. A place where Richard and Victoria could de-stress and get out from under each others feet and start winding down in their middle age.
Richard scanned for signs of movement and could feel Victoria’s hands on his back pushing him out of the door. Of course, Victoria had paid for it all and the last thing she’d want is for her purchase to be tainted.
Richard inspected the lush and healthy looking lawn and beyond, where anonymous flowers bordered the perimeter of the gardens beneath a full-bodied hedge. A screen of weeping willows separated the main garden from the back of the estate where apparently a vegetable patch and old shed stood. Victoria had told Richard that the agent had showed her down there, but it never held a lot of interest to her in contrast to the pool. She had been insistent however that Richard would have the opportunity to clear that particular patch of garden up. The forgotten little corner that was out of sight and out of mind.
Edging from the patio, Richard cautiously made his was across the lawn and past the swimming pool, scanning the open garden around him. There weren’t many places someone could hide out there. He moved on towards the crop of weeping willows, sweat breeding in a readily clenched fist. A fist made with a yearning for powers which he knew he did not truly possess. As he edgily rounded the sentry line of Willows, the garden narrowed ahead to just a few metres before being harshly confined at its boundary by a Cotswold stone wall. To his right stood a shed. Richard had remembered Victoria mentioning it, but it had been of little consequence to him to venture down and see it for himself so far. Suddenly behind the single pane of glass on the side of the shed, Richard caught a glimpse of movement. Richard took a step back to the cover of the nearest Willow, ducking behind its foliage like peeping out from a curtain to spy on the neighbours. Why would anyone want to be in there, he thought to himself? More so, who and why?
It was nothing more than a fleeting shadow inside the unnaturally, immaculate looking shed. A perfect blanket of tarred-felt was covering its roof. All of the wooden slats of construction looked in perfect order to Richard. The window pane neatly beaded and spotless.
Richard steeled himself from the safety of the Willow. Was he really going to have to go in there? He could of course just walk calmly back to the house, no doubt being watched from the bedroom window, resigning himself to tell Victoria that there was no-one to be found in the garden. Let sleeping dogs lie. Whoever was in the shed would get what they want and move on, Victoria would be happy in the knowledge that there was no pest disrupting her perfect little corner of the world and Richard himself would have no confrontation to face. But at that moment, the decision was taken away from him as the shed door swung open. Richard was on his heels, hurrying back to the other side of the Weeping Willows again, this time fleeing beyond them back towards the house for safety.
Emerging from the small wooden building, he felt a sense of calm and peacefulness. Standing in his private sanctuary, a small piece of green earth that he could call his own, he could feel alone in the world. His thoughts needed to travel no further than the boundary of flower beds directly in front of him and the stone wall which cut off the land to the outside world. The sun was high, the summer unusually hot for the English summer. In amidst the extended heat wave, the colours of the garden looked more vibrant than ever. The hues of the flowers and green foliage of the plant life displaying a beautiful fragility and needing more careful attention from the dehydrating sun. But they were in good hands, the small metal pail which habitually carried water to replenish their needs would continue to bring them all steady supply. Never missing the cool of the evening shade to soak the ground and let them drink their fill. The old man surveyed the scene around him, content that everything was ship shape in his paradise. Slowly he made his way to the line of trees that kept his paradise protected and sheltered, desiring a look towards the house. Not only to keep a check on the new arrivals who had moved in on the weekend, but to satisfy a daily urge to look at least once to the bedroom window.