3LBE 16
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Bury Him in the Rose Garden

by Neil Ayres


Winter and his death

I shall not mourn the recent passing of the carrion roses, nor this culling season. The flowers will return, in a manner. The thing that bereaves me is the death of the boy. Here am I, nearly four score in years, scribbling with an age-shaken hand, and there he lay this evening, dead before his tenth year was complete, his life taken by the hand of McGrant, the gamekeeper. To most, even the boy’s death will be worth scant comment, unless they are aware of the peculiarities of his features — the coarse hair that covers his entire body.

I have some fame in the world of biology. Mainly for my roses, but also because I exchange letters with Mr. Shield, a man who has made many waves on the ocean of society throughout recent history. He has scores of correspondents, the man they of the clergy call with some disdain evolutionist. I have not made up my mind about him. What he writes goes some way to elucidating the behaviour of my flowers, but does little to explain the curiosities of the boy.

As well as my roses, I tend the gardens of Turnaby Hall. Mistress Turnaby is a fine woman, but too often these days her head governs her heart. Even Mr. Shield, in our correspondences, admits it is his passions that motivate him, and not science alone.

McGrant got off lightly for my liking, after peppering the boy with buckshot from his blunderbuss. The mistress, though she accepted the killing without apparent remorse, bade her gamekeeper stay silent on the specifics. If she had not, no doubt now, in the Coach & Horses, McGrant would be boasting of the killing, with the boy’s body barely cold.

“Bagged myself a poacher today,” he would brag, with his slavering Bull Mastiff lying at his feet. “Was after the Mistress’s pheasants.” He would surely neglect to mention the ‘poacher’ was a half-starved child.

I wonder if the Mistress Turnaby will exhibit any outward regret when she reads the letter Agnes is delivering up to the house on my behalf. The mistress is not a foolish woman, not any longer. Perhaps she has already deduced the contents of such a letter. I look out from the kitchen window of the cottage, at the winter skeleton of the rose garden.


Spring and his conception

“God gave you dominion over and above nature, Samuel. Yet you act like a rutting beast. The stories I have heard told of you in the public house. But now, bringing the young mistress into your debaucheries is no end of improper. It is too much.”

“Surely your friend Mr. Shield would approve of such behaviour, Father. It substantiates his theory.”

“You are the son of a gardener, not a Bohemian aristocrat. The ill behaviour I had the misfortune of interrupting in the rose garden is the final impropriety.”

“Why? Have I offended your precious flowers?”

“Take this, Samuel. It is all the money I have. You must be gone by morning. If her parents discover your indecency, your mother and I will surely be left without a home.”

“But Father, the mistress and I have been together often in recent months. She was willing as I. More-so.”

“Go, Samuel, before I change my mind about the money.”


Summer and his birth

The summer is long and has been very hot. The roses were lucky not to been afflicted by wilt. They were content with the vermin Agnes brought me from the scullery.

I am at the edge of the woods. Agnes is with the young mistress. I cradle my newborn grandson in my arms. He is much like the pictures I have seen of the great apes in Mr. Shield’s recent Man and the Animals. All covered in thick, dark hair he is, with a crinkly pink face under the fur.

“Come, dear,” I hear my wife say to the young mistress. “It is for the best.”

I walk from the woods, up through the rose garden and past the cottage. My grandson’s fur and the summer warmth keep him protected on the long walk to the outskirts of town, where brightly painted wagons wait and the scents of roasting meat and spilt beer waft on the wind. A tall, thin man in a tattered top hat stands on the road, waiting for me.


Autumn and his memory

The master died not long after his wife. With the passing of years the young mistress has become the spinster mistress. She takes little interest in any affairs save the garden. In the summer she likes to spend time with the roses, inhaling their meaty scent and enjoying their vibrant colours. But they have passed their prime for the year.

Neither of us has mentioned my son since he left, nor my grandson, her child. We are both thinking of the boy now though, as I watch the mistress from the kitchen window of my cottage. She sits with the dying flowers. The fair is making its annual visit to the village.


Winter and his return

I was fussing the winter jasmine at the back of my cottage and the boy nearly startled me from my skin. He looked more wolf than ape, with a long nose and a wide mouth filled with adult teeth.

“Hello there, boy,” I said.

He blinked and made a snuffling sound like the grunting of a pig.

“It’s all right. Come here so I can look at you properly. Do you speak at all?”

“Samuel,” he said, pointing to his hairy chest.

“That’s right,” I said. “After your father.”

He was shivering, wearing only a canvas sack, like a skirt about his waist.

I boiled up water for a bath and washed out the matted hair that covered his body. He was very patient.

I fetched my razor. Underneath all the hair he looked very much as his father had at a similar age. A little like me then too, I imagine, although memories of my childhood have faded and we had no access to photography in those days.

I dressed him from my own wardrobe, in a shirt too long of sleeve and britches too wide at the waist. I took his hand and began to walk him up to the house to meet his lonely mother.

McGrant’s dog was on the path, and excited by the presence of an unfamiliar child, it began to bark. The dog’s barking scared young Samuel and the boy bolted from the frosty path, into the woods where he was born. The dog gave chase. McGrant emerged from the house with his blunderbuss in hand and set off after his mastiff before I had a chance to stop him.

Moments later I heard a shot.

Agnes has returned from the house. The boy’s body is laid out on our table. She has cleaned his wounds as best she can.

She hands me a note. It is an instruction, written in the mistress’s delicate script.

Bury him, in the rose garden



Neil Ayres is an English writer with over thirty stories published in the independent press. In the U.S. his stories can be found in venues including Apex Digest, Electric Velocipede, Trunk Stories and Cabinet-des-Fees. He has received several honorable mentions in Year’s Best collections and has also edited The Minotaur in Pamplona for D-Press and co-edited Book of Voices: a short story anthology for Sierra Leone PEN for Flame Books. His story, Coma, appeared in a previous issue of 3LBE. Next year a novelette, Skipping Stones, co-written with E. Sedia, will be published by Jessup Publishing.


January 2007