Botany According to Bertie – by Deborah Mercer (Adult)
Bertie had, by the age of four, decided that he wanted to follow in his mother’s footsteps and be a gardener. He was already quite handy with the trowel and the watering-can, and could recognise a fair number of plants and flowers, but didn’t always get the names quite right. His Mum had decided he was probably a bit young for Latin names, but he could be imaginative with the English ones. Daffodils were often Daft Old Hills, and Chrysanthemums were Sandy Thumbs. His Mum, Cassie, knew she ought to correct him more often, but she rather liked his versions. After all, her grandfather, who had been a keen gardener into his eighties, though his preference was for vegetables, had called asparagus “sparrow grass” to his dying day. She still used his old kneeler, and it was the best one she’d known.
“You see these?” she said, pointing to the glowing pendants of purple petals that had just come into their full glory, scenting the tangy salt air blowing in from the North Sea with something sweeter and brighter that seemed to not quite belong, to hold the breath of another, warmer sea – and yet to be at home. “They’re called lilacs.”
Bertie was allowed to touch the plants if he were careful, and he gently stroked them, “Lovely, Mum,” he said, “Skylarks!” Cassie sighed, though she had to smile. “No, Bertie. Skylarks are birds. These are lilacs.”
Of course it was just coincidence, Cassie told herself, as she heard a glorious song, and saw a soaring, hovering speck. But it was a coincidence she rather liked. “Listen, Bertie. Do you know what that is?”
Bertie paused, and then pronounced triumphantly, “Lilac!”
She was sure he wasn’t trying to tease her. There was only an honest joy in those brown eyes of his.
But hearing the echo of a melodic chuckle in the skylark’s song, and seeing the sunlight catching in the shadows of the purple petals almost, fleetingly, form into a wry smile, she wasn’t so sure about them!