My Neighbour Charlie – by Alanna Donaldson (Adult)

We weren’t sure of each other, you and I, when I first moved in to Number 25. Your garden was full of buckets and wire, horticultural experiments, and you used a fish bone fertilizer, the smell coming in through my kitchen window. I was shy and didn’t always feel like talking, and when I did I spoke too quietly for you.
You’d appear from behind your apple tree and lean unsteadily over the flowerbed, resting your wrists on the brick wall, always in a suit and tie whatever the weather, with a big white handkerchief. You’d peer down at my vegetable patch and tell me where I was going wrong, or how to kill snails. You grew three kinds of kale and made your own apple wine, and I sipped it once from a little glass you passed over the wall. You gave me seedlings to plant and sellotaped seeds into my Christmas cards.
In your apple tree you put a toy cat on a stick to scare away the birds and it made me laugh, which made you laugh. I could see that cat from my bathroom window, and I could see your ancient tortoise too, crawling on your lawn; sometimes I looked down and saw you both, wandering as though you were lost.
In summer, you brought out a mandolin and played to me in the sunshine, and in the evenings I heard your accordion through the kitchen wall. Only once you knocked on my door and as I walked down the hall I saw you adjust your hair in the glass. You’d written the details of a fruit farm on a piece of paper torn from a box of biscuits. Your handwriting shook.
Now your apple blossom floats onto my lawn like a kindness. I wish you were still here to see it. My kitchen drawer rattles with the seeds you gave me and I will always keep your handwritten note. In my garden your seedlings are still growing and I’m still growing at Number 25, where you helped to plant me.
Learn more about the contest which inspired this story:  Fleur 2020-04 Apple Tree
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