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.