In a recent edition of Writer’s Forum, I was interested in an article called ‘Morning Pages’, where you set yourself a morning hand-written (in my case) writing exercise of 3 notebook pages. At first it read more like a diary and I was for giving it up. Then I started pulling sentences out of the air and adding to them. I didn’t really intend to air them but this morning’s one pulled me a little. It’s not a story as such, more a descriptive exercise, however the last line leaves itself open for future ‘maybes’.
The path led out from the garden gate. The forest appeared as a line of trees above the tall, well-kept Laurel hedge which ringed the garden.
The grey gravel paths criss-crossed the smooth green lawns, unblemished by weeds or unwanted flowers and stopped in front of the tall, white marble water fountain, its centrepiece depicting St. George slaying the dragon and instead of spouting fire from its mouth, the dragon spurted water.
From the fountain another gravel path rolled its way across the immaculate lawn, maintained like a tennis court, and to the huge iron gate. The gate was 9 feet high, with a gargoyle detail atop its heavy wrought-iron metalwork, which twisted this way and that, and the gate made an impression, from one side safety and from the other a daunting, forbidden door. A heavy iron bar bolted the gate and both moved without the slightest sound, as if the huge hinges were oiled daily.
Turning my back on the gate I took in the whole garden. The centrepiece fountain and the zig-zag paths which made their way to the old house in one direction, to the wide red-gravel driveway in another and to the landscaped gardens in another, the riotous, seasonal flowers vying for attention against the well-watered green backdrop. I breathed deeply, as if inhaling the beauty and perfection. Turning, I breathed deeply once more, because as soon as I turned and saw the gate, a dread surfaced in my stomach. The world outside the gate fell into shadow by comparison.
Wind-blown leaves, dead and dry as animal bones in the desert, stuck against the bottom of the hedge, unable to find a way through. Outside the gate a path led in 3 directions; left to the village, right to the little churchyard and straight, if one had the nerve and courage, straight to the forest. The last remnant of a much grander forest which was here at the time of the civil war, when even the cavaliers and roundheads shied away from it, unless need drove them inside. Woodmen stayed at the fringes, their axes reluctant. Firewood was taken from the ground, no-one ever thought or dared to cut fresh wood to make a fire, should they have to spend the night in the vicinity, whilst passing through, or rather round the forest.
Now looking through the iron gate a dread chilled my blood. My happiness at being surrounded by such beauty in the garden was extinguished, as the sun behind a raincloud, when I turned to look at the forest, the grinding of ancient branches in the breeze, the death-rattle of the leaves leftover from autumns past adding its voice to the melancholy chorus. My hand touched the cold iron and without looking back, I took the middle path.