Writer Sanneke van Hassel (1971) wrote a short story especially for The New Garden.
A coot paddles in the pond. The only coot that ventures to do so. He keeps dipping his head into the water, his white beak disappearing in the darkness. An untidy heap of twigs floats by the edge of the pool – the start of a nest?
A girl of two practices her steps. Holding her mother’s hand, she crosses the platform placed over the pond. One, two, three, she climbs the stairs. At the top she stops and her hand points: ‘Tree, tree’. Her mother nods: ‘That’s a nice tree’. The outstretched hand points upwards again, towards the branches sprouting green sprigs: ‘leaves’.
Primroses are almost finished flowering already, their yellow flowers shrinking.
Tick-tick-tick, tick-tick-tick. Two dogs jump at the sprinkler. Lean-looking animals, sharp teeth. The noise drives them wild, as does the jet of water that shifts direction bit by bit. They follow the drumming water, their movements elated, through the mud, between the plants. Their owner whistles and they run. He wants to put them on a leash. But first, sniff that young elder bush one more time together, take a leak against the trunk. Their owner pulls them along, across the busy road, to the dog park.
Blades of grass like baby hairs in the sandy soil.
Fallopia japonica, Japanese knotweed, a woman with short grey hair stands next to the concrete pipe, staring at the green-red shoots sprouting there. Beneath the surface, rhizomes tunnel metres-long paths for themselves, roots you can never remove, just as intrusive as people. The woman walks on, stops at an elder bush with dark leaves, thinks of the colour of wine. A birch looks like it was staked into the ground. Branch sprouts roots. She jots something down.
New girlfriends: ground ivy, stork’s bill, sweet woodruff.
A boy holds a beaker of mushrooms in his hand. Psilocybe galindoi: ten grams are enough for a trip. He got a folder with them. All he needs now is somewhere to eat them. It’s his first time. His friend says to eat them in nature, so you see a flaming world. He looks around, at a man dragging along two dogs, a woman frowning at a flower box… Chew well, wait ten minutes, and let it happen: leaves turn into laughing faces, or shimmering skies.
A gull gets swept along on an air current.
‘Nous devrions faire autre chose,’ the small man whispers into his telephone, inaudible sentences, softer and softer. He paces back and forth along the edge of the garden, past the parked cars, murmuring in soft French for at least an hour, without looking up. Then he raises his eyes, to the camera on the pole. He takes a step to the side and stands in the garden.
A satin flower trembles in the wind. From which garden on the other side has it escaped? Later, the purple flowers change into green husks holding a seed.
‘Here it is,’ says a young woman, She’s holding a plastic bowl of salad in her hand and nods to two men in suits. They sit down at the table beside one another, their faces towards the sun, and unpack their lunch. One of the men points to a hideout built of willow twigs. ‘I used to build huts,’ he says. Outside, on the patch of land near our house there were willows, reeds, dandelions. His colleague looks at him. ‘Everything all right, Arnold?’ No answer. The man stands up and walks over to the hut. ‘See if I still fit.’
A crow lands on the tip of the ash tree, turns his head, descends again, hops over the grass onto Jongkindstraat. A car approaches and he takes flight screeching.
He’s doing a treasure hunt through the city. The device in his hand instructs him to find three identical objects and then look for the treasure hidden close by. Maybe over there by the three trees? Or closer, beneath the lampposts? Three concrete pipes. No, there are more. How many tree-trunk benches are there actually? Three boys are slouched at the concrete table. On the ground are three Redbull cans. Further away, pigeons rummage around in the sand, pecking among the blades of grass. Five of them. The man wipes the perspiration from his forehead and counts three pink flowers on a plant. Tomorrow there’ll be more, or fewer. He crosses the jetty. Just one coot. Or is it a moorhen? The treasure hunt people gather close to the museum where the prize will be awarded. He’s not a winner, but maybe today’s his day. It’s just a matter of paying attention.
A slug crossing.
She’s looking for a place to sleep. Not right now, but for later, when it’s dark and everybody’s gone. A sewer pipe lies on its side, blocks of asphalt inside. If she puts something over them she’ll just squeeze in, with her knees pulled up. Concrete is cold, but dry. Push the debris to one side. When it gets dark she can creep in quietly, making sure that the boys playing cards beneath the lampposts don’t notice.
A boy wearing a hooded sweater sits under the arcade, his legs dangling over the concrete edge. He sits with his back to the garden, facing the cars zooming past his feet all the time. He shuts his eyes and then hears them: birds chirping, chiffchaffing, warbling, twittering. He turns his head to the building site with small shrubs, grass and a path of crushed debris.
An apple tree stands in full bloom.
© Sanneke van Hassel, at the opening of The New Garden by Frank Bruggeman and Hans Engelbrecht, 10 May2015