We wandered around Tremough House, through a courtyard with a pond full of fish opening and closing their mouths stupidly at the surface of the water, over gravel and grass, up steps and down paths, until at last we came to the place.
The Secret Garden, I’ve heard it called, or the Orchard – hidden by trees and surrounded with old stone walls. Apples lined the pathway, some fresh-fallen, others brown and withered and rotten with a sickly-sweet smell. The group was quiet, the only sound was the crunch of footsteps on gravel and, beyond that, birdsong.
I tried to pick words from the Orchard: heady and cloying for the smell of the rotting apples; patina for the thick film of algae that covered the oval pond. I stood at the edge of the pond and held onto a branch that overhung the stagnant water where the fallen fruit didn’t float but rather sat still on the green surface. The branch was rough and covered in dry, dusty moss, the kind that flakes off from the tree and falls in your eyes when you’re trying to climb it. I imagined the flowers that leant out over the path and brushed against my legs as reaching, grabbing at passers-by. The Secret Garden: that name fit this place when I first came here, an exciting sense of trespass, of stealing its peacefulness. Now it was the Orchard – there was no element of intrusion or adventure, just placidity, and the smell of the apples.
I carried on groping for words, similes and metaphors I could use to describe what I could sense and experience in this place. Words that when read would translate into something else – a sensation, a feeling, a memory. But maybe too many words fog these things. Too many words build a wall between what is described and who it is described to.
As we left we all noticed the single pear tree overhanging the doorway set into the stone wall. One by one we jumped up to pick a pear from the higher branches. The first one I picked had a little dark hole where it had been eaten away by some bug or another. I discarded it. I jumped and reached higher and almost brought the whole branch down. The pear was small with rough skin like old, scuffed suede. It crunched when I bit into it and the flesh was gritty. But there were no dark holes, no rotten spots, and the taste was delicately sweet. I ate it down to the core.