Seven Basic Plots

Entry by: jaguar

27th January 2016
Working As One

Cara looked in horror at the bare earth in front of her. It was freshly turned, the worms still diving for the shelter of the deep. Brambles ran through it like fat in meat. She thought the notice had said the plots would be workable straight away. She'd thought she could just sprinkle a few seeds on it. She sighed.

'What's up, love,' Tony, the allotment man, came and stood a little too close. Cara was very conscious of his briny scent. She took smaller breaths to contain it.

She looked down at her immaculate pink Hunter boots. In this environment they made her feel inadequate, not kitted-out right, too inconsequential to take control. 'When you said seven basic plots I thought they'd be ready to plant. There seem to be an awful lot of weeds.' She gestured at the earth and looked up to see a smile lift his features. His amusement made her feel even smaller, like a victim.

'Well, this one is hard-going on the bramble front, I must admit. Maybe you'd prefer one of the others. You're the first so you can take your pick.' He indicated six more plots going down the hill to the stream. 'You might be better off closer to the water anyway.'

Cara wandered along the row. She felt like a miniature person inspecting giant graves. She swallowed, trying to keep the tears at bay. Why did she keep doing this to herself? Taking on things that were too big to cope with, driving her self-esteem further into the floor? What had Harry told her? Catch yourself doing things right. But then Harry had a lot of things to hide and, lately, Cara had nothing to catch.

A woman in jeans and a donkey jacket was working the plot at the far end. She stopped and watched Cara for a minute, her face inscrutable. Then she was at Cara's side, her square hand out-stretched. 'You're Harry's wife, aren't you? I meant to call round, say, well you know, say something meaningless I guess. I'm Rachel by the way.'

Cara took Rachel's hand. It was nice to touch someone. She wished people would come and say meaningless things. It didn't matter what got said, the wanting to speak, to acknowledge her was what mattered. The number of casual friends who now crossed the road or changed direction in the supermarket. Each avoidance hurt her a little less but she still felt it.

Rachel? Cara thought she remembered Harry talking about her, weren't they work friends? There was something about Rachel's past but Cara couldn’t remember what. Never mind, if she needed to know it was bound to come out in time.

But only the plants ever came out. A year later Cara had spent more time with Rachel than anyone else but she knew very little about her. Rachel lived in the last house along the road parallel to Cara’s. She was great at growing carrots and had all sorts of ideas for pest control. She tended towards the organic approach but she never spoke of friends or family. She came alone to any allotment social, just as Cara did.

Very occasionally they talked about Harry. How Cara hadn't had any idea but people assumed she’d buried her head in the sand or worse, had known all along. Rachel always seemed on the point of sharing something. As Cara helped Rachel dig over her plot she told her about that night in the hospital. Harry bleeding the other side of a flimsy curtain, the little boy’s family waiting in A & E. The police barging their way in and Cara stuck on the outside, for ever more.

The next weekend Cara started early. However immaculate she kept her own plot she still seemed to have to deal with other people's weeds. The guy next to her had a nasty outbreak of bindweed. It made a pretty display up his bean trellis but, under the ground, it was spreading. Last night Carla had a nightmare about it coming up through the earth and strangling everything she'd planted.

She turned over a forkful of earth and it was full of the hated spores. It wasn't a nightmare, it was real and far too much. She sank to her knees, her fists clenched, her eyes screwed tight on the tears building. When she opened them Rachel was holding out the local newspaper.

‘Look,’ Rachel said nodding at the front page. There was a drawing of Harry in the dock, pleading guilty. Harry’s co-defendant was pictured too. ‘That's my husband, Cara. Did you go along?’

Cara shook her head, staring at Rachel, fighting a growing sense that everything was mouldy underground, that disease had spread across her whole world. Was this woman, her only friend, part of that gang? Did Rachel do dreadful things in plain sight and rely on no one noticing, on wives and parents not realising until it was too late? Cara glared at Rachel before she realised this was the suspicious way people looked at her, this was why they turned away.

Rachel smiled tightly. ‘Can't say I blame you. I didn’t go either. My John’s made me into something I didn’t want to be. It wasn’t just those kids that got manipulated. We have a choice, Cara, we can be their victims too. Or we can be strong in the knowledge that we weren’t involved in what they did, we aren’t responsible for their actions. Our greatest crime was gullibility, letting ourselves be used.’

Cara bowed her head into a storm of feelings as Rachel upturned a wheelbarrow of manure at her feet. They stood together for a moment, watching it sink into the earth, thinking about how it could enrich it. Then, silent except for the odd gulp of breath or rasp of a sleeve against a wet face, the two women worked as one.