MR WIGG HAD SQUANDERED HIS LIFE. That’s what his son thought, anyway. Probably others thought it, too, and maybe they were right. He was neither wealthy nor famous, and the great swathe of property his family once owned had been split up between brothers and sons and sold off. He was alone now, which people thought was sad, but he was too old to remarry and lacked the heart.
He leaned on the front veranda railing while the sun came up over the hill, washing everything pink: a moment of tenderness before the heat kicked in. Birds filled the stillness with their morning song. The way Mr Wigg saw it, he’d had a pretty good life: built a home, raised a family. Young folk, who haven’t had to live through a war, are slow to learn there’s more to it all than tearing round and round the paddocks trying to make money.
He slid on his hat, drooping so much around the edges now it limited his field of vision, and walked down the steps into the garden. There was a little moisture on the grass, not much. He wandered through each of the three double rose circles that formed the centrepiece for the front garden, breathing in their perfume. The roses weren’t what they used to be either. They all still bloomed but the colours were more subdued, their size diminished. He managed: pruning, fertilising, watering, and so on – after all, they were not unlike fruit trees with their hips and flowers – but they had been his wife’s domain.
It would have been the same if she had been the one left behind; the peaches would have sulked, refused to give up their best. Some of the other trees’ little quirks would escape her and they’d start acting up. Answers to problems that arose – scale or collar rot or fruit failing to set – would not be immediately apparent but require the consulting of books and other growers.
They had had their separate worlds, hers the roses and flowerbeds, the sunken garden and hedges. She had insisted on pruning those bloody hedges, by hand, herself until she was no longer able to grip the clippers. The lawns and the orchard were his. She had learned years ago not to interfere or comment, but accept the offered fruits with praise, just as he had stood back and admired her rare blooms.
Some days they would go off to work after breakfast and not see each other until lunch, although only a cooee apart. They had not entered the other’s space unless invited, especially when major work was in progress. As they aged, this occasionally had unfortunate consequences. His wife had lain in the sunken garden, her leg pinned under a log she had been trying to move from the retaining wall, for several hours, quite calm. “I knew you would eventually come,” she had said.
Mr Wigg had fallen from his ladder and called out for help – with no response. He had to drag himself eight hundred metres around to the rose garden, with what turned out to be a fractured tibia, to find her singing along to the radio.
The orchard was back lit by the low-angled sun, its trees golden edged. The grass underneath was a little long and not yet browned off. It was coming up to the time of year when the trees offered up the reward for a year’s hard labour. The peaches and apricots were bending with fruit, only a few weeks off ripe. Mr Wigg had already begun plucking off a few mulberries as he went past.
The first mouthful of each fruit held the taste of the soil, the rain, the air and all of the glorious variables of four seasons. That moment, when he held the weight of the fruit in his hand and raised it to his mouth, somehow contained all the expectations of the world.