The Old Garden is fixed in my mind forever. There is no getting away from the system. Out there its inside too - internalised. The work house is industrial red brick; portioned out in millions with millions separated by cement but morticed tight together as if a full soul lock in of lost, forgotten names. Though we spent our lives together behind the walls we never learned each other's names. In fact the number ruled. I was 21 as I've said before. 21 cotton stuck to blue striped pyjamas. 21 stitched in underpants. 21. 21 looked the same as 3 and 7 and 11. Lucky Numbers all. 3 and 7 were prime. They made the rules and the big rule was to forget your name, forget your life outside. Whoever you left out there are now gone, and should they not be then, know they cannot help you here. 11 was not prime though mathematicians might claim otherwise. 11 was blessed by being favoured by 3 and 7. 21 was not prime. I was 21 and mathematicians would agree on that 1. 3 and 7 were the largest. Older. Stronger. 5 digits on each closed hand calling you to listen to the rules. 6. 6 is hospital time for waking. You must be awake at 6. You must not leave your bed until the head count. The count depended only on a count of the living. That's why you had to sit with nothing else left to do till breakfast so you could be included and there were many counters waiting to ensure you were included. This was the no name register. Other registers were taken at 9. The sum total of the conglomerate needed to know you were there and that you were there all the time which is what made escape futile. You were never given time to separate. Calling out in response to your number and being of a number that's all there was in the red brick institution that held an Old Garden.
The Old Garden was more random. It's where change happened. Not your change but change none the less. Change that you see, experience, taste. They tried to make it so it was always the same but things grow in gardens. They tried to make it the same each time you were there. They made a path that led to a shed next to the green house. You had to take this route. You were given no choice. Later inside the shed, hosted by pegs, hung spades and spades like you yourself were numbered. There would be no difference between them save for the number. I wondered why they were numbered. Someone talked of inventories. 128 of us and 16 spades. Far too many. But the benefactors loved to bring them in even though there were never more than 12 of us in the Old Garden at any given time. I cherished the secrets of the spade. The spade is so high. 21 is so high. 21 can judge his difference by the spade. Dig it into the earth, turn the sod over. How many worms, lice and other insects. Preparing soil was likewise thrilling. How many roots can you pull out each turn. How far do you need to dig to get to the end of the root. What kind of root is it. Why are some deeper than others. Others find this monotonous. They say that thrusting the spade, turning the soil, breaking it down from clay to dirt and growing calluses is the same over and over again but not for 21. It was in the Old garden that 21 learned counting games. How many potatoes under this stalk, how many peas in a pod. 21 still counts. Steps that take him across a road, steps that lead to the tube station, steps between traffic going past. 21 can't stop counting and its down to the Old Garden.
Not that 21 is ignorant of the hateful spirits that also grew there. "Break time is time I call time" Jones the Gardener said to 21 one day 21 sat down. Jones threw stones. His target were the workshy amongst the numbers. Don't be surprised therefore that 21 remembers Jones and also don't wonder why Jones alone in this piece got a name. Jones was not with us. Jones was in the conglomerate that needed to know we were there continually. Sometimes, even 21 had to sit, and even 21 felt the brick. For 21 the hit always meant time to stand again. It was this standing that Jones treasured. You cannot see those lying in the furrows or crouching behind the sweet peas. Stand and keep them standing and you count the numbers that should be present always. 3 and 7 were sometimes heard behind hands cursing and plotting the downfall of Jones. They could see a time when Jones would no longer be standing and 3 and 7 grew to hate standing too. But it was 21's position. Standing. feet on the earth. Balanced. Balanced and blanked out. Blank to the sweat, blank to the heat, blank to the frost and falling leaf. Although the Old Garden was clearly about change and although 21 could see change 21 had no wish to change. Blank with feet firmly planted was all that 21 ever aspired to.
21's option was to be like the blade of the spade. Cutting, wounding. The way of the spade was more 3 than 7 though 7 tried to keep up. 3 was the blade. 7 more the handle. 11 sought to be the shaft. 21 though no one ever knew was the foot on the blade. 3 could not reach him, Neither 7. Nor 11. Like Jones they all hoped to throw stones. They learned from Jones and Jones appreciated it. The more 3 and 7 cut and thrust at their fellows the less Jones would have to watch for everyone to be standing, the less he would have to do his counting. Some times 3 and 7 could be like 21. You might not know they were there at these times. It was when you knew they were there that they were a problem for anyone who stood in their way. Everyone except for Jones their hated gardener. Everyone except for Jones and 21. The secret of the spade? You can stand with the spade. You can lean and rest but still be standing with the spade. Standing was the perverse nature of 21. 21 doesn't mind you seeing 21 standing. Standing says 21 is here. Here, obtuse, stupid, willing to be standing. Jones and 3 and 7 would never ever see 21 not standing in his earthy ignorant way. Standing, looking out, the higher you stand the further the horizon, the further the horizon, the further away the Old Garden, the further away the Old Garden the further lost in imagination, the further lost in imagination the further absent, the further absent the further missing, the further missing the further lost to number, the further lost to number the further not constrained by duty, the easier to rest. So 21 remained standing, working and resting. 21 standing. Standing and alone.
Posted by Rich Downes, 1 May 2016
Last modified by Rich Downes, 1 May 2016