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  • Caro Fentiman

Soil and surf

Our allotment is bathed in sunshine, and the girls spend the afternoon playing explorers and locking each other in the shed. The sky is a violent blue, like something is about to happen. I dig over a grotty bit of soil where the trampoline used to live and start to roll out pieces of turf to extend the lawn. The sun burns into my neck and mud clags my nails. There’s a small satisfaction in the digging and the pulling of weeds, the knowledge that I am moulding this land. I tread hard onto the turf with my old trainers, trying to flatten out the bumps, lifting it up at the edges and pushing bits of soil into the dips. It’s not a thing of beauty, my lawn, but it’s good for handstands and dens.

When we were first offered this allotment it was all fruit trees, vegetable gardens and beautifully weeded flower beds. Almost immediately I dug over a large area of soil and spent a very wet Saturday morning laying turf down. Saturday mornings used to involve very early mornings and vinyl. He would stand in his dressing gown taking records in and out of sleeves and stacking them up on the floor. There was a baby gym, but I can’t remember which baby, and an Ikea high chair that would catch my toe when I walked past. Much later I would find the tops of beer bottles under the decks and it would hurt my stomach. The music was good though.


Now and then I feel a huge sense of overwhelm by the massive allotment and a pang of guilt that it’s a bit messy, and this will often coincide with a turfing frenzy. I can leave the grass to the moths and the bees, watch thistles spear the apple blossom and keep one bed for vegetables and another for flowers. When the weather’s good and the mermaid is well enough I spend a lot of time up there, pulling weeds and pottering about. I make mugs of tea in my kitchen and take them across the road so I can sip them in the sun. I’ll perch on one of the old stakes that mark the edge of the veg bed and listen to the tap tap tap of my neighbour’s walking stick on the lane. He always remarks on how good the weather is, that’s what people do up here.

As the full moon approaches, I receive pictures of the burning red orb suspended over my sister’s house. There are palm trees and dusty footpaths, Willie Wagtails nesting under the tiles on the neighbour’s roof. She texts me ‘night night’ and I am impatient to catch the moon when it rises here because there is a chance she can still see it and that means we are closer somehow.


One balmy evening I head to Dunstan Steads for a brief reunion with a friend and a scream in the surf. I have not seen this friend for a couple of years. When we talk we complete each other’s thoughts and the words pour fast and furious. I spot her tucked in the marram grass on a sand dune, peeled into a wetsuit and watching the waves smashing onto the beach, churning gold as grains of sand are whipped into a frenzy. We run towards each other across the sand and cling on. She is wild too, this friend, her ferocity often carefully concealed under a sweet nature and a sprinkling of self-doubt. I love her smiling eyes and her open mind, and today she is unphased by the branches of seaweed being tossed onto the shore, and the diagonal waves roaring at us.


The cloud is stubborn and I imagine the moon will show itself only in the tides. Stripped down to my costume, I throw myself into the breakers, occasionally scratching my skin on the sand or tasting salt on my tongue. The mermaid and my friend dance in the froth, while her husband laughs and videos the sea witches. For a time I am right in the middle of the moment, far away from the crises currently punctuating my existence. My body is pawed and clawed and ravished and licked and this is what I needed. This is why I was so confused by the woman sobbing on the sofa, knackered and fractured, when look at her now, she is everything.





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