by Joshua Mostafa
The soil had to be perfectly moist – if it were too dry, the first tendril of root would curl back on itself and the seed would wither, but if sodden, the seed would have no purchase, and might be washed away; and on that Saturday, when Mr Morden stepped out of his back door and inhaled the morning air – fresh with the scents of pine, cut grass and dew – he knew at once it was the right day to plant the seed, and went back inside to retrieve it from the envelope in which it had lain for almost a fortnight, leaving a rectangular clean patch on the window-sill when he picked it up, tore the paper open with a blunt freckled forefinger, tipping it carefully so that the seed, large and nut-like, rolled out onto his palm, while with the other hand he picked up his cup of black tea, not so much for drinking as for habit, to warm his hands, and the sight of its steam rising in the chill of dawn, pleasantly reminiscent of smoke from a burning oil tanker, trailing over his shoulder as he walked one careful step after another on rheumatic legs with joints that creaked (a long time had passed since they had sprinted, one-two like pistons, while radio static crackled close behind), down the stone slabs of the path to the foot of the garden; this was the place, the equilibrial sweet spot where sunlight was tempered by the dappled shadow of a yew’s branches, enough shade to protect the sapling’s first pale shoots in their fragility; where the garden’s peaty soil began to give way to firmer ground, clayish, thickened by the pressure of rain-scored paths running to the creek below, something for the roots to get their teeth into, and that pleased him, because this was what he did, plant trees, though there was no point, really: trees grew of their own accord, as they had done before the first bald, bickering apes descended from their branches, and they would do so long after the extinction of this interloping species, a thought that gave him some satisfaction in those moments when he accidentally read the headlines, or someone tried to speak to him, as the man next door almost did at that moment, catching a glimpse of Mr Morden’s hat dipping as he pushed and twisted at the ground, desiccating it and slicing through fat earthworms with the point of his shovel, which brought a comment to the lips of the neighbour, something about his own rose-beds and the intransigence of the earth giving him blisters, stillborn words turned to a cough, because he remembered in time that Mr Morden was not one for a chat, surly old bastard, and he was correct both not to speak and not to take it personally, for Mr Morden’s solitude was profound, extending beyond misanthropy into something deeper and more expansive; old friends, fellow activists of the 1970s, hearing he had bought this house, tucked away in a village where the only open shop-counter was the post office’s every other day, supposed that he had mellowed with the greying of his hair, and that like theirs, his outrage at the world (that had once propelled him to confrontations with mining companies, industrial loggers, bureaucrats, police, every functionary and appeaser of cruel and rapacious human society that crossed his path) had waned, that time had brought accommodation and a measure of peace, but if any of them persisted past the unreturned emails and disconnected phone, and visited in person, at most they would have mourned the loss of a friendship, or assumed from his hostility that something had become unhinged – if only – they would not have grasped it, the disgust, not the cloudy melancholy that touches everyone from time to time, but a rage in the marrow of his bones, inflecting every breath and gesture, the flip of his shovel that sent a stone bouncing across the grass, the hiss he made when he saw a squirrel watching him, which sent it scampering into higher branches, because not just human but all animal life was parasitic, a stain, a mutant aberration, while honesty and virtue resided only in the green flesh and sightless being-there of shrub and tree, the grace of photosynthesis; on the rare times he voted, it was always for the most disingenuous wishful thinkers on the ballot paper, climate deniers and corporate puppets, precisely for the danger they represented, to hasten the end, for the poison was its own remedy, and until the last cursed and poisonous creature – two-legged, winged, or scuttling millipede – choked on effluent or drowned in a sea returned to pre-Cambrian savagery, and until nature, having reversed its mistake, could create from this tabula rasa a new green world of unseen beauty, everything was a pastime, a way of counting down the minutes: the seed Mr Morden pressed into the ground with loving care was a dot in the long ellipsis of the decline of man; he patted down the earth with the flat of his shovel, closed his eyes, the sun on the nape of his neck, and exhaled slowly, a wordless prayer that asked not for forgiveness but for oblivion, and in the ground, the seed felt the weighty embrace of soft earth, and gradually, in its unhurried way, a week like a blink, began to reach out with the first threads of its roots.
– Josh studied in London and Sydney. Bookworm and sub bass addict, he co-founded Inna Riddim Records, and is currently working on a novel and on a poetry magazine due to launch in late 2013, the New Trad Journal. He can be found online at joshuamostafa.info or @JoshuaMostafa.