“This house is too big for you.” Fiona, my daughter-in-law, is not burdened by history. She does a quick reconnaissance of the living room, impatiently shifting memorabilia out of reach of my grandchildren.
“Let’s go outside,” I suggest, reaching for my walking stick.
“We’ll get covered in bidy-bids.” Fiona’s pleading eyes and set mouth add, I can’t do everything.
“Come on Fi,” her husband cajoles. Simon is my youngest, and least assertive child. “Let’s go for a walk on the beach.”
“You know your mother can’t walk in soft sand until she gets her hip replacement.”
“I’ll help you, Granny.” Bella, will grow into a lovely young lady. I hope I’m still here to protect her from the negligence of teenage boys.
Her older brother is already showing signs of adolescent self-importance. I say to him, “Go get the cricket bat and ball, Caleb. Then, I can sit on my chair and watch you play. You’re such a good bowler.”
It’s a short walk to the beach, through the garden that Roger and I coaxed out of the salt scrub. I won’t name the beach because I still want to pretend it’s a secret spot. It’s the end of the road for tourists who think they want an adventure, or whose GPS has failed them. When Roger brought me here, it was the ends of the earth.
Gradually, the salt had etched into my skin. I had fallen into the rhythm of the tides, as the feel and taste of sand came to define my days. There is a piece of paper that says I own this land, but I am a part of it; just like the dust of long-dead animals that first crawled ashore here, or the dark blood of ancient warriors spilled into the footsteps of pale-skinned opportunists.
Ahead of us on the track, Caleb makes grand swinging actions with the cricket bat while Simon weighs the ball, tossing it from hand to hand, scrutinising the surface, and polishing it in his groin. Fiona chases them, waving a tube of sunscreen.
I let Bella believe her small hand on my walking stick is helping, and point with my spare hand in the direction of a profusion of greenery growing over a corner of the garden. “That’s Marigold’s Ivy.”
“It’s a weed.” Fiona says over her shoulder. “Needs clearing up.”
I want to shake my stick at her. If she considered that old people and infants deserve the decency of good manners, she wouldn’t butt in like that.
“It’s Marigold’s Ivy,” I correct her. “She gave me that cutting to grow over the old pit after Roger got the new plumbing installed.”
Bella never believes me when I tell her about the long-drop toilet, and no hot water or electricity in the house. Her young mind has no concept of how things work. The results of bodily functions need to be washed away. Rubbish goes in the bin. After that, it disappears. A time when radio was the only daily connection to the outside world is just one of Gran’s stories.
“Why would you give somebody a weed?” Fiona has turned her attention to smearing sunscreen onto Bella’s arms. She doesn’t offer any to me. I wouldn’t use the stuff, but it would be nice to think she cared about my health.
“Back then, we were grateful for anything that would grow on this sandy soil.”
“Who’s Marigold?” Bella asks through a face traumatised by her mother’s vigorous application of sticky white cream.
“Marigold was my bridesmaid.”
“Where is she now?”
“The cancer got her. She passed.” I feel the weight of mortality settle into the fine morning.
Fiona shoos the spectre way. “She’s with Grandpa in heaven now.”
The shadow passes over Bella, and her eyes shine again, so I forgive Fiona’s mothering style. I was probably a bit like that myself. It’s so hard to nurture a child’s vital energy when it’s fed by sacrificing your own limited supply. That’s why Marigold’s Ivy is so precious to me. When I tend the trailing vine, I’m back in the the good times with Marigold, before adult experience dulled our childhood wonder.
At the end of the track through the garden, there is a work of art on the sand. It’s made from drift wood collected by Simon and Caleb, then stacked and woven into a regal chair in the shade of a gnarled Pohutukawa. Bella leaves me in the care of Simon while she clears fallen twigs and leaves off my seat. Fiona pulls a cushion out of her voluminous bag, and they settle me onto my throne.
The beach cricket match begins with some argument, settles into determination, and then breaks into laughter. A gentle breeze cools my arthritic joints, and stirs my skirt to caress the leathery skin of my legs. I feel like queen of my domain.
A few metres away, in a small, unpaved carpark, there is large tour coach. A young lady with glossy black hair and golden skin of Asian heritage is talking to each passenger as they disembark. A cumbersome Caucasian man leaves the group milling around the coach, and steps with surprising agility over a rope barrier around the car park.
The Asian lady’s voice rings out with a strong American accent, “Please don’t leave the marked paths. The ropes are there to protect the sand dunes.”
“Dere are no zigns,” the man replies with German inflection, flinging each leg back over the rope with the grace of a dancing elephant.
The group’s attention is caught by a Canada Goose with three fluffy goslings waddling across the dunes. They take photographs, not realising they’re recording reinforcements of a pest introduced to the land by homesick northern invaders.
The German leads the way, down the track to the beach. Some of the tourists linger beside the coach, bound by the gravity of security until the beauty of the beach seduces them. Then, they step out onto the sand like astronauts taking the first steps on the moon.
I suppose it would be nice to feel the childish excitement and curiosity of new places, but it makes no sense to me; these visitors who skim over the country on a veneer of information. They will probably go back to town and order Pizza, washed down by Dutch beer.
A young boy breaks away from the group and runs up the beach to watch my family cricket match.
“Want to play?” Simon asks him, and Caleb shows the scowl of a challenged hero.
The boy takes the cricket bat and holds it over his shoulder like a baseball bat. I’m proud of the way Simon shows Caleb how to be gracious, by explaining the rules of cricket to the boy.
After a few unsuccessful attempts at hitting one of Caleb’s balls, the boy loses interest and starts taking photographs with one of those small computer things that everyone still insists on calling a phone.
I know Caleb wants one of those. They are deceptively innocent little boxes that are probably frying our brains so that rich people can take over the world. I can’t stop that happening. All I can do is make my own world so rich that nobody can take it away from me.
Caleb and Simon abandon the cricket match to admire the stranger’s cell phone. Despite dire warnings of the evils of modern communication devices, it’s a common interest that has brought a foreign boy into our world for a few moments, just like the cricket match. I feel I have raised a family of good people. It’s the best legacy I can leave to our troubled planet.
I wonder what will happen to Marigold’s Ivy when I’m gone. It will grow wild if nobody keeps it under control. Bella might retell my stories, and keep Marigold’s memory alive. Sea level might rise, and then all my hard work and memories will be gone. If the planet tilts on its axis, my garden might turn to desert or be buried under ice.
I say to Bella, “Grandad planted that Ngaio tree over there. He planted a whole row of them but that’s the only one left.”