By Jane Hyphen
‘I didn’t sleep Jackie.’
‘Maybe you should stay at home this morning. I can get everything we need from Sainsbury's and the garden is looking absolutely perfect, honestly, you needn’t do a single thing out there. You’ve worked so hard, there’s nothing you can do now to make it any better.’
‘Mmmm, the wind is bound to blow crap onto the lawn, and those bloody bamboo sheaths, making a sodding mess on the rockery as usual.’
Jackie put her hands on her husband’s shoulders. ‘Oh Jim, all this is making you ill. Just watch telly for a couple of hours. There’s a cake in the oven, get it out when it beeps won’t you.’
Jim nodded. His breathing was shallow and his chest felt tight. It was impossible for him to relax, as much as he tried, he just couldn’t escape the constant irritation. Their huge patio doors allowed him to look out over the wonderful garden he had created but above the fenceline the wall of bamboo dominated the scene, at least for Jim. It was hostile, like the great wall of China, Hadrien’s wall or the wall that Trump never got around to completing.
He walked away from the window and headed to the front room to watch Saturday Kitchen. It was a gusty summer’s day, bright but terribly blowy. Even from the front of the house, he swore blind he could still hear the chiming, it seemed to ring inside his ears constantly. It had got to a point where he couldn’t differentiate whether it was inside his head or outside in the real world. And it didn’t help that Jackie was hard of hearing and would often deny being able to hear anything at all. ‘Oh go to sleep Jim,’ she’d say. ‘I can’t hear a thing.’
Jackie returned from the supermarket with bags and bags of groceries; plastic cups, cakes, biscuits, macarons, scones, all kinds of soft drinks, sweets for the children. ‘Give me a hand Jim.’
‘You’ve gone mad, we won’t need all this lot, it’s ridiculous!’
‘Oh calm down will you. It’s for charity, remember.’
Jackie loved to be the hostess with the mostess. A trestle table was set out on the lawn and she dressed it with beautiful tablecloths and plates with doilies. By two pm, everything was perfect and she was feeling relaxed and ready for the first visitors. Jim on the other hand was pacing around fussing, deadheading petunias in pots and picking up bamboo sheaths from every corner of the garden until his armpits were soaked in sweat.
‘Oh, you’ve ruined your shirt Jim. Go and change it and I’ll open the side gate and put up the welcome sign.’
Upstairs Jim had a peak out of the window. He could see his nextdoor neighbour Colin grinning and glugging red wine in his mandarin collared shirt and his little wife, her face all made up, gently raking the gravel. The sight of them made him feel incensed with rage, especially since he could see three or four guests already entering their garden, smiling. The windchimes were ringing full volume now.
‘Have you taken your blood pressure tablets today Jim?’
‘Yes of course, I’d probably be dead without them with those bloody wind chimes ringing twenty four seven.’
At half past two a gong sounded from next door and a distant chattering could be heard. Gasps of delight and jovial conversations. However Jim and Jackie’s garden remained empty of visitors. An hour went by and Jackie got up and went out to the front to adjust the bunting. She had just returned to make a fresh pot of tea when an elderley couple entered the garden and immediately began scouring the table of refreshments.
Jim got out of his deckchair to greet them. ‘Hello and welcome to our garden,’ he said.
At first they ignored him, then the wife gave her husband a hard nudge. ‘Oh good afternoon, windy isn’t it.’
‘Yes, yes. Have you been round many gardens yet?’
‘No you’re the first but we’re rather hungry and next door was full of people.’
‘Anyway,’ said the woman. ‘We prefer a traditional English garden, don’t we Burt.’
‘Oh,’ said Jim with a passive aggressive laugh. ‘I think you’ll find some hidden gems in this traditional garden. The Hepaticas for example, upon the rockery there, you’re not likely to see those anywhere else within a fifty mile radius, and then there’s the blue Meconopsis, it’s just finished flowering unfortunately. I’ve tried and tried to persuade the committee to bring the Open Gardens forward a month so that people can see my garden at full flower but the chairman only cares about Clematis.’
The couple had turned their back on Jim and now he became distracted by some children playing on the rockery and their mother standing nearby filming them with her phone while her stiletto heels sunk into the lawn. ‘Hey, you shouldn’t be on there, please get down, the flowers are very delicate…’ His voice faded into the wind and the accompanying windchimes next door.
‘Oh they’re only playing Jim,’ said Jackie and she rushed inside to fetch sweets for them.
The childrens’ mother grinned and sidled up to him. ‘Sorry, ‘ she said grinning. ‘That kind of thing is irresistible to kids.’
‘I wasn’t expecting my lawn to be aerated today,’ Jim said, sarcastically.
‘What?’ She responded, confused. Jim pointed at her shoes and folded his arms. ‘Oh sorry, we only came to see the Japanese garden next door and they don’t have grass, only gravel. Look, here’s my husband. Gary?’
The man glanced across the garden and then asked his children, in a meak pathetic voice, to get down but they ignored him. ‘Looks like they’re having too much fun,’ he said. ‘Well this is a contrast to next door.’
‘It was ever so interesting,’ his wife butted in. ‘That man next door…’
‘Oh yes, Mr Grant,’ said Jim despondent.
‘Yes, he has been all over the world but he’s spent a lot of time in Japan and he knows all about it, they even had a deer scarer, didn’t they Gary, in the pond.’
‘Pardon?’ said Jim.
‘Shish…….Odoshi, that’s what it’s called, his garden’s amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it, the bamboo is massive.’
‘Yes,’ said Jim, perplexed. ‘You can see it quite clearly over the fence there.’
‘And the Acers, well, they are such wonderful shapes. I don’t know how he prunes them to get them like that.’
‘Actually, they grow into those shapes quite naturally, they’re easy to grow. I can show you some of my very rare plants on my rockery if you like.’
‘No mate, thanks but my parents have got a rockery, I’m not really into tiny plants, it’s like bloody Lilliput. I tell you what though, those cakes look delicious. We only got green tea next door, it was bitter, awful!’ He turned around towards the table. A number of visitors had gathered around Jackie and were chatting, drinking and eating.
Jim pottered around his garden, tittivating and trying to drown out the sound of windchimes. The visitors petered out, afternoon turned to early evening, the sky clouded over. Jackie cleared the table and took down the bunting. They ate the leftovers and counted the money in the collection tin, twenty three pounds towards the Air Ambulance.
Even though the wind had dropped slightly, Jim could still hear those damn chimes. He sat on the toilet and held his hands over his ears as hard as he could but he still heard them.
They went to bed early, too full of sweet treats to bother with dinner. Jackie put a mask over her eyes and drifted off to sleep within minutes but Jim found his entire head ringing with what felt to him like an audio weapon. He got up and went to the window, in the twilight he could make out the features of next door’s garden, bright white gravel, the Acers in red pots, the pond, the pergola from which the various steel and bamboo wind chimes were attached.
He had gone beyond anger, to the white hot ashes of remorselessness. There was no point in discussing it with Jackie, she couldn’t even hear the things. In the utility, Jim had his own drawer where he kept superglue, a couple of spanners, a torch and a Stanley knife. He removed it, put it in his dressing gown pocket and crept outside into the garden. For a few seconds he paused and listened but he could hear water coming down next door’s waste pipe from the shower. Colin was busy with ablutions.
Carefully he picked up a chair from the patio and carried it to the fence. He parted the bamboo and jumped into a space between the lush green canes. There was no need for a torch, just follow the chimes, he thought and he flicked the blade up from its plastic sheath. His hand shook with anticipation.
As he got close, he salivated. They were just within his reach, standing on tiptoes he took an extended swipe at the loudest one, the steel set of chimes and they fell to the gravel underneath. He smiled and moved onto the huge bamboo set and then to the stupid little small ones all hung in a line. One by one they fell into little heaps atop the gravel. So easily they lost all their power. In minutes there was silence, only the sound of the wind and the occasional crack of the deer scarer, or Shish-Odoshi as he now knew it was called.
He felt his blood pressure lowering more effectively than any calcium channel blocking medication. In fact he felt an instant sense of serenity, the kind you might find in a Japanese garden, carefully designed for it’s meditative properties.
Jackie was sound asleep as he snuck in beside her. For a second he thought he could still hear the wind chimes but it was just the echo inside his head; the months and years of painful resonance. It wasn't as if he hadn’t tried to broach his neighbour about the subject, to reason with him, it was to no avail. The guy simply couldn’t understand the problem. Actions speak louder than words, thought Jim, but wind chimes shout louder still. Not tonight though.