The move had been tougher than she would ever have anticipated or would ever admit. She put on the bright smile, the happy voice when she spoke to her mother on the phone. But there were times when the isolation threatened to overwhelm her. It was as if she were looking at the world from behind glass.
Her neighbors seemed impossible to get to know. She barely even saw them, barricaded as they all were behind their individual front doors. Maybe it was just the wrong time of year—late October—dark evenings, autumn electricity in the air.
But today. There was something different about today.
Today felt like hope.
“Here we are.”
She stopped and dragged Liam to a halt beside her.
“This isn’t the sweets shop.”
“It’s a different type of sweets shop. A very special one.”
This pacified him and he allowed himself to be led into the shady interior. The lady behind the counter gave Eva a nod of recognition and her heart rose even higher.
The shop was like something you might expect to find in the old town of Barcelona. The type of store you might stumble across by accident, having become lost down a series of narrow, winding streets. You might have missed it if you hadn’t had to leap out of the path of a manic young Catalan on his moped. And what you would have missed. It certainly wasn’t the type of place Eva would have expected to find on the outskirts of the city center. But each day she was discovering anew how much Dublin had changed since her childhood visits. How much of the heart had been ripped out of the city. Timeless Georgian buildings knocked down to make way for fast-food outlets and coffee-shop chains. Faceless plate glass where graceful archways and doorways had once looked out.
This, at least, was a positive change.
It was a treasure trove of goodies. They had gourmet sausages, artisanal biscuits, organic salmon, farmyard cheeses, handcrafted chocolates, homemade preserves, and luxury shortbread.
Her mother would love an Irish porter cake. Together with an Irish breakfast tea in a presentation caddy. She herself wouldn’t mind the strawberries in Belgian chocolate. She could feel herself starting to salivate.
And then there were the sweets. Jar upon jar and row upon row of nostalgia: gobstoppers, bon bons, apple sours, licorice laces, chocolate mice, iced caramels, bulls-eyes, aniseed balls, flying saucers, pear drops, striped humbugs, butter humbugs, clove rocks.
The only thing missing was candy cigarettes. Presumably now illegal.
Liam’s mouth was agape.
“Can I have whatever I want?”
“Tell me what you want first. You can have five things.”
“Only five! I want—”
“Do you want the sweets or not?”
“Yes, I do.”
Liam clung to the back of Eva’s leg and twisted himself from one foot to the other.
He pointed decisively at the chocolate mice.
“Just them. Nothing else?”
He nodded vigorously and held up his palm, fingers outstretched.
“Five mouses what?”
One other customer stood between them and the counter. An older woman, perhaps seventy. Eva couldn’t help noticing how well groomed she was. Such elegance. Such coordination. She looked down at her own navy fleece and jeans and felt ashamed. The woman was buying Earl Grey tea and fancy biscuits. How fitting. She examined the woman’s face in profile. Her skin was like rice paper but her jawline barely sagged. “Well preserved” was how Eva’s father would have described her. The woman completed her purchase and left the shop, whereupon the lady behind the counter turned her attention to Eva. The look she gave her was mischievous. Like a kid with a secret. She leaned forward ever so slightly.
“You’d never guess she’d murdered her own husband.”
“Pardon?” Perhaps she’d misheard.
The woman inclined her head toward the exit door.
“Mrs. Prendergast. You’d never guess.”
“You mean that old woman who was just in here now.”
“That’s the one.”
“You mean she was convicted and everything?”
“Well, no.” Here the story started to flounder. “They never found the body. If you don’t have a body, you can’t have a trial, apparently. But everyone around here knows that she did it.”
“How do they know?”
“Well. There’s that garden of hers for a start. Hasn’t been touched since the day he disappeared thirty years ago. That gate was padlocked and it hasn’t been opened since.”
Eva laughed. “I’d hardly call that proof.”
The other woman’s face closed down and Eva regretted her words. She’d been enjoying this impromptu conversation.
“What can I get you?” The woman was suddenly businesslike.
“I’ll have five chocolate mice, please. And two flying saucers for old time’s sake.”
THAT NIGHT, LIAM couldn’t sleep, so she let him into her bed. She knew she shouldn’t and that it was setting a bad precedent. But a large part of her didn’t care. The part that was empty and lonely and homeless. She needed the closeness as much as he did.
Although there was an entire double bed in which to expand, Liam’s sleeping body invariably gravitated toward hers. She was lying on her back, staring into the dark, when:
She’d thought he was asleep.
“If Daddy was still here, would I be allowed into your bed?”
“Of course you would. Don’t you remember coming into bed with me and Daddy? When you had a bad dream or when you were sick?”
“Well, you did. All the time.”
They were quiet for a while.
“Night night, Mummy.”
“Night night, Liam.”
A few breaths later he was asleep. His knees sticking into her lower back. As if he were trying to burrow back into her womb.
© 2010 Tara Heavey
In the heart of bustling modern Dublin is a littered, overgrown garden of tangled weeds and a stagnant, hidden pond. Belonging to an iron-willed elderly lady named Mrs. Prendergast, who is rumored to have murdered and buried her husband there, the garden draws Eva Madigan, a young mother struggling to move on from the pain of her past. Eva is joined by Emily, a beautiful but withdrawn college dropout; Uri, an old-world immigrant; Seth, his all-too-handsome son; and occasionally even Mrs. Prendergast herself. But what drives Eva to transform the neglected urban wilderness? What makes the others want to help her? Even as Mrs. Prendergast puts the land up for sale, the thorny lives of all the gardeners are revealed and slowly start to untangle. Overgrown secrets are dug up and shared. Choices are made; a little pruning is in order. Now Eva is about to discover that every garden is a story of growth toward a final harvest. . . .
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
In Irish author Tara Heavey’s first novel to be published in the United States, Eva, a widowed young mother, finds love, friendship, and a sense of family when she starts a community garden in the walled-up plot of a mysterious Dublin mansion. Reluctant at first to open her
home to strangers, lonely old Mrs. Prendergrast eventually warms up to the idea of allowing Eva and a crew of similarly world-weary volunteers to rake, hoe, and sow her decaying garden and help bring it back to life. There’s Uri, an older Jewish man with a complicated past, and his recently divorced son, Seth, as well as Emily, a quiet college-age girl with something to hide. As each gardener tends to his or her plot of land, secrets are slowly revealed and the past is finally brought to bear.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Eva serves as the central character around with whom the rest of the characters revolve. What is it about Eva that draws people to her? Why were so many other people willing to put their fait see more