Imagine you’re in a place you used to be, but haven’t visited for a long time. Preferably a place you used to belong to when you were a kid. You are you, not as you were then but as you are now. You have the things with you that you usually take with you on short trips to town. You have your wallet, your phone, your sunglasses, purse, whatever you usually need. You are comfortable, and carefree.
You were wandering somewhere, where you go to from time to time, but you got lost and suddenly you’re there. You’re walking a street you used to walk as a kid. It’s just as you remember it, but the details are clearer; the holes in the asphalt, the little bent in the road, the unpainted concrete wall. The streets aren’t quite as wide as you remember them, the trees aren’t quite as tall and the houses aren’t quite as well painted.
You find yourself roaming a street you didn’t walk all too often as a kid. It’s still familiar, you recognise the details when you see them, but you wouldn’t have been able to conjure up these details if you were sitting at home trying to recall the past.
You walk down a path, it might be a downward slope, a small wooden fence to your left and large rocks barricading a lawn, on the other side there might be a large fence, painted in dark brown. You walk down two concrete steps and there is an opening to your right.
You remember the place. It used to belong to the crazy lady. She might have had a cat or three, maybe she even had a husband that was never around. Her hair was ragged, dark, maybe beginning to grey and she wore a scarf or a special shirt and she always looked angry.
Remember her? She used to shout at you kids. Maybe it was because you ate her red currants, or rhubarb, maybe it was because you used to take a short cut through her garden and she hated seeing her flowers trampled. She would run out of her house sometimes and chase the slowest of you, and your friends told stories of what she used to do with the slowest in the group, the one she caught.
They were horrible stories. A kid that vanished a long time ago was supposed to have been last seen near her house, she pulled him in and he was never seen to again. Another friend said he’d heard she liked to keep those she caught in her dungeon, she supposedly kept in her basement, for the night, torturing the kid so he or she would never come near her house again.
And yet you ran through her hedges and stole her red currants, because you didn’t really believe in the rumours, although when she did show up in her door, yelling, her hair in all directions, you ran for your life, heart pounding in your chest.
Or maybe you were one of the good ones, one of the cowardly ones that looked at the others while they ate the red currants, and hardly ever tasted?
It doesn’t matter. You take a left turn into her yard.
It’s just the way you remember it. The bushes to the left, rhubarb to the right and the house in the middle of the lawn, low and painted red. You might not have remembered the color of the house before, but you remember it now, dark red. It used to remind you of blood. The big oak to the left of the entrance of the house casts a shadow of the entire lawn, and explains why you always remember it being rather dark around her house. You walk up to the door and notice a blue bucket lying beside the door.
You remember kicking it once, now that you see it. You look into it, half expecting to see something disgusting, but it’s only weed, mixed in with a little dirt. You look at the cut in the hedge behind you, and see the run down flowerbeds and the gap in the bushes where the kids have cut through. You head back to the path, your heart is thumping like it used to when you were in this yard, but then you hear the door open behind you.
“Yes?” you hear her voice, and you see that she isn’t as old as you thought. Her hair is ruffled, but not dirty. She is pale, and there are worry lines on her forehead. Her eyes are blue, and sad.
You don’t remember ever noticing that sadness before.
“What do you want?” she asks you, with a grumpy tone of voice. It’s almost the same tone of voice she uses to yell at the kids, except she isn’t yelling. She is talking.
You hesitate. Take a step backwards, because she still looks incredibly intimidating, even if she’s not much older than you. You find you don’t know what to say.
“I…” you mumble.
“Did you want something?”
“Not really” you say, “I just happened to walk past your house, and I remember…” but you can’t very well tell her that you are one of the kids that harass her almost every day, all grown up.
“I remember it from before” you finish.
“Oh,” she says, uninterested. “The old lady who used to live here died a while ago” the woman tells you.
But you have no memory of the old lady who used to live there. It’s this woman you seek. It’s this woman who is supposed to be at least twenty years older than you are, but she’s not, not today, not at this moment.
“Actually” you tell her, “I just shooed a few kids from your bushes, I assumed they aren’t your kids because they ran off as soon as I stepped closer” you lie.
“Little bastards” she says, and you notice that she doesn’t say it in an unfriendly manner, not really. She just sounds tired. “Thank you” she adds.
“You have a lovely garden” you tell her and you notice that she instantly shines up.
“You think so? Thank you” she says and suddenly she sounds polite and friendly. The change is remarkable.
“I love my garden” she says. She walks a few steps closer, folds her hands and looks at the red currants. “I spend a lot of time here” she continues, “it’s a hobby, I guess” she’s about to say something else, but she doesn’t. Instead she points you towards the back of the house. It’s a part of the garden you don’t remember at all, because by the time you got there all you were focused on was getting out through the bushes and to the next garden, which happened to belong to one of your friends.
“These are red lily’s” she says, “they don’t really like it in this climate” she smiles, “but in my garden, they bloom” she smiles, and the joy of the world is in that smile.
“They’re beautiful” you tell her.
You remember those flowers. Suddenly the memory is upon your like a ton of bricks, all at once.
You were running through her yard. You were the last one of the bunch. One of the others had sprung into the back of the house and when she got back she had a flower like this in her hands.
You remember her chuckling as she stated proudly, “I ran over the flowers, they’re trampled, all of them”. The other kids had been in awe of her after that. The girl who ruined the fiery flowers was queen of the streets.
“They are my pride and joy” she says, “I’m terrified that the damned kids are going to ruin them for me one day. They are very delicate”.
You frown. Try to smile.
“Surely the kids are harmless?”
“The kids are little devils,” she says sadly, but not unkindly. “I just wish they’d leave my garden alone”.
A throb of regret and pain of understanding hits you right in the heart, but you don’t know what to say to this woman.
“They don’t mean any harm” she says, “I know that. But they’ve chosen me for the neighbourhood witch and my garden, and house, pay for it.” Her smile is sad, but it’s there. “It’s funny, I always wanted children, but we couldn’t have any.” She doesn’t shed a tear, but you notice that she comes close. “It’s irony” she says, “I guess I was never meant to get along with children”.
She laughs and the laughter is contagious, but you refrain.
“I’m sorry” you tell her. “For all of it”.
She looks at you, slams her hand against your upper arm and smiles, “it’s not your fault” she says. “Did you used to live nearby?” she asks.
You tell her the street you used to live in. She nods her head. “I guess I used to hassle the woman living in this house” you smile. You can’t tell her that it’s her you mean, but you can share a little.
“We were real creeps” you tell her, “we meant no harm, but we were real creeps”.
“Children can be daunting and harsh”
“We…” you almost tell her that you used to run through the yard, but remember in the last second that your mother used to talk about the big fence that was taken down between the two yards were the kids used to pass.
“I don’t know why it happens, kids create a legend, a dragon to battle, and I guess your house is cursed” you try to laugh, hoping she believes in your lie.
And why wouldn’t she?
“The lady who lived here never spoke of kids” she says, “but I guess you’re right”.
“Well, so far they’ve left my flowers alone. I sometimes see them eating the berries from my kitchen window. And I don’t need all the berries so I let them eat for a while. Sometimes they go away, but sometimes they become bold and head further in. And that’s when I come out screaming.
She laughs. “I must look like the witch they think I am when I do that. But I do it to protect the flowers. I don’t know what I’ll do if they ruin my flowers for me”.
And you remember doing just that. You remember when your friend ran through her flower patch and took a trophy with her. You remember, but the woman doesn’t.
“I hope you get to keep your flowers” you tell her. “I hope the kids aren’t that cruel”.
She smiles, “from your mouth to gods ears” she says.
“If they ever do” you begin, but she shakes her head.
“The flowers are all I have left” she says, smiling, “it sounds pathetic, but that’s the truth of it”.
“I’m sorry” you tell her again.
“Don’t be” she says, “it’s not you fault”.
But it is.
You walk out of the woman’s garden and you realise you don’t even know her name. You turn around and she is still standing there.
“What’s your name?” you ask her.
“My name?” she smiles, “my name is Hera”.
“Pretty name” you tell her.
“It’s a witches name” she says.
You smile, raise your hand in a greeting and walk out of her yard. You walk slowly up the way you came, thinking about the way you were, thinking about the woman in the house, Hera and about the kids. The idea of getting back to your life softly gnawing at you, but still in the background.
You hear a couple of kids giggling, and the sound snaps you back to where you are. You look around, and you see them. You see yourself and your friends, all those years ago. You remember the moment. You had been bicycling around the neighbourhood, one of your friends had a little money and he bought candy. You ate the candy in his yard, and then you ran through the witches garden.
Her flowers got ruined that very day.
You walk up to the shed where you know they’re hiding, eating the candy. You can hear them chatting about a song that must have been a big deal then.
And then when she says the words you are waiting for you step forward. You step in front of them and you say hello. You see yourself standing in the back, watching your older self without realising that this is you, all those years later. And as your eyes meet, you start to remember this person who stepped in when you were going to do something you hadn’t done before. Something bigger than just rushing through her yard.
The memory grows in you, slowly but surely.
You remember being intimidated.
“You can eat the berries, but you will not touch her flowers” you tell them. And you enjoy seeing the startled expressions in their eyes.
“You will not touch the flowers, not now and not ever” you tell them. “If you do, you have me to answer to. I know where you live.” You look at them and try to remember some of the secrets you used to share. It was a long time ago, but something suddenly pops up.
“I know about the cigarettes in the sink hole” you tell them. “And if I know about that, I know about a lot of things, don’t you think?”
You feel the memory of this terror rising in you. It awakens, builds in your head like the beginning of a bad headache, like the onset of inebriation.
“If I learn that you have harmed a single of her flowers, I will come for you. I will see to it that you are never allowed on the streets by yourselves again, I will…”
And you know that you don’t need more than that. The terror in their eyes is obvious, the memory in your head slowly changing.
You were never anywhere near her flowers. None of the others either, not to your knowledge anyway.
“Remember that” you tell them.
They all nod their head enthusiastically, you hear them mumbling that they will never touch the flowers.
You leave them there in shock, before the image of your look gets permanently edged in your own head. You don’t know what that will do to you.
You walk up the way you came. Up the old slope, the path you took to school and over the hill. You pass houses you remember, old shrubs, the convenient store and you walk forward on a street where one of your friends used to live. You find a pathway at the end of the street, it leads into a small park. You walk to the other side of that park, and you suddenly know exactly where you are.
You find your way back to where you were before. You walk past a place you sometimes cross on your daily route, and you’re back. The smell of before is gone. You’ve left the old streets and the past behind you.
But you remember the woman Hera, and you remember her beautiful flowers and you remember being in awe of them. You never touched them.
In fact you remember the run-throughs became rarer after that. You ate her berries, sure, but you rarely ran through the yard.
It wasn’t as exciting anymore.
You drive off trying to recall the look of that person who frightened you that day. You try to recall what he or she looked like, but you can’t really. It’s all lost with the scent of old times.
And soon you realise that you are late, and the worries of your everyday life hit you, and your memory of this visit fades fast.
It’s there. You can still recall the smell of the streets and the sense of difference in the air, but the details aren’t crisp, nor clear. You didn’t notice the difference while the years slowly paced on, but you recall vaguely feeling it while you were there. You sensed it.
It’s a difference that has set itself in you. It lives in you, makes you who you are.
And now a correction has been made.