A beat throbbed in her palm. Digging to extract a dandelion, she caught a change in pitch and speed and there it was, the thudding bass introduction to Blue Monday, pulsing along her trowel. She sat back, scanning for pimped-up cars, or a pre-club party syncing with her flower beds. Or a van with the windows open.
A day later, snowdrops at the gate half-opened and the intro became the full 12” version, all seven minutes and twenty-nine seconds. As she moved alongside the music started up and stopped as she stepped away. She liked Blue Monday, wanted to sway, rock her shoulders, see her feet dance. The neighbours would phone an ambulance.
New daffodils peeled from their wraps and grew a chorus, and that was OK. If asked, she would have predicted a brass section. Her daffs chose the Beatles and Let it Be. They built a wall of sound, the volume rising as breezes knocked their heads. She joined the don’t-call-us-trumpets for grace and calm. Humming along helped with the images of Charlie ramming a van with his stuff. She tried not to wonder why daffodils and snowdrops did what they did.
Two weeks passed and Ella hunched by a clump of tulips as they belted out that song by Alanis Morissette. Sneer if you like, you wouldn’t, you just wouldn’t, not if you knew. Charlie leaving made her breath stop in her chest.
She potted primroses to sweeten the tulips. It didn’t work. A man in tatty leathers heading in next door shouted over his compliments to her soundtrack. Let’s be clear, Ella said, her plants picked their own soundtracks and the thrash metal she considered harsh, particularly from primroses. Tatty leathers, with his two bottles of cider slung in a 5p bag, stepped over the low wall and a woman with piercings and interesting boots paused in the street. I’m Greta, she introduced herself, Greta Bold, and asked herself in. The primroses, the pair explained, channelled a live recording of Made of Pain from a group called Gladiator that once played the Isle of Wight. Tatty leathers and Greta the Bold settled on her doorstep to swig and work out how they had forgotten each other.
Pulling up on his mobility scooter, Daniel from three doors down approved the Fatsia Japonica’s choice of Vivaldi, if not the cider in broad daylight. Ella perched on the wall and agreed, the first movement was easily the best. Daniel quoted Vivaldi’s poetry on rustic bagpipes and nymphs dancing. Ocht, if it was the pipes he liked, she said, it was a pity that racket up the path rejected his company.
Ex-BBC, Daniel recounted playing games with directional speakers himself in his day and explained sound containment and wave distortion. A disgrace someone was tricking her. Still, he enjoyed conducting with the pen he kept clipped in his top pocket.
Spring played on. It was a relief when Blue Monday melted away. The Beatles died with the daffs and Alanis toned it down as the tulips cried their last petals. The photinia clustered, campanula swamped the rockery and Ella’s garden invited random passers-by. A schoolteacher called Brenda adored Ed Sheeran and a plumber, fixing a leak next door and by coincidence an Eddie himself, delighted in sharing anything with such a woman. Eddie said a year back he was torso deep under a sink and the radio blared out at him from the mains, what a shocker. He tried, but it stumped him how multiple tracks played at once and how everyone, apart from Ella, heard tunes from a single plant. Brenda giggled.
Summer stretched that year, rain fell overnight and never at weekends. Across the nation, no wasps stung and the Daily Express called for an apocalypse. Or called it the apocalypse, few cared. Infatuated with ballads for a month, the bride’s bouquet, Spirea Arguta, sprinkled confetti on lovers and would-be sweethearts. Daniel met his match in Frieda, who was ex-MOD. He found Wagner more enjoyable than he thought.
Some locals—those her garden refused to entertain—complained, saying she was hosting an unlicensed silent disco. The council investigated and reported a mystery. The nationals picked this up, but a politician took bribes, cheated on his wife and tried to cover it up in ways too amateur and banal to believe and so her garden story was spiked. Ella didn’t care, she’d accepted invites to three barbeques and a girls’ night. The councillor accepted a fold-out chair by a tub of petunias and thought it all rather lovely.
Frank appeared in July along with a stray ginger tom. Both seemed to enjoy the multi-generation bluegrass from the star jasmine. Ella wrapped herself in its southern spice, imagining a pretty dress and a guitar, the two of them rocking on a porch swing. They called the cat Tom, due to Ella struggling with the names of all these new people. Frank helped Ella pass round iced tea. Tom dust-rubbed and arced.
As the season closed, Ella reclaimed her garden from the crowds. The last blooms standing, her fried-egg windflowers, DJ’d exclusively for Frank and herself, a 30-year mega-mix. When Frank took her hand to dance, she blushed.
The days shortened, no late heat to tempt an encore from a rose. Tom owned the fireside and Frank helped tidy and put the garden to sleep. Ella watched him from the side of her eye. No, it didn’t matter to him how the music happened, he said, not at all. He didn’t care, this had been the best summer of his life. Ella agreed.
She explained it started not long after Charlie left in the hired Ford Transit. He blasted the van speakers with some I’m outta here statement mix from his iPhone as he loaded up his gear, the windows rolled down for the whole street to hear. God knows what it was he played, don’t even ask her now, she couldn’t remember.
Born in Scotland in 1965, LA Wilson studied publishing at Napier University and creative writing at West Dean College. Based now in West Sussex, she has worked as a temp in Glasgow, for the UNDP all over Asia and the Pacific and as an academic in England. She writes full-time.