Mary sat back on her calves and wiped the back of her gloved hand across her forehead. She rolled her eyes, realising she had probably left a muddy smear across her face. What a sight I must look! she thought. It was a good job the garden was not overlooked by the neighbours’ houses.
A devoted and diligent gardener, she couldn’t remember the last time she had dug this particular flowerbed. Perhaps it was because it never looked as though it was in need of her attention; the plants here – her favourite roses – seemed to be flourishing without her ministrations. But today it had seemed to call to her for the first time in, what, a year? Mary wouldn’t mind betting it was exactly a year to the day since she had last worked on this bed with her trowel and fork.
The soil parted eagerly. She could have used her bare hands but she liked the feel of the tools, and the air of professionalism they lent to her pottering around. She recalled doing just that – digging in the dirt without even the protection of her thick green gardening gloves – and the temporary misplacement of her wedding ring. How Tom had railed and ranted until she dug it up again! Now she felt its bulk beneath the vinyl of her glove. The simple gold band was still there although Tom was long gone.
When had he gone, exactly? Mary couldn’t remember. She couldn’t remember what he looked like, for that matter. There was a dim memory of their wedding photograph but that was indoors on a shelf in some room or other. Mary frowned at the loss of so many details, but then shrugged it off. All that mattered at the moment was sorting out this neglected yet thriving flowerbed. Perhaps she would think about the inside of her house afterwards. It was as though being out in the garden was all she knew.
The blade of her trowel snicked against something underground. Mary winced – she’d hate to have chopped another hapless earthworm in two – but decided with relief that no earthworm or other form of creepy-crawly would give off such a metallic sound. Cautiously, she prodded the tip of the trowel into the crumbling soil and the gentle tapping sound came again. Mary gasped. Perhaps something valuable was down there. You heard stories all the time of people digging up all sorts of lost treasures in their own backyards. There was that old fellow from… somewhere or other. Mary couldn’t remember what he’d found but it had been all over the news and museums had been practically fighting each other to throw cash sums at this man.
“I’m going to be rich at last!” Mary’s cheeks flushed at the thought and she set to clearing the earth from the hidden object with increasing impatience and carelessness.
Within a moment, she was recoiling from the flowerbed. She could taste the bitter vinyl of her glove as she pressed her hand to her mouth. The object had turned out to be a ring, a wedding ring, a simple band of gold exactly like her own and so many millions of others. But this discovery was not what had horrified and appalled Mary so. What had caused her to back away was the realisation that this ring still contained a finger and that finger was still attached to a hand and that hand still had a wrist, a forearm, an elbow… The flesh was gone for the most part but the full extent of the decay was hidden, mercifully, by the filthy sleeve of the poor soul’s cardigan. Cardigan, was Mary’s first thought, but she reasoned it could just as easily be the sleeve of a jumper, or sweater, or anything.
Cardigan! Her mind insisted. Look at the wool. Look at the colour beneath the dirt. You have a cardigan just like that. Why, you’re even wearing it right now!
Think, Mary, think! Is it coincidence that you uncovered this woman today? This woman who just happens to favour the exact same knitwear as you? Yes, it’s cheap High Street stuff put together by exploited children in the Far East. You see such garments everywhere. But really, Mary, the exact same cardigan? This is no coincidence.
Why hadn’t she noticed before? Why when she had last tended to this flowerbed hadn’t she dug up the body? Think, Mary, think! How long could this poor soul have been there?
Mary closed her eyes tightly and tried to think clearly through her increasingly foggy thoughts. When did I last weed this patch? When? Last year? The year before? Five years?
She tried to think but it was so difficult. It was like her thoughts were falling out of the back of her head as soon as she could form them. She pressed a hand onto her floppy old sun hat as if to keep the thoughts contained. How Tom had laughed at her in that hat! What, would he rather she got sunstroke from being out in the garden so much?
Tom! Did Tom know about the dead woman in the flowerbed?
A chill ran through Mary despite the warm sunshine. Had Tom put the woman there? Had she been married to a murderer all this time?
A memory, clear as sunlight slicing the clouds, seared through her mind: She is working at this flowerbed, her back towards the house. She hears Tom running up behind her and she turns just in time to meet the shovel he is swinging at her skull.
Mary gasps. Before she fades away she guesses that when she reappears in a year’s time, if she digs up the same flowerbed, she will discover that poor woman had her head bashed in.