At the other side of the fence, Sheila's dahlias keep dying.  Through the lattice-work, I can see their faded heads, singed with brown.

            'Four more gone,' she calls.  'I don't know what I've done wrong.  And only a fortnight till the Show.'

            'Risky leaving it so late,' I say.  'You're running out of time.'

            'I thought it was the cold killed them last year,' she says, examining wilted petals.  'Plant late, they told me.'

            I go back to tidying my beds.  I'm an amateur; I stick to black-eyed susans, bright blue asters, purple coneflowers.  They grow in thick, hardy clumps, their honest, open faces pushing one-eyed towards the sun.  Every year, I'm touched by their persistence.  I can hardly bear to prune them.

            Sheila says my lot are common as weeds.  Sometimes she pokes fingers through the frame and snaps healthy blooms from my Michaelmas daisies.  'To encourage reflowering,' she says.

            She snags a burnt dahlia head and thrusts it through the fence.  'It's like losing one of my children.'

            Sheila's sons sprawl on sun-loungers, arms and legs dangling over the sides like wayward shoots.  I picture her with an enormous pruning shears, clipping untidy limbs.  The sons are nothing like her graceful dahlias with their tightly fluted petals and intense, pure colours.  The dahlias that have survived, that is.

            There was a time when I could have had children too.  Each seed swelled with life, then died in the darkness of my womb.  I rake drills with my fingers, smooth them over again.  I imagine reaching down into the warm earth, pushing through knotted cords of roots, and cupping my hands around a beating heart, buried deep within the beds.


That night, a three-quarters moon hangs waxy yellow in the sky, like the closing eye of a daisy.  I take the spray bottle and crouch in a warm bed of asters.  For a second I am back in the hospital, Sheila's hand trespassing on my slack belly.

            'You took a risk leaving it so late,' she said.  'Time is running out.'

            Under the glow of the sloping, fertile moon, I gently kill Sheila's dahlias.  I spray them a little at a time, so that poison will slowly soak into petals, stems, and leaves, and they will struggle and fight for life, and Sheila will go on hoping and hoping in vain.