This is a genre I would like to call “spiritual D/s”. It is only mildly erotic. I find it an uncanny coincidence that though this was written several months before meeting Mistress, it is all about a shared passion, gardening.
I am looking out over the Baie to the Porquerolles on the French Riviera. The water is rippling and reflecting the sun like a sheet of metal hammered so fine to be as smooth as silk, wrinkled, shimmering. It is a unique light, one that has inspired people far greater than me for generations. The sun of the South of France, the warm pinks of the villas, and the greens and browns of the plants and trees, the russet tone of the earth, all belong together. This red, rust-coloured earth had nourished the garden laid out before me, and it sprawled at my feet, cascading down over terraces, down the hills, across her land, to town, and beyond, to the sea before appearing again, miles away, in Africa.
This was my world, my creation. Not a plant around was without its story. Where I had found it, the seed I had grown it from. I looked at the mandarin tree beside me. Two trees become one. I took a leaf and crushed it in my hands, smelling its intense fragrance, dry, oily, citric and perfumed and remembered the day she sat eating an orange. This scent is her perfume. It was a beautiful day not so different from this. Her beauty compounded by my love for her a thousand-fold.
She ate, enjoyed, and spat the seeds. They bounced on the stone terrace as they fell.
“Pick them up with your lips,” she said to me with the curve at the edges of her mouth that never failed to melt my insides. And I did. On my knees, one by one, pick up the seeds with my lips. I put them in my pocket after. To keep them safe. And later, in my quiet place, the place that I called home, my place for reflection, the garden shed, my greenhouse, I pulled them from my pocket, and prepared them.
I gathered the earth and compost from a tray I had there, a compost made from the detritus of our lives, rich, full, and nourishing, and slipped the seeds in pairs into little terracotta pots. I placed the lot of them in a shallow tray and covered it with a thin layer of plastic and placed it safely in a protected spot in the sun. I watered the tray. And thus, with daily care and observation, a few weeks later shoots emerged.
Not all things grow true. Many seeds are duds. Sometimes even the slightest imperfection in the soil leads to a fallow pot. And so with citrus, no seed grows true. Knowing that, the wait is exquisite. The years pass as you nurture the seedling to a sapling, replanting and repotting every year, encouraging its growth, but also training it, bending it, pruning it, and guiding it to help it become its best expression of itself.
It is possible to overdo it. Some plants cannot be bent. Instead they break, or just die, or never bear fruit. But others feel the love, feel the guiding hand, and find their greatest expression in their adaptation.
This garden, and every plant in it, has a story. My own life can be read in every one of them. It is my legacy and my love. Now it is quiet. I am alone with my memories, my thoughts. But the soft breeze, the gentle movement of the air through the leaves of the trees speaks to me. And in those soft sounds I hear voices, above all, her voice, and on lucky days, her laughter. And in the water running through the fountains, I hear her murmur and whisper to me. And on a warm day, with just the right kind of wind, the before or after edges of the mistral casting an orange glow, the breeze feels like her hot breath on my skin, tousling my hair, nibbling the back of my ear. The sweet smell and warmth of memory wash over me.
This is my world, my creation, and yet, it is not mine. “I” does not exist. “Me” does not exist. “Mine” has not existed for a very, very long time. And yet, I do. In her, through her, for her, and because of her. And for all that, this sweet creation all around me, has come into being. And I can feel it, and smell it, and wear this garden and the light and the summer breeze as if she were here right now, by my side.
I place my hand on the mandarin tree beside me. Long ago it had become one tree. Born as two trees from one of those pots planted on that day. Two seeds, with her saliva mingled with mine, two seeds germinated together, peeking out of the earth together, growing together. While there were casualties and survivors from that batch over the days, weeks, and years that intervened, somehow these two responded to my touch. I pushed them together. Guided them to grow side by side. And gradually, I twisted them around one another. I showed them how to grow together, bending one in submission but letting the other grow straight. But as with all things, one responded to the other, and they coiled in growth together.
As they began to mature as two trees, they were quite beautiful to see locked in an embrace. She asked me about them one day.
“You like those trees, don’t you?” as she asked, she tipped her head, always a sign that she was thinking, seeing through me, “tell me.”
“They’re growing together,” I said, glancing away, but caressing the bark of both.
“Yes,” she said. A word that carried a million meanings. One to savour, to turn over, to think about, like a seed covered with her saliva, mingling with my own, lips bruised and scratched from the fetching, and years of love and care in between.
Over time I scratched at the bark, leaving it raw in places where the two trunks touched. I would place grafting hormone there, and then bind the two together tightly, wrapping it in plastic to keep out the air, and giving the trees time to heel. Over time, I would do the same with the roots. When I transplanted, I would sometimes prune the roots gently, and do something similar with rooting hormone. And every year, when I would transplant, I could inspect my handiwork. And over time, I saw the two trees grow together, to merge, to become one. Yes, you could still see two trunks, and know that somehow there were, or may have been, two trees. But now, after more than three decades, they had become one. Their root system was interconnected, their trunks had merged: it was no longer possible to distinguish that this one tree beside me could have been two. It was a miracle of nature.
The tree gave two kinds of fruit. Different branches produced distinct fruit. One was incredibly sweet, juicy, tart and acidic. Its flesh filled with pips. The other was intensely perfumed. When you peeled it, the scent was a powerful aroma, an olfactory overload, an aphrodisiac. The fruit itself was not sweet, nor sour, but substantive, and nourishing.
Sometimes she watched me harvesting the fruit or tending the garden. I think she found comfort in it. She seemed to know that a plate of mandarins was from this tree instead of another. I could see it in her smile, her wordless expression. I knew she knew what it meant. That the smell and taste of these mandarins was us. And I appreciated that this was understood without words.
Once, many years after the tree had begun to fruit, I knelt beside her on that same terrace. The peels of several mandarins lay scattered on her plate. She pulled one of the drop-shaped segments from one she was peeling and fed it to me. She ate herself and fed me again. As I swallowed the sweet, tangy fruit, she placed her hand on my cheek. Warm, soft, caressing. Electrifying. Emotion welled inside me. Gratitude. Like a river pouring forth whose overwhelming force found expression in a lone tear. She kissed it, and I glanced up at her, and saw the moisture on her lip.
“When I eat this, I am eating you,” she said as she put another segment in her mouth. Yes!
A garden filled with memories. A manor house lying on the shoulder of the hill behind me, its terraces like an epaulet with its fringe hanging down. This was and is our world, and I am its gardener. Tending it, protecting it, caring for it, nurturing it, worshiping it, but knowing all the while that should I stop, it will all crumble and fall, return to dust, and disappear.
And I don’t to forget. I don’t want anyone to forget. Even people who never knew. Who will never know. This is my testament to permanence. My testament to love. My testament to a feeling that was always bigger than myself, to something primordial. To something beautiful, touching, and so fundamentally and deeply powerful it can crush anything in its path. What is it? Love.
I touch my neck. I feel the collar. A collar I have worn now for over 40 years. The lock might as well have rusted shut. It has not come off since it was put on. It is steel, but it is not cold or hard. It is warm, smooth, and comforting. And in it, I feel her presence, her guidance, and my devotion. How far away it all seems. But life happens fast, in a flash. This is our story.
I turn to go inside, a deep contentment setting in. I have been to the notary today. When my time comes, I know that my wishes will be respected. To have my ashes scattered here in this garden, in this place of tangled and beautiful dreams. She will do it herself if she outlives me, and if not, one of our children. I know because she has promised. And there is nothing more unshakeable and permanent than her promise.