Compost Heap

By Sue Harper

Sarah’s partner remarked: ‘I do hope someone cooks dinner.’

That seemed rather a passive-aggressive formulation, Sarah thought. Why not ask her outright? After all, she did it every single day. ‘Will you cook dinner?’ or ‘Shall I cook dinner?’ might have been nice. It would have made a change. Wearily, she started chopping up the ingredients, and noticed that it was coming on to rain. She needed to get out into the garden before it really came down. There were things to put to bed.

She wandered round, snipping off a spent bloom here, chopping off a dead twig there. She walked over to the compost heap, her pride and joy. This had been fed with coffee grounds and urine for years: she had collected worms from elsewhere (often from other peoples’ gardens). There were Christmas Brussels sprouts, summer squashes, dahlias past their best. The mowings of a lifetime. It was the past and also the future. Once upon a time she thought that if she had had a religion, it would be based on water, and everyone would have meditated on a full glass raised in the East. But now, if she believed in anything, it was in her compost heap: creator and destroyer of all. Loamy, full of memories. And hot! She could plunge her hand in and feel comforted. The plants were warm in their decomposition.

Hang on. Something was stirring in the heap. Could it be rats, or a badger? There was a heavy breathing and a rustling. Sarah was rooted to the spot, rather like one of her own shrubs. And then a face pushed up out of the dried leaves and grass. It was a pale young man. He looked round, sat up, scrabbled for a pair of spectacles, and looked at her.

‘Sarah,’ he said softly. ‘Sarah.’

She returned his gaze. He was clean enough. His jacket looked as though it were made from cabbage leaves, and his tie was fashioned from a leek. There was a brace of carrots in his breast pocket. He had green fingers and his lips were stained with berry juice.

‘Ah,’ said Sarah, ‘I have been feeding you for years. I was waiting for you to be ripe.’

‘Well,’ said he, ‘I was hoping for your call. I thought that maybe now might be the time.’

He stood up, and brushed the twigs away. His pockets were full of cherries. Sarah became aware that she felt different. She was like a peach whose downy bloom was almost over, but which could still pass muster. Her insides felt like the soft interior of a broad bean pod. Her breasts swayed like plums that were still on the tree.

All of a sudden she was sure that he really knew her, and that he had been born out of her loneliness and need. There were worse ways to end up. He held out his hand, and she took it, and they went through the garden gate to the fields beyond. It was harvest time, and neither of them was ever seen again. The dinner was never cooked. Not even once.

Inspiration: I am a keen gardener, and Compost Heap is a story about the redemptive power of nature, and its ability to make everything new – life out of death, love out of emptiness. The young man in the compost heap has been growing for a very long time. But he finds what he has been waiting for, and so does the heroine.


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