By Stella Duffy
When the King of Spain’s daughter came to visit me she wore a gown of ivory brocade cut into with diamond lace. On her feet were calfskin shoes and she carried a fan carved from a single elephant tusk. The King of Spain’s daughter travelled from Seville to Cordoba by foot, then by carriage to Madrid. She waited two hours at the airport there, bought a Steven King novel and caught an adjoining flight to Barcelona. Unfortunately she left the book – just three chapters in and already dog-eared – in the seat-back pocket on the plane. After a brief diversionary weekend in Sitges, lunch in Tarragona, supper in Girona, she travelled the coast road up to Perpignan. I did not know she was coming, but on the day she left, a week after the feast of the Assumption, I knew something was on its way. I felt it in the water, washed my hands in a porcelain bowl and the cool liquid was heavy with waiting.
I will come to you in the evening, orange blossom in my hair. I will take your hand and hold it to my breast, you will count the beats of my heart. We will never go astray. Daylight may be marred by fog or rain, the moon waxes and wanes, the earth spins on an elliptical axis so that even the rising sun appears to arrive from an altered direction, adjusting the angle of shine from summer to winter. But the Pole Star and the Southern Cross have marked us out. I’m coming. I’ll need a cup of tea when I get there. And a good book.
I don’t know how she found me. I know why she found me. The tree drew her, of course. Pear tree, not nut tree, no matter what they called it. I should know, I planted the seed. It drew them all, my little tree. Cousins and kings, councillors, counts, and the others too. Those that would steal it, take the harvest, smelt it down, make their own precious things. There are always people waiting to steal what they can, especially from something as generous as my little tree – those welcoming wide open branches. But these were my precious things, they would not be taken. Having planted the seed in the first place – one part organic compost to two parts peat and sand mix – I too was surprised when the tree began. I remember my fifth form biology, I eat bean sprouts, I know what to watch for.
I know what to watch for. The lie of the land, sleight of hand, wedding band. Your ring finger is empty. I will fill it for you.
I watched the seed unfurl and grow. And keep growing. First the kitchen windowsill, then a gentle tempering to the outdoors, terracotta pot bubble-wrapped tight for chilly evenings, by spring the root and branches were strong enough for the ground. London clay, thick and cloying, seemed worth a try. The blossom arrived first. It was not as I had expected, almost too delicate. We had a warm spring this year, lucky spring, a late and easy Easter, four full moons packed into the first three months. I know about trees, fruit and nut. Have read up on them, our local library sees a lot of allotmenteers, books pock-marked by dirty fingers. Usually there must be two trees, male and female, for the promiscuous dancing bees. I had just the one. It wasn’t meant to fruit so soon. But it did. How it did. Nutmeg and pear. Pear tree with a little added spice.