Nettles and thistles. Growing in tiny baby sprouts. They were everywhere the eye could see; a new development, lined in streets, packed together, then a space, packed together again, like semi detached houses, conspicuous as the grass they made fun of. Even with trainers, the rubber soles and protection, I tried avoiding them - the little blighters - a shabby troop of under foot soldiers, their bayonets pointed at the sky, towards the slightest threat of naked skin.
This couldn't be described as a lawn in the strictest sense. It was a wild offshoot of the real thing - a flat-topped stretch of mowed green that swung around the back of the ivy drowned building.
Nettles and thistles. Weeds. Plain and simple. All I could focus upon. The straightforward potential of a sting or a stab to the ankle. A caustic reflection of that August afternoon's mood. Spiky. Hateful, even.
This was garden warfare.
On the table, a tray. Mugs of tea, a pyramid of jaffa cakes. I'd forgotten how many jaffas I'd eaten. Three? Four perhaps? My tea was half empty, I don't usually drink builders brew, I felt I had to there, it was a necessary distraction, to sip away the nerves. Half turned from the table, I focused on Little A playing with friends, shielded from any eye contact behind.
He won't talk to me. He won't look at me. I am treated as if I don't exist. A nameless shadow drifting behind Younger Dad and Little A. Ah yes, that dinner party, when we entered the living room and he addressed two thirds of my family. Nothing for me. I'm the limescale in the kettle or the scum on the plughole, an avoidance. Or after another party, on New Years Day, he bade the other females goodbye with a casual kiss on the cheek, but chose to aggressively ruffle his fingers through my hair, the sort of brush strokes reserved for a naughty girl, a very, very badly behaved girl indeed. And now, sat around that garden table, it was no different, two whole years of this indifference, discounted, cast outside the circle.
After shreds of conversation, thin, unconnected strips of peel, it was time to leave tea and biscuits in that prickly garden. Utter relief, like passing A'levels again and again. The crunch of gravel under foot. The car, my escape, within sight. He picked her up. In his arms. My daughter. Helped Little A into her car seat. My anger. The inner flare; a rip tide through every muscle, over my chest, scaling heavy jaw and flushed cheeks. He dared to handle her? I'm. Her. Mother.
What has merited such a reaction, such scorn directed in my face? Behaviour beyond rudeness, so utterly black and white, bordering on the realms of the pathological? The only clue I have is my post natal illness, that self absorbed bubble. I cared only for my needs and those of my daughters. Motherhood through a microscope. Of course I was selfish and overly demanding, depression has a snidey way of bestowing such qualities. But that's not a good enough reason for this public castigation, this social slicing. Ousted on the grounds of mental health.
It isn't just me. I know he's treated others like this, a supposed friend of his wife's. That was an effortlessly cruel beheading. And what of Younger Dad? This individual is a life long friend of his. A friend. Life long. The ugly position my husband finds himself in. The unspoken collusion of the behaviour of one individual among a group of very close friends, like brothers.
This is not my issue. It's his. Still, I choose not to say anything. Not to confront. It would be pointless, he is opaque to criticism. And anyway, why should I? Apart from the unfortunate effects of illness, I have done nothing wrong, nothing outrageously offensive. Just asked for a quieter room one New Years Eve, made noisy breakfast chatter with Little A on a disastrous group holiday (he was sleeping above the kitchen). Yes, really. Did he address the issue with me? Ask me to quieten? No. How was I supposed to know? I'd always assumed the mature path as one of sorting out the problem, there and then(ish), moving on. Case closed.
There's a dinner engagement coming up soon. In November. All the friends and partners and children. Safety in numbers. He will ignore me. I will ignore him, or will at least try to, I can't lie, my skin is delicate, perforated like doilies. And what if he says something? Attempts civility? I'm not sure I could respond.
Or I might plant a thistle on his chair instead...