The plan had been to go to the garden centre.
“I’ll buy some flowers for the garden, Al, and you can buy something to put in the garden too.”
My diminutive six year old nephew looked unimpressed. Flowers did not float his boat.
I tell you what, Al,” I said, “You can choose. Do you want to plant a flower or a vegetable?”
Immediately, he beamed. A vegetable, Now why didn’t I say so before?
“A vegetable,” he announced with a flourish.
“A tomato!” Al pronounced joyously, and we went to get into the back seats of my car, which are especially small enough for diminutive six year old boys.
It being a new-to-us car, we had not used the Al-seats at the back before, and when we checked we found the Al-seats did not actually exist. And we had no booster seat. A trip to the garden centre was out of the question.
Al was undeterred. “It’s alright,” he grinned happily, “we can dig in the garden!”
And he shot off though the front door, heading for the soil at the back of the house.
Two minutes later, there was a large hole in a flowerbed and an extravagant heap of soil scattered in an impressionistic arc behind the small industrious digger in my back garden. It was not long before he decided the hole must not just be any hole: it should have a purpose.
We buried treasure in it, using a plastic biscuit tub. I searched for it and found it. The tub got impaled several times on the fork.
And then, Al hit on the idea of filling the pots in my garden with soil and planting things. He found a tall thin pot and filled it with perfectly graded soil. But though I rummaged through the shed for what seemed like aeons, I could find not one single solitary seed.
It seemed not to signify.
“Look Auntie Kate: I planted something!” he said, and when I turned round, I saw Al had planted a stone in the centre of the pot. Very Feng Shui. We stood admiring the first Planted Thing of the new season. But there was a hitch: we couldn’t experience that growing moment. The one when the shoot emerges magically from the soil.
Al, as usual, had an answer. Pottering inside our house he rummaged until he found a pencil.
He planted this with a measure of ceremony. “Look Auntie Kate, a growing pencil!” he said, and proceeded to make it grow several times for my benefit.
Later, on the way to the playground, we passed two impossibly blowsy pink cherry-blossom trees. And suddenly Al was not by my side any more: he was away under the trees, gathering blossoms as though his very life depended on it.
“Are they dead?” he asked me with typical directness, when he returned with a fistful of blossom for me.
“They’ve done their job and the tree doesn’t need them any more, Al,” I hazarded. But under further interrogation, I owned they were, indeed, dying.
That dismayed Al. “I wish we could put all the blossom back on the trees!” he declared passionately.
Oh, Al. So do I. And I wish we could bring back the lives that have left us, and grow young and lithe once more, and I wish pencils could grow on trees. But life gifts only where it chooses, and it travels only in one direction.
But we can look after it. And, cosseted on my kitchen windowsill, a fist full of blossom sits in a bowl full of water, enjoying unaccustomed longevity.