Five thirty, sunset. The time of the orange, yellow, pink streaked horizon creeps later and later as the days, the weeks pass. Orange rising up to purple. Crackling flames of the fire.
September 1952. Written in Cyrillic, in pencil, on the beam of the cellar. Woodworm. And the empty jars, when you brush off the dust are a fine blue glass, or light grey. I take them clinking back up the steps, four or five at a time. They look like a sculpture, all together like that.
And I was out there, numb in the wind, the morning after the fence got broken, the concrete posts pulled out by an icy invisible force. One smashed like it had been booted in. There it was, beneath the misty white sun, flapping back and forth in the wind , the mesh and black netting, like the sail of a ship. Now the posts are down. They watch from the house at the back.
Sparkles from the snow make everything pretty, after all. Silence descends. Brandy burns into my throat.
1952. I trace my fingertip over the writing. A row of jars are full, apricots picked from the tree outside. The wife just up the stairs, by the wood stove, boiling a pan of water and sugar, cutting up fruit. They are waiting for the men to go. A small window at ground level streams sunlight into the cellar. The men come to the houses and take the people away. They take the houses. The husband stretches up, holding onto the thick wooden beams with both of his hands, rocking slightly back and forth. It is warm. "I love this house," he says, "every brick, every beam. They'll never take this house from us."
Snowflakes turn to blossom falling. A worm moon. The soap scent of walnut leaves. A pink supermoon. I am walking through grasses now. Birds sing deeply through into the twilight. Doves, swifts, a cuckoo. The buzz of blue-black bees. White butterflies with orange tips at the wing. I untangle the sticky goosegrass from the tulips at the front of the house.
"They never did take this house from us."
I walk across the land at the back. The neighbours sitting where they usually do. Not real neighbours, rather, surveillance. The house to the front, the left and the right, abandoned. This is a ghost village, they are only here for the foreigners. They follow and are fake. A nuisance really. They are here to cover up the past. And they see me now the posts are down and the netting is off. He holds the long barrelled gun in his hand. He stands and points it at me. "Do...it!" I hold my arms out, walking closer to the fence as he points the gun. "Shoot it, do it!" and as I scream there are voices from the trees, it feels like people running forward, telling me to get back, get back. He can shoot me on my own land. And, what? I will be dead and he will have no honour.
"What activities were you doing behind your fence that you didn't want your neighbours to see?" asks the detective. Gardening, planting trees.
It was he who spoke of a possible court case. I had to report it, that was all. It was they who listened intently. The policeman was smiling as he stopped me from leaving. No evidence of crime, he had said. He threatened to arrest me but I would not sign the documents.
I go out the gate, to the front. The tulips are wilting, petals splayed, dead. They have been pulled out and the stalks stuck back into the ground. I make them into a bunch, and place them on the gate and it suddenly looks like someone has died. The forgotten.
They destroy evidence and cover the past with concrete. My spade hits something hard as I dig into the ground. I pull out clumps of grass from the rockery beneath the pear tree, grasping them and tugging them out like clumps of hair, twisting them and pulling like eyeballs from sockets.
They file the atrocities away like cases that are closed and reports signed. There was no evidence of crime, no matter how hard the detective looked and looked.
The tulips dry up, the leaves like curled up papers. Weeds grow high, and in-between the cracks in the concrete. Let it turn ugly and overgrown and twisted. They did break my spirit, but I am still here. The sharp thorned rose bush grows across the gate, yellow petals dipped in pink. Cerise and white peonies burst forth.
"They did break our spirit, but we are still here," says the husband.
"We have work to do," says his wife.