The importance of Hildebrand to his children was negligible. They barely noticed him at all, nor should they, he hadn’t seen them since he’d left to open a beach bar, back when they were three and four, and the last thing he ever said to them was not to trust their mother, ’she’s a bitch’ and to ‘keep an eye on your money ‘round her’.
No, they had never really thought of him at all, except when their Mom cried or shouted. They associated that with him. Not that it was related to him at all, she hardly thought of him either, but she was rather free with her emotions. Her own mother had told her that if you felt like crying you should, or it would twist your head, and as such she cried when she felt at all sad and laughed when happy. It made people wary around her, she appeared volatile but was really just honest.
Indeed Hildebrand barely remembered he was ever married, or that twice he had tried to persuade his wife that they weren’t ready for a child and twice she had quietly said it was her decision, and loved him a little less. But then this story isn’t about them next door, and him what used to live there. It is about their garden.
The thin slat fence that split the garden from all the others on the street, had not even once been weather protected, nor did it really mind. It was rather proud of its sun bleached white, and if it sagged in places and had the odd hole or cat run then it was all the more distinguished for it. The lawn had never been cut either, but had not become the dumping ground for refuse, and rusted bikes, or cars undergoing never to be completed restorations. It was perpetually at waist height, and speckled with wild flowers and nettles. There was a young tree in the far corner, older than anything else, and still with memories of the fields that had been its youthful playgrounds, but still not above the height of the house. Sometimes it seemed it might be some type of fruit tree, but it wasn’t. The fruit around its roots was thrown out of the second window on the right by James Fitzgerald who lived there and hated healthy bedtime snacks.The other corner held a shed, and it is that which we are really interested in. It was low, as if it had been built for a dwarf. As it happened it was of normal height, but the packed dirt had simply, over the years, filled up to make it seem short. The door had to be shaved at the bottom to allow it to open. There was a cast iron black catch on the outside, ornately worked with scrolls. The window was covered with moss and fungus, giving the inside a greenish glow. It was made of the same wood as the fence, but this had, at some stage been stained a dark red brown, which was fading in the sun. Moss covered the bottom foot or so of the shed’s walls except in one patch which everyone pissed against, and the roof was slightly collapsing in the middle, but it had taken it years to get this far and its mind still wasn’t made up as to whether it should go for it whole hog, or simply continue to allow the rain in as it did now.
The great thing, of course, about the fact that the garden was so over grown and beautiful, was that it never inspired Hildebrand to do anything in it- the job was too huge, and as such the shed was left to us.
We pushed through a gap in the fence from the ally behind, the garden. And generations of us, all the same age, year after year, sat there, put up posters and newspaper clippings. We carved our names on the back of the door. We brought a sofa in that had taken four of us to get out a skip. We listened to music on the old wind up radio, and smoked and drank and told short jokes and long stories. It was our social club as it had been our elder brothers’, and would be our younger sisters.
And so it was a great shock to the whole town when Jimmy Sweeney burned it down, and wiped out thirty years of dosser history and bunkers culture. He had filled an old paint bucket with petrol siphoned from his step dad’s Volvo, and thrown it around the walls, over the faces of our heroes and onto the piles of cigarette butts in the corner. When everything was doused, he’d walked outside and thrown in a cigarette. When nothing happened he’d grabbed an old news paper, lit the corner until the whole rag was alight then thrown that in. The fire had whooshed up the walls, lifting the roof off and knocking Jimmy off his feet. He’d ran off as the roof fell back down within the burning walls. It took a little over twenty five minutes for the firemen to find the garden. By that stage the shed had collapsed inwards, and was beyond repair. Parts of the fence and the grass were charred as well, as were parts of the tree, but it would survive.