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A Patch of Earth

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“All my hurts my garden spade can heal.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Did you know it was a gardener who was responsible for assembling the collection that would eventually become the Ashmolean?" James asked, interrupting the comfortable silence between the two men.

Robbie looked up from where he was weeding the carrots.

"Trust you to know that," he said fondly.

"The collection was most likely stolen from the gardener John Tradescant by Elias Ashmole 'round about 1675," James said, getting to his feet and fetching the fork from the shed.

"Quite a cold case then, eh?"

"Of course, Ashmole was nothing compared to the Danish Physician Ole Worm and his Museum Wormanium."

Robbie laughed.

"The only worms you need concern yourself with are the ones you're going to roust out with that fork."

"Dare I say the worm turns? Am I only here for my brawn and not my brains?" James said, laughing as he began loosening the soil between some young cabbages.

"If you can figure out a way to weed vegetables with the power of your brain, then have at it lad. Until then," Lewis said, waving in the general direction of their neat rows of plants.

"Ever practical you," James said, smiling as he worked loose a stubborn clod of soil.

"Anyroad, I should think your brain might like a bit of a rest, the last few months being what they were" Robbie said, carefully neutral.

There had been a lot of changes in both their lives since they left the force. They didn't talk about it much but they both sensed that their time together, whether here in the allotment, or just meeting for a few pints or a coffee was helping them adapt to this new phase of their lives.

James hadn't replied, but Robbie watched him attacking the weeds in the patch of rocket he'd insisted on planting, humming a bit to himself, and knew that things were going to be fine.


"For God's sake man, do ye not know what to do with a pretty girl in a flowery dress," Robbie said, laughing at James's awkward recitation of being chatted up in the pub after a performance by his band.

"Define KNOW."

"In my day..."

"Is this going to be one of those long stories, with a pithy narrative, and an obvious moral?"

"Shut up and listen."

"Behold your captive audience."

And Robbie simply laughed, and told his story, and if the obvious moral was followed up by an equally obvious "accident" with a watering can that left Robbie with a large quantity of water down the back of his shirt, well that must surely have been a coincidence. But it gave James something to smile over repeatedly during the long days that followed that quiet afternoon.


"You're late."

A rumpled and tired-looking James walked his bike slowly across the grass between the allotment patches.

"Good thing I brought a thermos of tea. You look like you could use a cuppa," Robbie called out as James was propping the bike against their garden shed.

Something Robbie recognized as a noise of agreement was heard, and he motioned James towards the bench they’d wedged in alongside their shed. Neither man said much, just sat, shoulders brushing as they drank their tea. Steam rose above their mugs in the early morning air.

At length, Robbie set his mug down on the bench and got back to the weeding he'd started before James had arrived.

"Took Laura to hear Tosca last night.” Robbie said, conversationally as James joined him.

Robbie could almost hear the raised eyebrow from across the row of staked tomato plants.

In the quiet, Robbie's thoughts drifted to recollections of Morse, and how the opera that he used to hate, blaring away all those years past was now something he, if not liked, was comforted by. He thought maybe Morse would be amused by that. Woolgathering, Robbie almost missed what James was saying.

"A bloke in my house at school used to play his violin at all hours. I used to sneak out to listen to him. Might be why I eventually gave up the piano for my guitar. Better to have something portable anyway. And the piano. Well, the summer house. You remember."

Their years together had given Lewis a first in the mind of James Hathaway.

"Always wondered. At that school of yours, did you have short pants, and a tuck box, and all that?" Robbie asked, with only a hint of amusement in his voice. It was better to keep James talking when he was in one of these moods. And Robbie knew, better than anyone probably, which sensitive spots could be poked at and which ones were better left untouched.

James sat back on his heels and regarded Robbie with amusement.

"During what century do you imagine my schooling took place?"

Which somehow led to an argument about the relevant theories of time travel, which Robbie had no opinions about and James did, and then the conversation swung around to Doctor Who, which Robbie had rather marked opinions about and James tolerated for Robbie’s sake.

It wasn’t until mid-morning when they took a well deserved break, Robbie on the bench, leaning back against the shed, and James sprawled in the grass at his feet that James finally said, “That boy from my school, it was in the paper. He killed himself, in London. Got into some trouble doing some sort of consultancy work with the Yard. Jumped off a building.”

James sighed and scrubbed his face with his hands.

Robbie was working up to saying something comforting. James had always taken the suicides hard, and the events of the past year hadn't helped matters any. But he was interrupted when James was suddenly leapt upon by Mrs. Peterson from the next allotment’s terrier Rufus who had slipped his lead and dashed across the freshly turned earth. And what with chatting with her, and chasing the dog around to get him back on his lead, the subject got dropped.


Get over here lad and tuck into this lot!" Robbie called late one afternoon as James was finishing staking up the runner beans.

"You didn't make those awful sandwiches again, did you?"

"Since when were you of a mind to turn down a free meal?"

"Charity is all well and good, but those sandwiches, they're...." James trailed off, the horrified look on his face saying everything.

Then he added with a smirk, "There's a reason Chesterton said "The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese"."

"Relax soft lad," Robbie said with a laugh, "I put in some egg and cress just for you. And there's some of those pickles you like. Get stuck in and then you can tell me what's got you all broody. Daft really, thinking I wouldn't notice.


Lewis sat on his bench with a cup of coffee from a thermos and looked at the postcard in his hand. Postmarked from Namibia with a strange looking knobbly tree on the front.

Letter to follow. Arrived safely. Home before you know it. Best, James.

p.s. -- don’t forget to set the spring onions!

It was six weeks in Africa this mission trip. But Robbie knew where James' heart lay.

After all, there was still plenty of work yet to be done to winterize their allotment.