From the minute I open my eyes, my day builds to the moment I walk in his room. Nicky.
I feed the cats, Dorothy and William Wordsworth, and let Walter Scott the Labrador out for a run in the farmyard, then it’s a quick wash in my spartan bathroom and off to work across the valley.
I love my job. I’m a registrar, there at the sweetest and sharpest moments of people’s lives: when they choose their baby’s name; when they plight their troth; when they come to tell me someone they love has gone.
Of course, all we registrars enjoy the weddings: the beautiful dresses, the unfortunate hats, the kilts as camp as a row of tents. And who can resist the babies? We wait with held breath to hear the names. We never judge. No, it’s Glen in the regional office who judges. We out in the branches just enter our bids . . . for craziest name of the week, the month, and the year. I had a pair of twin called Tancred and Ulrika a while back. I won Schnapps and a manicure.
But the work that’s most important is when we register a death. That’s when I know I can make a difference. A kind word from me might be the only bright moment in those long dark days of grieving.
At five o’clock, the forms are logged, the system is backed up, and I shut the office. My pulse is quickening, there’s a skip in my step – I’m going to see him soon. Nicky.
The care home is the only other house anywhere near me. It’s why I live where I do. I look after the cats and the elderly dog for Miss Drumm and she lets me have it rent-free. So I can be there every night, spend every evening with him.
My boy. My beautiful boy. Nicky is his name. He has soft dark hair and soft pale skin. He’s tall and very slim and just the sight of him makes me happy. I chat to him, tell him about my day. I put salve on his lips where his breathing tube chafes him and I take off his friendship bracelets and massage his wrists in case they’re itchy. But mostly I read to him. I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. It’s our special book, full of poems like ‘Night and Day’
“Garden darkened, daisy shut,
Child in bed, they slumber,
Glow-worm in the highway rut,
Mice among the lumber.”
Poems that make Nicky’s life seem safe and cosy. It’s harmless. It comforts me.
Soon enough though, it’s time to leave him. I give him magic kisses – one on each eye to send him to sleep, one in each hand to keep – then I square my shoulders to face Miss Drumm in the room next door. She’s pushing ninety, completely blind, uses a wheelchair, and she’s made up of equal parts pepper and carpet tacks. She’s my best friend.
‘What’s the news from the land of the living, Gloria?” she asks me.
“Not that kind of news,” she barks. “What’s afoot in the village?”
“Well, I booked a wedding today. Two lovely boys who’ve been together ten years.” Miss Drumm snorts. She hasn’t a romantic bone in her body. “And Mr Mortimer died.”
That’s more like it. A death is news she can get her teeth into.
“Gerald Mortimer? What carried him off then? He was barely eighty.”
“He went to a nightclub in Glasgow and snapped a vertebra break-dancing.”
Miss Drumm rewards me with a smile and lies back on her pillows. “Ah well,” she says. “It comes to us all. It’s coming to me, Gloria, and I’m beginning to feel ready.” She takes off her spectacles and closes her blind eyes. “Run along,” she says. “Let me rest now and I’ll see you tomorrow just the same.”
“Just the same,” I echo, as I always do. It’s our blessing to each other, like Nicky’s magic kisses. We’ve been saying it for ten years.
But tonight, for the first time, we’re wrong. By the time I see Miss Drumm again my careful little life, so precious to me, will be upside down and inside out. Someone is coming, out of the past, to change everything.
You can read more about Gloria in The Child Garden, published by Midnight Ink.
About The Child Garden
Eden was its name. “An alternative school for happy children.” But it closed in disgrace after a student’s suicide. Now it’s a care home, the grounds neglected and overgrown. Gloria Harkness is its only neighbor, staying close to her son who lives in the home, lighting up her life and breaking her heart each day.
When a childhood friend turns up at her door, Gloria doesn’t hesitate before asking him in. He claims a girl from Eden is stalking him and has goaded him into meeting near the site of the suicide. Only then, the dead begin to speak—it was murder, they say.
Gloria is in over her head before she can help it. Her loneliness, her loyalty, and her all-consuming love for her son lead her into the heart of a dark secret that threatens everything she lives for.
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About the author
Catriona McPherson writes the Agatha, Macavity and Alexander winning Dandy Gilver detective series, set in her native Scotland in the 1930s. The Child Garden is the latest in her strand of Anthony-winning and Edgar-nominated standalones. Catriona immigrated to America in 2010 and lives in northern California where she writes almost full-time (except for being Sisters in Crime president).
Visit Catriona at www.catrionamcpherson.com.