There was a hole in the fence. It was the first thing Beth had noticed about the garden when they moved in. While Dad fussed and faffed in the house, pulling in the building blocks of their lives from the moving van, Beth had explored the garden. The bright, spring morning was the first sunny day after months of winter darkness and she had been eager to breathe in the brisk, slightly warmed air rather than the dust and the recently painted aroma of the house. The garden was bare - a perfect photo for the estate agents - and Beth thought bitterly of the garden they had left behind - the cluttered, lived in garden that had been filled with toys and Dad’s half-finished DIY projects. Moving hadn’t been something that either of them wanted; their lives uprooted and changed unexpectedly in a tragedy that had blindsided them all. The family cut down by half by an accident involving a car, rain and a teenage driver more concerned about checking their phone. In the weeks of turmoil and agony that had followed, moving house had become an inevitability and while Dad had seen the prospect of change as the promise of healing, Beth had learned not to hope. Now she was faced with a new house, a new life and a new, overly manicured garden. The only interesting thing about this new space was the hole in the fence and the young girl was inextricably drawn to it.
The splinters around the hole had dug uncomfortably into her cheek as she pressed her eye into the opening but the discomfort had been forgotten in an instant as she gazed through. Logic told her that she should be looking at next door’s garden. The empty house should have an overgrown, unkempt garden, perhaps with unwanted rubbish strewn around but what Beth had seen was neither garden nor, she’d realised, this world.
Beyond the hole lay a desolate wasteland, storm clouds hovering threateningly in the distance. There was nothing as far as the eye could see bar the occasional gnarled stub of a tree that clung desperately to the side of hills. Irregular tufts of grass littered the greying dirt of the mounds and they were hardly the vivid green of the landscaped lawn in Beth’s own garden. In the distance, specks of black circled in the sky, riding the thermals and occasionally diving sharply towards some unseen prey. Dust swirled up and through the hole, forcing Beth to jerk her head back and wipe at the grit.
That had been over a decade ago and it seemed that not only was Beth the only person who could see through the hole to the world beyond, it seemed that Beth was the only person to see the hole itself. Pleading, temper tantrums and cajoling could not convince Dad that there was anything other than wooden panels there and Beth had learned the hard way not to ask other people about it. At best, they thought she was joking and at worst, they quietly suggested to her father that medical intervention was necessary.
The world beyond was not static though. It had taken Beth years to understand it.
There was the time, three and a half months after they moved in, that Beth and Dad had finally unpacked the last box. At the bottom had been a tiny dinosaur, one leg broken off and some of the paint rubbed away. Dad had pulled it out and, sitting back on his haunches, held it aloft for her to see. He began his sentence, “Do you remember when…” and it was the first time they’d spoken about her brother where they’d both smiled at the same time without grief clouding their eyes. Later that day, Beth had gone into the garden and looked through to the world beyond and had been startled to see a splash of blue on the arid hillside. A tiny forget-me-not had bloomed and the colour stood out in stark relief to the desolation around it.
There was the time, two years later, when Beth had raced home from school to find her Dad proudly holding her SATs results in his hand. He’d let her choose a takeaway and promised her a trip to the trampoline park the next day. That evening, they sat in the dying light of the day and he taught her how to coax flames from paper and firelighters in the firepit. Before she headed to bed, she’d pressed her eye to the hole in the fence and had seen bright sunlight blanketing the world beyond, which had been getting greener and more verdant as time went on. The little blue flowers had multiplied and neatly covered the side of the hill, having been joined by white snowdrops and a wide array of other wildflowers.
Then there had been the time, not too long after that, when Beth had come home from school earlier than planned and had surprised Dad in the kitchen with a woman she didn’t know. They’d been holding hands and looking at each other in a way that Beth remembered her Dad looking at only one other person before. They’d pulled apart abruptly but not before Beth had seen the gentle smile that betrayed her father’s adoration. She’d flown out the door into the back garden and the hole in the fence showed the world beyond caught in a maelstrom. Lightning crackled overhead and stabbed down, splitting trees in two and setting fire to the ground below. Fierce winds tore petals and hurled them about, shredding the hillside and blinding her with the force of the gusts.
Today though, as she took one long look through the hole in the fence while Dad and Sue loaded the car with the last of her bags and planned the route to her halls of residence, the world beyond was shaded. The wildflowers swayed lazily in what seemed to be an early morning breeze and she could see the first few sparrows flitting from their nests. There were more trees now, more than saplings but not yet established and she saw a squirrel on the nearest one poke its head out and chitter excitedly. In the distance, the first few rays of sunlight began to bathe the landscape and Beth inhaled deeply, breathing in the crisp notes of a new day before pulling away. She took two steps away and then turned, suddenly anxious, wanting to get one last glimpse of the world only she could see. A moment of confusion followed, wandering fingers probing the fence panel, searching for something that was no longer (and perhaps had never been) there. It was okay though. She didn’t need it anymore.