When my dad visited me in rehab, he would bring little offerings to make me feel better. A newspaper clipping about the zoo, little sachets of miso soup, a small posy of violets. And one day, a pomegranate. Everything about it was exquisite. Once my visitors had gone home for the day, I held it in my hand – a crimson magical orb. I’d eaten a pomegranate before, but I’d never dissected it like I did that day. The process of cutting into the fruit and cracking it open felt like some kind of brutal surgery, the seeds bleeding into my fingers. I peeled away chunks of pith and peel – at once leathery and delicate – football red on the outside and a soft cream on the inside. Row on honeycombed row of translucent seeds was lodged into the pith like teeth in someone’s gums, each compartment veiled from the others with a filmy rose-yellow silk membrane. I prised them out one by one, and took photos of all of it – the broken scraps of peel, the membrane, the translucent seeds. Here was something that, even when split apart and broken only revealed more beauty.
A few days after I was released from rehab and could join Rima and girls in our new house, a pomegranate tree was delivered – a gift in Z’s name from dear friends who lived overseas. It stood, green and hopeful, on the porch as the summer days and weeks wore on – hot and dry. I feared it would die there. I almost willed it to die there, and then was torn with guilt at the idea that I could kill my daughter’s memory in plant form. Nonetheless, we waited.
At first we were waiting for the placenta – I wanted to bury those cells that belonged to both Z and me underneath the tree. The placenta had been dutifully saved by our midwives at the hospital – it was the one part of our birth plan that they were able to deliver. It was being held by the histopathologists at the hospital after being examined to confirm the cause of Z’s death. When I tried to follow it up, we were invited to a meeting at the hospital. They put on their understanding faces, and made the ‘sorry for your loss’ noises. My placenta had been treated with formaldehyde, making it toxic. I imagined it floating in a jar. ‘Does that mean you want to keep it?’ ‘No, no, but it has to be disposed of as medical waste. Not so great to plant in your garden, especially if you are growing food there’. It was a very long way of saying, ‘no, you can’t have it.’ By that time the fight had gone out of me. The poor histopathologists – I think it was probably quite odd for them to have the owner of some tissue that they had preserved and examined show up and demand it back. So from then on we were no longer waiting on medical bureacrats but on my own battered ability to make decisions and to dig a hole.
The drought had killed a small tree in the front yard – it stood, unrepentantly ugly between our bay window and the front fence. I didn’t know what kind of tree it was – much as I liked the idea of a garden, gardening itself was still something I thought old people did. It was nearly March by the time we started digging it out, when the Preston clay was at its hardest. I threw the pick at the ground, over and over again, carving out the rough outline of a circle around the dead tree. The arc of the pick swinging up, the rush down and the ‘thuck’ of contact – the sheer solidity of the earth was a relief. I didn’t need to weep, or think, or speak. Just dig. My convalescent limbs were sore and sweaty from the work – I took a long bath with some chalky bathpowder my sister had given me for Christmas a few months ago on that other planet that was my life pre-accident.
The next day I carried bucket after bucket out across the porch and out to our hole. I gave the dead tree a relaxing bath in my second-hand bathwater. The clay held the water almost as well as the enamel bath tub. The digging, to my regret, had to be postponed while the water level slowly soaked lower and lower until I braved the mud and worried away at the dead tree’s root system , carving away the stiff mud. My dad and occasionally Rima took turns, but I was alone for the last bit, when the tree developed a tantalizing wobble, like a loose tooth. Even then it took nearly an hour before it gave way with a satisfying crunch, the small dead tree suddenly lurching so that it looked more dead and more out of place than before. Remembering what it was like to feel strong in my unfamiliar, resurrected body, I lifted it part-way out of the hole before calling for help.
It left a crater in the front yard – a crater I tended lovingly with clay-breaker and compost, before we finally eased the sickly looking pomegranate tree into the hole. Promptly on arriving in its new home, the tree dropped the rest of its leaves for autumn, leaving us to wonder about its survival until Spring. Miraculously, there in August were tiny red buds – having eschewed the colour red for autumn yellows, our little pomegranate tree wore red for Spring instead.
I would prune the miniature roses at the front of the house, making a tiny posy to bring inside and then carrying the loose petals and heads over to the pomegranate tree to sprinkle the petals at the base of the tree, giving it a composting carpet of pink, red and yellow-gold-pink. It became a ritual. A chance to have a natter with my beautiful girl. “I miss you, my little love. I wish you were in the house, being loud.” I would kneel in the front yard chatting to a pomegranate tree – ok with being the crazy grieving mother of the neighbourhood if it mean I could chat with my daughter. Or maybe they thought I was just a very attentive gardener?
When two and half years later, after Ali was born, I realised that the stash of frozen breastmilk had passed its use-by date, I let it defrost, and then poured it out under the pomegranate tree, finally giving my daughter the milk she’d never tasted.
We dug that hole a second time nearly four years later. The ground it grew in was no longer ours – sold at auction to another family after Rima and I separated. The rest of the garden was theirs – the quince tree with its delicate blossom, the hot pink camellia which helped us through the winters, the miniature roses which I had picked posy after tiny posy for Zainab from – but the pomegranate tree I needed to take with me. A colleague’s son achieved in five minutes what had taken us hours and days four years before, slicing neatly around the root-ball and leveraging it up onto his ute.
Here, the pomegranate tree takes up most of an enormous wine-barrel pot on my little deck – within a line of sight from the kitchen sink. I worried about whether it would survive a second transplantation, into a more confined home, but when it lost its leaves, there on the fence side were two modest sized orbs – its first edible fruit.