‘Hi!’ Rickett’s breath was hot on the back of Fed’s neck.
Fed pressed a hand against the Orchard wall and prayed for strength.
‘Man, I’ve never seen anybody work as hard as you do, Fed.’
Fed finished the branch he was pruning and tucked his sheers into their ancient leather pouch. It had only been a matter of time. The minute Fed met the newcomer he’d known the man was a fraud.
Rickett had certainly planned well – all the senior gardeners were away at a conference. Fed picked two pears from the espaliered tree and passed one to the smiling stranger. He’d tried to tell the other gardeners but no one would listen. Didn’t they see the paleness of his hands or the immaculately manicured fingernails? Wasn’t that proof enough that Rickett was no gardener?
Rickett’s teeth sunk into the soft golden pear. The juices ran down his chin, trickled through his trendy five o’clock shadow and dripped onto his immaculate shirt. ‘Man this sucks.’ He wiped his chin dry with the back of his hand and pointed to the wall. ‘Don’t you ever wonder what the fruit in the Orchard tastes like?’
Fed’s hand went protectively to his chest, where a key dangled from an impossibly thin gold chain. He didn’t need to wonder. He knew what the fruit tasted like. All the true gardeners did. Why hadn’t they listened to him?
‘It’s the boss’ private Orchard. He forbids us entry.’
‘Not to me, he doesn’t.’ Rickett’s voice was gently persuasive. ‘Give me the key.’
‘No.’ Fed slowly swallowed his mouthful of fruit.
‘Nobody says “no” to me. Nobody.’
Rickett threw his pear on the ground and made a threatening fist with his right hand.
‘D don’t matter what you d do. Only the b boss can t take the k key off me.’ Fed backed up against the branch-covered wall, absorbing strength from it. ‘Only the boss can open the gate.’
‘Who says I can’t take the key off you? I don’t see anybody coming to help you. Don’t see no boss around to stop me. Look at you, brainless idiot. How stupid can your boss be, leaving you to tend his trees and safeguard his private Orchard?’
Fed shrugged. He’d said the same things to the boss when he’d lowered the chain over his head. There wasn’t a day went by when he didn’t repeat the reply to himself in humble wonder.
Fed, people will come claiming that I have given them the right to enter this garden and eat its fruit. Don’t believe them. I have chosen you. They will try to confuse you but you will confound them with your simple faith. Believe me, only I can open that gate. Anyone who tries has me to answer to.
‘Why must I have the key, then?’
‘Patience, eventually all will be revealed.’
Rickett grasped the front of Fed’s sun bleached flannelette shirt and snarled, ‘OK, let’s do it the hard way.’
His fist smashed into Fed’s stomach. Boney knuckles cut upwards, snapping his head back. Fed slid down the wall. Rickett bobbed down in front of the bleeding gardener and laughed. Gently he removed the chain from around Fed’s neck and dangled the key in front of his face.
Fed felt so sorry for Rickett. He almost didn’t look as he pushed the key into the keyhole.
You will confound them with your simple faith.
Fed felt the blood, thicker and warmer than pear juice, trickle down his chin.’
‘The boss said only he can open the gate.’
Rickett laughed again and turned the key in the look.
‘Where is your boss now, Fed? Huh?’
He pushed at the gate, frowning when it didn’t yield.
‘He is here, he is watching. Please, Rickett, there is still time.’
With a groan the gate gave way under Rickett’s weight.
‘Yaha! See I told you so. I’m in!’
Fed saw the glow first. He’d lost count of the number of times he’d seen it. How many false gardeners had joined the community in search of the key to The Orchard. How many had come to steal its life giving fruit. How many were not prepared to wait until the boss reached out and gave that incomparable fruit freely.
Tears of grief and compassion rolled down Feds cheeks as Rickett slumped to his knees.
Fed’s shaking hand clasped the key, safe as ever nestled on his chest.
I have chosen you.
Once again the deceiver had been deceived.
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