Growing Cities

by Claire Massey

The house was quiet. The radio in the corner that was always on wasn’t on. The grown-ups were in the kitchen. They were being quiet. She pulled on the patio door handle and let herself outside.

Grandma’s roses were full of bees. She ran down the path to Grandad’s greenhouse. The glass was shining and there were raindrops on the inside. When she’d stepped into the soggy air she closed the door behind her, quickly but carefully. There was a tray out on Grandad’s workbench. His favourite stripy blue mug was next to it. She pulled out her crate for standing on. There was a gold-coloured moth floating in Grandad’s tea. Should she pick it out or leave it there? Shouldn’t touch hot drinks. She left the moth to swirl in the milky brown sea.

The workbench had all the things Grandad needed on it; a green watering can, nail scissors, tweezers, spare trays. He kept a bag of compost with a spoon and a trowel in it underneath the bench. He kept the catalogue in the drawer, with some pencils and paper for writing things down.

The catalogue was one of her favourite things. It had pale yellow pages and it smelt like wrapping paper. She didn’t know the words but there were special numbers next to a picture of each seed so that Grandad could write them down on an order form and put it in the post box to ask for more.

Had Grandad planted a seed in this tray? She poked at the soil with her little finger. It was quite wet. So there must be a seed in there. She watched. Nothing was happening yet. Sometimes it took a long time for a city to grow. First there would be a furry layer of grass. She wasn’t allowed to touch it because you never knew when the bumps would spring out. The bumps were actually huts. And the huts were like wooden buds. And out of the buds came houses. She liked it when the houses got bigger but stone took a long time to grow. Sometimes, when they came back another day, a castle would have appeared. And then there would be walls and towers and bigger houses, and lots of smaller houses and chimneys would sprout up round the outside. She stood right back when the tarmac roads came sneaking out of the soil like snakes. Grandad let her collect the cobblestones that the cities shed in an old ice cream tub. They looked like dirty baby fingernails. Sometimes the tall chimneys fell down, sometimes their petals peeled off and there were glass towers inside. Grandad said there were lots of cities inside each city. She wished she lived in a city. Grandad said he did too.

The cities all had funny names that she couldn’t remember. They sometimes grew differently but they always ended up the same. When a city started to die Grandad put it in the shed.

She went to check the shed. No Grandad. She was allowed to leave the door open to the shed, so she could see. The little window was high up and dirty with cobwebs. There were lots of shelves in the shed. On the shelves there were old trays. Grandma said they had ‘the carcrashes of cities in them.’ When she asked Grandad what that meant he said ‘like the chicken bones after Sunday dinner.’

She poked at a factory rooftop near the edge of a tray and her finger went through. She pulled it out carefully and sucked it. It smelt like burnt things and soil in the shed. There were spiders hiding in the cities. When they came in here she always said ‘Why do the cities die?’ and Grandad always said ‘Because everything does. Don’t worry, we can always order another seed. Just don’t tell Grandma.’

Grandad wasn’t sad about the dead cities. He said everything leaves its mark. She ran back out into the garden to find him.

Claire Massey reads, writes and edits whenever she gets chance. In real life she can be found in Lancashire, online she can be found here.

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  1. #1 by Emma on January 22, 2011 - 2:19 pm

    A lovely story, poignant yet positive.

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