Greywater Gardens lives up to its name, I thought, as I made my way up the damp concrete slabs, bridging across the stagnant pond. Everywhere leading up to the ashen, decrepit house was lined by rotten flowers and the congealed faeces of cats, dogs and other animals. The water itself looked like it had remained the same for centuries. This place is dead. As dead as I am.
I arrived at the door – more a collection of damp splinters – and, hesitantly, pushed it open, causing the hinges to shriek. No. No more shrieking. Please.
The inside was as drab and oppressive as the outside, and my nostrils filled with the scents of mould and neglect and regret. Or maybe it’s just me. I hadn’t showered in days. I couldn’t face the water. There was what appeared to some kind of waiting area (three or four old wicker chairs), and one of those ‘please be seated’ signs you find in posh restaurants. So, looking around for the slightest bit of human company, I sat down, and waited.
Despite myself, my wallet found its way into my hands, and then the picture of Em I kept in there found its way in front of my eyes. I could never throw this away, no matter how many times I told myself to, for the sake of my own sanity. But I couldn’t. This was all I had left of her fair white skin and pale blue eyes and ginger hair I’d tease her about, and the freckles on her face and chest…She was beautiful. I tried to correct myself to present tense, but I couldn’t. I’d never forget the day the last of that ginger hair fell out.
A cough brought me back to reality, and I looked, blinking back tears, to see an old man, bald and bearded and stooped over, grinning through a mouth of yellow teeth. His clothes were as grey and wiry as the hairs on his face, like he was Greywater Gardens in human form. Even his right eye was grey; the left was just a black, empty socket, with the eyelids hanging over it forlornly.
“You have an appointment?” he spoke like he hadn’t used his voice in years.
“Y-yes… I have a secret… I want to deposit it…”
“I know you do,” he said. He let me grasp for words, wondering how the hell he knew, when he said: “You wouldn’t be here for any other reason, would you?” He turned, and beckoned me to follow him into the back room. I gazed at the picture of Em, one last time. I love you. Then I slid it back in my wallet, and did as I was bid.
The room was more of the same, grey and wet and rotting and horrid. The only remarkable feature was the huge, hefty ledger on an antique wooden table, next to a plain steel chalice, and the middle of the room was a concrete pool, only a few feet across, filled with the same stagnant, grey water from the ponds outside. The old man opened the ledger:
“You wish to deposit a secret?” he asked, perhaps as a formality. Or maybe he’s playing with me.
“Yes,” I said.
“Your name?” I told him. “Excellent. Then let’s begin.” He picked up the chalice and moved to the pool. He bent down, agonisingly slow, but eventually he filled the cup and shuffled over to me.
“Drink the water,” he told me, a grin playing upon his old and papery lips as he pushed the cup into my hand. “The water will enter you and your secret will replace it in the water. No man can discern its murky depths.” His smile was now so wide I thought his face might crack open. “But be warned: once I have taken custody of your secret, you can never reveal it. No one will ever know, but there will be no confidence or confession or chance of redemption. Are you sure this is the path you wish to take?”
“I am,” I didn’t even hesitate. No one can know, for both our sakes. The old man shrugged, and took a step back. I raised the cold steel to my face, but before I could drink, curiosity gripped me. “Why do you take other people’s secrets?”
“In the world of the blind,” he laughed, raspy and throaty, and tapped at his missing eye, “the man with one eye is king.” And I knew exactly what he meant.
For you, Em, I thought as I downed my morbid toast. I dropped the chalice and left without a word, knowing now that she was safe. As I walked out of Greywater Gardens, I looked down at the putrid pond, and remembered; it wasn’t the water that was grey at all, but her face, as I held her frail body down in the bath.