In the last month, two flowerbeds planted with tulips have come into bloom. He tells me he planted 300 tulip seeds earlier this year, turning over the soil, and dropping in the seeds at measured intervals. I must have been playing poker at the time because I didn't notice him doing this. Now the flowerbed is so alive with colour I can't bear to look at; the flowers are red, yellow, yellow-red, like flames. I don't dare go near the flower bed in case I catch alight.
But my parents like to sit in the dining room and look through the window at the flowers while they eat. I have taken to eating my dinner upstairs, rushing up with the plate as soon as my mother has made it for me. My parents have taken to avoiding talking to me. They view me as their lost son, aged 19, living across the hall. This is the closest we can come to peace.
One day I walked outside by mistake and saw my father standing by the tulips. Not even doing anything, just standing there looking at them growing older. I caught his eye by mistake and had to say something. "How long will they be up for?" I asked, trying to think of things to say that wouldn't make him look at me with disdain. "About a month", he said. I tried to look awed and appreciative, but I couldn't understand why he would put in so much work for something which lasted such a short time.
Behind the tulips I noticed for the first time a pink-flowered tree. My father told me it's a magnolia tree. Without my asking, he said how much it had cost. I was shocked - he had paid nearly $400 just for a tree! It didn't even do anything. I suppose there were shoots from which you could grow more. But that would just mean more magnolia trees, when chips are what matters.
I hurried upstairs when my father started to point out other shrubs and trees. I realized I couldn't identify the plants in the garden; and I felt ashamed.
I can't make excuses by saying this is a common sickness of youth. Take my friends Clare and Tobias. Like me, they left school and did not find work. Unlike me, instead of poker they fell into a life of romantic poverty. It is hard to find work in Uddevalla; and besides, Tobias has intellectual pretensions, and doesn't want to work in the Volvo factory.
So while avoiding employment, they have enrolled in a state-funded six-month gardening course. I went to see them in their one-room apartment and saw the window-sill taken up by plantpots. They told me they were growing artichokes and chilli peppers. Clare was pruning a bonsai tree while Tobias put down his latest science fiction novel and talked. It seemed to make them happy to have something to tend to, something to be responsible for. What will survive of us is love.
I would like to say their good example stirred a spring-like awakening in my own soul, and that I resolved to stop playing poker, and help my father tend to his garden. But instead, I resolved to grow my bankroll with the care my father gave to his tulips. I locked my door, drew the curtains, and fired up Full Tilt again.