Linda loved her garden. The entire back yard was planted to roses and other perennials, beds of bulbs and annuals in their seasons, herbs and berries and some vegetables in rows at the rear. A small square of carefully maintained lawn in the center showcased a few brightly painted cement statues. The brown and white doe with two fawns was the oldest, and a full antlered silver stag had been added just the year before, but the new one was already her favorite. A whimsical gnome holding a rake and shovel had tickled her fancy just the last week when she visited the big nursery down the hill, and she’d taken delivery of it only that morning.
But now after lunch, there seemed to be two of them….
Turning off the water at the back of the house, Linda took her glasses off, rubbed them on the soft cloth of her apron, and then rubbed her eyes before she put the lenses back in place. She was 88 years old, and ready to admit she wasn’t seeing or hearing quite as well as she had when she was younger, but she could not ever remember seeing double before. Well, except for the times she had a tad too much tipple when she was in college, of course. But that had been a very long time ago.
She looked again, really concentrating, and sucked in her breath nervously. “Yes, two. And one is considerably larger. How strange. How very, very strange.” Not really willing to confront such strangeness, even though she faulted herself for cowardice, Linda turned and went into the kitchen, thinking a good, strong cup of tea might help to mend things, the usual remedy when she became confused.
The door had a gentle automatic closer, since she often forgot to close it herself, and it bumped quietly into the latch while she filled the kettle and put it on the stove. All of her stove controls, and a great deal else in her house, was on automatic timers or had other devices to shut things off after a bit, since she so often had managed to walk away from things and never think of them again until something was burning or water was flowing across the floor. Her sons had conspired to rig her whole house that way a few years ago, and she didn’t give it a thought anymore – though it had sometimes been difficult to understand at first.
Under five feet tall, and becoming rather thin as she aged, Linda had beautiful silver hair caught up in a knot on top of her head, and only a few wisps had escaped to make a soft fringe around her very wrinkled brown face. Having spent most of her life in a garden, or otherwise in the sun and weather, her beauty was mostly in her tranquil spirit and good health.
Sipping the last of the tea, which had cooled too much for her taste, she wondered if she should call Bert, her oldest son. Or maybe Dustin, the second. She did not contemplate calling Carrie, her daughter at all. Carrie would not be sympathetic, and she would be useless to deal with the situation anyway. The only thing Carrie had wanted to talk about for the last year or so was the horrible idea that Linda should sell her home and move to something called “assisted living.” “I’m not going to sell my house, and I’m never going to go live with a bunch of old people,” she’d finally shouted, slamming down the telephone. And, after that, there didn’t seem to be much point in talking to her daughter anymore, so Linda was content when Carrie quit calling.
She regretted that she’d never had a particularly close relationship with her only girl, but life was life, and nobody got everything they wanted in any case. She wasn’t foolish enough to believe that her sons completely understood or accepted her eccentric ways, but at least they didn’t argue with her about it. And they would always come if she called them, which Carrie couldn’t do because she’d married that surly lawyer and moved a thousand miles away.
The open kitchen window looked out on the center of the garden, and when Linda went to rinse her cup she dared to look again at the statues. Her usually placid, sweet face produced a deep frown, and she muttered to herself as she moved toward the door. “A cat!” she said to herself. She did not like cats at all, since they dug in her flower beds and deposited their nasty bundles.
“Scoot! Get out of here,” she called, walking down the path between the roses.
The cat was a fawn and chocolate Siamese of rather majestic size and bearing. He looked at her impassively as she approached, and his startling blue eyes seemed to sparkle in the warm sun. Linda was so impressed that she almost didn’t notice that the extra gnome had just taken his arm away from around the cat’s neck. Shocked, she stood still by the silver stag and tried to catch her breath.
Recovering somewhat, she flapped her apron and shouted, “Go on! Get out of here.” Then, since the cat did not so much as move a whisker, she backed up and fled to the house again. Clearly, it was time to call someone. She had no idea what else to do.
“What is it you think you’re doing here, Gonash?” The cat didn’t sound human at all, of course, but his words were perfectly clear to the gnarled and stooped little man-looking creature who peered through a cloud of coarse beard and mustache.
“I dunno,” said the gnome,” tugging at the tunic belted around what would have been his waste if he’d not been so fat. “I like the flowers.” His pointed red hat was liberally dusted with golden pollen, and a sweet pea bloom could be seen tucked into his belt.
“You can see that you have already badly upset the human woman,” the cat replied patiently. “She will call other humans and you will not be able to stay here anyway. Why not come back with me now and avoid all that trouble?”
“She didn’t say or do anything until you showed up,” Gonash said, slyly. “It’s all your fault Pao.”
While most cats don’t sigh like humans do, Pao heaved the cat equivalent and said, “Ok, you are on your own. Call me if you change your mind.”
Gonash nodded and began to pull a few stray blades of grass poking out from among the herb plants in the bed beside the little lawn. He didn’t watch while Pao vanished into the warm afternoon air, and soon curled up to take a little nap in the fragrant patch of thyme that had escaped to grow beneath the cement deer. He was actually a very young gnome, as such things go, and he had not yet perfected the art of remaining visible while he was asleep. So it came to pass that Bert was unable to find either the extra gnome or the giant cat when he finally got off work and came to see what his mother was so upset about.
“Bert thinks I’m imaging things,” Linda muttered, washing the dishes. He’d declined to stay for dinner, hinting that his wife, Ruth, was becoming annoyed with his ever more frequent trips to answer her calls, and she resolved not to bother him anymore. Dustin’s wife, Daphne, had made the same thing very plain to her during their last visit, so Linda had to admit that she would have to take care of anything but a serious emergency on her own from now on. “Snippy girl, that Daphne,” Linda thought. “Good thing she can’t have babies.”
Looking out into the garden, a kaleidescope of color in the last of the sunlight, she wondered what had happened to the extra gnome. She couldn’t see the cat either, which was just fine, and decided to leave well enough alone. Another cup of tea would put her exactly right to watch the evening news, and she’d be ready then to go to bed.
It was too bad she didn’t hear very well, and that she had to turn the TV volume quite high to understand the reporters, who tended to mumble anyway. She enjoyed the weather charts and graphics, though she didn’t believe a word of it, trusting to her own experience and the twinge she’d developed in her fingers and knees the last thirty years or so.
The neighbors, however, were perfectly able to hear even with their own TVs going and, after the telephone had gone unanswered for quite a while, there was a loud knock on her front door and an irate man told her that he would appreciate it if she’d tone down the party going on in her garden.
“But, but… I don’t know anything about it,” she sputtered, watching the man stomp down the sidewalk toward his own place next door. “What party?”
She’d lost all interest in the rest of the news program and decided she really could use one more cup of tea. “The neighbors never used to be this unreasonable,” she said to herself as she entered the kitchen. Tea was forgotten, however, because when she got to the sink to fill the kettle, she could see flashing lights in the garden, and hear a rather garbled lot of singing accompanied by some sort of instrument.
“What in the world is going on?” she thought, never dreaming that the extra gnome had somehow invited a dozen more to visit and enjoy his company with pipe, drum and a barrel of beer.
She flipped the three switches at the back door, and the garden was immediately flooded with light from three directions. The noise stopped suddenly, and a spotlight aimed at the little lawn revealed a frenzy of motion for just a few moments. The silence seemed to almost create a vacuum, and Linda could smell the herbs very strongly as she walked down the path. Then, trembling with both fury and fear, she observed that the little lawn had been thoroughly trampled and the cement gnome had toppled over, face down. She didn’t wait to see if there was other damage, but assumed there would be some.
“No cat made that mess,” she said to herself, rushing back to the house and carefully, if uncharacteristically, locking the door behind her. She marched to the front door and locked that as well, then called Bert and told him what had happened.
He promised to come by the next day, a Saturday, and see what he could do about restoring the garden, but didn’t say a word about her rather disjointed account of the loud party. “She’s really losing it these days,” he said to himself, glad that Ruth was away at one of her club meetings. “I need to talk to Dustin and Carrie soon.”
Linda went to bed, never even hoping to be able to sleep. But she did sleep, and her eyes opened to the bright sunlight of another summer morning, thinking about the extra gnome and the wild party in the garden the night before, wondering if she’d imagined it all. “But no, Bob from next door was here complaining about it, so I couldn’t have been dreaming.” Shaking her head at the imponderable, she put on her robe and went into the kitchen.
The garden lay before her as always, bright with color and sweet with the scent of flowers and herbs. The climbing roses on the west fence nodded in the breeze, and the big trees across the back flashed the silver and forest green of their leaves. She filled the kettle and turned on the stove, then stepped out the back door, only momentarily surprised to find she had to unlock it.
Nothing looked disturbed from the doorway, so she went down the path toward the lawn and was glad to see the gnome standing where he should have been. The deer all looked as always, and there was no sign of disturbance in the grass, so she reluctantly turned her eyes to the herb beds, wondering how they could be restored.
Eyes very wide, she began to truly question the state of her mind as she observed each herb in its place, the soil smooth and weed free around them as always. Behind the herbs, the rhubarb and asparagus beds were clean and full, as usual, and even the little row of radishes that formed a border was undisturbed. “But I know what I saw last night,” she said to herself. “And Bob would not have come over like that if there had been nothing.”
Just then, Bert arrived in the driveway and she winced as he slammed the car door shut. He’d evidently gotten hold of his temper by the time he opened the side gate because he closed it gently, but Linda could see he was quite frustrated as he surveyed the well kept garden and the standing gnome.
“Well, Mom,” he said with a sigh, “it looks fine to me. What really happened?”
Just then, Bob poked his head over the fence and frowned at them, saying, “I’m surprised at you, Mrs Wellington. You’ve never had loud parties before!”
Bert looked stunned, his eyes going back and forth between the garden and the man peering over the fence. And then he focused on the very large cat sitting in the middle of the lawn. “When did you get a cat, Mom?” he said, walking toward it.
“I don’t have a cat, and you know it,” she said. “But somehow, I think that one is involved in this problem.”
The cat walked under the stag as they approached, and when they got to the lawn they couldn’t see it anywhere, but Bert bent to pull a funny little wooden barrel out of the shadow cast by the deer family. Handing Linda the barrel, then scratching his head, he had to admit that SOMETHING had happened there, though he didn’t expect ever to understand it. He kissed his mother and went out the gate, driving away without another word.
Linda set the little barrel by the cement gnome and went off to find a pan so she could harvest a few herbs and things for her lunch. She hadn’t ever really let things disturb her for long, even very strange things, and only hoped that her adventures were over.
Later, she called the nursery and requested that they come pick up the garden gnome she’d purchased. It had not turned out to be perfectly satisfactory after all. “Maybe some ducks and geese would be nice instead,” she thought, but determined to give it some time before she made up her mind.
That evening, in the fragrant dark, a gnome appeared and inspected the empty spot where the cement one had stood. Picking up the barrel, he heaved a big sigh of regret and then vanished.
Pao stepped from behind the herbs and sat to wash his whiskers. “Silly gnome,” he said to himself. “I don’t even know where to start mending all the memories of this mess. We’ll just have to live with it, I guess.” Then, with a flick of his tail, he vanished into the gloom as well.
[This is a chapter from one of my novels. I give them away, as a pdf or word .doc files in email. Let me know if you’d like to read more of them.]