Figure after commenting on other folk's work, it's time to put up a piece of my own. This is an old one, let me know what you think.
“Oh, no you don’t. You might as well put that thing back in the car and return it right now.”
Mary looked at me over the top of the bundle she cradled in her arms, then bumped the back door of the car shut with her hip. “What’ve you got against Hans?” she asked as she approached, stopping to kick her shoes off before stepping onto the grass.
“Hans? You’ve already named it?” I let the spreader drop and moved to intercept her.
“That’s the name on the certificate of adoption. Hans Blinkenfeller.” She blinked up at me. “Now get out of my way; he’s kind of heavy and I don’t want to drop him.” When I didn’t move, she circled to my right.
“Mary…darling,” I said, turning to watch her trek up the gentle slope toward the house. “You can’t put that thing in my yard.”
“I’m not putting him in [i]your[/i] yard. I’m putting him in [i]my[/i] flower bed.” Despite my annoyance, I couldn’t help admiring the view as she bent over and planted “Hans’s” feet firmly in the dirt, shifting him back and forth until she was sure he wouldn’t topple over.
Stepping back, she dusted off her hands against each other and said, “Isn’t he just adorable?”
Hans was a two-foot tall garden gnome. The point of his bright red hat flopped over to one side. His eyes were a dark brown that caught the sunlight, adding what looked like an amused twinkle to the painted laugh lines at the corners of his eyes. The vest that covered his rounded belly was painted a garish yellow with even gaudier orange buttons, the shirt beneath it an earthy brown. His pants were dark blue; the shoes with turned down ankles and pointy toes red like his hat. One hand was held up in greeting. The other clutched the bowl of a long-stemmed clay pipe. The mouthpiece of the pipe rested on his strawberry red lips, which were parted in a toothy smile. A stark white beard streaked with gray reached down to the middle of his chest, though his upper lip was bare. Each of his cheeks bore a rosy red circle.
“Yeah, okay…he’s kinda cute in a tacky sort of way. But….”
“But the yard is your pride and joy, and you don’t want a gnome in it,” she finished for me. I nodded weakly and looked out over the lawn. It was a vibrant emerald green that sloped down to the perfectly edged sidewalk. The seed I’d bought had been golf course grade bluegrass-fescue, expensive but worth every penny; it was so soft and flexible that walking on it was like getting the world’s best massage. From the beginning of spring until the end of autumn I worked on it daily, trimming and edging, weeding and fertilizing, watering and mowing—the grass maintained at a uniform two inches. There were few lawns in the allotment that came close to rivaling its glory and beauty.
“Well,” she said, sliding her arms around my waist from behind, “You should be thanking me for adopting Hans.”
I turned in her arms. “Why’s that?”
Standing on tiptoe, she kissed my chin. “Because according to his papers, he’s guaranteed to bring joy, protection, and fertility to his home.”
“That a money back guarantee?”
She pinched my arm. “Don’t be silly.”
I looked over her head at the gnome. He grinned back at me.
“You really like that hideous little thing, don’t you?”
“Don’t call him hideous,” she pouted. “And yes, I do. I knew the moment I saw Hans that I had to have him.”
I sighed. She grinned up at me, knowing that Hans wasn’t going anywhere. Sliding her hands down, she gave my ass a quick squeeze. Then she stepped back and grabbed my hand.
“Why don’t we put that fertility clause to the test?” she asked in a sultry voice, pulling me toward the house.
* * * *
It’s not that I have anything against lawn ornamentation. We had a stone frog out by the waterfall-slash-fishpond in the backyard, keeping watch over the goldfish; a faun supported the basin of the birdbath on his shoulders; several birdfeeders—built by me, painted by Mary—hung from tree limbs; and old-fashioned lampposts lined the driveway. It’s just that all of those things were part of the landscape; they contributed to the ambiance.
Hans, on the other hand, stuck out like a sore thumb. The riotous colors of his clothing couldn’t be made to blend in—there was no way that Mary could sculpt the flowerbed to mask his presence. When I asked her if she could move him behind the house, maybe beside it…well, we don’t argue often, but that was one of those rare occasions I slept on the couch.
I found myself idly plotting ways to get rid of Hans. Clipping him with the lawnmower, hitting him with a football when the nephews were over, bribing the paperboy to “miss” the steps, simply removing him while she was out. My fantasies grew in frequency as the summer progressed—every year, around the end of July the Clarion ran a feature on local lawns in their Home and Garden section. I was sure that Hans’s presence would nix our otherwise certain chances at being featured. They remained fantasies, however; I just couldn’t imagine causing Mary that kind of grief.
She adored him completely. She’d talk to him while working on her flowers, carrying him around to the other beds while she worked. But he always wound up back between the steps and the living room bay window. She even purchased a flat piece of river stone for him to stand on, burying the edges while leaving the center of the stone clear. The attention she lavished on him was a bit unnerving…it was as if Hans was the child we’d been unable to conceive after seven years of trying.
Still, I became used to Hans, even if I never quite accepted his intrusion into my yard. Except for the one argument, things went well enough—until Mary’s accident. It happened about six weeks after she brought Hans home. An old blue Buick ran a red light, clipping her as she crossed the street. The driver never even slowed down to see what he’d hit. Her injuries could have been a lot worse—broken leg, fractured wrist, couple of busted ribs, assorted scrapes and bruises. No permanent damage…except for the miscarriage. The doctor told us she was about a month along. We hadn’t even known she was pregnant until they told us she’d lost the baby. I watched her face crumple as what the doctor was saying sunk in; watched as the tears that physical pain hadn’t been able to elicit spilled from her eyes.
I sat beside her bed, holding her good hand in both of mine until long after the painkillers eased her into a fitful sleep. I sat there staring at her swollen eye, her bruised jaw, listening to her breath hitch whenever she took too deep of a breath. My thoughts were a disorganized whirl of grief and rage. Grief at nearly losing Mary, grief at losing the baby, rage at the unknown asshole who had done this. I wanted him caught, wanted him punished for what he’d done, for what he’d taken from us. Dark thoughts of revenge spun through my imagination. I suppose, though, that anyone watching me wouldn’t have had the slightest inkling that any of that was roaring through my mind. I kept my face frozen in a carefully sculpted mask of serenity; I resisted the urge to pace. The last thing I wanted to do was for my own anxiety to distress Mary if she should waken unexpectedly.