Fiction | Short Story

Then the Gnome Hit the Roof

Nothing wrong with a little guerrilla lawn care, right?

“Katie Geller,” I heard someone exclaim and I recognized her the moment I turned.  Still sturdily pretty, hair in the same neat bouffant, my favorite neighbor from my childhood block.  She reached to hug me but forgot the plunger in her outstretched arm and a cascade of toilet chains and floaters tinkled to the floor.

I made my first foray on Tuesday night. The kids were tucked in bed, stories read, lights out, and though it was almost 9 o’clock, the summer warmth made the evening feel longer than it really was.  I called to Sam to let him know I was heading out, using the excuse that we were low on diapers. Which was true and as any parent of a toddler knows, you never want to run low on diapers.  But I also stopped in the garage to grab a pair of pruning shears and gardening gloves, and I didn’t tell Sam that part.

I pulled up to the house and turned off the engine.  In the weak light of the streetlamps, the spindly weeds cast spiky shadows across the front of the house and the roof sagged like a droopy washing line against the moonlit sky.  “Bloody hell,” I said to the silence of my car.   

The shears made a solid thwack as they closed around the woody branches of an overgrown hawthorn bush.  I scissored away for a while, lost in a rhythm, avoiding the thorns as I reached up and around the back of the bush, ducking as the clipped branches fell around me to the ground.  When my face prickled with heat and sweat dripped down the small of my back, I stopped, pushed the hair away from my forehead, and stood back to survey my work.

father, who could most easily reach the top, kept the bush trimmed in a perfect snow globe sphere.   At least until the side-swipe divorce, when in the span of months he’d dyed out the grey in his hair and taken up with a tanned and lacquered associate from sales.  “Your mother is the one with problems, not me,” he’d announced.  And, “you’re a real bitch, you know?”After that, the responsibility for pruning, and for all the lawn maintenance, had fallen on my mother, and my brother, and on me, whichever one of us had the time to spare.  But we never let anything slide.   We just pulled out a ladder.  

But now the bush was an eviscerated version of its old self, overgrown in some patches while hacked nearly to the ground in others.  Like someone who’d torn out chunks of her hair.  

do you think you’re grinning at, you goon?”

If anything went through my head at all as I kicked him, it was that the gnome was probably wrought iron and I’d likely end up with a very sore foot. But as luck would have it, he was made of plastic and it was a perfectly landed kick. There was a satisfying crack as my foot made contact then he shot up head-first like he was making straight for the moon. Blast off.   

I put my foot on the next rung and then — as I supposed was inevitable — the front door opened.  Not the exterior glass door I was leaning against but the interior wooden door, and that bought me time to scramble — not down (you think of these things after the fact) but up, onto the roof of the portico where I came face to plastic feet with the gnome.  Well, aren’t we a pair? I thought as I hunched at the rim with my butt next to my feet next to my hands for balance.  The human gargoyle and her gnomic friend.

“I know you’re there,” he said.  His pale hand reached toward the ladder.

“Who are you?” he asked again.  

How ironic, I thought.  

But then, as I waited, I began to picture everything that would happen next. The climb down the ladder to the police. The neighbors, woken by the sirens, standing around and shaking their heads. There’d be the humiliating plea to please let me off easy because all I really did was pull some weeds and the even more humiliating call to Sam, who would be oh-so-understanding.

I waited but still there was nothing.  No voice on the phone,  no sirens or flashing lights.  Nothing — but the sound of the door closing, the latch clicking back into place, and then the quiet night.