This week’s #SampleSunday piece is something new. In a lovely little writers’ group we have on Facebook, called “Writing Kindle Books”, we chat about writing, marketing, and football. One day, someone asked “What’s the next big thing in fiction?” We’ve had wizards, we’ve got vampires and the like, and … well, it seemed obvious. Gnomes. That’s right, gnomes are going to be The Next Big Thing in fiction. Just remember, you heard it here first.
Here’s my piece. I hope you enjoy it.
Steve took the tissue paper wrapping off it.
“What do you think?”
I looked up from the book I was reading. I thought it was hideous.
“It’s hideous,” I said.
Steve looked genuinely shocked. “Do you think? I think it’s kinda cute. Look at his big, bulbous nose.” He gave it a playful tweak. “OW!”
He looked at his finger, where a tiny, red bubble of blood was just appearing. “There must be a sharp edge. I’ll go and smooth it off.”
“And not throw it in the bin?” I asked.
“No,” Steve replied, cradling the thing in his arms protectively. “I really like it. It’ll look good in the front garden.”
I stopped reading, and closed the book cover.
“It’s NOT going in the front garden.”
Steve looked hurt. He looked genuinely hurt. In our six years of marriage, we’d had few disagreements, and even fewer full-blown arguments, but this looked like it was going to be one of those times. But Steve backed down.
“Okay, okay, I’ll put it in the back garden.” He turned and started walking towards the back door, en route to the shed. “I like you, Gerry.”
I called after him. “You’ve given it a name? Jerry, like in ‘Tom and Jerry?’”
Steve stopped. “No, Gerry as in … well, my old schoolmate Gerry. With a ‘G’”.
I gave up. There was no point in digging my heels in. If it went in the back garden, no one could see it from the road. Appearances were important in this area. Old Alan, next door, got a letter through his door two days after one of his fence panels blew down, reminding him to put it back up, and suggesting he attached it more securely in the future. Nice. That’s what it’s like in this aspirational area.
Steve liked it here. He was the closet, sometimes overt, snob, being brought up my hard-nosed middle-class parents. Everything needed to look right. I was different, rigidly working-class, and proud of it, and people could tell. My accent was genuine. Steve’s accent was .. well, constructed.
I still remember the shock on the day that Steve took me to meet his parents.
“But you’re just good friends, Steven. Flatmates I thought,” his mum had said, shaking her head.
Steve, bless him, hadn’t beaten around the bush. “We’re partners, mum. We’ve been living together for nearly a year now.”
“But … but …”
“Mum, I’m gay. Robert and I are going to be married in a civil ceremony”.
I don’t think she ever properly recovered. Whenever she talked about me, I was Steve’s “friend”. I don’t know how she annunciated the quotation marks, but she did. Every time.
Steve came back in, holding his finger.
“Gerry looks nice in the back garden. Anyway, it’ll be quieter for him. Come and see him.”
I said nothing, but closed the book again, and walked to the back window, overlooking the back garden, my domain. In my younger days, I would help mum and dad in the garden at home, and later help mum in the kitchen. I enjoyed the physical work, and the creativity involved. Steve had probably been too busy with the Young Conservatives or the local hunt, or whatever it was that he’d done in leafy Surrey. I grew our own veg, and I cooked.
The gnome was sitting … what am I saying? it had been placed in the middle of the lawn. It was turned so the face looked towards the house. I hated the grotesque, exaggerated and gaudily-painted features of its head. And the fact that it was sitting on a faux-mushroom, red with white spots, made it look ridiculous in my eyes. Steve stood by the window, his finger wrapped in a handkerchief, proud as any father could be. I didn’t want to cause an argument.
“It looks okay. Probably the best place for it.” I knew that as soon as Steve had gone to work on Monday, I would move it to the side of the garden, and when Steve had forgotten all about it, it would be in the bin.
“You’re not going to move it, are you?” he asked, his face wincing with pain.
“What’s the matter? Is it your finger?”
Steve unwrapped the handkerchief, the bright-red Rorschach growing bigger against the starched white linen. What had been a tiny globule of blood, hiding a small cut, had now exlarged, and the cut was now a deep and widening gash in the end of his finger.
“Jesus, Steve. You need to get that seen to.”
He looked at it, and rewound the handkerchief around it. “It’ll be all right. Nothing to worry about. But what about Gerry? Doesn’t he look magnificent?”
I looked again at the gnome. At the time I swore that his … it’s expression had changed. The happy grin had morphed into a leer, tiny porcelain teeth showing, and the cornflower blue-painted eyes seemed to have taken on an unpleasant glint.
“Well?” Steve asked, getting impatient.
“I said. It looks fine.” But I was still staring at his hand, where the red stain was growing larger, where now there was little white left on the handkerchief.
“Look, Steve,” I said, “let me run you down to the hospital. That cut looks like it’s getting worse.”
He instantly pushed his hand into his jeans pocket. “It’ll be fine. Don’t you think we need to make a pond? For Gerry to fish in?”
I frowned. What the hell was he going on about? I looked back to the gnome. What I was sure had been a benign, smiling gnome, sitting on a fake toadstool, was now a maniacal creature. The toadstool had gone, and now he was standing, fishing rod in hand, with a quizzical look on his face. Shit! Now even I was anthropomorphising it. How can it have changed? Had it changed? What the hell was going on?
“I’m going to make a pond for it. I won’t be long.” And he disappeared out of the door. I called after him, but he was on a mission, ignoring me, and everything around him apart from that gnome. He disappeared into the shed, and reappeared with gloves on his hands and a stainless steel spade.
I had no idea what was going on. As I watched my partner, my lover, attack my pristine lawn with the spade, I gave up trying to make him see sense. As I turned away, I noticed a dark stain appearing on one of the gloves as he feverishly worked at the hole in the lawn. I shook my head, and headed back to the lounge, where the telly was showing some football.
Two hours later, it was starting to get dark, a threatening grey-black cloud heading in from the sea, slowly but surely blocking out any of the light from the sky. The football had finished, and I’d temporarily forgotten about Steve and his quest.
Walking into the kitchen, I raised the kettle, testing the wait, and flicked on the switch. Outside, it was almost full dark. What the hell was Steve doing, working in the dark like this?
At the far end of the kitchen, I switched on the security light. There was a brief flash, and then darkness again. Shit! The bulb had gone. But in that split second of bright, white light, I’d seen something that defied logic.
Passing through the outside door, I descended the steps to the garden. Well, it had been a garden. Now it resembled a building site. Piles of earth, some five or six feet high, rose from what remained of the lawn. I leaned into the shed, and grabbed a torch. In the light of its beam, I surveyed what remained of the back garden. It was as though a mechanical digger had been left in gear. It was a huge mess. I was almost too shocked to speak.
“Steve?” I asked, quietly.
Nothing. No sounds of digging, no friendly response. Nothing. Off in the distance, I could clearly hear the white noise of cars on the motorway. And nothing else.
“STEVE?” I now shouted, starting to move among the piles of earth.
I stopped moving as I walked around one pile, probably the biggest, and gazed at the biggest fucking hole I’d ever seen. It was … well, it must have been at least twenty feet across. No sign of Steve.
I edged closer, granules of dry earth and tiny stones rattling down the steep sides. The torch beam shone down into the hole.
“STEVE!” I screamed. The beam of the torch caught something … something smooth, shiny, colourful on the other side of the hole. Gerry now had his fishing line out, dropping down into the hole.
And the benign smile on his happy little face changed. Yes, it did change, as I stood looking at it in the dim light of the torch. And the eye. Slowly closed. And opened again.
© Gerald Hornsby 2010