‘Aren’t you cutting the lawn today, Richard?’
I hadn’t anticipated the question but that’s just typical of what happens when breezes blow away the clouds and the rain steps aside in favour of a spot of sunny weather. About all I could manage was a sigh and a look of moral discomfort.
‘Again?’ I asked. ‘But I only cut it a few months ago.’
Judy lowered her Sunday Times. ‘You’re meant to cut it every fortnight during the summer,’ she said in that snippy way she has when distracted from her Sunday morning Appleyard.
I looked out on the garden and our acres of lush lawn. I had to admit that it had got a little out of hand. A dab of yellow in the middle was the cap of the gnome we’d had made from a full sized body cast of Bill Oddie. There the grass was approaching the four foot mark, already in long trousers and probably in need of a firm hand, if not a stern talking to.
‘Right then,’ I said, setting aside my novelisation of Chekov’s ‘Cherry Orchard’, ‘I’ll cut the lawn but I want you to remember this the next time I want you to help me, Jude.’
Judy muttered something that sounded like a promise and I went upstairs to squeeze myself into my lawn mowing clothes including bright orange overalls and fireproof balaclava.
Having a larger than average lawn means having a larger than average lawnmower. You can forget about Hover Mowers or anything by Qualcast. I own the most powerful lawn-razing beast in the region. In polite company, I call it ‘The Green Machine’ but privately prefer ‘The Dwarf Killer’ because of the many plaster dwarves that have gone under its blades, through its threshing mechanism, crushed in its mangle, and spewed out of its high velocity incinerating nozzle. It’s a high octane crop destroyer and has a top speed somewhere near the Mach.
I had backed The DK out of the garage and was in the process of swilling gas around the engine when a voice over my shoulder provided an interruption.
‘Sounds like you’ve got a supercharger in there,’ it said.
I turned off the engine and looked around.
‘Jeremy!’ I cried, delighted to see my old friend Clarkson. I even whipped off my balaclava to greet him with a smile. ‘How fortunate that you should be in the neighbourhood when I’m dealing with heavy machinery.’
‘Fortunate indeed,’ said Jeremy. ‘A coincidence that you’d find it hard to believe should you read about it in unpublished fiction.’
‘Pah!’ I said. ‘I’ve read much worse in published fiction. Technically minded men appositely arriving in the vicinity of lawn mowers is nothing new to me...’
‘So,’ said Jeremy, raising his eyebrows. ‘Are you taking her for a spin?’
‘More than a spin,’ I replied. ‘I’m doing the whole Madeley estate. It’s time to lay waste to grass.’
His eyes widened as if catching up with the brows. ‘I don’t suppose I can have a go?’
I jumped up as though my name were called in a tanning salon.
‘Jeremy, it would be an honour,’ I said, gesturing him to take the driver’s seat.
Jeremy slid behind the wheel and turned the big ignition switch. Then it was like the throttle cable was linked to his teeth muscles. His big yellow grin appeared each time the engine blew smoke.
‘Just take it easy,’ I warned.
But it was too late. With a squeal of caterpillar tracks and the sound of the twin chainsaw blades scraping against concrete, Jeremy was off down the drive and heading towards the back lawn. There was nothing I could do but watch as Jeremy hit the wall of grass and vanished in a cloud of smoke and cuttings.
When he emerged, fifteen minutes later, he was green with grass sap but high on destruction.
‘Wonderful machine,’ said Jeremy as he jumped from the seat.
I was more concerned about the state of The Dwarf Killer. After half a lawn, a long gash had appeared down its side and a fender was bent near the weed cudgel. More worrying was the evidence of something that had passed through the inlet to the edging scythes.
‘What’s this?’ I asked, wiping something crimson from the blades.
Jeremy peered down. ‘No idea,’ he said. ‘Perhaps a field mouse?’
I jammed my hand into the inlet and felt something soft. I gave it a tug.
‘Do field mice wear leather?’ I asked, holding out a piece of soft leather in an unfortunate shade of pink.
Jeremy just shrugged. It wasn’t even a reassuring shrug. This was that shrug that guilty men give in courts when they’ve already been given two consecutive life sentences for committing abnormal acts in graveyards with the residents of obituary columns.
‘Funny,’ I said. ‘I wonder how this got in there...’
It was at that point that I heard the familiar cry of Graham Norton drifing from across the road.
‘Mugwump! Oh Mugwump!’ he sang.
‘Damn distracting,’ said Jeremy.
‘It’s the name of the Graham’s dog,’ I explained. ‘An animal that gives scabid rats a bad name. I can’t tell you the number of times that dog has attacked me in my own front garden. A horrid beast which he pampers terribly by dressing it its own waistcoat fashioned from soft pink leather.’
Jeremy looked down at the piece of leather between my fingers and then looked towards the lawn mower. It took me a few attempts but I finally latched on to what he meant when he began to laugh like a manic idiot and his face flushed red.
‘Oh,’ I said, dropping the leather. ‘I see.’
Jeremy launched himself for the driver’s seat once again.
‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m going to see what’s hiding in the other half of your lawn,’ he said. ‘If I’m lucky, I might even hit Oddie.’
I hadn’t the heart to rob him of his illusions when he hit the replica Oddie five minutes later. It would have been a cruel thing to do when he’d done so much good, cut so much grass, and trimmed so much dog from my woefully overgrown life.
Sunday, 14 September 2008
The Dwarf Killer
‘Aren’t you cutting the lawn today, Richard?’