My Father's Garden: Gnomes

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Gnomes - a chapter from R J Dent's novel-in-progress, My Father's Garden.

Submitted: April 25, 2016

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Submitted: April 25, 2016

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My Father's Garden: Gnomes

by R J Dent

 

1: Off-white

 

One morning, I found twenty-two garden gnomes standing on the drive.

My father was walking around them, looking thoughtful.

The gnomes were made of resin and they hadn’t been painted. They were all an off-white colour and they looked eerie, like an army of albino midgets.

– What are these for?

– What are gnomes usually for? my father countered.

I thought for a moment, and then shrugged.

– I have no idea.

My brother joined us.

– Wow! A ghost gnome squad. What are they for?

– Don’t you start, my father said.

My brother and I exchanged a look.

– They do look quite anaemic.

– Anomic.

– Are they aristocratic gnomes?

– Blanched Dubois.

– Sallow Bowles.

– Mervyn Peaky.

– Wax ‘n’ Wash.

– Ash ‘n’ Hugh.

– Chalky White.

– They’re not supposed to be white, our father said. They’re supposed to be painted.

My brother uttered four fatal words.

– Why not paint them?

Our father thought about this suggestion for less than a second.

– That’s an idea, he said. And I bet we can make them look better than the ready-painted ones.

There was a lot wrong with what he said, not least his inclusion of the word ‘we’. I sincerely doubted that ‘we’ could paint the unpainted gnomes and make them look better than ready-painted ones. I certainly didn’t want to wager any money on that being an obvious outcome. 

Also, it would not be good if my brother and I were roped in to help paint them. I have no talent or ability at anything involving painting or drawing; my brother is great at anything to do with science, but can’t paint or draw to save his life. And as for my father’s skills; well, he’s best with a bucket of creosote and a spray gun.

However, lack of artistic skill had never deterred my father from a new project, and today was going to be no exception.

– Right. Let’s get these gnomes round to the workbench so we can start painting them.

I picked up one of the anaemic albino ghost gnomes and carried it carefully towards its full-painted potential.

 

2: Workbench

 

Now that I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, I need to describe the workbench.

It was a table that my father ‘got’ from work.

He installed it in the garden where the plum tree used to stand. It was a long table, about ten feet long and three feet wide. It was waist height and had a shelf underneath the table top. The shelf was very low – about four inches off the ground, so there was a lot of room for several large items to be stored beneath the table.

My father cut a piece of plywood and covered the table top with it. He cut two more pieces and nailed them to the ends of the table, so that it was all boxed in, apart from the open front. He then tacked a piece of plastic tarpaulin to the front of the table, so the underneath storage area was covered.

– It’s extra protection from the elements, he said.

He then creosoted the table several times to protect it even more from adverse weather conditions.

After a few weeks, my brother and I realized that our father wasn’t going to use the table for very much at all, and so we started to sit underneath it and talk. The tarpaulin worked in extreme weather. My brother and I took a torch, some books and snacks with us under the table and stayed there for hours, making plans. Very soon we regarded the table as ours.

And then the gnomes arrived.

3: Colours

 

By mid-morning, the heavily-creosoted table top was crowded with very badly-painted gnomes.

They looked terrible.

The main problem was the lack of choice of paint. My father only had four colours and they weren’t – in my opinion – the best gnome colours. There was half a tin of mustard gloss, half a tin of dark avocado gloss, a full pot of silver and a spray can of black.

At eleven o’clock, my father remembered he had some maroon left over from the caravan roof.

We applied all colours liberally, and then stopped to admire our handiwork.

– It’s a gnome bloodbath.

– Gnome Mean City.

– What’s that?

– It’s a pun on the name of a book, a painting and an album.

– Oh.

– These gnomes don’t look how I imagined they’d look, my father said.

– We’re limited regarding colours. Traditionally, gnomes are painted in red, blue or green, often with white or yellow accessories. We’ve none of those colours. It’s not our fault.

– Improvisation’s the key here, my father said.

– Gnome improvements.

– They’re not improved. I preferred them as albinos. We can’t sell these…

– A white gnome is no pallor mine.

– Pale imitations.

– Nobody’ll wan one.

– They’re beyond the pale.

– Whey beyond.

Once my father realised the gnomes were of absolutely no commercial value whatsoever, he quickly lost interest in them. In fact, he seemed to actively dislike them.

– Oh, damn and blast these ruddy blighters, he said one morning, as he tripped over one of the gnomes. I wish we could get rid of these useless ha’p’orths, for Pete’s sake.

I’d never heard my father get nearly all of his favourite expressions into a couple of sentences before, and I was impressed. My brother was less impressed.

– You forgot ‘For crying out loud’.

– You’ll be crying out loud in a minute, my father warned.

My brother quickly changed the subject.

– Perhaps we could use the gnomes for target practice.

My father smiled happily.

 

4: Range

 

My father made a sign.

It was stencilled on a piece of hardboard in maroon letters.

 

GNOME-KILLING COMPETITION

KILL A GNOME

& WIN A £

 

ANY METHOD OF EXECUTION ACCEPTABLE

 

Perhaps for aesthetic reasons, the sign had been leaned against the flamingo statue.

My father then took all of the gnomes and arranged them on some breeze blocks he’d stacked in a roughly-pyramidic shape halfway down the garden.

My brother picked up a brick.

– I think I ought to kill that one with the silver hat.

– From twenty paces?

– No, from here.

My father drew a chalk line on the footpath.

– All marksmen have to be behind the line.

– Why?

– Because the gnomes are unarmed and it has to be fair.

– Gnome murdering unfairly.

– That’s right, my father said, either not hearing or choosing to ignore the pun. Now, have you chosen your weapons?

– Yep.

– Yep.

And we had. I’d got my catapult and a pocketful of ball bearings. My brother had got his bow and arrows set. The arrows had red suckers on the end and my brother was now adapting them for gnome kills by taping a stone tip to each arrow.

– Excellent, my father said, rubbing his hands together. In that case, fire at will. Leave no gnome standing.

We opened fire.

The gnomes didn’t stand a chance.

My father brought his air rifle out and slowly loaded it. He took deliberate aim and fired.

An avocado and mustard gnome lost the tip of a silver ear.

He fired again and the pellet pinged of a gnome’s maroon hat and ricocheted into the ground.

– Damn and blast it. The blighter moved; it tipped to one side. It must have been placed on a wobbly breeze block or something.

– Or something, my brother muttered, firing a stone-tipped arrow.

An avocado, mustard and black gnome exploded noisily into a thousand pieces.

I fired a ball bearing and a silver-faced gnome bit the dust – or rather, turned to dust.

– Well, he doesn’t look very elf-y.

– No elf insurance.

My father loaded and fired again. There was a loud pinging sound and a gnome with an avocado hat and a maroon face toppled over.

– Gnome mercy.

– Pixie late.

– Could I have a go with the rifle, dad?

My father looked at me steadily.

– Fancy yourself as a bit of a marksman, do you? It’s not a toy. It’s not for children.

– You don’t need to worry that I’ll shoot badly. I’ve been practising.

– Where?

– At the range.

– What’s your grouping?

– One inch.

– Any strays?

– No.

– Which range?

– The Signals’.

– That’s the easiest one.

– You don’t want to let me have a go, do you?

– I didn’t say that.

Reluctantly, my father handed me the air rifle. I checked it, broke it open, re-sprung it, loaded it, shut it and aimed it down the garden, sighting it on a silver gnome with a maroon hat, an avocado jacket, mustard trousers and black shoes.

I concentrated on the gnome, melding myself with the rifle until the rifle was no longer something I was holding and aiming, but instead was an integral part of me, myself and I.

I aimed the air rifle and I was aiming myself. I squeezed the trigger and fired myself at the target. I hit the target and the gnome exploded, shattering into a thousand micro-pieces.

– Yeah! my brother yelled.

– Lucky shot, my father said.

I didn’t react. I silently reloaded and took aim again; I fired and another gnome exploded.

It was a massacre. And it was easy.

My father was watching every move I made. I could feel his intense gaze and knew that he was having trouble equating me (his clumsy son) with the person who was such a devastatingly good shot. It was going to cause problems for us both.

I fired again, killed a gnome, reloaded, fired again, killed another gnome, and again, and again, with the same result each time. I remained silent and determined.

Finally, I stopped and held the rifle out to my father.

– Why not have another go, I said, and see if you can beat my record.

– It’s not really a record, is it? my father said.

– Isn’t it? my brother asked. Who else has shot and destroyed nine gnomes in succession? Not me. Not you. I think it’s a record – one that won’t be beaten by anyone today.

– Record or not, I said, don’t you want another go?

– I would, my father said, but I’m trying to conserve ammunition.

– Oh. Are standard two-two pellets in short supply now?

– Perhaps the gnome office has bought them all, my brother said.

– That’s elfish of them.

– I’ll try again another day, my father said.

– Oh. Getting more gnomes, are you?

– There are three left, my father said.

My brother aimed another stone-tipped arrow and fired. A gnome shattered.

I fired a ball-bearing and another gnome was destroyed.

– One left. That’s for you, dad.

– Not today.

– That’s a few pounds we’ve won.

– It doesn’t have to be a gnome competition, my father said.

– But that would make your sign a bit strange. It’d say: BLANK-KILLING COMPETITION, KILL A BLANK & WIN A £ – which doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

– And would prove to be quite difficult. I mean, how does one kill a blank?

– Perhaps it means we can only use blank ammunition.

– Or no ammunition at all.

My father took his rifle back and looked at it.

– This needs checking, he said. There’s something wrong with the sights. He looked along the barrel. Yes, it’s out of alignment. No wonder you kept hitting them.

– A rifle that’s so faulty it makes it impossible to miss the target. Are you sure it’s faulty?

– Isn’t it best to leave it as it is? That way, you’ll never miss again.

– I never miss, my father said.

My brother aimed and fired another stone-tipped arrow. The last gnome smashed into pieces.

My father took his rifle back into the house.

– You’re a brilliant shot, my brother said. You should be a sniper.

– I don’t want to kill anyone. I want to write stories.

– Do you? What sort?

– Any sort.

– When you write some, can I read ’em?

– Yep.

– Cool.

– What’s the first one going to be about?

– Gnomes, I suppose.

 

*

 

 

My Father’s Garden: Gnomes

Copyright © R J Dent (2014)

 

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