I was flicking through the newspaper when I saw it. An advertisement by an elderly lady looking for some help weeding her garden. She was offering thirty dollars an hour for weeding what she described as a “small plot for her vegetables”.
“Hey, Mum, look at this,” I said, “Can I weed this lady’s garden?”
Mum squinted at it, disbelieving the amount of money this woman was offering.
“Thirty dollars an hour? It can’t be a small plot for that much money.”
“Yes, but weeding? How hard could it be?”
“Does it say where she lives?”
“Yeah, Dublin Street, not very far from here.”
I rang the number on the advertisement, and the lady, whose name was Heather Heights, said we could come down at any time. Mum agreed to take me down the next day to see Mrs Heights, and see if the job was okay.
“52a, 52a…” Mum scanned the letter boxes as we drove down Dublin Street, searching for this Mrs Heights’ house. Mum stopped.
“It’s that one,” she said.
The house was open to the street, no fence or anything. The front lawn was bare, and in need of a good mow. The house was old, but it looked quite tidy. We got out and knocked on the door. I could hear a “clack, clack, clack” as the old woman walked down the hallway with her walking stick. After a painfully long time, the door handle turned and the door creaked open. Mrs Heights emerged; her attire, an incredibly worn-looking dressing gown.
“Follow me, the vegetable garden’s out back. And that lawn might need mowing…”
We walked through to the back, and Mrs Heights showed us the garden. It was quite small, but the weeds looked like they had been nurtured and cared for just as anyone would care for a plot of award-winning tomatoes.
“Um… How long…?” I started to say.
Mrs Heights smiled. “About a year. My husband used to do it but…”
“Oh. Sorry.” I said.
“So, do you want to take the job?”
Mum and I exchanged looks, and then, in unison, we said, “Sure.”
I added, “I can start today, if you want?”
“Yes. That would be nice. I will pay you in cash. It’s the easiest. Just two hours today, alright?”
I nodded again.
I was alone.
With Mrs Heights.
“Boy,” she said, “could you please get me a chair and put it on the deck?”
“Okay. My name is Oliver.”
I wondered if she had heard what my name was, but I got her the chair anyway. She sat in it and pointed to the garden. I picked up a pair of gloves and put them on. The gloves were made for small hands, and they fitted me, but surely, this woman’s husband would not have fitted them. It didn’t really bother me much though. I got down on my knees and commenced. The first step is the worst step, people always say, so I wasn’t surprised when the first weed felt as though there was a gnome in the soil, pulling on the roots, as I tried to wrench it out. But then when I finally got that weed out, the next weed was no easier.
“Come on, Boy! I had a young lad called Jarred do this last spring and he was much better than you!”
I grumbled and said something inappropriate about where I would really like put the weeds – and it wasn’t the compost heap. Mrs Heights didn’t hear, thankfully, or she might have given me a wallop with that stick of hers.
The next weed was a very large thistle. I had a t-shirt on, so it pricked my arms every time that I tried to get a good grip of it.
“If Jarred was here, he’d be well through that patch,” Mrs Heights pointed out.
“Thanks for that,” I said grumpily, as I ripped the damn thing out.
Just think about the money. Good money. Nice money, I had to keep telling myself. The sum of sixty dollars would compensate.
After the agreed two hours, Mum arrived. I had done a fair amount of weeding, considering the difficulty, but there was still a lot more to go.
“How was it?” Mum asked at the door.
Mrs Heights quickly pushed three twenty-dollar notes into my hand, and I said, with a forced grin, “It was really good.”
Mrs Heights said that she would love it if I would come back over the next few days to finish off. I decided not to tell Mum what an old hag Mrs Heights had been. The money was just too good.
The next day, Mum dropped me off again. I would be at Mrs Heights’ house for three hours – that meant ninety dollars! Today, I was to mow the lawn as well as hack into the weeds a bit more. The lawn seemed a more desirable task than the weeds, so I decided to do that first.
“The mower is in the shed over there,” said Mrs Heights, after I had set her chair up on the deck. The front deck, this time.
I strolled over, oblivious to the fact that old people generally have… old mowers. I opened the shed door, and saw it. The pile of rusted metal that she called a mower. Great.
“How do I start it up?”
“Jarred worked it out,” she said, and smiled.
“Jarred worked it out. Okay. And that really helps me start it up.”
“Sarcasm is bad, Boy,” she scolded.
I hauled the ‘mower’ out of its home of two hundred and forty years. Probably more. My palms were already orange from the rust. I almost laughed when I saw that the side of it had “Beauty” written on it. Which was barely readable. Firstly, who names their lawn mower? And secondly, this was no “Beauty” any more. I stared at it for a while.
“Stop procrastinating, Boy, Jarred never procrastinated.”
Right. Whatever. I knelt down and searched for a means to start up Beauty. It had a cord, like a normal mower. So I gave it a pull. It grunted, but it didn’t start. I tried again, but it still didn’t work.
“It’s been in that shed for a while, you should use the choke,” Mrs Heights said impatiently.
The choke… Where was that? I found it, and turned it on. I gave the cord another pull. And another. It started. Noisily, but it started. I was really proud of myself. But just as I began to push it around the perimeter of the lawn, it started making a strange noise, as if it was coughing. Then it turned off. I was confused and frustrated.
“You can’t just leave the choke on, Boy!”
Oh. I tried to turn it on again, and as soon as it had started, I turned the choke off. It sounded better this time.
“Jarred did...” But I couldn’t hear Mrs Heights over the mower. Thank goodness. I just smiled and waved at her. The mower was heavy, and the long grass made it hard to push. In any case, it sure bet weeding whilst having abuse hurled at you. But the obstacles were not over. No way. The mower hit something in the grass, and by the sound of it, it was something metal. I pulled the mower back, revealing a mangled coke can.
“Might have been Jarred’s,” I suggested loudly so that Mrs Heights could hear.
She frowned at me. What fun!
All the same, I scoured the rest of the lawn for other objects in case I hit something else.
I was disappointed when I finished mowing the lawn; I had quite enjoyed it, even though it was pretty strenuous.
After I had moved Mrs Heights’ chair to the back deck , I attacked the garden plot again. I realised that, no matter how slowly I worked, or how much I got done, Mrs Heights would still pay me thirty dollars an hour. I worked this to my advantage. And the old bat didn’t seem to notice – until Mum came. Mrs Heights told me that she knew that I had been working slowly, and that she would cut some money off tomorrow if I didn’t make up for the work. Mum agreed that this was fair.
Tomorrow came, and I knew that I was in for hell. I biked down to Mrs Heights’ house in the morning, and she poked her head out the front door.
“You’re late, Boy! Jarred always came early,” she yelled.
“I’m sorry, but –”
“Jarred never would have made excuses!”
“Okay,” I fumed.
I marched out the back, and set to work on the weeding. I was determined to finish today, for two reasons. One: Mrs Heights wouldn’t be able to say that I hadn’t made up for what I hadn’t done yesterday. Two: I would never, ever, have to work here again. The weeds seemed to be resisting their death sentence more than ever today. This made me even angrier. I basically started tearing up the garden, and it seemed to be working. Weeds flew in all directions, and before three hours were up, I had finished. The garden was a bombsite, so I got a rake from the shed, and tidied it. I was just beginning to feel really good, when Mrs Heights emerged from the back door.
“Oh my!” she said, “Jarred would have never –”
“I DON’T CARE WHAT JARRED WOULD HAVE DONE!” I screamed.
“Well, I was going to say, if you’d let me finish, that Jarred would have never done such a good job in such little time.”
“Hmmm. Well, I suppose you want to get home. Here’s ninety dollars.”
“But I only did two hours today!”
“Thank you,” I stuttered, “I’ll see you round.”
And I left, in shock.
A year had passed since I had earned that two hundred and forty dollars and it was spring again. I was biking down Dublin Street one day, and I came to Mrs Heights’ place. A boy, about my age, was mowing the front lawn. Mrs Heights was yelling at him, waving her walking stick madly, saying, “Now, Boy, Oliver never had such an attitude!” I laughed and waved as I biked past.
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