A hair-raising yowl. Then thump, thump, and thump. Then silence— for a second.
Yes, there’s no denying that I was deliberately aiming my car at the cat. I think you’ll agree, it was justified.
It all started with my fuchsia hedge. It stretches the length of the lefthand side of my front garden, looking from the road. From May till the end of summer the branches hang heavy with flowers. Bright red and purple bells attract bees and pollinators from miles around, and on warm days the hedge is alive with their buzzing. It has been my pride and joy for many years. My neighbor over the hedge, Ant, has often been an admirer of it- a keen gardener himself. We often chatted over it, with the watering can or secateurs in hand, and swapped chitting tips.
So, when I came home one Wednesday afternoon to find Ant standing over my fuchsias, hedge trimmers still rumbling in his hands and the mutilated remains of half the hedge at his feet, you can imagine my fury.
“Now, Mike, slow down, I’m sure there’s an explanation,” my wife Anne told me, as I fumbled with my seatbelt before the car had even stopped. Naturally, I ignored her and burst out of the car as fast as my rheumatism would allow.
“Ant,” I bellowed. “What have you done? My hedge!” I shouted though I feared at the moment, it came out rather like a squawk.
“What’s that?” asked Ant cheerfully, as he turned the trimmers off and they clack-clacked into silence.
“What – are – you – doing?” I said.
“It was blocking my view, wasn’t it?” Ant said, jabbing at the hedge with the trimmers.
“That was my hedge, on my land,” I said, brushing off Anne’s hand from my arm. “You had no right.”
“No right, what nonsense! The hedge is as much part of my garden as it is yours.”
“Your garden!” I shrieked. “My hedge, my garden, my land.” There’s no arguing with someone so unreasonable, so I stormed inside. For the rest of the afternoon, I went through all my papers, trying to find the plans of the house, which showed the exact boundary of the garden. Anne was most unhelpful, bringing occasional cups of tea and suggesting drawers that I knew it wasn’t in.
The next morning, my fury hadn’t cooled in the slightest, still. Ant had cleared up the entire mess, but I couldn’t bear the sight outside from the bedroom window, at the disfigured remains of my hedge. Anne seemed determined to keep my mind away from it and chatted about anything and everything while we were getting ready to go to the town.
The drive back was frosty, as Anne had not enjoyed the unexpected trip to the solicitor. It was a waste of time anyway- it seemed that you couldn’t sue someone for damaging a hedge. Anne had called me silly in front of the solicitor and dragged me out. We didn’t speak for the whole drive back home. As we pulled into the drive, Anne pointed at something on the front doorstep.
“Oh look, isn’t that nice? That puts the whole thing to rest, doesn’t it?” She was pointing to a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates on the front door mat.
“Does he think that makes up for it?” I snorted. “A whole hedge? I’ll show him what I think of this.” Anne protested but naturally, I ignored her and threw the bottle of wine over the massacred hedge and onto Ant’s pristine lawn. I then hurled the chocolates which landed with a flump in the middle of his dahlias. Then I went inside, slamming the door behind me.
That evening, I was still stewing. It wasn’t that the solicitor told me I couldn’t do anything, or that Anne had hurried over and removed the wine and chocolates when no one was looking. I wanted revenge. I wanted justice for my hedge. And I knew just how to get it.
Anne seemed hopeful seeing my good mood the next day, but, still kept conversation away from topics like hedges, betrayal or jealousy, and back-stabbing neighbors. Even when I said I was going to do some gardening, she didn’t say anything, though she looked at me with a wary eye. I hummed to myself as I started the mower, its roar was blocking out all other sounds. I started in the front garden, making perfectly straight rows, being careful to avoid my beloved apple tree, ducking to avoid the ripening fruit hanging down. When I got to the far corner of my garden, I wheeled the mower off the lawn, onto the pavement, still roaring and blade spinning. With one mighty push, the lawnmower bumped over the low border into Ant’s flowerbed. He spends a lot of time on his delphiniums. Mulching, composting and staking. This year they were more magnificent than ever, towering spires of tiny blue flowers. They were no match for the Grass Slicer 3000. The plant disappeared in a snowstorm of green and blue. I looked up to double-check, but I wasn’t seen. There was just Ant’s cat, observing me with yellow eyes from the living room. Chuckling, I stowed the lawn mower carefully in the garage.
When the front door went, I threw down the newspaper and found Anne in the hall, taking off her shoes. “Where were you? I thought Ant might have done something to you.”
“It’s Tuesday afternoon, dear. You know, I do my Zumba with Margaret on Tuesday afternoons,” said Anne serenely.
“You were with Margaret? Ant’s wife? His wife Margaret?” I said.
“Yes, I was,” said Anne in a less serene tone fixing me with a stare. “This is getting ridiculous. We’re going for a walk. I need to get you out of this house, and away from that infernal garden.”
We walked around the neighborhood, past the houses and cars. We approached the corner of Mary Street and Petunia Drive; they were coming the other way. I saw them first, and when Anne tried to change direction I held firm, and we met them right at the corner.
Ant was angry. He had seen the stumps that were his delphiniums by now. He was so angry, that his whole face went bright red, from his throbbing temple to his pointy beard, which I just then realized made him look perfectly stupid. “My delphiniums. That’s vandalism, you do know that?” he said.
I tried to keep the smile off my face. “Your delphi-what-now? I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
If possible, his face got even redder. He gave a sideways glance to Margaret, his wife. “Go on,” he said out of the corner of his mouth. “Say it.”
“No, I…” Margaret pursed her lips and looked from Ant to Anne. “Anne, I think you’re…” She looked at Ant, who motioned towards us with a nod. Margaret rolled her eyes and said, “Anne, I don’t want to do Zumba with you anymore, and I think you’re a… a loud-mouthed, gin-soaked trumpet.”
Anne blinked. It was Ant’s turn to smirk as he steered Margaret around us, who mouthed a silent, ‘sorry,’ to Anne.
I stayed up all night, making a plan. I knew that Ant would strike as soon as he could, and I knew where he would aim. My apple tree. It had been growing in my front garden for decades, its gnarled branches stretching in every direction. Every September, the rusty russet apples were the talk of the neighborhood. The branches bent under their weight. I would spend most of September sitting under its branches with a knobbly walking stick, fending off school children who tried to take the apples. “I’ll have to do the same thing now. Day and night I’ll stay there. I can’t risk any of them, not until they are ripe enough to be picked,” I said hurrying outside. Anne shook her head and shut the door after me.
All morning, all afternoon I sat there. In the early evening, Anne came out with dinner on a tray. “Should I even ask if you’re going to come inside tonight?” she said.
“No,” I said, as I cut up my pork chop.
“Why don’t you pick the apples, even if they aren’t quite ready yet?” I didn’t even answer that one. She raised her hands in the air, then went back inside.
A few hours later, the sun was setting behind thick clouds. I spent my time trying to control my shivering. I could imagine Ant hiding somewhere behind the dark windows, waiting for me to make a mistake. A few hours after that, Anne came out again, swinging the car keys in her hand. “We’re out of tonic. I’m going to get some.” I didn’t answer but set my jaw more tightly. Anne sighed. “You can go instead if you like. I’ll sit here while you go.” She paused. “You can warm up in the car.”
After extracting many promises from her that she wouldn’t leave the spot, I got into the car and turned the heat on high. All the way to the shop and all the way back again I tried to think of a way to properly take revenge. Yes, I could rip up his irises. But, I really needed to take it up with gear.
It didn’t occur to me until I was about to pull into my drive. That was when I saw Ant’s cat. Walking away from me, on the pavement, its tail flicking in my direction. I couldn’t say what made me do it. I don’t think it was a conscious decision. The next thing I know, I pointed my car straight at the cat and slammed the pedal to the floor. There was a bang when I mounted the pavement, engine screaming. The cat jumped away and I jerked the steering wheel in its direction, barely noticing where I was going. Then, in a second, there was a crash and it was all over. The cat screamed and yowled in fear as it streaked up the tree. Then thump, thump, and thump. The apples fell on the roof of the car and rolled into the road. The apple tree swayed in silence for the briefest second, then my beloved tree that I had crashed into, creaked and fell over with an ear-splitting crash. The cat bolted off, unhurt. I could see through my living room window. There was Anne and Margaret, both with a glass of wine. Margaret had her hand to her mouth. Anne just squeezed her eyes shut. Thump, thump, and thump. One fell in through my shattered windscreen into my lap. “Huh,” I said in a dazed voice. “The apples were ready, after all.”