Title: Trouble with Gnomes
Category: Hmmm. In theory this is original fic, but it’s actually fanfiction about my parents. I mean, it’s just like RPF and was identical to fanfiction to write, building in little references and quirks that only someone familiar with the “canon” would really get.
Notes: I wrote this story as a tribute on Valentine’s Day, as they’ve been together since they were both 15 and in high school. Naturally I’ve changed their names before posting the story. For any non-Kiwis reading it, Hokitika and Oamaru are fairly insular South Island provincial towns and Kaiapoi is a small farming community near Christchurch, where the story is set. Brigadoon is a hideous private house near my parents’ place, with a garden full of statues, gnomes, bird baths and bright, clashing flowers. A 'dairy' is a corner grocery store, and this is a cabbage tree.
Summary: "Oh for-" said Mary. "Where are all my damn tulips going?"
Mary scratched her head.
"I'm sure there were five tulips here yesterday" she muttered, crossly.
One, two, three, four. No, there were definitely only four.
It nagged at her while she finished raking up the cabbage tree leaves and she was still thinking about it at dinnertime when she and Keith were in the kitchen.
"I'm missing one of my tulips," Mary said, chopping up a cucumber for the salad.
Keith peered at Mary's mouth. "They both look all right to me," he said, salting the potatoes.
"Yes, very funny," said Mary. "Tulips, you know, red and yellow and from Holland."
"Like Edam?" asked Keith, who was fond of cheese.
Mary gave up. "You'd be taking it seriously if it was one of your tomato plants," she grumbled, drinking up the last of the Sauvignon Blanc in retaliation.
The next day, there were only three tulips.
"Oh for-" said Mary. "Where are all my damn tulips going?"
She looked high and low, from the blackbird's nest to the letter box.
Keith found her ferreting about in the compost heap. "Mary?" he asked. "Are you okay?"
"Another tulip's gone!" Mary waved her trowel in exasperation.
"Oh dear," said Keith. "Come and have a cup of tea."
Half way through the tea, Mary put down her mug. "If I didn't know better," she said, frowning, "I'd think it was gnomes."
"Gnomes?" said Keith nervously, almost dropping his biscuit.
"Yes. But it can't be, because we got rid of all the gnomes."
Keith nodded vehemently. "We called in that Gnomeradicator bloke. He took them away to...wherever they take gnomes."
"Oamaru," I think, said Mary distractedly. "Or possibly Hokitika. Depends on the type of gnome."
"Mmm," said Keith, not quite meeting her eye. He buried his nose in his mug of tea.
When a third tulip vanished overnight, Mary had had enough.
"We're staking them out!" she told Keith.
"What, the runner beans?" he asked, baffled, ducking to avoid the secateurs she was waving. "But we did those last Wednesday."
"No, the tulips! Something's stealing my tulips!"
"Surely not," said Keith, disarming her and pocketing the secateurs. "It's a very low-crime area here. And we have Neighbourhood Watch."
"I don't care," said Mary. "I'm getting to the bottom of this. I'll take the first watch, until 2 a.m."
"Yes dear," said Keith, who knew better than to argue with Mary when she got like this.
"All quiet," said Mary at 2 a.m. when Keith staggered out, bleary-eyed. He took her place in the garden chair and wrapped himself in a rug. Thank goodness it wasn't raining. He could see the terracotta pot with the last two tulips in it, through the wisteria.
"Don't let those tulips out of your sight," said Mary.
"Yes dear," said Keith. "Get some sleep."
In the morning there were still two yellow tulips in the pot, but there were three white plastic tulips stuck in the potting mix alongside them.
Mary recognised them. They'd been ornamental lights once, until the bulbs inside the plastic petals had blown. She thought they might have ended up in a box in the garage labelled "Xmas decorations".
"Keith!" She shook him by the shoulder.
"Wha-?" Keith jolted awake guiltily. "I just nodded off for a second there, honestly. Nothing was happening. It was boring."
“Look at that!” Mary gestured at the offending flowers.
“Ah,” said Keith, at a loss. “Still, I suppose it’s better than another one being stolen?”
“It’s infuriating, is what it is. Did you do that?”
“Me? No!” Keith protested, alarmed. “I’d never risk it, what with being colour-blind. I’d probably have used red ones instead of green, or something.”
“They’re yellow,” said Mary, glaring at the white plastic ones.
“I knew that,” muttered Keith, and slunk off to get some much-needed coffee.
That night they went to bed early, tired after the stake-out.
Mary shook Keith awake at 4 a.m.
“Keith! Keith! I think we caught something!”
“Nggh?” Keith tried to burrow back under the covers.
“Get up, we have to check the trap.”
Keith groaned. Mary had made him set up a trap near the tulips. It was made from an old wooden crate balanced on a stick, with a crust covered with Mary’s homemade raspberry jam inside, tied to the stick by a length of string. Waste of good jam, in his opinion.
He got up reluctantly and they wrapped themselves in dressing gowns, slid on slippers and opened the door to the garden.
He peered around the pergola, keeping Mary behind him just in case. The box was rocking slightly on the grass and there was an angry squeaking coming from inside.
“Careful,” said Keith. “It might be a rat.”
“Oh, it’s a rat all right,” said Mary. “A tulip-stealing rat.”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” said Keith, shining a torch on the box as he tipped it back with the rake.
A furious gnome was revealed, face smeared with raspberry jam. “About bloody time”, he yelled in a high-pitched voice. “Who built this heap of crap shelter anyway? I’ll have you up with the Council. I bet you didn’t get a building permit, did you?”
“It’s not a shelter, it’s a trap,” said Mary. “A trap for thieving little gnomes.”
“Watch who you’re calling little there, lady, you’re not so big yourself!” The gnome folded his arms and glared up at Mary. “Anyway, I didn’t steal the tulips, I just borrowed them. And I put some replacements back.”
“Borrowed them!” Mary lurched forwards, but Keith held onto her arm. He didn’t like the thought of a fight between Mary and the gnome, they were both pretty worked up and there were sharp garden tools about.
“Yeah,” said the gnome defiantly. “I like tulips, especially the yellow ones, and they only have red and pink ones down at Brigadoon.”
“Might have known you’d be from there,” muttered Mary darkly. “Well. You can’t just waltz in here and steal my tulips willy-nilly. I want compensation.”
“Compensation my arse!” the gnome yelled, turning around and pulling his baggy green trousers down.
“Now, now,” said Keith, covering Mary’s eyes. “That’s enough of that sort of thing.”
The gnome straightened up. “Hi there, Keith,” he said, grinning. “How are the lettuces coming along? That tip I gave you about killing the slugs off with your old grapefruit wine pan out okay?”
Keith winced, uncovering Mary’s eyes to find her staring at him, eyes narrowed.
“In what capacity do you know this gnome?” she asked suspiciously, sounding like DCI Helen Mirren from Prime Suspect.
The gnome leaned nonchalantly against the crate. “Oh, Keith and I go way back, don’t we Keith? He let me stay on after you had the rest of us cleared out. Thanks for that, by the way, the place was getting overrun. Much more room for me now in the garden shed.”
“What, you’re living in our shed, you’re not from Brigadoon?” Mary’s face was livid.
Keith pushed her down into the garden chair before she keeled over, and patted at her shoulder ineffectually. He was in for it now. “He was very persuasive,” he said defensively. “He knows a lot about vegetables. I’d kind of gotten used to chatting with him. His name’s Doug.”
“Doug? Doug?” Mary spluttered. “You’re friends with a gnome called Doug?”
Doug’s lower lip protruded. “Yeah, so what? And I don’t wanna hear any spade-in-the-head jokes, either.”
Mary struggled to her feet. “Right, that’s it, get out the both of you, out out out!” She brandished a yard broom, Keith and Doug retreating before her.
“Do you think she’s coming around?” Keith peered in through the living room window where Mary was watching Antiques Road Show.
“Yeah,” said Doug reassuringly. “She’s been leaving out mugs of tea and bits of toast and marmalade, hasn’t she?”
Keith nodded glumly. He was getting sick of living in the garden shed.
Doug patted him on the shoulder and perched on the bench beside him. “Never mind. Have some more grapefruit wine and I’ll tell you about the time my giant marrow won a prize at the Kaiapoi show.”
Keith groaned - not the giant marrow story again.
“Are you sure these are red?” Keith looked at the roses dubiously. The flowers and the leaves all looked much the same to him. Doug had found them for him from somewhere – Keith hoped he hadn’t nicked them from the local dairy.
“Yes, yes,” said Doug, pushing him towards the door. “Go on now, get on with it! I want my shed back.”
Keith swallowed nervously and knocked at the front door.
After a pause long enough to make him break out in a sweat, Mary opened the door.
“Yes?” She raised her eyebrows.
“For you, dear. It’s Valentine’s day. I’m very sorry about the Doug business, and can I come back inside again, please? It’s dusty in that shed.”
Mary put her hands on her hips. “Is that gnome still there?”
“Yes, but, he’s housetrained and very quiet, and he swears he won’t take any more of your tulips, darling. And he is good with vegetables. He promised me he’d give you his prize recipes for ratatouille, and potato salad, and corn fritters…”
Mary raised her hands. “Oh all right, come on then.”
Keith thrust the roses into her arms and kissed her, relieved. The thorns scratched him through his shirt but he didn’t care.
Mary beamed at him and admired the only slightly crushed bunch of flowers. “These are lovely, they look just like the Dublin Bay ones Mrs Thing has growing across the road.”
“Do they darling?” asked Keith innocently, and kissed her again.