Monday, June 6, 2011

It Could Happen To You

It was an ordinary garden wall, set back from the house across a sometimes neat lawn, and behind a strip of dirt that held the remnants of failed attempts at gardening. Cuttings and seeds and even whole bushes had been dug into the soil there, in spring and then in summer, but the light was wrong. Roses had lost their blooms to the sun and their leaves to aphids, and vegetables had served as a restaurant for pests of every kind. All that remained was an angry-looking spiky bush that flowered spitefully every two or three years, for a week or two, before shedding its costume and retreating as if crouched to pounce on anyone who ventured too close. There were some succulents concealing the dry sand, but they’d grown there by mistake.

The wall had a few scars- lifted in places by tree roots that had long since withered- patches of baldness where a soccer ball had blasted off flakes of paint, and the dark bruises of mildew where the sun hadn’t penetrated the shadows.

It had been climbed on by children, who jumped off it screaming, as if it was the prow of a sinking ship. Once, a burglar had vaulted it in a single leap, but he’d already been to the neighbour’s house and wasn’t looking for anything more.

The smoke of barbecues had drifted over it during long lazy evenings, carrying the thick scent of grilling meat to the saliva glands of people out in their own gardens.

And in summer, the steady bleat of the sprinkler had turned the bottom half of the wall a rusty orange, the tannin in the ground water from the borehole adding an aged tint which seemed quite apt.

In the cracks and seams of the wall the ants hurried in their endless rush-hour streams, stepping urgently around each other, and occasionally ganging up on caterpillars and spiders which had paused too long.

The arcs left by snails after the rains shimmered gently in the cooler mornings, and attracted the birds who gathered on the top to dip their beaks at each other. A sugar-bird had been a regular for a while, but the garden held little to keep it, instead, the starlings and pigeons bullied each other for airspace.

A tortoiseshell cat was in the habit of weaving a daintily menacing path across the wall in the way cats have, sometimes pausing with one paw raised as if distracted by some furry creature, but then shimmied away to find a quiet place to sleep.

And down there, hidden in the slight tunnel at the foot of the wall hid the snake. It was still and barely visible, and lay inhaling the dry air through brittle nostrils. It lay, waiting, knowing that it needn’t search in the way other creatures must for food, but that just by waiting, motionless, the meals would come. Any day now, the prey would come.

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