Ethel and the man-eating spirit

Book sprawl in my garden.
Book sprawl in my garden.
"Oh all right," I said to subeditor Peter, who had been insisting I inspect the bag of books at the bottom of my garden.

The plastic bag full of books had been thrown over the fence and into the garden, which is not really mine but my landlord's, by someone passing.

Perhaps it was the same passer-by who threw a letterbox over the fence and into the garden. Hard to know. Adoring but humble fans often leave me anonymous gifts.

Books are intriguing of course, but I just hadn't been bothered to curl around the trunk of the magnolia and then wade through a swamp of leaf litter to reach the bag to inspect it.

Subeditor Peter lives nearby and would see the bag sprawling in the dirt just beyond my wrought-iron fence, every time he passed. His nagging me to look seemed to arise from a bibliophile's concern for the welfare of the books. Fair enough.

Here, then, is the list of titles from my garden (some of which are slimy and hosting nematodes, or book worms): "Selected Poems" by Matthew Arnold, "The Writing School Guide to Novel Writing" by Dianne Doubtfire, "The Letters of John Middleton Murray to Katherine Mansfield" edited by C.A. Hankin, "Landfall 117" edited by Peter Smart, "Lali, A Pacific Anthology" edited by Albert Wendt, "Kong Unbound" edited by Karen Haber, "We Were the Mulvaneys" by Joyce Carol Oates, and "All Pam's Poems" by Pam Ayres.

Arnold jamming with Ayres. It gave me an idea, and so this blog post concludes with a short short story constructed of excerpts from the eight books from the bag in my garden. Story compost, if you will. It is dedicated to subeditor Peter.

In the woods, where the gleams play on the grass under the trees, passing the long summer's day idle as a mossy stone in the forest-depths alone, I had the idea for this book when I was in the Air Force.

In 1944 I was posted to the Middle East and there was a girl in my billet who had no boyfriends because she was so ugly. She was a delightful person but she never had the chance of any fun. While the rest of us dolled ourselves up and went off to dances in Cairo she stayed indoors and read a book or wrote to her parents.

"When I was eating my beef and pickles all alone to-night, I felt very very lonely; so I came into my room and tried to find some paragraphs - and that cured me a bit. Oh, but I shall be glad to think that Friday is nearer & nearer. I'm getting all untidier. I'm unshaved and dirty; but I shall be nice and clean when I come down on Friday."

She accepted all in a simple kind of way, ‘‘that's life,'' she said and smiled sadly, wisely (even a dead dog was beautiful to her). Her children were those plants she tried to grow in a rocky field; the goat and the cats she kept for company.

A man-eating spirit came along and smelled his prey. He looked round the garden and found his meat. He tied her hands and feet and put her on his shoulder and went away.

Fighter planes dive at him, machine guns blazing. He lays her down on a ledge, roars his defiance, and bats at the planes, knocking one into the street.

He bore a grudge against his several sisters for reasons we won't go into, still more against his mother about whom he'd never speak, so don't ask. But college girls! He resented them almost as much, and as unfairly, as he resented college boys.

Back in his house he primed his gun and placed it to his head. "I die for Ethel, though my death'll grieve her not," he said. He strained to press the trigger, but his courage upped and fled, so he rushed out in the garden and he shot the cat instead.