People in Serenity never let their lawns grow more than 8cm tall. Hardworking husbands trudge weekly back and forth across their yards, pushing spinning blades to keep the grass in check. In 72 years, Mary Markum had never married and partly as a result, had grown no grass in her yard whatsoever.
“Lawn,” she liked to sneer, “is merely an indication that one is incapable of maintaining a proper garden, or perhaps, too lazy to do so.”
Mary’s yard was filled with flowers chosen to reflect all the colours of the sunset. She prized her rosebushes above all else. Planted in a perfect ‘S’ across her yard, they grew in a sequence of red, pink and orange. Mary’s roses bloomed larger than all others in Serenity. In the evening, she liked to sit on her porch and admire them until the light faded and she couldn’t make out the colours anymore.
On the other side of the low, red-brick fence surrounding Mary’s yard grew a row of meticulously maintained tomatoes. These were the very tomatoes that Marie Antoine used for making her infamous tomato juice. In the morning, she liked to sit on her porch and drink juice as she watched the sun rising to light up the day. Marie grew beetroot, corn and oranges but she didn’t have any flowers in her yard.
“Flowers,” she lectured Mary once, “are merely an indication that one is incapable of maintaining a working vegetable garden, or perhaps, too lazy to do so.”
Mary greatly resented her haughty neighbour. When people in town talked about Marie’s tomatoes being larger and juicier than all others in Serenity, Mary told them it was because of the illegal chemicals that they were bathed in. If anyone mentioned that Marie’s tomato juice was sweet, squeezed straight from the fruit, Mary explained that it appeared that way because of the syrup she secretly injected them with.
One autumn day, word reached Serenity that reality television show ‘Contrary Gardens’ would be shooting an episode in town. A trio of judges was to arrive the following summer to choose the most impressive garden in Serenity for a featured spot on the show. Mary Markum felt excitement tingling deep inside her belly when she heard the news. She knew that hers was the most beautiful garden in Serenity and she had faith that her destiny was to be on that show.
Whispers spread quickly through the town that the competition would come down to the gardens of Mary Markum and Marie Antoine. No one, however, was quite sure about the criteria of ‘impressive’. Mary had even heard a woman at the general store say that the judges would have to call a draw as the gardens were too different to be compared.
Diligently, Mary spent the winter months toiling in her garden. Spurred on by the arrival of spring, her flowers bloomed larger and brighter than ever before. With a spreading feeling of dread she spied as Marie merrily made bottles of tomato juice to line her kitchen shelves. Mary pruned and watered anxiously as she held her breath and waited for the judgement day.
As the end drew near, the stress of competition took its toll on Mary. She was watering her roses in the early morning when she happened to glance up and see Marie Antoine sipping tomato juice on her porch. Suddenly, she realised it was highly likely that the judges would prefer the fruit of her neighbour’s yard over the magnificent beauty of hers. Mary knew there was nothing impressive about Marie’s ugly vegetables, but what could be done if the judges were blinded by their stomachs?
The next day, Marie Antoine awoke to find her darling plants stripped of all their tomatoes. Mary watched as her neighbour sat with pursed lips and examined the devastation. There would be no juice this morning for condescending old Marie Antoine. Mary giggled childishly as her neighbour wiped away tears before going back inside. She smiled as she made a glass of tomato juice and went outside to water her soon to be award-winning roses.
Mary awoke with an acidy stomach ache on the second day of battle. Feeling smug, she went outside to bathe in the splendour of her morning sunset. Her elation was quickly abolished by what she saw. Her rosebushes stood like skeletons, bare of both flowers and leaves. Their naked, thorny limbs twisted in shame. A throaty wail came careening from Mary’s mouth as her brain clicked over from sanity. Her right eye twitched as, very slowly, she turned to face her neighbour’s yard.
There stood Marie Antoine with a pair of pruning shears in one hand and rose petals sprinkling from the other.
Rage seized Mary by every muscle in her body and she took off at a run towards her enemy. Fuelled by hate her decrepit legs easily cleared the red-brick fence and catapulted both old ladies into a vegetable patch. Over and over they rolled, clawing at each others eyes. Mary got hold of a nearby rock and swung it at Marie’s head, barely missing before reaching for a trowel with the other hand. Marie stumbled backwards and grabbed the shears from where they had fallen in the scuffle.
The rising sun was bathing Serenity in pink as the two old ladies circled one another. Mary lunged forward clumsily and stabbed the trowel into Marie’s leg. Marie deliberately swung her shears as she toppled backwards and managed to hack her vicious neighbour from left hip to right shoulder. Marie struggled out from under her neighbour and poised to strike before she realised that she was the only one standing. A tiny wheeze escaped Mary Markum’s lips as her eyes rolled back in her head and her blood sank into the garden bed.
Only a single frightened field mouse saw that Marie Antoine was smirking victoriously as she limped away to get a shovel.
* * * * *
By the day of the television special, Marie Antoine’s tomatoes had grown back juicier than ever before. The handsome host interviewed her and everyone in Serenity watched Marie on television in her finest blue dress. She smiled graciously as she poured him tomato juice and explained the futileness of growing flowers. She confessed that despite the many theories (a crazy woman once claimed she injected them with syrup), the real secret to perfect tomatoes was in choosing the right fertiliser. Of course, protecting them from dangerous elements is also of utmost importance for any serious vegetable gardener.
This is a recent edit of an amusing little story that I wrote at school…..
I’m pretty sure I had just read ‘Needful Things’ by Stephen King.