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Garden Hostilities

by Catherine Borden

Hattie put down her dust rag and pounded on the upstairs bedroom window. “You there! Scat! Shoo!”

A rabbit at the edge of Hattie’s brick patio nuzzled the greenery in the flower bed. Yanking a petunia from its stem, the rabbit worked its jaws in a quick side-to-side rhythm until the flower disappeared under the split lip.

Hattie pounded again. The rabbit turned its back and pulled off another blossom. She cranked open a window. The rabbit popped upright, front paws dangling, mouth full of petunia. Only its nose moved, twitching, testing the air.

“Get out of my garden, you.” The rabbit finished off the petunia, leaned into the patch and snatched another flower. “Why you little... Shoo! Get away from there.”

The rabbit nibbled delicately, then dropped the blossom and reached for another one. Hattie wrenched the screen out of the window and flapped it at the rabbit. “You thief! You poacher! I’ll get you, you nasty rodent!

The rabbit streaked across the yard and disappeared behind the dogwood hedge. Hattie raised her voice. “What makes you think you can come in my yard and eat my vegetables and flowers? You’re nothing but a furry thief.”

Something moved in the vegetable garden. Hattie grabbed a votive candle from her night table and lobbed it into the lettuce patch. Another rabbit bolted out of the garden. At the gardening shed, it stood, ears at attention, and scanned the yard.

Hattie slapped the side of the house with her palm. “Get away from here, you flea-infested filcher!”

The rabbit loped to the hedge where the first rabbit hopped out to touch noses in greeting. Hattie shouted at them and shook her fist. “All summer you rabbits have been plundering my garden, and I’ve had enough. I’m putting an end to it. Don’t you think I won’t.”

Despite all her efforts, Hattie’s yard and garden were in ruins. A late Midwest frost had taken her early annuals. The rabbits were taking everything else.

The gerbera daisies and pansies, replanted with determined hope along walkways and in patio pots, were gone in two days. Morning glories never made it to the bottom of the trellis. They were gone at three inches. In the garden the beans were stripped, the carrots were dug up, the cucumbers were gobbled to the nub, and the lettuce was whittled away.

The dried blood and cayenne pepper hadn’t worked. The aluminum foil pans tied where the wind would rattle them hadn’t worked. And as for the fence: tunnels everywhere. Only the bunnies worked. Every day and every night they chewed away at what was left of the garden.

“Gone far enough,” Hattie mumbled. “What do they think I’m running here? A salad bar?” If she didn’t do something soon, there would be nothing to show for her hours of gardening. Well, tonight she would take action. She would get them when they least expected it. She was going to sit in the upstairs window with her Red Rider airgun and shoot them. She had a right to protect her property. She would shoot them without mercy. She made her plans.

That evening she made a pot of coffee, slipped an audio tape into her cassette player and dropped the player in her pocket. She had to be quiet. “Take ’em by surprise,” she said. “I’ll show them.” She plugged in the headset, settled it over her ears, and flipped on the player.

This was a John Sandford audio book. Hattie was a great lover of mysteries, with the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of the final confrontation, when the miscreant came face to face with justice.

Hattie particularly loved John Sandford’s Prey series. In this one, Lieutenant Lucas Davenport was on the trail of a hired assassin. The assassin was ruthless, cold-blooded, and efficient. The assassin was also a woman, a woman with a job to do, and emotion wouldn’t get in the way.

Hattie took down her mug with the bluebirds on it, but somehow it didn’t feel right. She was hunting tonight. She put it back and grabbed one that said Feisty and Fun at Fifty. She filled it with coffee and marched upstairs to the bathroom.

The airgun was propped in the bath tub and leaning against the window sill over the tub. This window afforded the best view of the garden. She had already removed the screen.

On the audiotape, the assassin took out two Remington 22 semiautomatic pistols and slipped them into a concealed harness under her clothes.

Hattie opened the loading door on the barrel of her Red Rider and poured in a tubeful of bb’s. Some of them spilled and scattered on the tile. Hattie got down on the floor, chased them down, and dropped them one by one into the airgun’s loading chamber.

She switched off the light, stepped into the tub, cranked open the window, and settled on the edge. She set her coffee down and picked up the gun. She trained her eyes on the garden.

The cold-blooded assassin on the tape staked out her latest victim. She had been hired by an ambitious woman lawyer who had the hots for one of her clients. Unfortunately, the client was married. The lawyer hired the assassin to take out the unsuspecting wife.

Hattie propped the gun on the sill and slouched down and back so that her weight transferred from her butt to her thighs. The edge of the tub was feeling harder by the minute. She bent her elbows into her thighs and leaned forward, clutching the gun and peering at the garden.

The assassin disguised herself and stalked the woman. The woman went into the stairwell on the sixth floor of a parking garage and started down. The assassin, staked out below, started up. Halfway down, the woman and the assassin met. The assassin smiled at her.

Hattie set down the gun and went into the bedroom. She returned with a queen-sized pillow and laid it on the hard enamel edge. She resumed her post, squinting into the night.

The woman smiled back. As they passed each other, the assassin turned and put a bullet in the back of the woman’s head.

Hattie sipped her coffee and waved her mug at a mosquito. With the screen off, she was vulnerable. She tried to stay focused on the garden, but it was really too dark to see anything. She’d have to turn the porch light on.

She leaned the gun against the faucet and went downstairs. She flipped on the porch light, poured herself another cup of coffee, and slipped in the next audio tape.

The assassin and the smart woman lawyer were being blackmailed by a drug dealer. He had an incriminating tape. They confronted him with guns drawn and tied him up.

Hattie stepped into the tub and onto the barrel of the pellet gun, which had slid down from the faucet while she was downstairs. She missed her footing and fell forward. She threw out a hand to grab something to stop her fall, grabbed the shower curtain and yanked it down on top of where she lay in the tub on top of the gun.

She was still holding her coffee mug though, and it still held most of her coffee.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” she said. She set her coffee down, scrambled up, and switched on the light. She set the curtains aside. Her headset had come off. She retrieved it from the tub and, with grim determination, picked up the gun, turned off the light, and resettled herself, all the while muttering something about “nasty rodents, vegetable free-booters.” She picked up her mug and slurped her coffee.

The lawyer and the assassin negotiated with the drug dealer. “Tell us where the tape is or we’ll drill through your knee cap.” He resisted. They drilled.

Something moved in the garden. Hattie squinted. Something was thrashing around behind the Big Boy tomatoes. Hattie set down her coffee. What would it feel like to be hit with a bb? You couldn’t kill a person with an airgun unless maybe it was close up. Had to be very close up though, and even then...

The drug dealer screamed.

You couldn’t kill a dog. They mostly bounce off. Stings though.

“Stop! Stop! I’ll tell you where it is! You can have the tape!”

But a rabbit? Would it kill a rabbit? She pointed the Red Rider.

He had given the tape to his sister. He told them her number. They believed him. They knew he wasn’t lying.

Something was in the tomato plant. It was swaying from side to side like a signal flag. “Brainless bunnies.” Hattie took careful aim. The gun was steady on the sill. She wouldn’t miss from here. She saw her target clearly.

The woman lawyer put the muzzle of the Remington semiautomatic against the dealer’s temple. “I’ll see you in hell,” he said. The lawyer pulled the trigger.

Hattie felt something cold and hard on the back of her neck. She lowered her Red Rider and pulled her head set off. She turned her head. By the light of the moon, she could see a large rabbit squinting at her down the long barrel of a shotgun. The rabbit’s ears were laid back. Its nose twitched frantically.

“We want the cabbage.”

Hattie blinked. “The cabbage?”

“The cabbage, the carrots, and the lettuce.” Hattie stared. “You can have the rest,” the rabbit said.

“The rest?”

The rabbit placed the end of the barrel against Hattie’s nose. “Do we have a deal?” The rabbit’s nose twitched faster.

In a small voice, “Y-yes, a deal.”

He pushed the barrel hard against her nose. “And don’t try any tricks, understand? We’ll be watching you.”

“No, no, no... no tricks, no tricks. Of course, no tricks.”

The rabbit backed out of the room slowly with the barrel still pointing at Hattie. He paused until just his face, eyes bulging, peered from behind the door.

“Yes, you can be sure of that. We’ll be watching you.” Twitch, twitch. And then he was gone. Hattie sagged in the tub.

The next day, Hattie put out a sign in her garden. Rabbits welcome. Her neighbor, Ralph, called to her from over the fence.

“So, you decided to make peace with them, eh Hattie?”

“Yes, we’ve come to an agreement. I can have the tomatoes. It just wasn’t worth the aggravation.”

“Yeah, there’s just too many this summer. I had to come to terms with them too. After all, bunnies will be bunnies. Not much you can do, unless there’re some tricks I don’t know about.”

Hattie glanced around nervously. “No, no tricks. There’s no tricks. And even if there were tricks, I wouldn’t try any.” She raised her voice. “Live and let live, I always say! Well, I’m going in now!” She was practically shouting. “I’ll just take a few tomatoes, that’s all! I don’t really like cabbage and lettuce anyway!”

She walked backwards, facing the garden, scanning the rows, smiling weakly in the direction of the cabbages. “I’m going in the house now! Bye-bye!” She turned and half ran, half stumbled back to her house.

Ralph watched her go. Well, he wasn’t surprised. He’d given up trying to control the rabbits a long time ago. It was better to just let them take what they wanted. He didn’t mind it much, although... He looked at his car parked askew in the street. If only, he thought wistfully, they would at least remember to fill the gas tank.

Copyright © 2008 by Catherine Borden

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