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Saturday, 13 May 2017

The Other Side of the Hedge

Elena Potter, a widow of ten years, lived in the house her husband had built on the edge of a public park. Here, one could listen to the games children played; one could nourish an imagination starved by the meagre library a dead husband’s insurance allowed one to afford; one could eavesdrop on talk of such wildness—of being gun slinging heroes, of inviting famous personalities to tea and mudcakes—that, to a woman who’d had no kids of her own, might suggest a realm of freedom to challenge life at its own level.

An afternoon in early June, while she was trimming her laurel hedges, Elena heard two boys on the other side.

“Where were you?” said the one.

“I was being a squirrel,” said the other. “As a squirrel you have to collect enough nuts for the winter. Not like a rat. I was also a rat.”

“Oh, I hate rats.”

Elena’s aim was to cut her hedges just so thin that one could almost see the light come through. (A garden book said this would keep them from growing too twiggy.) Mindful of this, she brought her shears snip by snip closer to boys.

“But you haven’t answered my question,” said the first boy. “Where were you? I was looking.”

“Well if you want to know, I was a gnat, then an old tree, and then for years I was a frog on the Nile. It was great! Everything was just slow, and right, and full of flies. I was many other things too. Oh, don’t be mad,” he said after a pause. “Come on, you haven’t told me what you were.”

“Oh, I don’t know... I tried out being a moonbeam.”


“There’s not much to say.”

“Anything else?”

“I was black mold. I was a cloud. I was a dying sun. I was one of the black holes at the end of time. I was a lost tachyon particle.”

“Jeeze. That’s why you’re so glum.”

There was a long silence.

Who were these boys, Elena wondered? Not the Hutchinsons—those hooligans did not use so many words. Perhaps they were the Grays. Those boys often stole her crab-apples while they were yet unripe and played straight-face competitions against the sourness; they were a cleverer sort. Only, they were a bit old—

Oh, now look what she’d done! She was seeing far too much light through the hedge. But Elena stopped herself cussing, for the boys were talking again.

“Well, doesn’t matter,” said the first boy. “I’m tired. Can we go back?” 

“But there’s still so many things I want to try! I want to be the universe’s biggest, loudest supernova. And a blue whale, singing in the deep. And a raindrop falling into a desert.”

“Everything, I suppose.”

“Yes! Everything! And—there’s another thing, too, but it’s not a something. It’s... I have to show you. More like a place.”

“Oh, not again.”

“But it’s so weird! It’ll only take a second, I promise.”

“You said that last time.”

“I did? Well, you liked it here, didn’t you? I mean, right now, you enjoy being a kid?”

“Yeah, sure. But I don’t want to be a kid much longer.”

A pause.

“Where is this place anyway?”

“I discovered it a few million years ago, when I was being God.”

Here Elena closed the shears with a loud snap and startled herself. The boys went quiet.

After about a minute of absolute silence had passed, Elena stooped to align herself with the spot at which she had last heard the boys. It was hard to say precisely where that was; towards the end, they had been talking in near-whispers. Here, she made a few large cuts, then peered through. They were gone. For a moment in her puzzlement, Elena had the peculiar sense that the voices had come from behind something more than her hedge.

But of course, boys are very good at hiding.

An hour later, Elena sat on her patio with a bit of almond cake and a cup of tea, surveying her work. She was in a strange mood; it was probably the thunder in the air. Elena gave a test sip to her orange pekoe, and it felt as though, along with her tea, she was trying out something more: her life perhaps. Trying out being seventy-year-old Elena, resting from yard work. 

Ah, and what a poor job she’d done of it! All along the hedge a hasty, too-thin trim that caused a patchy, golden daylight to filter into her yard from the other side.

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