Suburban Guerilla

by Elizabeth Ashworth

Margaret closed the lid of her laptop as soon as she heard Peter coming down the stairs.  Even after thirty years of married life there were things she didn’t want him to know, because she suspected that he wouldn’t approve.

“Do you have plans?” he asked as he spread butter across his toast and peered around for the marmalade.  His hair was still damp and his glasses slightly steamed from the hot shower.

“I’ll probably have coffee at the garden centre with Helen,” she told him.

“You and your gardening,” he teased, and Margaret hoped that he wouldn’t notice how neglected their own garden looked.  She really must find time to attend to it.

At last he was finished and she kissed his freshly shaven cheek and sent him on his way.

“Have a nice day!” he called, as he always did and she waved him off with mixed feelings of relief and anticipation.  She ran up to their bedroom, pulled on her old clothes and picked up a waterproof just in case it didn’t stay fine.  A blue sky in the morning didn’t always fulfil its promise of a sunny day she had discovered and she didn’t want to be soaked by the rain.

The car started at the second turn of the ignition and Margaret briefly checked the items in the basket sitting in the foot well.  Trowel, gloves, bulbs, seeds, black plastic bin liners and a sack of compost.  Her contributions to the morning’s enterprise.

The others were already there when she arrived, waiting in their cars, amidst the travelling salesmen who were eating bacon baps from a caravan marked ‘Hot and Kooky’ which was staffed by a surly looking man with a bald head.  Margaret parked her car a little way down the road after she’d turned it around to face the exit.  For a quick getaway, she smiled to herself as she got out and reached for her basket.  Tom and Helen and Daphne were out of their cars and ready for action when she reached them.  After quick greetings they pulled on thick gloves and set to work, ignoring the mild curiosity of their breakfasting audience.

The small roundabout was covered in beige plastic trays and striped cardboard containers, some still holding the cold rigid sticks that passed for French Fries.  These went into one bag and myriad cans were quickly and methodically crushed under her boot and dropped into the other.  It was her turn to take them to the re-cycling point today.  Tom was already digging at the hard packed earth with his spade when she returned from putting them in the boot of her car.   Beside him Daphne was lovingly easing a sapling from a plastic pot.   Margaret fell to her knees beside Helen, gouging with her trowel to make a series of deep holes, before adding compost and pushing in the daffodil bulbs, roots down, green tips up.

“Oy!” came a shout from Hot and Kooky.  “What do you lot think you’re doing?”  Margaret had learned that it was quicker not to stop to explain.  “That’s private land.  You’ve no business doing that!”

She glanced up.  He was out of his little caravan now.  His stomach was wobbling with self righteous anger under its grimy apron as he trotted across the road towards them.  “I’m calling the police!” he warned waving a mobile phone in their direction.

Margaret knelt up and eased the aching muscles in her back.  Was she getting too old for this, she wondered, as she glanced at the man.  Their audience was sitting up straighter in their cars now as the entertainment evolved; some had even wound down their windows to hear what was being said.  Furious at their reluctance to either argue or go away Hot and Kooky was now stabbing at his phone with a fat finger.

“Almost done,” breathed Helen as she firmed down the last bulb and scattered more compost over it.  Tom slammed the back of his spade against the earth around the small apple tree that Daphne had planted at the centre of the roundabout.  She grew them from pips on her windowsill and then in pots on her patio until they were big enough to go out into the world.  She poured copious amounts of water onto it from a can and Margaret almost expected her to kiss it goodbye.

They didn’t rush.  “Coffee?” asked Helen as they brushed the dirt from their knees.  “Usual place?”  Margaret nodded and picked up her trowel and the empty bin liners.  She stood back to admire their guerrilla gardening.  Come the spring, the little roundabout would be pretty with pink apple blossom and golden dancing daffodils.  They might have to take the rubbish away again, and again, but at least they had improved one more eyesore.

She stamped hard before she got into her car to get rid of the soil on her feet.  The two black patches on her knee she could do nothing about, but the coffee shop at the garden centre had never complained about their appearance.

The car started at the third attempt, helped by a fervent prayer.  Margaret could hear a police siren in the distance and she couldn’t resist giving a triumphant wave to Hot and Kooky as she accelerated hard and made him leap out of her way.

It had only been a quick job today and later she would attend to her own garden so that Peter wouldn’t have cause to wonder what on earth she did with her time.

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