Thursday, 3 November 2011

Small potatoes

Mother was cursing the gophers again.  Harriet sat at the kitchen table banging a spoon on her dish, which was empty as always., and John was reading through the Artisan Bread cookbook that he'd stolen from a bookshop.  Dr. Lavatorial went outside, to see if Mother would do anything this time.
Mother was crouched on the ground, laying colourful stones in intricate patterns.  As each line of her pattern completed she muttered words that were hard to hear, or perhaps hard to understand.  They sounded like real words, but always she mumbled just the syllable Dr. Lavatorial needed in order to be certain of what she'd said.  He reached out, intending to move one of the stones and see what Mother would do, but she slapped his hand away before he came within six inches.  He paused; he was sure Mother's reach wasn't long enough to do that.
The banging of the spoon from the kitchen stopped, and yet somehow Mother's words were still slightly too unclear to make out.  Then she put the last of her stones down, stood up, and stepped back.
Mother was much shorter than Dr. Lavatorial; if she and her two sisters had stood on one another's shoulders to make a towering person they'd still only have just reached up to his eyebrows.  She pointed at the garden, made a hand-sign that meant 'gopher', and cursed them again.  The coloured stones flashed once, very brightly, and all over the garden gophers were fired out of holes, and in some cases bushes, lifting eighteen or twenty feet into the air with their little tails on fire, before falling back to the ground, often dead, but sometimes still twitching.
Dr. Lavatorial rubbed his eyes, wondering if he'd really just seen an hydraulic expression of gopher from a suburban garden, but the little corpses and near-corpses still littered the back garden.  The coloured stones were fading, as though their colour were running out to somewhere else, and most of them now looked cracked.  Mother knelt back down by them, sorting through them, and pocketed three that looked undamaged and still colourful.  She made a purring sound, a noise Dr. Lavatorial interpreted as pleasure.
"Harriet!" called Mother, her voice at the upper range of Dr. Lavatorial's hearing.  He rubbed his eyes again, and adjusted his bionic ears to a wider range. "Harriet, bring in the potatoes."  Harriet came running, carrying a very-wide bladed shovel that Dr. Lavatorial hadn't seen before. He knew for a fact that Harriet hadn't eaten anything in four days, so he hoped that the potatoes were easy to dig up.  She made a beeline for the nearest plant and plunged the spade into the earth.  She dug ferociously, throwing earth alternately over each shoulder into two wide, messy piles, with plenty of small soil particles lifted into the breeze and pelting both Mother and Dr. Lavatorial.  The soil was friable because there hadn't been any rain either for the last few days, and soon she was down to a blacker, damper, loam, still following the pale line of the plant's root.  Then there was a thump as her blade struck something.
Dr. Lavatorial watched as she probed around the hard thing, finding the edges, then slipped the shovel's wide blade down one side of it, and levered it up.  He was expecting a rock, or perhaps a house-brick, but instead a much large section of earth moved, and as soon as the bottom of it came free of the earth Harriet had seized it, abandoning the shovel, and dragging it out of her hole with much grunting and panting.
"Potatoes!" she shrieked, even higher pitched than Mother.  "Small potatoes!"
She had unearthed a chest, which looked like it was made of the matted and lignified roots of the potato plant.  When he prised one side open, potatoes spilled out and Mother ran over at once, swatting at Harriet's head and making her put the potatoes back inside.  Then she was made to pick the chest up and carry it over to the outside door to the root cellar, where Mother took it off her and carried it proudly in.
Dr. Lavatorial went back into the kitchen feeling slightly puzzled, and found that John had stopped reading and was now boiling a tea-towel with a hungry look in his eyes.

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