by Pete Pitman
tea and humble pie
Tom sat in the shade, on his patio, engrossed in a magazine.
“What are you reading, love?” said his wife, placing a mug of tea before him.
“It’s the Toolstation catalogue, Joan. I’m after some lopping shears with an extendable handle.”
“What on earth do you want those for?”
Tom put the catalogue down next to his tea and surveyed the garden. He stuck out his chest. “I’ve instilled some discipline into most of the garden. There’s just the bottom bit where those conifers spill cones and needles everywhere. And that bloody enormous hawthorn behind them, it sheds leaves, prickly twigs and other detritus all the time.”
Joan pulled a face as Tom remembered the hard work he’d put in last summer. Joan’s spreading arthritis meant she could no longer give the garden the attention it had required. He’d hacked down all the trees and rampant shrubs, filled in her pond and demolished her raised beds that seemed to contain equal amounts of wispy plants, misshapen vegetables and encroaching weeds. Once it was levelled he’d built a large patio of Yorkshire stone. Then, he’d covered most of the rest in sharp sand and laid a lawn of artificial grass. Joan had been upset, but he was sure she appreciated the benefit now.
The only blot on the new landscape was the mass of debris caused by the conifers and hawthorn belonging to the house behind their bottom fence.
“You can’t prune those coni--”
“Why not? I can chop the branches that overhang our fence. That’s legal.”
“Yes, I know that, Tom. But, there are several greenfinches roosting in there, on our side.”
“Are there? I didn’t know that.”
“No, you wouldn’t. You’re too busy enforcing discipline. Or, interfering, as I call it.”
“The only birds I’ve seen in those trees is a pair of noisy magpies.” He screwed up his nose. “Nasty things magpies. They steal from other birds. They’re so notorious they even named an opera after them.”
To emphasise his point, a magpie started squawking and rattling.
Their neighbour came out and stuck his head over the fence. “Hello, Joan. Tom. Lovely day.”
“It is, Suresh.” said, Joan. “How’s, Maia?”
“She’s very well, thanks.”
“It would be lovely if those bloody magpies would shut up,” said Tom.
“Very misunderstood birds, magpies. Nature has some strange ways.”
“You’re right, Suresh.” said Joan, giving Tom a hard stare. “It doesn’t pay to interfere with nature.”
Next day, Joan was at the shops with Maia, so Tom wandered down the garden to see if he could see the greenfinches. He located them and watched as blurs of green flitted in and out of the conifer branches close to Suresh’s shed. He was mesmerised by the spectacle when something hit him on the shoulder and bounced on to the ground. He looked up as a twig and a cone dropped to the earth beside him.
He spotted the culprit causing the bombardment and waved his fist. “Bloody magpies!”
As he spoke, something occurred to him – what if the magpies stole the greenfinches’ eggs?
Tom marched into the house, rattled up the stairs and released the loft ladder. He clambered up into the loft and re-emerged shortly with two boxes. One was narrow and about three feet long, the other was smaller and nearly square. He took them downstairs and cleaned the contents.
With a satisfied smile, he returned to the garden with an air rifle and a laser gun. He spent a half-hour alternately firing pellets close to the cavorting magpies and then dazzling them with the infra-red laser beam. He hadn’t had this much fun in ages and when the magpies rose into the air and gave a farewell screech before flying over the distant rooftops he punched the air and cheered.
He’d just returned the guns to the loft when Joan walked in and dropped her handbag on the table.
She looked at him and said, “You’ve got that funny look. Have you been interfering somewhere?”
The following afternoon, Tom was seated on his patio flicking through the Screwfix catalogue when he heard Joan cry, “Oh dear! Poor little thing!”
“What’s the matter, Joan?”
“There’s a dead greenfinch on the lawn. Looks like a cat’s got it.”
As Tom walked down to join her, Suresh poked his head over the fence. “Did I hear you say there’s a dead greenfinch, Joan?”
“Yes. Poor little thing.”
“Yeah, there’s one by my shed too. Must be that ginger tom.”
“Bloody cats,” said Tom.
“I keep chasing it off,” said Suresh. “Wait a minute. What’s happened to the magpies?”
All three of them stared up at the hawthorn.
“Why?” said Joan.
“Well, they’re my early warning system. Every time that cat comes around the magpies kick off, making a right racket. Then, I know to come out and chase the cat off.”
“Oh dear!” said, Tom, staring at his shiny shoes.
“What have you done, Tom?” said Joan, through half closed eyes. “You’ve been interfering, haven’t you.”
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