by R J Dent
My father had a piece of carpet he wanted to put on the rectangular patch of ground by the shed – the patch of ground which eventually became the site of the greenhouse. It was an old grey piece of carpet – a bit frayed at the edges, a bit worn, a bit stained. It had once been the living room carpet. Now it was to serve a new purpose, which my father explained to me.
– If we lay the carpet on the ground, it’ll stop the grass and weeds growing… and it’ll make the ground soft.
– And that’s all we really need for the base, he said, some nice soft soil and no grass or weeds.
And so he carried the roll of carpet out of the house and placed it next to the rectangle of ground he’d pegged and stringed. Carefully, he unrolled the carpet and stretched it out until it totally covered the rectangle of ground. My father then placed a brick on each corner.
– That’ll keep the little blighters out, he said.
– Anything that thinks it’s fine to squat in this newly-carpeted home.
I had no idea what he meant, and I never got to ask because he dashed off across the garden and got started on the next job that was waiting to be done.
A couple of months later on a Saturday morning, my father press-ganged me into carpet removal duties.
It was a lovely warm day. My mother was hanging some washing out and was singing ‘Oranges and lemons’ in her slightly out-of-tune voice.
– Right, my father said. Together we roll the carpet up and I’ll carry my end and you carry yours and we’ll put it in the garage.
I took hold of the corner and he did the same and we rolled it up in one smooth, synchronised move.
The bare ground was writhing with dozens of snakes.
– Snakes! I yelled.
– They’re not snakes. They’re slow worms. They won’t hurt you.
I relaxed. I’d learned about slow worms at school. They were harmless. They wouldn’t hurt me.
My shout had alerted my brother. He came out of the house and looked at the quickly-dispersing reptiles.
– Ah, it looks like our old friend Anguis fragilis, he said.
– Friend! There’s clearly more than one.
– Our old friends, then.
– You’ve got strange friends.
– Had. They’ve all gone now.
And they had.
My mother’s scream was deafening. It was also terrifying because she never screamed at anything. She was tough.
We (my father, my brother and I) ran to see what was wrong.
A strange sight met our eyes.
A black sock had fallen out of the laundry basket onto the footpath. The sock was twitching and twisting and slowly advancing on my mother. It looked simultaneously menacing and surreal. To my mother it must have only looked menacing.
– Get it away from me! she wailed. Get it away!
My father immediately went into anti-sock mode, pulling a bean cane out of the ground and running at the sock.
– Have at you, varlet! he yelled, flailing the cane around like it was a bamboo fencing foil.
– Zorro’s on the case, my brother muttered.
– It’s d’Artagnan versus the sock.
– Sock it a good one, dad.
– Don’t let it get a firm footing.
– Are you stocking up on weapons?
– It’ll be a leg-end-ary battle.
Ignoring us, our father whacked the sock with the cane. A slow worm quickly slithered out of its material depths and wriggled along the path, shedding its sock-skin. My father hit the sock again and it sailed through the air in a graceful arc. The unharmed but bewildered slow worm, no doubt thinking it was being attacked, writhed angrily for a moment on the footpath and then darted into the undergrowth and vanished.
– Saint George vanquishes the mini-dragon.
– Theseus defeats the Mini-tour.
My mother suddenly started laughing hysterically.
My father led her over to a bench and helped her sit down.
– It’s all right now, he said. It was just a slow worm.
– No, it wasn’t slow, my mother said. It was really quite fast. The way it came at me… I’ve never been attacked by a sock before.
– No, said my father placatingly. It comes to something when you can’t trust your own laundry.
by R J Dent
Copyright © R J Dent (2014)