Scythe and Grass Hook
by R J Dent
Quite often I’d get asked (told) to do some gardening. I’d not chosen such a big garden (one hundred and one feet long by forty-five feet wide), so I didn’t see why I had to help maintain it. But I was made to do some work on it from time to time; enforced work that increased incrementally with my age.
Anyway, one Saturday morning, just as I was making plans – deciding how I was going to spend my morning and afternoon, my father told me he wanted me to ‘cut the front lawn’.
I was a bit miffed, but I realised that the front lawn was no more than a twenty feet by ten feet rectangle and most of it was clover. Half an hour’s work, I thought, which would leave me with enough time to go to the shop and buy my pop music magazine, sit somewhere quiet and read it, then use the afternoon for exploring and adventures.
Of course, it wasn’t that simple. First of all, my father gave me the smallest, rustiest and seized-uppiest pair of shears I’ve ever seen.
– Use these, he said, handing them to me.
I looked at the shears, then at him. Shears! For cutting grass!
He must have known what I was thinking because he got all defensive.
– I use them on the hedge all the time, he said. And they work just fine. Good shears, they are.
I didn’t bother to respond. I went to the corner of ‘the front lawn’ and started snipping. After ten minutes, I’d got backache, blisters on my hands and I was sweating profusely. I also knew that the job was going to take a lot more than half an hour. I decided to try and get better tools for the job. I found my father sitting inside, reading the morning paper.
– Can I use the lawn-mower? I asked.
– It’s broken. That’s why we’re having to use the shears.
His use of the word ‘we’re’ annoyed me. His reading the paper while I worked annoyed me. His giving me rubbishy tools for the job annoyed me. I decided it was time to threaten to quit.
– I can’t do the job with these, I said, holding up the offending shears.
– All right, he sighed, after a few moments of thought. I know what you can use.
My father put his newspaper down and, huffing and puffing in exasperation, got up and went out to the tool shed. I followed him, thinking/ hoping/ wishing that he was going to go inside and drive out on a sit-down, fully motorised lawn-mower. Instead, he went in and emerged a few minutes later carrying a huge scythe that looked like something a farmer from the middle ages would have reluctantly resorted to using for reaping corn if his horse had suddenly gone lame during harvest time.
The handle was a seven-foot long piece of S-shaped tubular steel with two wooden handles sticking out at right angles from it. The blade was a huge dully-glittering steel crescent that would have put a waning moon to shame.
– Doesn’t Death want that back? I asked.
My father sighed and shook his head pityingly.
– You really should try to control that wild imagination of yours, he said.
– I don’t think I can use that, I said, indicating the scythe.
– Why? There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a perfectly good piece of cutting equipment.
– Perfectly good for a giant, I said.
– You’re never satisfied, are you? he said, trying to make me feel guilty. He sighed. Nothing’s ever good enough, is it?
Grumbling, my father went back into the tool shed, taking the scythe with him. He returned a few minutes later with a very rusty wooden-handled grass hook and handed it to me.
– It’s a sickle, he said unnecessarily. Some call it a grass hook, but it’s a sickle.
After the gargantuan-ism of the scythe, the sickle looked positively miniscule, almost like a toy. I could see that it was the best grass-cutting implement I’d been offered so far, so I begrudgingly accepted it.
Like the shears, the grass hook was orange with rust, but I could see it was very sharp. The edge shone brightly. The edge was very thin. Paper thin. Silver paper thin. It hurt my eyes to look at it.
I took the grass hook and went back to the front lawn. I tried it out. It cut very well. I knew I could do the job quickly.
And so I started cutting, cutting, cutting; chopping, chopping, chopping; threshing, threshing, threshing. I was a farmer, working in the field. It was harvest time. I was collecting clover for clover butter, clover wine, clover jam, clover anything, clover everything. Good job I wasn’t allergic to clover.
Soon, over three quarters of the lawn was cut. Another ten minutes and I’d be finished; farmers work fast. I was a combine harvester.
I stood and surveyed the last strip of lawn to be cut. I took up my farmer’s stance, pulled up my sleeves, swung my arm back and forth a couple of times, liking the sound of the grass hook as it whistled through the air, then I scythed, scythed, scythed away to my heart’s content.
On the fourth or fifth stroke, the grass hook flew out of my sweaty little hand, arced through the morning air and crashed through the front room window.
Simultaneously shocked and highly amused, I laughed aloud.
I imagined myself knocking on the front door and politely saying to my mother:
– Can I have my grass hook back, please?
I imagined myself in court, explaining what had happened.
– I was just using it and it went off, your honour.
I went round to the back door, went in and made my way through the house to the front room. By the time I got there, my mother was picking up large pieces of broken glass and putting them inside sheets of newspaper.
– It was the grass hook, I said lamely.
– I can see that, said my mother, looking across the room.
I followed her gaze. There on the dining table next to the salt and pepper pots sat the grass hook. There were bits of grass on the table cloth. Keeping a very straight face, I went to pick up the grass hook.
– Just leave it there, my mother said. Go on, get out. You’ll be in the way in here.
I didn’t need telling twice; I reached for my pocket money on the side and–
– Oh no you don’t! said my mother.
I’d nearly made it.
– First of all, my mother said, we’ve got to work out how much it’ll cost to replace the pane.
– Not much, I said desperately. Dad’s got spare panes in the shed.
– How much are you prepared to pay for your damage?
– I don’t know, I said. How much does a pane of glass – a very small pane of glass, I might add – cost?
– I’ll deduct a small amount each week until it’s paid for, my mother said.
– Okay, I said, knowing I had no choice.
My mother took a few coins from the pocket money. I pocketed it and got out of there fast; making my way to the shop.
As I browsed the magazine racks, I knew that for the next few weeks I’d have to choose: either sweets or my favourite weekly pop music magazine. No more being able to afford both. As I made my choice I reflected on the irony of the name of the pop music magazine: Smash Hits.
Scythe and Grass Hook
by R J Dent
Copyright © R J Dent (2014)