Lucy Peterson awoke on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, eager to start the day. Following her husband’s passing, she had spent the last two weeks at her daughter’s house in the city, and had finally convinced her children she was well enough to be on her own again. Visiting was always pleasant, but when you stay there too long, the sounds of the city start to bog down a country heart. Not to mention the screams from her grandchildren, playful or otherwise, were enough to make your head spin. She was eager to get back to her home to the things that brought her peace.
She opened the bedroom window and let the sun warm her skin. The single ranch house felt quiet and empty, and Lucy felt a tear roll down her cheek. But she was determined not to let the rest of her life be consumed by grief, just as she promised Ed. She had always been the force that kept him going, and he begged her not to let her enthusiasm and zest for life die with him, and so she wouldn’t. She pulled on the overalls she had laid out the night before over her t-shirt, and took out the oversized, floppy, green sunhat from her closet. She then strapped the knee pads onto her arthritis ridden legs. It was a perfect day to revive her garden.
In the weeks leading up to Ed’s death, then the two weeks following, Lucy thought for sure her vegetables would have rotted, and her flowers were wilted for sure. But when she went out back, to her amazement, the sunflowers had grown taller than she was, and the tomatoes were looking plump and juicier than ever. She put her hands on her hips and stared in astonishment at the lush little patches before her. Then, she looked up and smiled toward the sky. Surely Ed had something to do with this little bit of magic.
She accepted the blessing and got to work harvesting the vegetables. Six gorgeous tomatoes, at least a dozen cucumbers, and green beans by the handful. Lucy glanced over to the carrot patch with a sigh. Carrots were always Ed’s specialty. He had taught her how to judge if they were ready to be plucked, and naturally, she could manage, but it hurt her heart all the same to do it alone. She hovered over the patch for a second before deciding she would leave them for another day. A day when she felt stronger. Carrots would last in the ground an exceptionally long time. “I’d really like to make a nice pot of stew for tonight though…” She sighed aloud. “Oh well. Perhaps a nice salad instead.” She freed a medium sized head of arugula before tending to the weeds in the flower bed.
The primrose bush was blossoming a lovely, deep, red and daffodils were practically singing. No, wait…they really WERE singing…Lucy paused a moment and listened very carefully. She swore her old ears were playing tricks on her, but no, there was most definitely a tune, coming from among the blooms! She quickly brushed back the stems to find the source of the music below the flowers. But there was nothing there. Not that she truly expected there to be a tiny person in her daffodil patch, but none the less, the song had to have come from somewhere. It was then that she spotted a tiny green thing, poking up from the soil.
“A poorly sprouted plant.” She thought at first. But as she pulled her glasses down and inspected further, it didn’t seem to be a plant at all, but a piece of fabric. “How very strange…” she mumbled. But then thought better of herself. A bird must have taken it from somewhere for their nest and dropped it. Perhaps that’s where the singing was coming from. Surely that was the only logical explanation. Lucy nodded to herself, picked up her vegetable basket, and went inside to clean up and start lunch, stuffing the green item in her pocket. She cleaned the soil from under her fingernails and washed the arugula, staring out the kitchen window to the house next door.
Lucy watched as Ms.Sullivan pulled into the driveway, nearly taking out the mail box in the process. Her neighbor was only a little older than herself, but it was clear Mary Sullivan’s eyesight, among other things, had considerably deteriorated over the years. But Lucy had to hand it to her, she had a very admirable sense of independence, even if she was a bit of a kook. Lucy felt a tinge of guilt. When she heard the news Ed had passed, Mary made it a point to bring her some food, and even offered to loan Lucy one of her cats for emotional support. Lord knows Mary Sullivan had enough cats to spare, but she politely declined. She frequently fed a stray she had named Brutus, and didn’t want him thinking she’d replaced him. Looking down at her vegetables, Lucy decided it would be only right to share some lunch with her, or at least return the container from Mary’s rhubarb tart.
Lucy walked across the street and knocked on the bright purple door of her neighbor’s house. Most of these houses were standard cookie-cutter types, but Mary’s purple door made her house stick out like a sore thumb. Maybe that’s what she was hoping to achieve. When Mary cracked the door open, the smell of cat and incense wafted out, and Lucy instantly regretted her decision.
Lucy cleared her throat. “Hi there! It’s Lucy…Peterson…from next door! I was just coming to…” a hand reached out and pulled her into the house.
“Lucy. Welcome. Sorry about that, but there are always people and things, watching. Can’t be too careful. And we wouldn’t want to let Belladonna out. She’s an escape artist, you know.” She said, scratching her black cat behind its ears. “You were saying, dear?” Mary smiled. She was dressed in a knee length black dress, with knee high boots and a purple hooded cloak over top. A bit eccentric for a 70 some year old woman.
“Oh, uhm. Just that I wanted to return your container, and your kindness. I got into my garden today and the vegetables were just gorgeous, so I made an arugula salad and thought you might like some.” Lucy extended the containers to her.
“How kind of you to think of me. And how…strange the garden is still flourishing. Was it cared for while you were away?” Mary pried.
“Not to my knowledge, but I’d like to think Ed had something to do with it.” A smile cracked on Lucy’s face.
“Hm. Yes, well. Maybe. Listen dear, I am in the middle of something as we speak, but I recognize the difficult situation you’re in. Might I leave you my number, in case you’re in need of help or a friendly shoulder?” Mary looked into Lucy’s eyes with the same poor, defenseless puppy look her kids had given her. But she nodded politely and took out her cellphone to add the number. With it, the little green thing from the garden fell out. Mary’s eyes widened as she dove for it.
“Where did you get this?” She practically yelled.
Lucy looked up from the phone and saw the green thing in Mary’s hand. She didn’t even realize it came out of her pocket. “Oh, uh. My garden. No clue what it is, though.” Lucy shrugged.
“This explains EVERYTHING!” Mary exclaimed. “Lucy, you have garden gnomes!”
Lucy was trying to contain her desire to bolt from the house right there, and it must have been clear on her face.
“No, no. Don’t look at me like I have ten heads, this is serious! Gnomes are some of the best free laborers on the planet! The trouble is they like very lush, well-kept gardens, and they’ll rarely make themselves known to people, as they fear enslavement. But boy the price they fetch if you can catch them! This is a hat, Lucy. It’s a gnome hat. They must have slipped up! I’ve never been able to draw them out myself. How delicious…” Mary had the expression of a mad scientist. Looking around at the hordes of clutter, Lucy could see why they’d stayed away from her. What was she thinking, this lady was nuts! There were no gnomes!
“Right, well, I really need to be going so, your number, please, and I’ll be off.” Lucy smiled nervously.
“Oh right! Mary chuckled, grabbing the phone and typing her own number in. “There you are.” Lucy opened the door to hurry out when the oddest thought popped into her head.
“And I’d like that hat back, please.” She announced.
“Ah.” Mary said with a frown. “Right. Are you quite sure? No good, messing with gnomes. No good at all.” But Lucy held out her hand, and she reluctantly dropped the hat into it.
“Thanks again for the tart. See you.” Lucy gave her best half smile.
“Lucy, you call me if you need anything, alright? Anything at all. Especially with those gnomes.” Mary grinned. If Lucy hadn’t known any better she would have sworn her neighbor was up to something. But it didn’t matter. Her stomach was growling from her uneaten lunch, still sitting at home on the table, and she couldn’t wait to dive in.
But when she got home, the bowl containing her nice spring mix had been emptied, and in its place were three bright, big carrots. Lucy’s eyes widened. Surely this was more than a heavenly hand…She stopped and thought to herself for a moment.
“I’m nuts.” She announced to the empty room “I’m nuts, I’m nuts, I’m nuts.” But she let out a deep sign, and went out the back door, and sat on the stoop, clutching the tiny “hat”.
“H..hi. I don’t know if anyone can hear me, if anyone is out there or anything…God, I feel dumb doing this but…My name is Lucy Peterson, and this is my garden, and if there’s anyone…or anything out there that wants to make themselves known…now is the time!” Lucy sighed and rolled her eyes at her own gullibility. “I should have known that woman was full of it.” She said to herself, hurling the tiny hat behind her for another lucky bird.
“My hat!” A teeny voice cried out. Lucy spun around, and there, right in front of her, clear as day, was a 6 inch tall, little bearded creature, racing for the object she threw, and adjusting it on his head. Immediately following its delight, its face flooded with terror. “Uh-oh” it squeeked.
“Bless my stars, you’re really there, aren’t you? Oh my. I need to sit down.” Lucy fell back into the dirt and let out long sigh. Another, older and gruffer voice let out a deeper one from in the flower bed, and revealed himself.
“Begging your pardon, m’am…” The Elder Gnome made himself known, but Lucy still made an audible gasp.
“Heavens there’s more of you!” She exclaimed.
“Yes, m’am. My name is Tobias Toadstool, and this is my clan. I’m sorry we gave to a scare, but truthfully, we thought this garden was abandoned until this morning. It was lush but starting to wilt when we found it a little over a month ago, and we’ve seen no humans since. Usually, in knowing someone lives here, we’d kindly take our leave, but you see, there’s been a creature attacking the gnomes where we come from, so many of us have had to seek shelter on the human side of the veil. I hate to do this to you m’am, but perhaps we can come to an arrangement so we can…”
Lucy shook her head violently. “I beg you, please stop. This is far too much for me to handle. My husband just passed away, I am old, and my health is poor. I have half a mind to think this is all just a foul trick that my mind is playing on me, or a spell that witch across the street has me under! I am going inside. I am going to lay down. I’m sorry, but please be gone when I wake up.”
The gnomes reluctantly nodded as Lucy got up and went inside to take a nap. Sure enough, when she got up, the gnomes had left. Lucy was tinged with guilt again. They hadn’t really meant her harm, in fact they’d tried to help her, but it was all just too much to handle. She had hoped they found a more suitable home, in any case. But as she sat at her dining room table, finishing a crossword puzzle, she heard hissing and fighting outside that sounded like cats. She raced out and saw Brutus, her favorite stray, sparring with a black cat. “That must be Belladonna” Lucy thought to herself. That’s when she noticed a tiny green hat, hanging from the cat’s collar. It must have gotten stuck when she…oh no!
Lucy jumped between the cats and scooped up Brutus, putting him in her house. “Just for now Brutey. Behave yourself.” Then she turned to the black cat that was licking her paws. “I know where you belong.” She scowled, grabbed the cat. It hissed and swatted at her, but she managed to get it across the street and knocked on Mary’s door. She cracked it, but upon seeing her cat, her eyes got wide and she flung the door open.
“Bella!! So THAT’S where you’ve been!” She exclaimed, eyeing Lucy up and down.
“Excuse me, but YOUR cat was in my yard. And based on what’s hanging from her collar, I’d guess she’s doing YOUR dirty work!” Lucy stepped forward with a new found confidence and pushed her way into Mary’s house.
“Have you lost your goddamn mind?!” Mary screamed, trying to block her. But it was too late, Lucy had already seen what was going on in her living room. A little over a dozen gnomes trapped in one tiny cage were crying out.
“You’re a monster. Let those poor things out immediately!” Lucy screamed.
“Like hell!” Mary growled, shoving her backward.
It was then that all the pent up rage and grief Lucy had been holding in, released itself. She shoved Mary right back, knocking her to the ground and breaking the key off from her around her neck. Lucy grabbed the cage and ran to the door. She stopped and turned to the witch.
“And if I ever see you, or that cat on my property again, I’ll make you both into soup.” She scoffed.
She stumbled in the door and sat down while the room spun around her, barely coherent after her encounter. But Brutus’ cries for freedom brought her to her senses. She opened the back door for him, and when she turned around, she was met by the desperate and pleading faces of the gnome clan.
“Oof, right, sorry about that!” She said opening the cage latch. The gnomes stared in awe.
“Uhm. Everyone alright? You look a bit shell shocked. I didn’t jostle you too much in the fight, did I?” Lucy looked at them in panic, fearing she broke their tiny bodies somehow.
“No m’am. It’s just. We were afraid you wouldn’t let us out.” One of them stated, bowing his head.
“Listen, I know what I said earlier. But I’m no heathen like that woman next door. Just a scared old woman with a lot going on. I don’t know much about gnomes, but you’re living and breathing, and you don’t deserve to be caged or sold or forced to work.” She nodded.
“Actually m’am, we quite enjoy the work and the garden, so long as we aren’t forced.” A small gnome said, perking up.
“Is that so?” Lucy said with a smile. “Well. It’s just me here now, and it does get mighty lonely and the work is hard to handle. If you’d like a place of your own, away from the beasts and the witch next door…you’re welcome to share my garden.”
“We’d like that very much.” Tobias shook her finger in an attempt at a hand shake. The gnomes went to get settled in their new home, and both parties basked in the sheer joy of a new, and lifelong friendship.