Where new writing finds its voice
Short Story

Between the Slabs

Luke Thompson


Our landlady said we could either tidy the garden or get out. She said the grass was too long and the wild flowers between the paving slabs were too big. She said her husband built the house for his mother and she would be turning in her grave if she could see it now, with its long grass and wild flowers between the slabs.

We started right away. We pulled up the ragged robins and dandelions and goosefoot and chickweed and creeping buttercups from between the concrete slabs and put them into bin liners, swept up the black soil which fell from the roots, and poured boiling water over the ants. Along the hedgerow we pulled up bush vetch and creeping thistle, nettles and deadnettles, cat’s ear and broad-leaved willowherb, with more dandelions, ragged robin and buttercups, and raked the earth flat.

Out of the shallow gaps between slabs, woodlice and ground beetles scattered, and a madness of black ants foamed from the stone shelves, this one soft, that one crisp, in the steaming kettle water. At the fence, which marks the plot we pulled goosegrass and curled docks, exciting black weevils and yellow meadow ants.

A worm dropped on the tarmac from the willowherb’s roots, turning useless shapes with a useless muscle on the black rock-and-tar porridge until I picked it up with my acid hands and threw it over towards the earth again, when it snagged in next door’s privet and hung there drying in the tired sun.

At last we strimmed the long grass, the tops off the meadow grasses, rye grass, common couch and cock’s-foot, then their middle and lower parts on second and third sweeps, finally the white clover and daisies and everything down to coarse scrub, raking the splintered leaves and stems and flower-heads and springtails and the disappeared froth and young of froghoppers, sweeping the paving and tarmac for dry-skinned rot and panicked woodlice and the empty husks of banded snails, shovelling with our hands the piles of biotic scrap into more plastic sacks and lining these along the garage wall.

The garage backs on to a field of abandoned pasture, more than five acres of wild flowers and grasses as tall as our legs, shaded hedgerows, blackthorn, wych-elm, ferns and brambles, a blur of dark creeping greenery. Behind, in an unused lane, hawthorns, a plum tree, a laburnum bleeding yellow, a beech, a birch, a dip down the valley, a rise over the hill where the hedges quit and massive knots of gorse and granite peg the earth, then plantations and the old wood in the distance, obscene clinical strips cut out, and higher still the hill peaks, heavy low clouds, and the sun falling, tossing yellow as sharp and abundant as the gorse.