I turned up to do some general tidying around the gardens at the Duckwater residential care home and noticed that someone had installed a garden gnome over the weekend. It’s not unusual – friends and relatives often do things like that to liven the place up – and someone had spent a bit of money on this one. Every so often, the little fishing rod dipped twice, flicked from side to side and bobbed once more. It was an eye-catching rhythm, bob, bob, swish-swish bob. I couldn’t tell whether it was battery-powered or had a cunningly disguised solar panel, but I caught myself nodding my head in time with it. Bob, bob, swish-swish bob.
Even so, it was a stupid place to put it, causing awkward wheelchair access right where the path around the pond was narrowest, between the safety rail and a bench where friends and relatives could sit with their resident and watch the ducks on the pond.
I did my job, working round the little statue – all green trousers and a sloppy pointed hat, perched right on the edge of the pond, fishing rod doing its bob, bob, swish-swish bob, but no smile. I don’t like garden gnomes, and their inane cheery disposition, but a frowning gnome with lips pursed into a grimace is even creepier.
That bob, bob, swish-swish bob got on my wick after a while. An annoying movement that kept catching my attention and then got me nodding along to it.
When I was done for the morning, I mentioned it to Laura, the manager, just in case she wanted it moved. Whoever originally installed it ought to be the one to shift it somewhere better, but moving a garden gnome meant being paid for another hour’s work.
“Ugly, grumpy-looking thing,” Laura decided. “Can’t stay there. I mean…” bob, bob, swish-swish bob. “Aw, look at that, waving his fishing rod around. I mean, really, it only needs to move a little bit.” She nudged it with her foot. “That’s heavy, John. Is it going to be difficult to move?”
I crouched down to get a grip on Grumpy’s elbows, which was tricky because he was partly under the safety rail that stopped runaway wheelchairs or zimmers ending up in the water. I tried to lift him.
The fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob, BOB, BOB.
“Someone must have cemented him down.” Which was odd because the concrete edge on the pond was encrusted with moss, but there was no sign of anything scraped away to make a clean surface. “I can bring a pry bar on Wednesday and try to shift it.”
“Yes. That would be good. Thank you, John.” Laura shook her head. “People are just so inconsiderate.” She shook her head again. “That’s odd. Where are the ducks?”
I hadn’t noticed their absence. Sometimes, depending on the day, I sit on one of the benches to eat my lunch and throw the odd crust for the ducks.
“Foxes?” I had never seen the pond without a single duck visible. “But there would be feathers, right?” The fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob. “Grumpy probably scared them away.”
Laura sighed. “Something else to deal with. And…”
“Coming through, coming through.” Mrs Patterson announced herself, arriving at a stately pace with her walker, and one of the nursing staff at her elbow. “Well he’s an ugly little devil. Just let me sit.” The nursing staff folded down the seat built into her walker. “Thank you, dear.” She gave me a grin. “Silly place to put a gnome, John. I’ll sit and have a word with him. See if I can get him to smile.”
The fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob, bob-bob.
“Oh look…” Mrs Patterson manoeuvred closer to Grumpy. “Tick-tock, tick-tock, like a little metro-gnome.” She chuckled to herself. “So, what do you call yourself, little fellow?”
Laura nodded, smiled, and made a decision. “John? Could you come and shift that gnome this afternoon?”
“Yeah, yeah, no problem.”
I drove into town, bought a couple of sarnies, and dropped by my lock-up to get a pry-bar, bolster chisel and hammer. I parked in my usual spot and headed down to the pond, and walked into a developing crisis. Laura was there, pink and flustered, and at least half the nursing staff were out and about.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“John? Can you help us look. We’ve lost Mrs Patterson. Her walker is still down by the bench, but no-one has seen her since this morning.”
We searched for probably an hour or more, and I finished up at the bench, where Mrs Patterson’s walker was still parked beside Grumpy.
“Did you see anything, mate?” I asked the gnome because there was no-one else to talk to.
Grumpy’s fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob.
Laura appeared at the far side of the pond and walked round, shaking her head as she drew close.
“It’s time to call the police,” she said wearily.
“Yeah. And tell them to question Grumpy. Little beady eyes, no fixed abode, fishing at all hours.”
Laura managed a weak laugh. “Except he’s got a very fixed abode until you move him… probably tomorrow now. Don’t suppose the police will want you touching anything.”
Tomorrow became the day after, and then next week, and finally let’s just wait and see, because Mrs Patterson had done more than just wander off. The police wrapped everything in blue-and-white tape, asked endless questions, mounted a major search, and did television appeals which included phrases like possible abduction and very concerned for her safety, because even with her walker frame, Mrs Patterson had a top speed of snail’s pace and coming down to the pond was a major expedition.
The police tape eventually came down, their investigation became ongoing, and I had more than two weeks of catching up on grounds maintenance to do. Not that I mind. They’re paying me by the hour. It’s surprising how much there is to do, weeding, a bit of light pruning, and a couple of barrow-loads of crisp packets, coffee cups, drink cans and miscellaneous rubbish. I’m sure some of it was down to the police search teams, but honestly most of it is from the residents and their visitors.
I divvied up the rubbish into general and recycling, and finally took the weeds, clippings and stray banana skins to the compost heap which is hidden in a clump of rhododendrons. I keep nudging Laura to let me grub those out and plant native shrubs, but the words noxious foreign weed just don’t register with her.
Someone had been messing with my compost. The heap wasn’t just kicked around, but dug up, flung far into the shrubbery, and where it had stood there was now a deep pit showing ripped rhododendron roots.
I called Laura.
“Probably just teenagers,” she grumbled.
Seriously? If I find a teenager prepared to dig a hole like that just for a lark, I’m gonna take them on as an apprentice.
“Thing is, Laura, that hole…”
“You can just fill it in, right?”
“Yeah, but it’s big enough for a body, isn’t it? And see that there, half way up the far end…”
“Bit of stone?”
“I think it’s a finger bone,” I told her, because I’d already walked round and looked closely, so I was very sure it was a bone. “And then there’s the really weird thing…” I pointed to a gap in the rhododendrons where three Grumpy clones were gathered together, fishing rods doing an occasional bob, bob, swish-swish bob. “That’s more than just a prank, right?”
“Um.” Laura stared, fishing rods flicked back and forth, and she just tuned out for a while, lost in the beguiling bob, bob, swish-swish bob.
“Probably ought to get the police back,” I prompted. “Because this is just freaky.”
“Yeah. Right. I’ll go call them.”
She walked away and there was a sudden rustle in the depths of the rhododendron. It was probably just a cat or squirrel, spooked by four Grumpy clones going bob, bob, swish-swish bob.
That movement, it catches the attention. I could lose myself just staring at it.
Bob, bob, swish-swish bob.
I hurried after Laura. I was certain there were only three of them a moment ago.
Way To Go Gnome was written in response to the November #BlogBattle prompt of Hypnotic.
Image from pixabay.com