Everyone agreed it had to be the work of an outsider, one of the rowdy types who came in by bus of a Saturday. No one in the village could have done such an atrocious thing.
Not that they were above believing the worst of their own kind. Annie knew that. The village hadn’t forgiven her brother Tom for the bag of sweets he was daft enough to share with a couple of kiddies at the bus-stop last summer. Patted one of them on the head, didn’t he, silly old bugger. The kid couldn’t wait to tell his mum about ‘the funny man with the dirty hands’.
It was soil, not dirt. “Tom’s got green fingers,” Annie insisted. She knew there was nothing to it but of course she would say that, wouldn’t she, being his sister.
Three ounces of coloured boilings and Tom and Annie Price became the village pariahs. Annie was more or less drummed out of the Women’s Institute.
Now the village had something new to gossip about.
The local paper carried the story: “Using a particularly potent brand of weed killer, an anonymous vandal inscribed obscenities on the lawns of three gardens in the early hours of Sunday morning. The weed killer destroyed the grass, leaving the vandal’s work visible for all to see. On one lawn, the words ‘SOD THIS’ could be read from right across the street. Common decency prevents this paper from printing the words on the other lawns.”
A spokesperson for the Women’s Institute told the reporter, “You expect this sort of thing in inner city slums, not here. It was revolting, reading that on my lawn. There are children in the village who pass my house every day.”
The paper went on to say, “The weed killer graffiti, appearing as it did overnight and apparently out of thin air, has been likened to the plague of crop circles which baffled local people in recent years. However, the use of slang obscenities would seem to indicate that this was not the work of alien life-forms.”
Of course it was the paper’s job to stir a stick at the silage, just as it was the villagers’ job to try and keep a lid on the stink. Annie wasn’t surprised by the direction things took. To start with, the locals closed ranks. But suspicion spread fast and bit deep; no one was immune.
“Everyone’s giving everyone else funny looks,” Annie told her brother.
Tom grunted. As yet, no one had directed any funny looks his way, but Annie couldn’t help remembering her line about his green fingers. That was a gift to the gossips, under these new circumstances.
She twitched the net-curtains, peering out. “They’ve pegged tablecloths over the worst of it. Number 8’s got lace with a scalloped edge. That’ll never wash clean.”
Tom shoved his slippers on and escaped to the garden shed.
“At a time like this,” thought Annie. She despaired of her brother sometimes.
He’d not so much as blinked an eyelash when the WI drummed her out. Serve him right if the village did start suspecting him for this latest bit of bother.
She straightened the curtains and paused, to flick dead skin from her palms. It’d been peeling off in strips since Sunday morning.
Nasty stuff, weed killer.
Sarah Hilary won the Fish Historical-Crime Contest with Fall River, August 1892. Her story, The Eyam Stones, was runner-up in the Historical Contest. Both stories will be published in the Fish anthology 2008. MO: Crimes of Practice, the new Crime Writers’ Association anthology, features Sarah’s story, “One Last Pick-Up”. Her work has appeared in Literary Fever, Ranfurly Review and Zygote in my Coffee. Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and daughter, where she is writing a series of crime novels set in London and L.A.