“I could do with getting some work done on the Allotment today”, announced Verity after Sacha had set off to work. “D’you want to come along too?”
Verity was seriously hoping for a yes: leaving Gitmo’s former top interrogator alone in the house for any length of time was not a prospect she relished. Reid had guessed this, and said yes. And of course he wanted to see what Brits grew if they wanted to be self-reliant.
Verity collected the things, including a second set of gloves, locked up carefully, and they set off. It was windless and sunny: almost warm enough to sit and talk, as long as they had done a bit of work first. She found herself wishing their street, with its lack of trees, was a bit more acoustically dead: she knew from her own experience that everybody would be able to hear every word, including Reid’s outrageously transatlantic accent. So she gushed about Kale for the whole length of Viking Street. Until they got to the crossroads.
CCTV. Oh crap.
The main road was comfortingly noisy, and lined with old trees.
“You know, it’s times like this that bring home to me how difficult it must be to, if you have one, to keep a secret. There’s no crime in our street: everybody overlooks everything without any effort. When people walk down, if you’re indoors, even with our windows, they’re double-glazed, even when they’re shut, I can hear every word they’re saying. Accents, everything. Unless it’s windy or raining_”
Windy City...I wonder if that’s why Chicago has so much crime: you can’t hear people if they’re up to no good...
“That’s why I was wittering about plants the whole time and not letting you get a transatlantic word in edgeways: sorry”
“Perfectly sensible: I approve. Gotta keep on the ball. You do appreciate, dontcha, that the C.I.A. don’t know that I’ve kicked the Sleep-E-Z. And I’d like to keep it that way”
“I can understand. So it’s been what, nearly three weeks. Do you have dreams now?”
“Yes. Just dim impressions though, nothing fancy”
“I had an odd one last night: I dreamed the allotment was completely overrun with bindweed. Ah here we are, this is it”
Verity opened the little wooden gate and they ducked in under the elder bush
“That bush, that’s where the elderberries for our red wine come from. And I make vitamin syrup out of them too; boil the juice up with sugar and spices, to drink in the winter. Very good as a pick-me-up if you get the flu. There’s the Kale, that’s an Apple tree we got free from the Council, and those are Currant bushes: they were just twigs when I put them in two years back. And we’ve got Rhubarb, just coming up there, and Artichokes. These are Strawberries I put in last autumn, and there are Broad Beans, they’re frost-proof now, they were planted in the autumn too. I save seeds: that way they get hardier every year. I wish I could be the same!”
“Ooh you lucky bastard! No wonder they call your country the Land of the Free. It’s convolvulus: ten-foot-deep roots. Can last underground without leaves for forty years. Can you remember what you were doing, forty years ago? It wraps round the stems of things and_”
chokes them! Kills them!
“I’m going to do a bit of weeding. When I come across some, I’ll show it you”
Verity got out the kneeling-mat. It didn’t take long before she saw the first spade-shaped leaf poking up. She used the hand-fork and dug down carefully, giving a running commentary as she went
“You have to go, really gently, dig carefully, don’t wrench, don’t pull the roots, they’re white tubes like that, look, or they’ll snap and you have to find the rest of it”
Verity had a thought
“Dig around it and lift it tenderly...make it almost want to come out. Like the English Method...”
She continued, doing precisely that
“If I catch it in the spring it’s manageable for the rest of the year. If I don’t, it_”
will overrun the place, and...
Reid had discovered that one of the benefits of Empathy was an improved ability to read people’s faces. And Verity’s was good for practice: she was familiar to him, he had seen her in every emotion that was decent, and by its nature her face was practically an A.B.C. for learning the art.
And it had a look on it that he hadn’t seen before: Verity was a killer. She had a ruthless streak: like a lot of his compatriots he had seen the notorious FPS Russia episode, but she had been wearing eye protection at that time. Without that...he wondered what she would have been like if she had lived during the War; he could imagine her ordering people “Cheer up or Die!” As she worked on, he almost found himself feeling sorry for the bindweed. He also guessed that, were he to say as much openly, Verity would do her level best to skewer him in the neck with that dirty gardening fork. And then calmly bury him behind the bamboo. And she’d get away with it: they didn’t have polygraphs in England.
He nevertheless decided to try something
“Have you read ‘Day of the Triffids’?” he asked semi-jokingly
Oh-oh. Big mistake
“That stuff...it’s just like triffids. It will kill us if we don’t keep on top of it...”
She had found a few particularly long stems. She held three of them together
“Do you know, just three of these, the breaking tension’s so high that you could strangle a grown man with it?”
And she was coming towards him...twisting the stems into one thick strand...
“And that’s what it does to my little plants, our food. It...strangles them...
“You have no idea how lucky you are in the Evening Lands. Now, just imagine...”
She pulled up a tiny leaf with about an inch of white root attached to it
“...one root, like this, taken across, over the Atlantic to your country, left in the right place, think...within ten years, no more Amber Waves of Grain...just green lumps of bindweed! I bet your TSA lads don’t look for it, do they, hey? And you can’t eat it, can’t feed it to animals, it has no medicinal properties, it is no use at all! And you know, someone must have done that, to these islands! Brought it here. We fought off Hitler, we fought off Rabies, but we lost this one. If I could get to, whoever did that...”
She was holding the strands again, one end wound round each gloved fist
Someone was walking past along the path
“Oh hello, Tom!” said Verity brightly, “Lovely morning isn’t it? Just doing a spot of weeding. This is John, he’s across from Canada for the week...”
The two men shook hands
Reid found himself dying to ask Tom, who was obviously an old friend and fellow allotmenteer, if Verity had always been a bit obsessive about bindweed. But he had lived here long enough to know that Brits simply don’t ask that kind of stuff, and reluctantly stuck to less incendiary topics, such as the weather, and what could be grown in Canada.
By the time their chat had finished, Verity was loading an old dustbin with dried stems of something from last year. She set a match to them and, once the fire had taken, started adding the bindweed pieces. Once they were all in and nearly burned-out she declared cheerfully
“Well that was all good clean fun! Let’s go home and have lunch!”