#8 Bad Idea: The Gnome's Tale

In a window of an abandoned house a garden gnome, raised to sufficient height by a stool, watches the outside world. Since the house is near a bus stop he recognizes most of the passersby. Children, for some reason, are scared of him, but he observes that they always steal a glance in his direction before running on. It is a deliberate invitation to fear. It must be a thrill, the gnome decides, and tries to feel some of that delight whenever the children swivel their heads, search out his eyes peering through the haze of grime and water spots, and then dash out of sight, their heads still turned to him. He waits for a careless child to jump out into traffic. It never happens.

One night two teenagers enter the house, drink cheap wine, talk to the gnome and fool around. They light candles for the fooling around part. He recognizes the girl, a pale child with bobbed black hair, fingerless gloves and striped tights disappearing into tall black plastic boots. The next night the two come back, but this time they do not fool around. Instead they wrap the gnome in a blanket and carry him back to her basement room, where he is placed carefully in a corner behind her bed. There he is treated to the intimacies and indignities of an adolescent's private life.

It bores and infuriates him. From his new corner there is no window, no passersby, no frightened children. He realizes only now how much he has missed the children, and hopes that none of them have accidentally run into traffic, as he had once wished. Instead, there is only the room and its many objects, which he memorizes and forgets, memorizes and forgets. And at night there is the girl, reading, smoking, masturbating, inviting the occasional friend over. Sometimes she rolls over in bed and gazes at the gnome with a thoughtful, inward expression, as if a spark of her secret world were arcing between them, which the gnome hates. He wants to inspire fear, not contemplation.

His life changes one more time when she and the boy again wrap him in a blanket and put him in the back of a pickup truck. They take him around from yard to yard, snapping photographs and laughing at each new image. She claps both hands over her mouth and emits a high forceful whine through the grille of her fingers, like a serrated blade screeching through metal. The boy pumps his fist and pretends to high-five the gnome. Then he points and laughs at the gnome's inability to complete the gesture.

At the fifth or sixth photography session, a man comes out of the house and starts shouting at the boy and girl. They run back to the trunk, screaming and hooting, and speed away. The man picks up the gnome and throws him to the ground in anger. The gnome breaks into several pieces. The man gathers up the pieces and takes them to his garage, where he epoxies the gnome back together. A shard is missing from his cheek, but otherwise he looks pretty good. The man puts the gnome out in his front yard. This is the last thing that ever happens to him.

Years later the girl who took photographs of him walks by. The bob and the black clothing are gone, and the face has grown wider and looser, with a slight wrinkling at the outer corners of her eyes. She wears a light yellow pantsuit. As she passes she sees the gnome, but it is clear that she does not recognize him. Please bring children, thinks the gnome. That's who I'm for.