For a long time, I was sloppy and absent-minded, careless and emotional. This personal slovenliness could be seen in my lack of attention to the lawn. It was overgrown with dandelions and horsetails. Abominable morning glories and vicious daisies ran rampant. There were weeds that I was never able to accurately identify. There were thirty-seven different forms of invasive plant life in all. The very air I breathed was seething with their sexual spume. At night, I could sense a vast vegetable intelligence operating in the darkness beyond my living room, drawing its endless unfathomable, night-blooming plans.
My garden was a disgrace to the neighbourhood. Whenever I walked into the coffee shop, conversation would stop, and all eyes would be fixed on me. People that I had lived beside and grown up with would spit on me as I walked down the street. One summer night, an angry crowd gathered ominously on the sidewalk outside my rotting picket fence. They carried lit torches and lengths of rope. They created an effigy of me out of rags and crumpled up newspapers doused in gasoline, then set fire to it in the middle of the street.
The next morning, I set to work in my garden. I worked with a lawn mower, a Weedeater, and clippers and trimmers of all different sizes. I applied bags full of pesticides, a chemical ground zero for unwanted plant life. I worked day and night, with floodlights mounted on a crane. I was seized by an unquenchable thirst for vegetable destruction. Eventually, there was nothing but bare, compacted earth, hard as iron. I went to Home Depot and bought enough bags of cement to pave over the whole mess.
Next morning, when I pushed my wheelbarrow into the back yard, I noticed one small, purple weed poking up out of the black dirt. It was a weed I had no name for, but it seemed somehow familiar. Perhaps it was something I used to run through when I was a child. I bent down to tear it out of the ground by its roots, but it just snapped off in my fingers. I took a garden trowel and dug a bit further down, but it just kept going, the stem getting progressively thicker. I used a shovel and dug down three feet. It was as thick as coaxial cable. At seven feet down it was as thick as a hose. At ten feet down it resembled the steel wires that hold up electrical towers, but covered with tiny insectile hairs.
I bent down and pulled at the tuber with all my strength, hoping to dislodge the root mass. At first, I nearly dislocated my shoulder. But for some reason, I was filled a sensation of fear bordering on panic, and with this came an almost superhuman strength. The stem went straight down into the ground, and I was ripping it up, hand over hand. It was like pulling on a rope attached to something cripplingly heavy on the ocean floor.
Just as I was about to give up and look up the phone number for a backhoe operator, the roots of the thing came free of the dirt. The root mass was a tangled nightmare of tubers and filaments the size of a dishwasher. The tubers were horrifyingly human looking, like decaying, mummified fairies. The whole thing was foul -smelling, writhing with worms and angry-looking earwigs. There were fat, shiny black beetles as big as Egyptians scarabs. I emptied a whole jerry can of gasoline on the tangle, then stepped back and fumbled in my shirt pocket for a book of matches.
Then it caught my eye. A tiny glint of something shiny in the centre of the root mass. I bent down and, suppressing a sense of nausea, dug at it with my fingers. It looked like a photograph printed on glossy paper. With a penknife, I worked at the filaments surrounding it. I took surgical care not to tear it. Finally, I uncovered one small corner of a photograph. A half-lit moon was high in the sky before I had finally uncovered the whole thing. It was too dark to see, so I carried it over to the area beneath my security light by the garage door.
I don’t know how long I just stood there, staring dumbly at the picture in my hands. Hours maybe. It was the strangest picture, poorly taken and badly developed. There were people’s faces. So difficult to make out exactly what the setting was. A family gathered at a dinner table? Some children on a skating rink? Spectators at a soccer match? A firing squad? The more I looked at it, the fuzzier and more ambiguous the image seemed.
And yet — and here is the strangest thing of all — I knew those faces. I knew every single one of them, but they had no names that I could bring to mind. In fact, I think one of them, the youngest looking one, may even have been me. And somehow, I knew that this photograph was of a very significant event, something of immense importance in my life. Somewhere in the darkness of my subconscious, there were strong emotions attached to this image. But I couldn’t recall what. Happiness? Horror? Who could tell? The blob in the foreground could have just as easily been either a birthday cake or a severed head. I crumpled the photo in my hand and walked back over to the uprooted mess. I dropped it on top and followed it with a lit match. The flames turned the darkness as bright as day.
My neighbours, drawn by the heat and light, gathered around the fire. They gave me polite nods and smiles. We exchanged weather forecasts and gardening tips. I disappeared inside the crowd, then headed off to bed for a dreamless sleep.