Gardens of Intrigue

Based on a true story.

It is common knowledge in the colony that these two girls, 30 and 25, with their bicycles and their fat mother trailing regally behind, are thieves. They live in one of the larger houses in the row, with a high gate and an Alsatian dog, and this has somehow given them the impression that they own the whole colony. (They do not. These are private homes, upper middle class, with gates and manicured lawns and servants and good plumbing.)

Nobody minds, much. Fruit hanging over a wall is, one supposes, free fruit for all. It is the manner in which they make their rounds, feudal lords collecting debts on their own land, as if by right. The homeowners rightly bristle at this.

The enormous wire baskets affixed to the front of their bicycles can leave no doubt about intention. They will climb a high wall for fruit, reach over a low wall and snatch roses, filling these baskets. They bring their own pruning shears. They have been seen doing it, and they don’t flinch.

One time they unlatched the gate of the house with the best garden, walked right in and stole a whole tray of seedlings ready to be planted. It was the gardener who noticed it was missing; it was understood who had taken it, though nobody had seen it happen.

The lady of the house with the garden didn’t want to believe it at first. Maybe you left it elsewhere, she said. Are you sure it was there, right there, yesterday, or could you have put it around the side of the house?

But the gardener harbored no doubts. There had been two trays together. Now there was one. One had to admire the girls’ restraint in leaving the second tray behind, but one supposed their baskets were already full of pilfered chrysanthemums and papayas, so tradeoffs were at play.

After work that day, the gardener walked to the thieves’ house and stood outside the gate. Thief Mother had once asked him to work for her, in her own wondrous patched-together garden; he said he was here now to make his initial assessment, if she would kindly allow him to come inside the gate. The old lady refused–further proof. The Alsatian glared slobberingly at the gardener until he left, secure in the information he had come for.

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