By Katrina Johnston
It was kind of eerie. The Monday edition showed our victory and the tabloid pictures proved it. Digitally enhanced images set the totals higher. In truth; actually 158, but it looked like a mob. There appeared to be a massive gathering, thousands standing in the rain. The Instagram posts and the Snap Chat image suggested a crowd. Our leader, Dwight Fortune, should be satisfied.
We are – the humans – the instigators. We had planned and planted it; eight art students. I don’t know about the other folks, but I have something to show and something to say. It was the best, the gnarliest, and the most amazing accomplishment I’ve ever been involved in.
We call ourselves the Society for the Obliteration of Garden Ornaments (SOGO) - two women and six men. Dwight’s the brains. We pulled it off during the darkest hours of Sunday night, but it was tedious and physically exhausting. I’m one of the two women. Marilyn Jacobson is the other. Dwight refers to us as his ‘teamsters’. Anyway, Dwight is cool.
In the darkness, we dragged out and arranged the statues that we had previously snatched. All of them were hauled out from hiding places and positioned strategically upon the inner courtyard at Centennial Square. Dwight smiled broadly in the darkness when he walked past Marilyn and me. And he noticed we were working as a unit.
His face was the only orb that shone while the moon played dodge ball behind the clouds. “Keep on shuckin’,” he told us. “Shaping up pretty well.” He nodded. Marilyn and I were sweating. We had just unloaded and shoved a painted elf made of concrete. The thing was about half a meter tall, awkward and heavy. Dwight had come along on his inspection to evaluate the assemblage, was on his way to the next people who seemed to be unloading easier junk. Like a set director, Dwight was overseeing the final positions. He wanted the effect to look like a mob of little European folks who might have been standing around during some kind of public protest or a political rally.
And we did it. We really nailed it.
The garden ornaments are mostly gnomes and leprechauns and elves. We also placed a few reptilian entities and some pole-legged flamingos. The owners must have grieved their recent garden and landscape losses. We’d stolen them. We had a mix of critters which included a multitude of ceramic frogs and a rusty medieval guard in elaborate armour.
That night, before Dwight had moved past us and before he continued along the boulevard, he noticed my hands. I was wearing a pair of hot pink plastic gloves. My heart pounded. I was ultra aware of Dwight’s interest. He spoke softly. “Hey, Jackie Pye...,” he said, and then he hesitated. He didn’t totally acknowledge Marilyn and she sighed. She couldn’t stand up perfectly straight because she had her hands clawed around the shoulders of the concrete elf, the one we had pushed and pulled along the weed infested grass. Marilyn was balanced awkwardly. I was taking a moment to regroup. I was trying to catch my breath. Perspiration occluded my vision. I managed to look directly into Dwight’s eyes. Then I bent again to assist Marilyn and together we forced the statue to the sidewalk, trying for complete silence because that was a goal according to Dwight’s instructions: “Bring no attention until it’s finished.”
Marilyn is strong in spirit but not so much in her physical abilities. I had to accomplish most of the heavy work. Today, my arms are like limp noodles. I’ve got bruises on the inside of my right forearm.
“Thanks for your effort,” Jackie Pye. Dwight said and he had clearly spoken to me, and only me. “Here, you might want an upgrade.” He tossed his work gloves at me. His aquamarine eyes drilled straight through mine. “You’re just awesome,” he said. At that juncture, I knew that I was probably his favourite teamster. At least I hoped. His gloves were welcome. If not a romantic offering, I would cherish the gloves; I do cherish them still. They are evidence of an alliance.
I’m committed to our artistic statement and the media attention that we sought and the political aspects of our adventure. We’re trying to make a picture here – sarcastic commentary. It’s a perspective about consumerism and waste and tasteless art. I’m crushing on Dwight. There’s something intriguing about him – an unusual man with an undercurrent of raw charisma.
Today, the clouds continue to be generous, blessing our display with a thorough drenching. We’ve tricked almost everyone. It looks so sweet and realistic online and totally surreal in the newspaper. It’s freaking interesting. Lots of red and green conical hats interspersed with steely-eyed creatures; a pig and a weasel and a Styrofoam chicken. There’s a miniature donkey, a unicorn and two alabaster cats.
That’s what the front-page image in the paper has depicted. Masses. The picture has been magnified and enlarged and digitally altered. First, by one guy who works with us and happens to be a computer nerd. And further enhancement thanks to the social media techs. Our web pages look phenomenal.
It was slavish labour, but the cops did not intervene. No one came along. Out of the warehouse spaces, we took the garden gnomes, transporting them by rented flatbed and a Ford pick-up. We have scandalized the residents, the city engineering squads, and we have also infuriated the gardeners and home owners who over the last year plus a four-month span, have lost their precious things. The owners of the statues probably found themselves wondering who was out there and who was stealing their lawn and garden decorations. The authorities remained entirely baffled. The police are not amused. We’ve hidden all our business and moved about with stealth.
Right now, Dwight has claimed sole responsibility via the website and also on the community blog and on his Facebook pages. He’s a hero. I’m still crushing.
“Hey, it’s ultimately so rad,” I told Dwight, referring to our success.
“Yes, its trending,” he said to me. “But you know it’s not complete.”
“What do you mean?”
“We go again. We’re not finished.”
I looked at the earnest lines etched downwards from the corners of his mouth, his slightly protruding teeth, the earring. “I don’t understand.... I thought this was what you wanted – a sick and surprising display of questionable art. What’ d you have in mind?”
“I’m going out again. I’ve got a hammer. I’m going to destroy most of it because destruction is akin to creation.”
“So.... Oh yeah, you’ve said this kind of thing before. It’s the cornerstone of your philosophy. But... don’t you think that all this whacked-out work and the stuff that we’ve accomplished is deserving of more attention and at least more time? No one’s going to dismantle the crowd immediately. The city crews are otherwise employed with road repair and infrastructure upgrade. What.... God willing, are you planning Dwight?”
“I’m taking a weapon to it. I’m going on a smashing frenzy. You on board?”
“You’ll never get away with it. The cops will arrest you.”
“Dwight. You might get tossed in jail.”
“Go away then. Get lost. I don’t need you. I don’t want some baby, sucky female to worry, or to be my sidekick. You might hinder me. This one’s gotta be my deal. I’ll smash until I ain’t allowed.”
These words hurt. I turned away, feeling crushed. How dare he call me sucky or think that I might hinder him. I went home to sulk, but I got dressed in dark pants and my navy hoodie just before eleven o’clock. I got ready to go out to the see the display of statues. Maybe I could convince Dwight to leave well enough alone. If I was calm enough to talk with him?
No one had yet come by to seriously challenge our escapade, nor to take the gnomes away, although rumours flourished that the inner sanctum of the square would soon be cleared and set to normal before the next weekend arrived. Wherever possible, the statues would be returned to their rightful owners if they could be found or identified.
I envisioned smoke coming out of my ears. I was wallowing with anger over Dwight’s rejection and his weird rebuff. I was trying not to give a crap.
I found him standing in the sunset glimmer reflecting from the Western Imperial Bank. He was waiting behind the dumpster at the back, waiting for midnight and beyond. He was leaning on the edge of the dumpster. In that pose, he resembled a man in chains, a prisoner in shackles in the dark.
Then he sat down on the cement, sighing like the wind. He had a huge sledge hammer beside him and a shovel. I walked on. I ignored him. I had a knot in my throat. I decided not to speak. I nodded, my lips pressed shut. It was as if we barely acknowledged one another.
I went along for quite a while. Well, pretty far – two blocks anyway. I stepped inside at Jessie’s All Night Cafeteria. Once there, I ordered tea and fired up my iPad to look again at Facebook. I was stoked about the overall effect from our night of notoriety. We had created a grand illusion using the stunted effigies and Photo Genie. I rubbed my palms together, gloating over the suggestion of the crowd of upright, vigilant elves, and so many other creatures.
As a celebration, we had drunk too much afterwards. We drank, we toasted, we laughed, but did not bring unwarranted attention. I regret that Dwight is set to smash the statues into smithereens. I do not understand his motivation.
Dwight is not a textbook handsome dude but I have a major attraction. I fight my own emotions. I continually resist the feelings. At least I try. He has dark brown chestnut hair and beady eyes. He looks a bit like a rangy water bird because he’s thin and wiry. He has a gap between his front incisors. I think he’s hot. I love the way he walks. He has a strut of confidence. Anyway.... We met last term in Art Installation Management and Community Ideas – a program offered at the City College.
When the courthouse clock struck twelve, I left Jessie’s Cafeteria and hustled back outside and onward to the courtyard. I saw Dwight edge around from the corner of the connecting alleyway. I followed. “Dwight....Hey there.... Dwight...”
“Hayoooo,” he said.
We immediately squared off like mismatched wrestling opponents, his height about a foot above my 5’4”. He was armed and dangerous – carrying the sledge hammer like a truncheon and dragging a square bladed shovel by the handle. I arrived before him and I knelt down to encircle my arms around one of the largest garden gnomes. “Leave this,” I said. “Spare his life.”
“Look at him Dwight. Take a close inspection. Looks like you.” I pointed to the statue’s frozen face. “Personally. See. Check it out.” I explained. “He’s got the same forehead, same kind of crinkle-frown, and an identical wad of unkempt hair. Same nose.... teeth.... It’s just that.... This could be your brother.”
“Well, shit! No way. Jackie Pye that’s really idiotic and the most ridiculous, stupid-ass thing you could say.”
“No! Wait. It’s true,” I said. “He’s innocent. He’s got a unique character. Named him Roger.” And I told Dwight that I’d always been aware of this particular gnome, Roger Dodger, because the statue looked so human. “There’s a resemblance. I like him,” I said.
Dwight exhaled loudly, his breath a serpent’s hiss. “So! Get a life already! He’s the first to be smashed. Plaster to ashes, cement unto dust.” And Dwight pressed his teeth into his bottom lip. “Move away from him, Jackie Pye. Move your ass.”
“No, he’s worth a look.” I held on. I was pressing my cheek against the coldness of the statue’s shoulder. I closed my eyes. I prayed. “I won’t let you.... uh.... hurt this guy.”
I sensed Dwight’s exasperation, heard his breathing. He was growing mad and madder, grumbling indistinct profanity. I opened my eyes long enough to see Dwight’s furrowed brow. He tightened his grip on the sledge and dropped the shovel. “Oh, Hell – Jackie Pye, you’re nothing but a hypocrite.”
Fear edged along my backbone. “I am no such a thing,” I said. I shivered. I crouched still lower and I hung on. A long beam of intruding flashlight arced and the red glow forced my eyelids open. Only then did I allow myself to release my clutch. I stood.
It was the cops. Two imposing police officers, both were men, coming at us. I stepped away from the statue. I moved swiftly and carefully, accomplishing several tentative steps. I was not sure what was about to occur and I wondered if I should bolt. Would they put handcuffs on us? Lead us out? Throw us in the slammer?
Dwight hoisted his weapon and the truncheon came down with a dreadful thugging sound. Ragged shards and chunks of plaster exploded. Bits of plaster squirted at my ankles. A cry of sorrow escaped my lungs. The largest piece of Roger (part of the torso and an arm) landed on the borders of the flowerbeds. Dwight groaned. The steely-eyed gnome – my favourite one – was destroyed with that one great clout, everything except the boots. The boots remained, weirdly entombed in dirt.
“Dwight.... Stop it!” I yelled. “Please don’t!”
The cops ran right at us. I heard a lot of shouting; swearing: “Put your weapon down. Now!” Dwight obeyed. The hammer fell to earth. The officers were on us with their deadly weapons still firmly holstered at their sides, but one of them looked poised to draw the firearm out. In shock, I nearly shit my drawers. I trembled like a squirrel. Dwight raised his hands. “I surrender,” he said, all the while staring at the boots of the gnome. “Don’t hurt me.”
“You... Young lady... Get yourself outta here. Go home.”
I pointed at my chest. “Me?”
“Yes you! Vamoose.” The cop said. He gestured with both hands. “Go home.”
I didn’t need incentive. I turned and ran. Before I reached Gabriel Avenue, I stopped. I looked back. The officers were leading Dwight to a patrol car. I watched them push him into the back. I didn’t hang around. I reached the corner and aimed directly home, jogging until my breath insisted that I walk. Twenty minutes later, I was safe.
Dwight’s in jail. He's facing 158 charges of public nuisance, one for every single ornament and piece of lawn enhancement. He’s waiting for someone to pay his bond. That won’t be me.
I have acquired many of the smaller plaster and more easily transported sculpted elements. They’re taking refuge on my backyard space. I rescued all that I could by carting them away and using a kid’s metal wagon. I did it in two afternoons. No one stopped me.
Actually, it was court-ordered.
They said that if I tried to make restitution, I’d be spared the stigma of a criminal affiliations. The unicorn went to a good home on the Southside. Someone claimed the chicken.
Marilyn and I have become exceptional friends. We are planning something else that’s artsy and cool and oh so politically incorrect, and really ultra radical. Just don’t know about the details yet.
The gnomes don’t speak of their misadventures. But, if they could – I know that they’d share their gratitude for the women of action. That’s us. That’s who we are. Most of the gnomes are sad and lonely and pitiful looking things that need someone to love them or to understand. So, Marilyn and I decided to be their champions. At least that’s what I decided. I don’t really know about Marilyn? She doesn’t say one way or the other. She follows whatever I decide and it looks like she’s got a crush on me or something really weird like that?
Katrina Johnston's short fiction appears at several online literary publications. Occasionally, she breaks into print or becomes part of a shared anthology. She cherishes a variety of themes. The goal of her story-telling is to share, and she thinks of this as offering a candle light to illuminate a dark and quiet place. Katrina lives in Victoria, BC, Canada.