The Garden Gnome
As readers may recall, there is a Goblin who rents my apartment every night between the hours of one and five.
If I want to make use of my apartment during that period, I must pay the Goblin with the sweat of my nightmares.
This is surprisingly cheap currency.
I collect it in the metal coffee cans I’ve never figured out how to recycle.
The cans fill up a whole cupboard.
If ever I can’t sleep, or if I just feel like hanging out, I remove one of these cans and present the Goblin with his fee.
He rips off the lid, takes a loud sniff with his alarming nose, slams the can down on the common room table and declares me a “pussy.”
Then he usually tells me what goblins' nightmares are like, which puts things in perspective.
One night I presented him with a can filled from nightmares about my job. The Goblin was particularly unimpressed with this.
“You think you’ve got problems?” he said in his impossibly deep and evil voice. “What about that guy?”
I followed the Goblin’s gaze, towards our TV and our ugly couch, but saw no one.
“What guy?” I said.
“That guy! The gnome.”
My roommate Jessica had installed a ceramic garden gnome on the floor of our common room. She thought it was funny. It was, but I kept tripping over it on my way to the couch.
“That gnome,” said the Goblin, “has had it far worse than you, ya little pustule.”
I examined the garden gnome closely for the first time. With his conical hat, he stood roughly 18 inches tall. His hat and jerkin were a dirty orange, like a carrot just plucked from the earth. His bushy beard covered half his torso, and was painted white and brown. The exact same white and brown had been used to paint his boots, in almost exactly the same pattern. With his right hand, the gnome held high a lantern, nearly half his own size. Tucked under his left arm was a book. His cheekbones were round and rosy, as was his nose. His mouth was shaped in a smile, and happy wrinkles had been carved around his eyes.
“Poor bastard,” the Goblin muttered.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked.
“Nothing’s wrong with him!” the Goblin bellowed. “Nothing, d’ya hear me, you vile little snot? He’s a goddamn hero – that’s what’s wrong with him.”
The Goblin grabbed me by the collar with irresistible strength, and pulled me within inches of his terrifying face. His giant nose rippled and his breath burnt my skin as he told me the story of the gnome.
“You think he wanted to be a garden gnome all his life? You think that’s the life he wanted for his offspring? Just cuz society says that’s all his kind is good for? Hellz nay, my pampered little enemy. That resilient sonovabitch was taking night classes. He was gonna be an office gnome, come hell or not-very-high water. Every night, once he had the cover of darkness, that gnome would escape his garden post, lantern in one hand, textbook in the other, and study his ass off at a local community college. By sun up, he was back in his place – or the place you people had assigned him – with a fixed smile ready for his masters. Sleep was unknown to this gnome, as was self-pity. He made his boots from his own goddamn beard, for cryin’ out loud. And you come to me with this!” The Goblin released my collar, grabbed the coffee can I had presented to him, and threw it savagely against a wall.
The sweat of my nightmares disappeared into the rug, as if ashamed.
“What happened to the gnome?” I asked.
“What happens to anyone who takes on society with an honest heart? He got screwed. His employers decided he wasn’t needed anymore. Didn’t suit their garden. Years of service to those oblivious bastards, and then they just auctioned him off on eBay to hell knows where. He never even got his associate’s degree. That was it for the poor guy. Couldn’t afford any more hopes, so he just hardened himself. Accepted his fate, and hardened to clay, full time. Won’t ever turn back now. Too late. Way of all gnomes, I guess.”
The gnome still lives in our common room, next to the couch, in front of the TV. But my roommates and I have bought him a chair.
And we never put on any gardening shows.
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