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This Story Appears in Ernie's World the Book
ernie's duck photo

My wife came in just after
sunset. She hadn't
showered. Her clothes were
dirty. Her hair

I'd never seen a concrete lawn until I moved out west. Back east we wouldn't think of such a thing. I mean, where would you stick in the plastic bird with the windmill arms?

That's why I had to stop when I saw my neighbor digging a large hole where his yard used to be.

"Did it for my wife," he said. Then he noticed me eyeing several orchids and a rosebush. "Want 'em?"

I love my wife. That's why I took the plants. And she was excited. She kissed me, grabbed the car keys, and hurried for the front door.

"Where ya goin'?" I asked.

She smiled. "I need a few supplies."

She returned a few hours later, her arms full.

"What is all that?"

"Well, I'm going to replant so I bought some potting soil, a cushion grip transplanter, a trowel, some gloves, some knee pads, and an extension for the hose. And I bought a pruner and floral shears for the rosebush. You know, I've been thinking. We could put in a whole garden. Hibiscus. Rhododendrons. Fruit trees..."

I picked up the sales slip. I noticed a slight tightening in my neck. It happens sometimes when the weather is going to change, or when I think I've made a big mistake. I looked out the window. The sky was blue. Maybe I just slept wrong.

For the next few days my wife was extremely happy. She'd go out and talk to her new plants for a while, then come talk to me for a while. It was like one big happy family...until she found the yellow leaf.

"I think my pH may be off," she said. Then she grabbed her keys and left. She returned with her arms full again.

"I got a moisture meter, some root feed, and this forty-tests-in-one soil tester. I want to make sure my soil acid is high enough and that my potash is correct."

"Of course," I said, turning small circles with my head. I checked the sky again. Still blue. I switched on the weather channel. That's when I heard the scream. I ran for the door so fast that my feet got there before my hand could turn the knob, and I ended up mashing my face against the door just as my wife threw it open from the outside.

"Are you all right?"

"I found a snail," she said. "Snails eat the leaves, then the plant dies." She grabbed her keys again and dashed out the door. In the background I heard, "No rain in sight. Looks like summer is on its way."

A short while later I helped my wife unload the car. She inventoried everything as we carried it out to the backyard.

"Let's see, put the insecticidal soap here, the fungicide over there beside the pelletized gypsum, the flower dust and sowbug bait can wait, but hand me the slug and snail pellets, will ya?"

My wife came in just after sunset. She hadn't showered. Her clothes were dirty. Her hair was...unusual. "Do we have any D batteries?" she asked.

"I think so. What are they for?"

"The flashlight, of course. Snails come out at night."

The next few nights we fell into a routine. I sat on the couch with a heating pad on my neck, and my wife patrolled the garden. I watched the pattern of the flashlight, sweeping left, then right, and occasionally I'd hear "Ahh-hahh" followed by a crunch sound and a chilling laugh. The only time my wife came in was for more supplies.

"Got any beer?"

"Sure. Hey, how about I make us each a margarita? We'll rent a movie, order Chinese..."

"I just need beer. To put into little saucers. Snails wade in and they drown." She had a strange look in her eye.

My wife went out early the next day. I took the opportunity to venture out into the yard. The plants were covered with burlap and surrounded by dishes with stale beer. The yard was littered with dozens of bags, boxes, spray bottles, shovels and spades. I picked up the trowel. There were notches carved in it below the word "Snails." I heard a quack.

"Are those ducks?"

"Yup. Cute, huh? And they were on sale."

"What are they for?"

"Ducks eat snails," she said proudly. "I'm still checking into what kind of birds eat rose mites. 'Course, we'll have to put in some netting. And I think we'll need a new fence. And a duck pond. And a bird bath. And..."

I dropped the trowel, grabbed the Ben-Gay, and walked over to my neighbor's house. His yard was completely done now. Pink concrete, artfully cut into diamond shapes. He saw me coming, reached into his pocket, and handed me a business card. It read: "Hector's Low Maintenance Yards. No Job Too Big."

"Give 'em my name," he said. "I told them you might be calling."