Caution: Symbolist at Work

Imagine a Renault 5, one of those nifty French jobs. But let’s not, for this blog, see it cruising along a motorway. Let’s instead, see it tyre-less in a field of clover in Ireland. Its sunroof cracked forever open. Maybe a few sheep graze besides its greasy axles. Might even be a hare loping among the refuse of its engine, sprouting weeds and one sharp thistle. And above it, a crow circles aimlessly, as if even it is unsure. Somewhere in the distance you can hear the repetitive thrum of cars.

Now, if you were to hop the locked gate, steer clear of the cow patties, and follow the tractor rut to the Renault, you might notice something interesting.

There’s a herb garden inside the car. Fragrant basil and thyme, mint and rosemary, sage and chives. Instead of upholstered seats, there’s loam and humus, worms wriggling in and out of the gasping springs.

It’s so unexpected, you open a creaky door, inhale the pungent aroma of herbs baking in the sun.

The gas tank, you notice, is on full. There’s even a set of keys in the ignition.

You snatch some mint and suck on the green leaf. It’s minty.

A childish part of you wants to roll down the windows, get some air into the heavy reek.

They’re stuck, of course.

There is a dangled nest of wires hanging below the ignition. Who, you wonder, would want to try and start a car with no wheels?

Then you notice the side mirror. Ok, not really the mirror, the image in it. It appears a lot closer than you want it to be. In fact, it’s standing right behind you with an idiotic grin on its face.

“Hello,” says the man. He is tall and dressed in a heavy black coat. In the heat, flies drone around him in an animated screen. His beard is a foaming mass of bristles where no mouth can possibly survive. But it does because he spoke and now he speaks again.

“Do you like my herbs?” His eyes are so dark-rimmed, they emit a mad light. And the flaccid bags under his eyes could easily hold the coins of the dead.

“Yes,” you reply in a tone that might be awe.

You notice, for the first time, how empty the field is. How there are no houses in sight. Just old stone walls, crooked hawthorns, the indifferent sheep.

The man’s hand reaches into a deep pocket of his coat.

The mint you just chewed burns like acid in your throat. Your heart leaks the oil of fear, coagulating in every muscle and cell. You back away, hating the French, abandoned country fields, herbs, and the indifferent sheep.

The sun is ever watchful and detached.

“Help yourself, then,” the man says. He holds out a plastic bag, big enough to suffocate in.

You run. And you run. Never looking back. You spit free a slither of mint still caught in a molar. And run even faster.

When you reach the safety of another field, you catch your breath. Lean on the lichen-spotted stone. Squint back.

The man is still standing beside the Renault. The bag held out in front of him like a purse stuffed to over-flowing with herbs.

And now it is you who is sheepishly smiling like a fool.


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