When I was seven, my family moved from Canada to England. One spring day, still in the throes of culture shock
, I was walking home from school and took a different route. My school was on the outskirts of the village where I lived and there were lots of unexplored roads
to walk down.
I came to a new and obviously “special” neighborhood. The road changed completely and what had been a simple two-lane street opened into an immense boulevard. Dividing the road was a thickly planted median composed of trees and shrubbery. Large houses on either side were shielded from the street by cedar hedges at least 10 feet tall. And standing not six feet from me, guarding the entrance to the boulevard stood a sign that warned, “PRIVATE ROAD.”
Not having encountered a “private road” before, I couldn’t quite decide what that actually meant. Did it apply to traffic, pedestrians, salesmen, or was it designed to ward off others who already knew who they, themselves, were? I didn’t know. But I decided that I was in no way a threat. And so I set down said boulevard with just the slightest tinge of uneasiness.
It was very nice. The houses were nice, the cedar hedges smelled nice, and there were flowers planted along the outer perimeter (my side) of the hedges that were very nice – daffodils and the like. Nice, nice, nice. With all of this nicety surrounding me, I started thinking about my mother. She’d been having a bit of a rough time and it occurred to me that some flowers might cheer her up. So I looked at all of these daffodils and crocuses growing on the outside of the hedges and pondered the ownership of them. Did they grow wild? If they belonged to the people in the houses, they’d have planted them inside the hedge wouldn’t they? If they put them on the outside of the hedge, then they’d planted them for everyone to enjoy and “everyone” certainly included my mother.
Still uncertain if love justifies theft, if this was or wasn’t theft, the rights of ownership of any living thing (including my own), and the relative value of a daffodil, I picked just one or two from each house I passed. That seemed to put an end to my oral/ethical/existential questions. Quite pleased with myself, I’d gathered just about all I needed for a really nice bouquet when I heard a sound I couldn’t identify. It sounded a bit like wheels rolling over gravel. But there was no engine sound. It wasn’t a car. What was it? It was coming toward me, from the other side of the hedge. The sound grew louder and was coming closer and closer. I heard dogs barking and someone shouting. I started running. I came to and crossed the opening to the driveway just as the “wheels on gravel and barking dogs” emerged. We almost hit each other.
It’s amazing how much information you can absorb in the space of a few seconds. As I passed the driveway, pumping my legs as fast as they would go, I noted the following:
There were four big dogs, but they were on leashes (great relief). The vehicle was a gocart. And it was moving at a high rate of speed, being pedaled by someone small – no bigger than I was at seven. That made some sense, but the next sequence of impressions didn’t at all.
She was wearing a leopard-skin vest with bright yellow and black spots. Above the vest rose a towering head that at first glance just looked like a black mass. Then I realized that it was a beehive hairdo. These were very popular at the time, a teased and tangled mass of upswept hair that could rise to a height of a foot or more. Except that in this case, the beehive hairdo was worn atop the very large head of a hydrocephalic. I experienced a raw terror that only increased when I saw that the face of the shouting person was that of a very angry 18 year old woman - made up with heavy mascara, eyes outlined in thick, thick black with pencilled wings extending from the outside of each eyelid, bright red cheeks and vampire-red lipstick. Ack! Cleopatra! I went into information overload, gave up on thinking, and just ran.
She gave chase, screaming and keening at the top of her lungs, the hounds baying. I didn’t look back. I wove in and out of the trees in the centre of the boulevard hoping to lose her, but she could really move in that go-cart. She chased me all the way to the end of the road. I didn’t stop running even then. I ran all the way home, up the stairs, opened the front door, ran into the living room and collapsed in a wet, tearful heap in front of my mother, still clutching the bouquet of now mostly headless flowers.
She asked me what happened. “Aaaaah! AAAAAaaaIIIIIrgfThh!”, I explained.