Witch’s Hand



In my mind it seemed like a perfectly reasonable task: weed the small flower bed beside the house before I lost the light for the day. I estimated that I had about an hour. The bed was about twelve feet long and, except for two small jade bushes, was completely overrun by weeds. Not knowing what else to do with it, I’d just let nature run wild, but now it was time to reclaim the land. How hard could it be?

Hard as cement, as it turns out. After weeks of no rain and a few hot, sunny days, the dirt had baked into a hard pack that I could barely get a shovel into, much less get any weeds out of. So the first order of business was to hose everything down with water in an attempt to soften the crust. Really, I should’ve done an in depth soaking the day before so that it had time to seep down below the surface, but ain’t nobody got time for that. 

One everything was good and muddy I started at the far corner where a downspout met a paving stone designed to sluice the water away from the house. Sort of. The paving stone didn’t actually line up with the downspout even though that was clearly the intent. So the next order of business was to dig up the paving stone and move it a handsbreadth to the left. Lifting the stone was not as difficult as I anticipated: the more difficult task was clearing the handsbreadth of space where I wanted to put it. Someone at some point had decided that it would be a good idea to sink a plastic tent spike into the ground right at the corner of the flower bed. It refused to budge when I pulled on it. It refused to budge even after I excavated six inches of dirt around it. It refused to budge even after I broke the hook off the top trying to lever it up with the shovel.  I was beginning to think that it might have been embedded in actual cement when it finally came loose without any warning as if to say: “haha just kidding.”

By now the sun had dipped below the horizon and only the planes flyingfat overhead were still lit by its direct rays. I guessed that I still had a bit of light left. I told myself that I would try to weed at least far enough to put down one bag of mulch. I’d watered, after all- it seemed a shame to let the sort-of softened ground go to waste. 

The ground wasn’t very soft, as it turned out. The task of digging up the deeply embedded weeds was complicated by one of  jade bushes nearby. I want sure what kind of root system I was likely to be digging  around, so I made an effort to be dainty. I cleared a small area and opened up a bag of the mulch to spread over the surface to keep the weeds from returning. It didn’t quite take the whole bag. It seemed silly not to finish the bag. 

Even though it was getting dark I decided to weed just a few more inches. This turned out to be a mistake. The chief invader of the garden turned out to be oxalis plants: shamrocks. They’re not unattractive plants- someone might even have one planted them there on purpose, but by now they had colonized as declared the flower bed to be their Domain. The tricky part about shamrocks is that they grow from underground nodes like giant misshapen potatoes. It turns out that they also sink down ridiculous tap roots. 

I dug around a plant thinking that I had discovered one of the larger nodes. I figured that if I could pull up this one single plant I could probably call it quits for the night. The node that I’d uncovered refused to budge. Digging around it I realized that it had sent out tap roots sideways to anchor it in the ground. One of these gave way revealing a long slender finger-like root nearly eight inches long. Another, thicker root headed in the direction of the sidewalk. I dug it up until I realized that it actually continued out beyond the flower bed and under the cement where I couldn’t dig to it. 

At this point I got the clippers. 

Clipping away this second anchoring root left me with a knotted fist of root material that still refused to budge. It looked more than a little bit like a gnarled witche’s hand. I found myself thinking about lore about mandrake roots and wondered if I was cursing myself by this struggle. The remaining root was as thick as a wrist and disappeared down and towards the house as if this house had also been dropped on some wicked witch leaving only her hand exposed. Digging down another six inches failed to loosen the root. I went and got the pickaxe.  By now I’m not sure if my reasoning was to chop at the ground or to chop at the root. Neither seemed to have much effect and the root was too close to the house to get a good swing. 

At last I decided to cut my losses: I would just clip off the root and bury the rest. If it came back I’d deal with it another time. The clippers mangled the stringy fibers of the root: it was not an elegant amputation and I half expected the smaller roots to curl finger-like around my hand in protest. At last the knot came free. I filled in the hole and spread the last of the mulch and called it a day. 

If I’m haunted by a one handed witch, you’ll know why. 

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on June 13, 2017.

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