A t  t h e  B o t t o m  o f  t h e  G a r d e n

by David Campton

"MUMMY, why has Ineed got furry teeth?"
     Mrs. Williams ignored the question and
tried to concentrate on the recipe in front of her.
The breeze through the open kitchen door fluttered
the page of the magazine propped up against the
saucepan in which last night's milk had been boiled.
Mrs. Williams had the uncomfortable feeling that the
saucepan was going to be needed in a hurry. She ought
to have more saucepans, but where could she put
them? That was the trouble with this kitchen: there
was not enough shelf space, and the equipment was
always in the wrong place. She was not such a bad
cook, or even as accident-prone as her husband
suggested. The kitchen was just badly planned. The
fish-slice over a refrigerator: luckily it would not
be needed until Friday.
     "Please shut the door," she pleaded as a draft
flicked the page over. She dabbed at the magazine
with the wooden spoon, leaving a blob of something
white and sticky in the middle of the recipe. She sighed,
and fumbled in the sink for the dishcloth. Conviction was
growing that this experiment was developing into a disaster.
     These days she was finding the disposal of
remains more difficult. When she was lucky some
results could be garnished and served up as something else:
certain sauces could be sliced, and occasional molds might
be poured. At worst, though, as when soap had unaccountably
insinuated itself into a mixture and even the birds had
refused the offering, it could lie for days on the lawn,
advertising her incompetence; and after the occasion when a
failure with rice had blocked the lavatory she had never
dared to flush away a mistake. These days an inedible mess
was destined for the trash can, and she had to endure her
husband's raised eyebrows if he caught a glimpse or whiff of
it. After nine years Mr. Williams no longer complained about
the cooking, but it seemed that he could not control his
     Mrs. Williams wiped dough from the page and
peered at the small print through flour-fogged spectacles.
It seemed to her that there was always something missing
in the instructions.
     The kitchen door banged.
     "'Add the dry ingredients.'"
     Where was the ginger? She was sure she had taken
the packet from the cupboard with the other things. Ah! No,
that was dried sage. Why couldn't manufacturers label packets
more clearly? Mrs. Williams jerked the cupboard open. A small
jar fell out and smashed; well, it could be cleared up later.
She grabbed at a cylindrical box, flipped the lid onto the floor,
and shook a teaspoonful of curry powder among the other dry
cake ingredients.
     "Mummy, why has Ineed . . . ?"
     On the stove something boiled over.
     Mrs. Williams sank into the kitchen chair and ran
a hand over her head. Bits of cake mix were left sticking in
her hair. "Why don't you listen to me, Mummy?"
     Dimly, through a haze of conflicting thoughts, Mrs.
Williams became aware of her daughter. She caught the tone
of complaint in the child's voice.
     "What were you saying, dear?"
     "I knew you weren't listening to me."
     "Mummy was listening, darling. Mummy can listen and
get dinner ready at the same time." Now what could they
have for dinner?
     "I was telling you about Ineed."
     "That is up to her. But the name is pronounced Enid."
And they could have rice pudding afterward. There was no
shortage of rice pudding.
     "But why has she?"
     "Why has she what?" Or semolina, or tapioca, or sage.
Nothing drastic could go wrong with a tinned milk pudding
- apart from burning the saucepan.
     "I told you, Mummy. Furry teeth. Why has Ineed got furry
     Why was it so difficult to concentrate? Why did
recipes never turn out like their pictures? Why couldn't she
talk to a child on a child's level?
     "I'm sure Enid hasn't got furry teeth, darling," said
Mrs. Williams. "She was just saying that."
     "But she has, Mummy. She showed them to me."
     "Did she, darling?" Or would a tin of fruit be better?
Plums, perhaps. Was there enough milk left to make a custard?
     "Yes. She took them out and showed them to me.
They were furry all over."
     "Then she ought to see a dentist."
     "You don't understand, Mummy. That's the way her
teeth are. Fur all over them. She let me feel it before she put
them back. It was quite soft - like a kitten's back."
     Mrs. Williams felt a sudden ache at the back of her
eyes. She could no longer ignore the brown mess sticking to
the top of the stove. With a bit of luck she might get most of
the chaos cleaned up before Eric came home and raised his
     "That's very interesting, dear," she said. "Now run out
and play again. If you're a good girl, we'll have plums and
custard for dinner."
     The child turned toward the kitchen door.
     "You weren't listening," she accused her mother. "You
never listen. You don't care about Ineed. You don't care about
     Then she was gone.
     Mrs. Williams took off her glasses and rubbed her
eyes, smudging flour on her eyelashes. She tried. Honestly
she tried. If she didn't try, there would be fewer failures to
throw away. If she didn't try, they could live on corned beef
and crisps and baked beans. If she didn't try so hard, there
would be more time to spare for Geraldine. As events were
turning out, was Geraldine doomed to being another of her
mother's failures?
     Geraldine wore thick-lensed spectacles, like her
mother. Geraldine had her mother's flat features, unhealthy
complexion, and dust-colored hair. Geraldine was prone to
sickly headaches. Geraldine had uneven teeth. Like her
mother, Geraldine was not very bright.
     What had the girl been talking about? Another
child with peculiar teeth? Fur? Imagination. Geraldine had
shown so few signs of having any imagination that it was
a pity not to have encouraged her now. But the stove had to
be cleaned.
     Once, during the cleaning, Mrs. Williams paused.
Who was Enid anyway? Then she kicked over a bucket of
dirty water, and the thought was washed away.

     Geraldine did not mention Ineed again for several
weeks. Mrs. Williams was dimly aware that her daughter
had a little friend. Once she saw them playing together by
the hedge at the bottom of the garden. It was a thick hedge
and had originally formed the boundary to the field on which
this part of the housing estate had been built. With rare
sensitivity, the builders had left it undisturbed. The two
children were sitting together in the shadow of the hedge.
The other child seemed smaller than Geraldine, dark-haired,
and very thin. At that distance Mrs. Williams could not quite
make out what the children were doing. It seemed almost as
though the dark one had unscrewed one of her hands and
passed it to Geraldine for inspection. Although Mrs. Williams
knew that her eyesight was at fault - she must have her eyes
tested again when she could find the time - she felt vaguely
uneasy and rapped on the window. The children scurried out
of sight, making Mrs. Williams feel guilty. She had blundered
again. Geraldine did not make friends - she reflected her
mother's insecurity when dealing with other people - but at
least her own mother need not frighten away the few friends
she had. Mrs. Williams made a mental note to encourage
Geraldine's new playmate. Perhaps the little girl could be
invited to tea? Well, perhaps not to a meal; but invited to -
something. However, as the good intention grew vaguer, so
did the impetus, and finally Mrs. Williams did nothing. As
Geraldine did not mention her new friend, Ineed became a
cloudy figure in the background of Mrs. Williams's
ever-cluttered mind.
     It was Mr. Williams who was responsible for
bringing the matter up again while they were having dinner.
It had been a successful meal: roast chicken (which Mrs.
Williams had bought from the delicatessen) and salad. Mr.
Williams had found only one caterpillar on his lettuce and
had quietly pushed it to the side of his plate. They were all
finishing their ice cream when her father noticed that
Geraldine was no longer wearing the braces on her teeth.
     He was not angry, because he was never angry;
however, he pointed out that Geraldine had made a promise
to take care of the braces until her teeth had been
straightened. Geraldine smiled at him, showing all her teeth.
It was a delightful smile that almost made one forget the
thick spectacles, the lank hair, and the pasty complexion.
Moreover, her teeth were perfect.
     Mr. Williams put down his spoon and stared across
the table.
     "May I see them again?" he asked.
     Geraldine grinned. Her teeth were even, white, and
sparkling. They even seemed to have lost their yellow tinge.
"Remarkable," said Mr. Williams. "Had you noticed, mother?"
     Mrs. Williams hadn't noticed. She did, however,
notice the implied rebuke in the question: he expected her
not to have noticed the child's teeth.
     "I'm sure I should have done so sooner or later,"
she murmured.
     "Mummy wouldn't notice if I lost my head,"
muttered Geraldine.
     "Now, now," rebuked her father; but he was too
pleased to sound really severe. "I must say that dentist did
a good job. He warned us that it might take over twelve
months, but this has taken less than six weeks."
     "Ineed did it," said Geraldine.
     "I really ought to congratulate him," went on Mr. Williams.
     "Ineed did it," repeated Geraldine.
     "Geraldine has a little friend called Enid," explained
Mrs. Williams. "Enid, dear. Do try to remember that. It's Enid.
You must ask her round for tea or a glass of lemonade or
     "She's shy," said Geraldine. "She isn't ordinary. Like
me and Barry Mapel. Barry can't walk properly because he
has twisted legs. Ineed has got holes where her ears should
be, and her teeth are covered with fur."
     "Really?" said Mr. Williams. "Of course, one doesn't
usually write to one's dentist, but I expect he'd like to
know that we appreciate what he's done."
     "Ineed took all my teeth out," said Geraldine.
"It didn't hurt at all."
     "I'm so glad," said Mrs. Williams, sniffing. Had she
remembered to turn the gas out under the milk for the coffee?
     "Ineed said that she'd never seen teeth like mine
before. They were so twisted. So she straightened them
before she put them back. She rubbed them white, too."
     "After all," said Mr. Williams, "a professional
man must take a pride in his profession."
     "I asked her if there was anything she could do
about my headaches, but she said that she'd have to think
about it."
     "The laborer is worthy of his hire," quoted Mr.
Williams with some satisfaction.
     A hissing and spluttering came from the kitchen.
With the speed and precision that long practice had tempered
into second nature, Mr. Williams strode into the kitchen,
turning out the gas under the milk with one hand and reaching
for a dishcloth with the other.
     Mrs. Williams sat back with a sigh and tried to
pick up the threads of half-heard and dimly remembered
     "This Enid. Doesn't she live near here?"
     "I suppose her family has just moved into the district."
     "Oh no. They've lived here a long time. As long as
anyone can remember, Ineed says. Years and years."
     "Longbarrow hasn't been built all that long, dear,"
mused Mrs. Williams. "The estate was quite new when your
father and I bought this house. I remember having to wade
through mud to inspect it. What is Enid's other name?"
     "She hasn't got another name."
     Mrs. Williams, listening to the sounds of the mopping-up
operation in the kitchen, did not want to become involved in
a childish argument and did not press the question.
     "You must ask her round someday. You know I like
to see your friends." She thought she heard the rattle of
coffee cups. "Play on the lawn or something."
     "Ineed doesn't like people to look at her," mumbled
Geraldine. "She thinks they laugh at her nose."
     "I'm sure we're much too polite. I wonder if Daddy
wants a hand with the coffee."
     "I'm going to make her do something about my
headaches," said Geraldine. "I'm going to make her promise."
     "I expect you have some jolly games together."
     "She says that the headaches happen right inside
my head, but she doesn't know yet how to get inside. She's
not sure how I'm put together. So I'm going to get the book.
With pictures. Then she'll have to promise. She mended my
teeth when they were twisted, didn't she?"
     "I always liked that dentist," said Mrs. Williams.
"So young and so enthusiastic."
     "She says my eyes ought to get better at the
same time. Then I shan't have to wear these glasses." She
snatched them off and squinted nearsightedly at her mother.
     "Ah, coffee!" crowed Mrs. Williams.
     With a sigh, Geraldine replaced her glasses. Ineed
was right. They didn't understand. They would never
understand. No wonder Ineed wanted to avoid them. She and
Ineed understood each other. Ineed was going to find a way
to get inside her head. Geraldine knew where the book was
kept - in the low bookcase that was never dusted. The book
had pictures of people without clothes, without skin, and
without flesh. *That* should show Ineed how people were
put together. It even had a picture of the gray sponge called
a brain. When Ineed saw that, she would be able to stop the
headaches and to make her see as well as anyone else. She
only needed the book.

     Mrs. Williams eventually found volume two of the
encyclopedia open on the lawn. The pages were stained with
grass cuttings, and the covers curled in the afternoon sun.
Mrs. Williams had no idea how the volume came to be out
there, but she was used to finding things where they ought
not to be. So she returned to the house with the book. She
did not associate Geraldine with its removal until she later
found the child in a state of near-hysteria.
     Mrs. Williams heard the sound coming from her
daughter's bedroom - half-screaming, half-sobbing. She
found Geraldine lying face downward on the bed. For a while
the child would not answer, no matter how gently questions
were put; instead she drummed her feet, beat the pillow,
and screamed.
     Eventually Mrs. Williams was able to make out
words. "She promised. She promised I should be next." The
trouble with Geraldine was then correctly diagnosed as an
attack of temper.
     Mrs. Williams sat on the bed and waited for the
storm to subside, having learned from experience that this
treatment was the most effective. At last the sobs died
away, and the little girl looked up. She had hurled her
spectacles into the corner of the room, and her eyes were
inflamed, rubbed raw around the lids.
     "Feeling better now, dear?" asked Mrs. Williams mildly.
     "I hate her," said Geraldine.
     "Tell Mummy all about it." She tried to put an arm
around the child, but found the position too awkward to keep
up. "Who did it, and what did they do?"
     "She mended Barry's legs," sniffed Geraldine.
     Mrs. Williams hunted for a handkerchief. "Go on,
dear. Mummy's listening," she said, wondering where she
could have tucked the spare one that she always kept handy
for when she lost the first.
     "She took them off and straightened them and then
put them back again. Now he can walk as well as anyone."
     "That's nice," murmured Mrs. Williams. "Just a minute,
dear, while I fetch a piece of toilet paper. Then you can blow
your nose."
     "But I was supposed to be next," bellowed Geraldine
as her mother pattered toward the bathroom. "She was going
to look inside my head. That's why I took the book to her.
Instead she used it to mend Barry's legs and didn't do anything
for me at all. She said she still wasn't sure because the inside
of my head wasn't like the inside of her head, and my eyes
weren't like her eyes. I know her eyes are different, but that
doesn't mean she can't do anything about mine. Does it?"
     "Of course not, dear," agreed Mrs. Williams absently,
returning with a great loop of paper and making a mental note
to renew the toilet roll, knowing already that she would be the
one to be caught. "Here you are. Wipe your eyes. And your nose.
     "How can I make her do it?" whined Geraldine. "What can I
     "Let's put on our thinking caps, shall we?" said Mrs.
Williams, trying to sound bright. "Now where did you throw
your spectacles?"
     Geraldine vaguely indicated the wall at which the
glasses had been thrown in the first onslaught of her rage.
     "She can do it. I know she can. I've seen her do things.
She has very long fingers, and she can ..."
     "Oh dear," murmured Mrs. Williams as she picked up
the pieces. "Now I've trodden on them."
     The spectacles had snapped in half. One lens was
cracked, and Mrs. Williams's heel had pressed on the other,
shattering it.
     "You'll need a completely new pair," she went on.
"And I really don't know what you'll do without them. You
won't be able to watch TV or to read or anything. Right in
the middle of the summer holidays, too. I don't know what
you'll do with yourself."
     To her irritation she realized that Geraldine was
     "You're a very naughty girl, dropping your glasses
where I - where anyone could step on them," she cried.
"I ought to ..." Her imagination gave out, and her voice with
it: partly because she had no idea what she ought to do,
and partly because the child's smile worried her. "I'll tell
your father," she added weakly.
     "Now Ineed will have to do something," said
Geraldine calmly.
     "Oh, damn Enid," snapped Mrs. Williams. "And as
you're in your bedroom, you can stay here till teatime.
Yes, you can stay here until your father comes home. Then
we'll hear what he has to say about buying new glasses."
     She left the bedroom and slammed the door behind
her. On the landing she paused, wondering whether she
ought to have locked the door, or whether she ought to go
back and apologize; then at last deciding to leave
everything to Eric. Her husband might have irritating
eyebrows, but he always knew what to do in an emergency.

     Mr. Williams decided that there had been faults
on both sides. He thought that Mrs. Williams ought to make
more of an effort to understand the child and to enter into
the spirit of her fantasies. If Geraldine had an imaginary
friend called Enid who took off people's legs and
straightened them, then Mrs. Williams ought to enter into
the game. No wonder the child flew into a tantrum. On the
other hand, Geraldine must learn to control her feelings,
especially when they resulted in expensive breakages;
however, the child had been sufficiently punished and
could now be allowed downstairs.
     As Mrs. Williams retired to the kitchen feeling
vaguely hurt - but fortunately just in time to catch the
steak before it was irrevocably burned - Mr. Williams
called upstairs.
     "It's all right, Geraldine. You can come down now."
     There was no reply.
     "Geraldine, this is Daddy. I want to talk to you
about, er, about Enid."
     There was still no reply. Either the child was
asleep or she was being obstinate. Mr. Williams went
upstairs and found the bedroom empty. Of course, that
was typical: to send Geraldine to her room, and then not
to be sure that she stayed there. Mr. Williams quickly
smothered the spark of rising indignation because he
prided himself upon being a reasonable man. Anyway, the
girl couldn't be far away. He looked out of the bedroom
     There were two tiny figures by the hedge at the
bottom of the garden. The height and distance made
them look almost like dolls. One figure was bent over
the other. By her dress she must have been a little girl,
though she was incredibly thin, and her hair seemed to
shine dark green in the late afternoon sun. Then she
straightened up, and Mr. Williams could see the other
figure more clearly.
     "My God!" he shouted.
     He charged from the bedroom and almost
tumbled headlong in his rush down the stairs. He
crashed through the kitchen and into the garden,
screaming as he ran. "My God! My God! My God! My God!"
     Mrs. Williams dropped a bowl of mashed potatoes
and hurried after him.
     The little girl with the leaf-colored hair,
intent on the task before her, did not turn as Geraldine's
father and mother raced the length of the lawn. The
frantic parents were spurred by the sight of what lay on
the grass under the hedge. Geraldine's headless body was
spread-eagled on the grass. Her head lay some distance
away, face upward. There was a hole where one eye
should have been, and even as they ran toward the
children, they saw the dark-haired girl pluck out the
other eye.
     Mr. Williams seized the child's shoulder, and at
last she looked around. He glimpsed something deformed
that the mind at once rejected and would later refuse to
recall except in nightmares: pale, phosphorescent,
wrinkled skin of something that had lived for many, many
years in the dark; bulging eyes giving a sickening hint
that they might be extendable; gill-like slits for ears;
and a drooping snout of a nose.
     Mr. Williams swore, tightened his grip, but the
creature twisted in his grasp. It reached up, its fingerlike
tentacles curling around under his arm. Immediately a
pain tore through his muscles as though they were being
removed with a white-hot scalpel. His arm flopped useless
to his side.
     There was a rustle in the hedge, and the thing
was gone. Mrs. Williams was on her hands and knees by
the remains of the child. She made vague fluttering motions
with her hands. It was the same gesture that her husband
had seen her make many times before, kneeling by a piece
of broken china, and waiting for someone to fetch a dustpan.
Except that this time she was giving voice to little
high-pitched moans.
     With his good arm, Mr. Williams patted her shoulder.
He told her to stay there and touch nothing until the police
arrived. Then he went to the telephone. He knew the correct
procedure for occasions such as this.
     The eyes lay staring where the creature had
dropped them. Mrs. Williams vaguely hoped that someone
would be able to put them back. She noticed that
Geraldine's mouth was moving, but guessed that this was
only a muscular spasm, just as a chicken is reputed to run
around after its head has been cut off. She did not recognize
that the lips were forming words.
     "Ineed!" the head wanted to cry out. "Let Ineed put
me together again. Didn't you ever listen to what I told you
about Ineed? I shall be better after she has put me together
again. Where is Ineed? Ineed! Ineed!"
     But no sound came from the mouth, divorced from
lungs and larynx, and Ineed would take care never to be
seen in Longbarrow again. Without Ineed, the head and body
had to remain apart.
     They were buried like that.

"At the Bottom of the Garden": copyright © 1976 by Stuart David Schiff

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