‘What do you mean ‘he’s allergic’?’ repeated Monty, his hands haughtily placed on his hips.
‘He just can’t go anywhere near eucalyptus…’ explained Jonathan, his assistant. ‘Give him a tub of Vicks vapour rub and he’ll swell up like a…’
‘He’s allergic?’ Monty’s disbelief was dramatically obvious. ‘The Mayor, the pillar of the community is allergic to…to…koala food?!’
Jonathan gave a tired sigh and nod of conformation. In Monty’s presence, it was easier to just allow the hyperbole to wash over you until the temperamental event-organiser got distracted.
They stood in what was soon to be ‘The Fragrance Gardens’. An attempt to ‘beautify the borough’ and 'embrace nature’. Jonathan believed it was nothing more than Bournemouth council’s way of blowing their ‘recreation budget’. God forbid that the money be spent on putting drug addicts in rehab. It was nice that Dorset was ‘effectively reinventing’ the places in which junkies shot-up. Apparently, syringes always look better when scattered amongst scented herbs and exotic grasses.
‘Right…well…we’ll just have to dig up the whole lot then, won’t we?’ Monty was being decisive. He had worked too hard to see the whole thing fall apart now. He smoothed the wrinkles from his purple, 100% wool jacket and rescued his clipboard from its dejected state on the gravel path.
A mantra. ’I am in control, I am control, control.’
A visualisation. ’See the eucalyptus, remove the eucalyptus, eucalyptus.’
A breath. Monty’s lungs filled with what should have been cleansing, rejuvenating air but what was in actual fact manure.
‘Eeaurgh! What on earth is that godawful smell?
‘Manure.’ A helpful tea-lady offered.
‘Manure, it helps the flowers grow.’
‘That may be so but does it have to make its presence so known. I can’t bring the Mayor into a ‘Garden of Fragrance’ that smells of…of…’
‘Horse shit.’ A helpful Jonathan offered.
‘Well… yes…I wouldn’t have put it in such a vulgar manner, Jonathan but...yes...’ Monty could feel his mantra failing, his cosmic energies were at a definite low.
‘Is there no way to reduce the smell?’
‘Reduce the smell?’ Jonathan was having major difficulty with his manager’s apparent density.
‘Yes. YES! Reduce the smell! What are you, a bloody parrot?’ The clipboard resumed its previous position on the gravel.
‘We could spray it with air freshener.’ the helpful tea lady suggested.
‘WHO ARE YOU?’ bellowed Monty. Thora, 65, from Christchurch retreated slowly into the refreshment marquee. She disappeared behind a pile of jam scones, never to be seen again.
‘You there!’ A drunken horticulturist froze, Strongbrew mid-air. He turned his head slowly, blinked lazily and finally focused on Monty’s pointing finger,
‘Yes?’ he gargled.
‘This is a twenty pound note.’ The gardener began to giggle. All his vision permitted him to see was a purple blob with the apparent ability to speak. His attempts to stifle his giggles brought about an embarrassing round of flatulence. Monty’s nose wrinkled in disgust, but he continued nonetheless. There were only forty-five minutes until the Mayor’s arrival and he could not afford to be choosy in his delegation.
‘This is a twenty pound note...’ he repeated ‘…With it, I want you to go and buy as many cans of air freshener as you can. Haze, Pledge, bloody Asda’s own brand for all I care- just get anything that doesn’t smell like…’
‘Yes. Thank you, Jonathan!’ Monty closed his eyes for significantly longer than a blink to emphasise his sarcastic gratitude. He opened them to find the gardener grinning cheesily at him. The gaps in Malcolm’s teeth left sufficient vents for his rancid breath to escape with every exhalation. Monty could feel himself beginning to heave
‘Why are you still here?’ he demanded, waving the paper money in front of Malcolm’s face, who finally blinked in semi-coherence.
‘Oh... you is talking to meeeeeeee?’ the gardener had trouble finishing his final vowel sound. He continued for a disturbingly long period of time, stopped only by a helpful slap on the back from Jonathan.
‘Sumfing that don’t smell like shit?’ Malcolm confirmed. Monty nodded tiredly, as the drunkard plucked the money from his hand and quickly shoved it into the pocket of his council-issue dungarees. He disappeared down the gravel path, never to be seen again.
‘What way up does it go then?’ Jimmy asked, twisting the bronze plaque around like a steering wheel.
‘I dunno – it don’t matter as long as Monsieur Prissy-Pants sees them stuck to the bloody things.’ As always, Larry’s syntax was outstanding. The two men were deckchair salesmen by trade but had been cajoled into fixing braille plaques onto the benches around the gardens. They had volunteered their services due to a promise of ‘getting dirty’ and ‘feeling something wooden in the lavender bushes’ with Theresa from the postcard shop. They now stood knee deep in wood–chips, grappling with an oversized park bench.
Both men had previous experience of Monty’s primadonna tendencies, last year in fact. It had been a horrible situation involving a significant amount of wooden fencing and an ill-placed bonfire. Consequently, both men had been unwilling to work with Monty again. It was amazing what the illusion of quick fumble behind an essential oil plant (which in Larry’s opinion ‘ …smelled like his Nan’s toilet.’) could achieve.
Larry turned, surveying the mini-projects. They were all well-known faces from the community- the old dears who ran the charity-shop were organising the tea hut, the girls from the ‘Mother’s of Dorset Committee’ were putting up the bunting and fifty random blokes form the borough of Dorset all under the misconception that Theresa was going to ‘provide the entertainment’. He could spot these men from a mile off- they were the ones clumsily negotiating shrubs into the earthy borders with embarrassed looks of emasculation and sexual frustration. In the far corner of the garden, a group of men were frantically uprooting eucalyptus plants and throwing them into a heap onto a wheelbarrow.
‘Er, Monty… there is nowhere to put them.’
‘There must be somewhere… it cannot be that difficult to dispose of a pile of plants. Plants, Jonathan. That’s all they are. Vegetation which could prevent me from getting my well deserved place on the Mayor’s team.’ There it was. His motive in one blatant outburst. For the last seven years, Monty had desperately been trying to get onto the Mayoral committee but catastrophic event after catastrophic event had prevented him from doing so - this was his last chance.
‘We’ll bury them.’ He said.
‘The only way we can get them out of sight within…’ Monty checked his watch ‘…fifteen minutes, is to bury the buggers.’
‘But that’s…’ started Jonathan.
‘Not very professional, I know. But it’ll keep them out of the way just long enough for the event to go ahead. Then we can get rid of them properly when this whole thing is over.’ Monty sounded like he was trying to convince himself. Jonathan’s uncertainty was evident, but before he could raise issue, Monty had already commanded a mass burial behind the foxglove trellises.
‘I would like to officially declare ‘The Gardens of Fragrance’ now open.’
The audience made up of tea-ladies and disgruntled men (minus a drunken gardener), clapped politely as the over-weight Mayor, doused in gold medallions, cut the ceremonial ribbon.
Journalists from all over Bournemouth (three in all, including one student desperately trying to save his degree) clambered for the obligatory sound-bites and photo opportunity.
‘Okay, your honour, if we could just have you standing next to that rose bush….’ The Mayor did so willingly.
‘It smells…’ he started and Monty froze. In Malcolm’s absence, he had had to make do with half a bottle of ‘Spring Splash’-a cheap deodorant that one of the women had found at the bottom of her handbag. The earth surrounding the rose now smelt like the perfume counter at Boot’s.
‘…absolutely delightful. We shall have to steal some of these for our garden. Quick darling, start the car…’ he concluded, theatrically looking at his wife. She laughed falsely and returned to the mastication of a cucumber sandwich. Monty exhaled slowly.
‘Okay, right... your honour, if we could have you sitting on one of the benches and if you could get the blind kid in too, that would be great.’ Jenny was a 25 year-old writer who happened to be partially sighted. She thought she had been asked to come in order to give a speech about lack of facilities but she had been reduced to nothing more than a token blind person. She had brought her dog along for a laugh, to see exactly how long it would be before any one noticed that it was actually a pet Jack–Russell and not a Seeing-Eye dog. No one had said a word. She left Jasper chasing a bumblebee whilst she settled onto the bench with the lecherous Mayor.
‘Okay... right...if you could just touch the plaque…you don’t have to read it, it’s all for the camera, darling.’ The Mayor faked interest as she ran her fingers over the raised bumps. She smirked. A picture was taken. Her smile had not been for the camera, her reading of braille was not fantastic but she could still tell that the plaque had been put on upside-down. If read phonetically, the label would probably sound like a satanic verse. She debated telling them but decided against it- why bother? The most she was going to get out of this was mass patronisation and a soggy jam sandwich.
‘Okay, right… and for the last one, how about we get the dog in?’
‘Whatever.’ She replied. ‘Jasper! Here, Jasper!’
Monty smiled. This was it, he was in the clear. One more picture and he was on his way to being the Mayor’s right-hand man. First thing he would do would be to buy the man a suit that fitted, the wife’s wardrobe could go too, a trip to Weight Watchers would not go amiss either. Images of processions, summer fetes and knighthoods filled Monty’s head. He turned and winked at Jonathan, who returned the gesture with a look of worry. His assistant pointed towards the bench which was currently centre of attention. Monty followed Jonathan’s gaze.
Jasper came bounding up to Jenny with something in his mouth.
‘What’s that, boy? What have you got?’ The playful dog dropped a muddy mass onto Jenny’s lap.
Monty’s eyes widened.
The Mayor examined the mass; a look of horror took over his dough-like face, his breathing becoming shallow.
‘Ohmigod!’ Monty uttered, his voice at a pitch that only Jasper could detect. His eyes widened still.
The audience began to mutter, confused, as the Mayor began to hyperventilate, his face demonstrating new shades of red and purple.
Jasper in his adventures had discovered the ‘eucalyptus stash’ and had chosen to deliver a sample of it to his owner.
Camera’s flashed, scones were dropped, Monty’s clipboard hit the floor with a resounding clatter. He left Bournemouth, never to be seen again.