What You Will And Won’t Do
(About the Man in Your Garden)

by Joely Dutton

Nothing will terrify you like that eye contact. You’ll be cleaning dishes at your kitchen sink, looking out at your garden and the flow of fields beyond it, when a large man will step into the frame from stage-right, inches from the window. You’ll catch your own choked scream like a sound effect from a place you weren’t aware of, and feel the burst of adrenaline spike through you as quick-spreading fractals. A man on your property. His eyes, and their intent; a message penetrating the thin pane and drilling your own eyes right through to the sockets. It will be the first nightmare you couldn’t wake from, and it will make the frail civility of your life until that moment absurd.

It’s the explanation you’ll give for feeling out the carving knife at the bottom of the water and heading out there with it. For not waiting inside your house, the only one for miles around, and hoping help reaches you before he does. It’s the reason you’ll state for punching the blade through his sternum as he comes toward you. Him or you, him or you, any hesitation forfeits choice. Him or you. You’ll choose him.

You’ll dial 999 as the dishwater turns murky around abandoned pans and as the unknown man’s body bleeds out on your decking, staining wooden panels. Your shaking index finger will transfer his blood onto your phone and you’ll leave an impression of the square number 9 button in red on your right cheek as you listen to the ring tone. You’ll tell the calm operator about the intruder, the one you think you might’ve killed and Oh God, you’ll say, between sobs that come from so deep down you’ll feel their vibration within your head. Things outside your head will become surreal. Your house like a cartoon drawing of the one you lived in earlier.

When they arrive, the police will pour you sweet tea. An officer will link your arm with hers and lead you to a different room while paramedics stretcher the man out through your front room. When you hear the ambulance start up again, you’ll ask the police woman if he’s alive. Or is he…? You won’t be able to say the other word, though you’ll know already that he is.

At the station, you’ll ask the interviewing officer who the man was. You’ll know that already, too. He was the kind-looking man you saw driving along the country lane near your house, the one you frantically waved down to the roadside and pleaded for help. The man you needed to drive your injured dog to the vet, because your car wouldn’t start and your dog might die waiting for a taxi this far out of town. You led him through the back gate of your property, and asked him to wait there in your garden while you went to grab the small dog, who you said was wrapped in a blanket on your sofa where she’d been having seizures.

It was the man who looked confused when you came back outside without a pet, your hands concealed behind your waist. Who looked alarmed when he saw the knife, moving, a second too short to act so his hands only clutched yours on impact, too late to push them away.

The police will believe what you tell them. They’ll find his car parked on the country lane. They’ll suggest voyeurism, though no one will be able to prove the man’s intent.

A judge will hear your statement and clear you of manslaughter charges on the grounds of self-defence. Of perceived risk. And you’ll mentally scratch through the list you’d planned out, when each turning point goes the way you expected it to, until this score card ends and you win. You’ll go back to your house in the countryside, free to start again. Like you knew you would.

You won’t doubt that you can do it. You won’t even twitch a smile when the sweet-tea officer tells you that, living alone in a remote area, it might be worth getting a dog.

Joely Dutton lives in Stafford, UK, where there’s a castle that she’s been told is mildly disappointing by friends who came to stay. Say hi.
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