I’ve been going on about it, telling anyone who’ll listen, I’m even telling you now, sharing my story about the little black hole that appeared on my verge.  Last Tuesday at 6.30 a.m. there was knocking on my door.  My neighbour was standing there.  He asked me if I owned a collection of plastic toy motorbikes; I said no.  He asked me if I owned a pot plant filled with old coins; I said no, I didn’t – what was he talking about?  He told me to go out to the lane.  He’s a good man, but a very quiet man, and I recalled how when I’d moved in he’d said that if I ever needed help he had a gun.  I thought it best to follow his instructions.

In the lane was a scattering of toy motorbikes, all different colours, looking like an accident had happened, though it would have been a strange accident to say the least.  Nearby was the pot plant, upturned, the old coins spilled.  “You really don’t know anything about this stuff?”  No, I didn’t.  I remembered how my neighbour on the other side owned motorbikes, and that his garage door was broken so he’d tried to secure the gap with chicken wire.  We went to investigate.  The wire had been lifted into a miniature archway.  Kids had got in and stolen what they thought would be valuable or fun but almost immediately decided the loot was neither.

My neighbour and I put the motorbikes in a bag and returned the coins to the pot.  We’d hand it all back to our other neighbour when we saw him at a less ungodly hour.  Case solved.

Except I saw a little black hole on my verge.  As they’d left the scene the thieves had pulled a much-loved sapling from the ground, a dogwood from a previous house, a piece of the old home for a new home, what beautiful white flowers the tree had given, always in the first week in December.  How brave the sapling had been, surviving incessant winds, hail storms, frost.  Leading away from the hole were drops of dirt, like blood, black blood, until there were no signs of the sapling at all.

As I’ve told this story to anyone who’ll listen, I’ve said, “I understand burglary, I even understand graffiti, but where is the pleasure in wrenching a sapling from the earth?”

(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 23 July 2011.)

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