Drive by shootings / Mirjam Bastian

Fotograf: Anne Mie Dreves

There is no problem with the car this evening. It eases down Banyan road like a happy cat. The evening sun makes Harri tense how it dances nervously through the trees. The glare of sunlight filtered through the branches once caused her to have an epileptic fit as she was driving alone. But that was early morning. Now it’s just the sweet dim flicker of gold that aggravates her.

As soon as we reach the wet side the night hits us like a rock going through the screen. The wipers can’t keep up with the torrential rain. Harri’s nerves are shot. Mixed with anxiety it makes for a heady cocktail. She can’t roll the windows up fast enough, tearing at the handle, grey hair whipping her face in the wind.

Why are we doing this?

She’s jumpy in her seat like a bitchy teen. Why Arum lilies?

I knew she’d ask. Why henbane, why pokeweed, why poison? I can’t do gardening without gloves on anymore. Why? It’s crazy Edgar.

She understands the meticulously designed bamboo structure I’ve built for the dragon fruit. It makes sense. Beautiful flowers, fruits to eat and sell at the market, scent in the evening, shade during the day, it makes sense. Poison Ivy and henbane? They just stink and cause a rash. Stench and rash. The dark side of marriage.

She turns the radio on and after a minute of searching through hiss she switches it off again. I still haven’t replied. My silence is toxic to her.

What do you want with poison? How can you even be sure it is pokeweed? What if you get caught? You’ve only seen it as you drove past it, or did you stop for a closer look? Did you? Did you?


Because then they would’ve seen you! They’ll know who you are! You think they’ll put me in prison for stealing a couple of shoots? But it’s not just shoots is it, you’ll have to dig for the roots.

I love her. She knows I have to dig for the roots. She knows exactly what I’m going for. Means she must have tried herself. She knows the delicate watery stems that break when you try to unearth the bulbs, the juice that stings and burns you.

You must have stopped. You don’t notice such things just by driving past. I hope this won’t be like the time you got me smuggling raspberry saplings back from England!

Need I remind you about the origin of the jam you put on your toast this morning? I’m only saying that…

Would you rather just not go? (It’s a token of kindness.) Who will help you keep and eye out? (So is that.) Claude.


The dog’s ears jitter slightly at the mentioning of his name but he continues snoring in the backseat. I stop the car.

She sighs deeply then grabs the umbrella from under her seat and braves the rain. Good girl.

She’ll have to walk the 3 miles up hill home and her knees are not good. Fuck it. I’ve still got another 20 to go to the scene of the crime.

Harri still thinks we’re cultivating the land. But I’m no horticulturalist. I want to see nature do its job with all its fecund might.

Arum lilies might be the jewel in the crown. It comes pretty close. We began the garden when we came to the island, nearly 30 years ago. There was nothing but lava when we came. Glassy obsidian rock from the cracks of which, ferns grew like witch hair and the stubborn thorny O’hia spread itself generously. At first we bought dirt and built beds for the plants that we brought in. Now we make the dirt ourselves. In giant tanks – kitchen scraps, macadamia nutshells and shit. It takes approximately six months for it to decompose into dirt. The nutshells take a little longer depending on how fine they’re ground. Harri still don’t quite get the premise – everything that will grow on an active volcano. Not just everything pretty and useful. Everything.

Harri still thinks we’re cultivating the land. But I’m no horticulturalist. I want to see nature do its job with all its fecund might. I’m just assisting it a little. If lilies won’t come to this side of the mountain, I will come to them. Whether they take is up to nature.

The windscreen wipers plough through the rain leaving only intermittent vision. Harri cranked up the heat before she got out and the monotonous ship-shup from the wipers mixed with the sound of the engine is sleep-inducing.

Claude sniffs in his sleep.

I turn the radio on.

The niiiiight they drove old Dixie down…

I beat the rhythm on the wheel and sing along as loud as I can. Claude wakes up

And the bells were ringing

He cries along

Na, na, la, na, na, nahhnahhh

Good dog.

With the negativity gone, things start to fall into place like a well-oiled machine. I turn off the headlights and the engine a little walk from the scene of crime. Let the car roll the last 100 yards and park with a faint crunch to the hand brake, nothing that would be possible to detect up at the house. It’s 23.17 and the house is dark. Perhaps they’re in bed.

The last lava flow in our sector was in 1983. It took a chunk of our land. The corner of the garden where it happened is still cooling off. The crust growing over the wound is fragile and glassy crisp. The first time I told her she left the next morning. She was gone for three weeks. The second time I brought it up she kicked me out and told me never to come back. When I came back she insisted I told her every detail. I never did of course. And now I’m old proper. I don’t care anymore. The garden is a testament to all the shit I’ve put her through.

The plants are close to the fence by the roadside, even if it’s dark as death they’re easily recognised by their glans-shaped heads and bleeding hexagram berries. Claude jumps over the fence with me. He sniffs around and disappears behind a bush. Traitor. The rain softens to a mist. There’s a reddish glow above the mountain rim. It’s the mouth of the volcano. It’s been singing louder and louder lately. Usually when I chew it drowns out any other sound in the world, there are just my jaws crunching thunderously inside my head. But these days, even when I gnaw on a carrot I can still hear the distant rumble coming from deep inside the mountain, from deep underneath me, the crackling moans, the sighing and the giving away like a woman at the slowing of her passion.

It is difficult to dig around the watery stems they break easily while the corm have formed long sinewy rhizome. The dirt is soft and warm, moist between my fingers. Not like my rocky garden at home. Things are different here on the wet side – all is lush and horny. For a second I start to doubt the outcome. Why steal what is essentially weed when I could steal dirt like this?

I should’ve worn gloves the stems are bleeding and the juice burns my hands.

My hard work is being noticed. The sensory lights booms through the garden and in a blinding flash everything is lit up. That’s when I hear the sirens moving over the hill. I collect four bulbs into a plastic-bag and run. The engine purrs blissfully and I am about to drive onto the road when Claude crashes into me. Not physically, physically he is nowhere to be seen. I can see the blue lights over the crest of the hill as I shout his name through the window. There’s no sign of him. Good job he’s not my dog, but the neighbour’s. He can find his own way home. You’ve heard of dogs that walked a hundred miles to be with their owners. Thirty miles should be a piece of piss for young dog like him. Then I hit speed.

Plant-napping might not be capital offence yet suddenly I’m in a high speed chase through the Southern most speed trap in America, with speeds up to 50 mph. The road is long and straight as an arrow and the car just won’t go that fast. There’s only one bend in the road by Waiohine, that’s where I get to ditch them. I turn the lights off by the water station and pull up slowly behind the water tower. What do they want from me anyway they’ll just end up as laughing stock – bringing in an old geezer guilty of stealing nothing but weed from a manicured garden. I’m doing them a favour. The road is a silvery band in the night, lit up by the moon and random porch-lights. They don’t see me as they hammer past like two teens that just earned their license. After a couple of minutes I turn in the opposite direction, back towards the crime scene. Harri will never forgive me if I come home without that dog. Even if he is the neighbour’s.

He is waiting on the shoulder of the road, looking lost and miserable. There really is nothing like a lost wet dog. I stop a little further up, and call out his name softly. For unknown reasons he doesn’t react. He just looks obtusely at me through the rain that has begun again. The house is still lit up. A patrol car is parked by the entrance. I leave the engine running and walk towards Claude. He wags his tail in slow motion but remains where he is. As I lift him up he licks me full in the face, stupid heavy bundle of wet fur. I put a blanket over him in the backseat. The shoots are still wet in their plastic bag in the passenger seat. The engine produces a weird screaming sound as I put it in gear then it dies.

They perhaps prefer to look back on a marriage as decades of ornamental bliss. Not me.

Claude grins gormlessly at me from his blanket. The night is colder, darker and wetter than before. The bad dreams seep through the unmerciful hours after midnight. In my half awaken state flying saucers make their delivery, moon stones, manna from meteors and nightmares from the furthest reaches… nostrils tickle with space pollen not found on this planet for eons. When you’ve been together for 34 years you want to be able to see everything clear. Some people won’t. They perhaps prefer to look back on a marriage as decades of ornamental bliss. Not me. All the lies and hurt, compassion and destruction that web together the time you’ve spent with this one person. It is all there, in that time span. It should all be there in our garden.

There is a sound from the house. It is the sound of a closing door followed by a closing car door. I can hear the chase car approaching over the hill, as I sit unable to move in my dead car.

From a yellowish mist our demons appear for their regular scheduled TV show where they will argue eternal hope, jumping over the cliffs of reality in the heat of their debate. I am in the audience, eating dragon fruit and pondering the interior of marriage. It should all be there so that when our bodies fail us we can sit in the lush green mess we’ve created and be reminded of those years, by the delicate roses, the plump fruits, the trees whose slender erect trunks still reaches for the sky. And in between all this beauty: slits of stinky poisonous weeds, some of them deadly.

Claude emits a sound. Just a yelp really, like a hey Mister wake the fuck up. I try the engine again. It coughs like a snotty three year-old. Then starts on my third try. The two police cars are ambling down the driveway as Claude and I sneak back onto the road.

It is late when we finally reach our turn. The lava gives out a complaining sound as we cross the yard. Harri acknowledges me with a sleepy grunt when I crawl under the duvet.

When I wake up the trade winds have stopped. The jet steam dipped. The high altitude clouds are shredded cheese strings, the lower altitude ones are beginning to spin into lenticulars. The bright hot day will turn into a rainstorm tonight. Harri has put the radio on and a smell of coffee wafts up to the bedroom.

Okay so my heart wasn’t racing and it didn’t make me feel 10 years younger. But I did have an erotic dream that night, well kind of erotic.

I could feel her hot, wet softness as my big toe slipped inside and I woke up thinking I could almost feel that.




Mirjam Bastian is the author of of the novels ‘Travels in a Red Car’, ‘The Observer’ and ‘Loretta’ as well as several short stories and non fiction essays. She holds a BA-Hons in fine art film from St. Martins College of Art and an MFA in Visual Culture from Copenhagen University.
She currently lives in Copenhagen, Denmark, where she also works at the Royal Danish Academy of Art and Design.




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