Fiscal constraints, p.3
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       Fiscal Constraints, p.3

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  It was a beautiful spring morning. They laid breakfast on a tray and carried it out into the garden behind the house. The air was cool but fresh, and the garden was a sun trap. There was an old wooden bench beneath the beech tree. They sat on it and ate in silence listening to the sound of the mild spring breezes whispering through the canopy of early leaves, wondering at the gentle creaking of the heavy boughs.

  “It’s funny,” she said at last, “but the trees seem especially pretty today, don’t you think? As though they were all fresh and new. Silly.” She laughed. “It’s as though I was seeing them for the first time, like I was an alien come to earth, or something. It must be spring. I suppose I’ve never really thought of it before, but a tree is such a marvellous thing. So complex and so alive.”

  He nodded his agreement. “I know what you mean. We take them for granted, but just look at it. It’s so clever. See the old leaves on the beech? They hang there all winter to protect the new buds. They don’t fall until the new ones are ready to open. If you look you can see the buds quite clearly, sheltered behind last year’s leaves. And when they do fall they act like a mild herbicide, stopping other plants getting a foothold in the ground beneath the tree. Keeps the competition at bay. Now that’s a clever design.”

  She sipped her coffee. “I’m glad we’ve got trees. I’d hate to live somewhere where there weren’t any, like the Arctic, or the desert or whatever. A landscape without trees is so dull.”

  “Funny you should say that. I had the weirdest dream last night. Really strange. I dreamt that there were no trees. I mean none anywhere. Never had been, never would be. No such thing as trees at any time in history, just a kind of tall, dead grass, like bamboo. It was everywhere, even here, where the beech tree is.”

  “What,” she laughed, “and I suppose there were tigers lurking at the end of the garden?”

  “No. No tigers, but there were an awful lot of very fat pandas!”

  She pulled a face, and flicked the newspaper at him. He lunged at her, but she twisted away, slipping off the seat and onto her feet without spilling her coffee as he rolled helplessly onto the grass. “Idiot,” she said, looking down at him. Coffee mug in hand she crossed to the old tree and leant against the smooth bark. “I think I’m in love,” she said.

  “What, with the tree?”

  She shrugged. “Why not? It’s more reliable than some I could mention. It’s always where you expect it to be, it doesn’t go away on business trips or out to the bar. It certainly doesn’t throw birthday parties for you and then get so wasted that it forgets to give you your present.”

  “Did I forget to give you your present?”

  “You mean you don’t remember?” Her smile was triumphant as she left the shelter of the tree, moving across the lawn to study the roses.

  “I see. If I did forget, I’m in the doghouse and if I don’t remember that I didn’t forget, I’m still in the doghouse.”

  “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

  “You’re rotten to me.”

  “You know you love it.” She bent over a rose bush, taking one of its leaves gently between her fingers.

  “Come here, you temptress, and pour me another coffee.” He moved to join her, but she wasn’t smiling anymore.

  “That’s odd.” She frowned as a nervous pulse beat in her forehead.

  He sensed the change in her mood. “What? What is it?”

  “I don’t know. Maybe nothing.” She paused, chewing on her lower lip. “It’s just that, yesterday, these roses were crawling with aphids, greenfly. Now I don’t see any. Not one.”

  He bent down to look. “You’re right. No aphids. Isn’t that good? I mean, you’re always complaining that they eat your roses, spraying them with stuff and all that.” He moved to a nearby clump of marigolds. “None here either.”

  “Very, very odd,” she whispered.

  “Well, maybe not,” he suggested, “I mean, aren’t they cyclic. You know, some years you get zillions of them and other years none at all. Something to do with warm wet springs, or was it cold, dry winters? Or was that the ladybugs?” Or both? A sort of unbalanced balance, if you see what I mean. One year too many aphids which gives the ladybugs plenty to eat, so next year there’s even more of them so they eat too many aphids, which means next year there’s an aphid shortage and the ladybugs starve, leading to an aphid explosion and so it goes on, year after year, with poor old Mother Nature trying desperately to sort it all out.”

  “Very impressive,” she said, “It’s called a Voltke-Volterra relationship but, no, that’s not what I meant at all. Yesterday, I’m sure that there were lots of greenfly on the roses, in fact, all over the garden. Now there aren’t any. Not a single one. They can’t just die overnight, can they? Was there a frost?”

  “Maybe the ladybugs ate them?”

  “They’ve gone too.”


  “Yesterday, these roses were crawling with aphids and there were plenty of ladybugs eating them. Now there’s nothing.”

  “Hmm.” He frowned, scratching at his ear as he tried to catch an elusive though, “These aphids, what do they look like?”

  “Sort of green and, you know, insect like and, well, I don’t know really. Hard to say.”

  “Well, perhaps it’s all quite natural. Maybe they only live for a few days, like mayfly. Then they die off, curl up and get eaten by the ladybugs. When there’s no more… what did you call them?”


  “Aphids, yes, and when there’s no more aphids in one place the ladybugs just go somewhere else to find more. When it gets warmer there’ll be another hatching and you’ll get your aphids back, you’ll see.”

  “It’s hours.”


  “Mayfly only live for a few hours.”

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