Living in a Box

Forgetting her cocoa tea is probably not advisable, reckons Iain Ball

“Look, this is what aphids look like,” says Zoe sharply, pointing at a collection of small, harmless-looking bright green bugs that have dropped onto her bike saddle from a nearby bush.

They’re so well camouflaged I can never spot them in our garden, but on a black background they look a bit startled, like old ladies caught by a gentleman caller with their curlers still in.

As I peer down, Zoe wipes them all out with a brutal coup de main.

She looks at me with a grim satisfaction, slowly brushing their tiny corpses from her hands.

“That was a bit ruthless,” I say, surprised.

“They’re the gits who keep attacking my clematis,”

says Zoe firmly. In her French accent, ‘gits’ sounds like ‘geets’.

I’m slightly disturbed.

Zoe is the queen of our balcony garden. And under her reign, there’s no question that it has transformed into a beautiful space filled with flowers and herbs and spectacular climbing plants.

But the more her garden grows, I’ve noticed, the more medieval Zoe seems to become.

She now exterminates all potential threats with an icy determination that is, frankly, unnerving.

Any leatherjacket grubs that are discovered are cast from our second-floor balcony like traitors tossed from the castle wall. She’s acquired her own squad of ladybirds, whose job is to hunt down and suppress aphids and other mites. She’s now considering various organic chemical weapons to take them out.

And it’s all done with an ironfisted zeal that I never noticed before in my otherwise kind and gentle Zoe.

I try not to let it bother me.

After lunch at home, she sweetly asks me to make her usual cocoa infusion tea. Zoe adores everything about it, from the malty flavours and antioxidants to the zero-calorie cocoa buzz.

Nowadays, she even keeps the leftover shells and sprinkles them in her garden pots. “Cocoa shells make an excellent mulch,” she says. I nod as if I remember what that is.

Zoe flicks on the TV: The Empire Strikes Back is on, and she catches Darth Vader getting annoyed with one of his flunkeys.

I go to the kitchen cupboard and realise with a start that I forgot to pick up more Cocoa Infusion Bags from Hotel Chocolat when we were out.

“You have failed me for the last time, Admiral,” seethes Lord Vader from the telly.

“Serves him right, silly git,” comments Zoe from the sofa, as Admiral Ozzel drops dead.

The shop isn’t far, so I decide it’s best if I just slip out quietly.

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