Though you hurry away, it’s a brief delay:
three scattered handfuls of earth will free you. Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) *
Horace Cucumber rolled down the steep garden path of John Winthrop’s hillside garden ripping off pieces of his green skin on the sharp pebbles, choking on the dust, terrified that he was going to crash into a large rock or tree trunk and explode like a rotten pumpkin. When you’re a cucumber rolling down a steep hill there’s nothing to do but keep on rolling until you come to a stop. Lucky for Horace, he veered off into some wet grass and landed softly without meeting the terrible fate he feared. When he opened his eyes, he saw strange things all around.
The fright nearly killed him. He blinked at a lowly snail. He looked up to top of the garden. He saw the fat ugly boy who ripped him off the vine then chucked him down the hill. The boy stood quietly in his khaki shorts with his hands in his pockets and tried to look angelic. Angelic means like an angel but that boy was no angel. Horace wished he could use his magic seeds to choke that stupid mean kid with the evil smile on his chubby red face.
“Donald!” screamed Mrs. Wilson. “Go and pick up that cucumber right now and bring it back! How could you do such a thing? You could have hit one of the other students.”
“Who cares about the students,” mused Horace. “What about me?”
Mrs. Frederica Wilson took her class to John Winthrop’s hillside garden on field trips every year, sometimes twice. The vegetables enjoyed the happy faces and the excited expressions of joy and wonder they saw in the eyes of little the boys and girls. But sometimes a bully came along. That ruined everything. Horace had seen it happen when he was just a baby cucumber. The bully stepped on his brother and killed him. Now he was the victim.
Mr. Kelly, Donald’s father and a military man, called Mrs. Wilson an empty barrel. Donald didn’t know what that meant but he knew he hated her. He staggered down the hill reluctantly and smiled at the girls along the way. He reached out to grab a few but they stepped back promptly and glared at him. He reached into the grass with his fat hand sticky from the large candy sucker he had in his mouth. His mouth was drooling on both sides. Just the thought of being touched by that boy made Horace sick. With the open sores on his skin he was dreadfully afraid of catching some awful disease from Donald’s dirty hand. There was nothing he could do. Soon he was on his way back up the hill. This time he floated in the air on the pudgy palm of Donald’s hand instead of rolling on the ground. When Donald reached the top, his breathing was labored from the exercise. He rarely did any physical activity. He threw Horace back into the cucumber patch from whence he came. Poor Horace landed with a thump under a giant cucumber vine. The blow knocked the air out of him.
“Donald, you can’t just throw that cucumber back into the garden. Pick it up and take it to the cook. You will work with Sarah H.S. to make something appealing from the cucumber for the rest of the class to eat.” Mrs. Wilson was adamant. Donald had no choice but to pull Horace out of the cucumber bed and trudge along slovenly toward the kitchen. The girls snickered. Donald turned red in the face. They passed the carrot patch along the way.
“Oh my God,” thought Horace. “They’ll peel me and cut me and slice me into small pieces and then dozens of tiny teeth will chomp on me until I’m ground into a pulp, swallowed, and locked into the darkness of a dozen small stomachs. And then? Oh, My God, it gets worse. I’ll be burned alive by gastric acids then squeezed along miles of intestines to finally … ugh … yuk!”
Horace thought quickly about how to save himself. He couldn’t run away. He didn’t have any legs like bugs. He couldn’t fly away like insects. He didn’t have any wings. He couldn’t talk his way out because people can’t understand cucumber talk.
Donald laid him on the kitchen counter. Sarah H.S., the cook, went to get the chef’s knife. It was her job to cut up the mistakes and make them edible. The doom ahead was the catalyst that caused Horace’s cucumber mind to click. He reoriented his juices until he was lopsided and rolled off the counter. He fell onto the floor, rolled down the hall, slid out the open door and slipped off the step into the flower garden. The flowers all looked at him with cheesy smiles as if someone wanted to take their picture.
There was nothing he could do. It took all his energy to roll out of the kitchen. Now he was stuck. He could only lay there surrounded by flowers with their silly smiles with the bees swarming around. He felt foolish and powerless.
He panicked when he saw Donald on the step looking down at him. Donald reached down with his fat sticky hand to grab Horace. He thought he was a goner for sure. But, he wasn’t. Donald slipped on some cucumber juice Horace had left on the step. He fell head first into the flowerbed. Donald’s head pushed Horace deep into the ground.
He couldn’t hear much. What he did hear was that Donald had broken his nose. Mrs. Wilson carried him away to the hospital. It was very dark underground. Horace relaxed and went to sleep. His seeds slipped out of him and eventually they sprouted. Mr. Winthrop was very surprised to see cucumbers growing in his flowerbed a few weeks later. At first he thought of pulling them out but he decided to let them grow. After all, a good cucumber is a thing of beauty.
- It was customary with the Romans when they saw a corpse not yet interred, to cast three handfuls on the body, of which at least one on the head. It is to this custom that Horace alludes in that beautiful ode on the death of Archytas.