The white stucco house on the corner of 12th and Birch has a guillotine in their front yard.
It’s not unusual to see statuary and ornaments in this neighbourhood. Cement and composite plastic figurines of all kind stand guard, from the fantastical fairies and trolls to the realistic dogs, kittens, and even children frozen in place.
The macabre temporarily pops up around Halloween. Tombstones, skeletons, and blow-up ghosts fight for position alongside witches, zombies, and severed heads. Reindeer and snowmen arrive as early as November 1st, and bunnies large enough to be characters in a horror movie smile when Easter comes around.
The guillotine is not a holiday decoration. It’s been there as long as I’ve walked this route. Three years on the job and I’ve never once lifted the latch on the small gate of their white picket fence. Every morning when I organize my deliveries, I hope there’ll be a letter, or even a piece of junk mail addressed to 873 Birch so I’ll finally have the excuse to get a closer look.
Most moulded forest creatures are tucked among flower beds or stand in neat rows beside the front door. The guillotine stands in the centre of a lawn groomed to compulsive perfection by what could only be a golf fanatic. Other than the guillotine, the property could be an advertisement or digitally constricted image. White house, white picket fence, perfect lawn, neat rows of bright seasonal flowers. It looks familiar and forgettable all at the same time.
I’ve never seen a person in the yard or the twitch of curtains to suggest occupancy, but then again, I’m on the job. I walk by between 9:11 and 9:32am every morning. A fifteen-second glance within a twenty-minute window, certainly not enough time or attention to formulate an understanding of who might live inside. Who might live in a picture-perfect suburban house. Who might keep an instrument of terror an death on their front lawn, and for what purpose. Humour? Pride? Memoriam? Aesthetic? Threat? Collectable? Deterrent?
It’s that last point, I think, that makes me wonder. The question of motivation.
Why a guillotine?