Maintenance was not one of Brian Tate's strong points.
In his forty-odd years of existence, he had failed to maintain three cars, two marriages, and, the one that galled him the most, his grandparents' six-digit inheritance. His health and fitness had deteriorated along with his material possessions; the man seemed a magnet for Murphy's Law in maintenance breakdown.
Brian had had this malfunctioning-Midas Touch for almost all his life, and although it frustrated him, he was too lazy to change and too content to wallow in his deteriorating miniverse.
Alcohol helped numb the horror that his life was steadily falling apart around him.
Yet even alcoholics have moments of transparent clarity, and one day at random he had such a revelation. He was slacking back with a six pack and listening to the Red Sox when situational awareness of his surroundings overwhelmed him.
This place looks like shit.
It was true. He sat there, reclining in the gutted husk of what was once a chaise lounge chair, and surveyed the carnage of his yard. The rusted remains of a gas barbecue could barely be made out among the weeds. What might have once been a ten-speed leaned against a sagging, shaggy scotch pine. On chipped, horribly weathered masonry, the carcass of the small motorboat he used to take out to Lake Palmer now lay dormant and dying, its trailer perched atop concrete blocks.
It was the lawn, though, that pissed him off.
Green growth flourished over a foot and a half tall. Seed shoots, randomly placed, sprouted mightily above the out-of-control lawn. Long fingers of grass had worked their way into the sidewalk, patio, and almost all of the driveway.
Brian sat there, taking all of this in, and a sour lemon juice look came over his face.
He sat up in his lounge chair, which groaned under his weight. Bry wasn't exactly fat; the muscles of his highschool days had merely turned soft. Lately, the only excersise he did was the 12 oz. curl, and his body protested any other activity, such as sitting up in a lounge chair. As he drained the rest of his beer, a second revelation hit him.
The lawn had been cut two weeks ago.
Or so he thought. He had one of his nephews come over every month or so and do his lawn work for twenty bucks (child slave labor among relatives: God Bless America!) At the time, things had looked fairly well clipped, but the little bastard must've cheated him somehow, because there was simply no way in hell his lawn could grow so quickly in so short a time. Clearly, the brat had conned him out of the cash.
Well, if you want something done, do it yourself.
And on that warm, summer afternoon, Bry hoisted himself out of his favorite chair and prepared to do just that.
Of course, he must first steel himself for this monumental task. That's what the ice chest was for. It was in the grass next to his chaise, a beat-up portable radio nestling atop it. He removed the latter, disrupting the transmission (the wiring had gone bad) and gained access to the contents. It was half-full of Milwaukee's Best, or (as his friends called it) "The Beast." Sure it tasted like carbonated donkey piss, but hey--it was cheap and it got the job done. Bry drank the stuff like water; he averaged two an inning, and by the seventh-inning stretch didn't care how bad Boston was losing. He reached in, extracted a six-pack, and popped one open while it was still attached to the rest. Beer guzzling was an art Bry had perfected over the years, so it was with no difficulty that he chugged the still-attached can. Loosing a monumentous belch, he recovered the chest and shut off the radio, leaving a pop fly's fate forever undetermined. Next stop was the garage. Beer in hand, he strolled over there, the grass easily reaching his knees.
The door was already open, for both convenience and fear the roller was loose. Inside was his Ford BondoMobile, scattered tools, some appliances in various states of assembly and repair, and, standing off to the side as if in hopes that nobody would take note of it, the lawn mower. It was a grey Sears Craftsman, and in blaspheme to the mechanical chaos around it, was in perfect working order. That was undoubtedly because Bry never touched it: his nephew was the one who handled it. Well, all that was about to change, because his nephew was obviously negligent in his duties.
Still, something nagged him - it stuck in his mind that when his nephew had been here last time, the lawn had been all neat and manicured at the end of his visit. On a left-field whim, he set the six-pack down on the paint-splotched cement and grabbed the plastic rim housing the blade. Pudgy digits lifted, and the machine tilted away, exposing its stainless steel guts. The blade and its casing were covered with a shredded green spray that looked fairly fresh, though Bry conceded that he wouldn't know the difference between two-week old clippings and two-month old. He suddenly wondered why he was doing this: whether or not it was cut two weeks ago, it needed cutting now.
Uprighting it, he unscrewed a black rubber stopper with the word FUEL in base-relief. Quarter full. Again, indecisive proof of his nephew's incompetence, but he was glad he checked. A red can with built-in siphon lay behind the Craftsman; Bry grabbed it, dunked the nozzle into the machine, let it drink its fill. Then, having lubricated the machine, he lubricated the operator: he popped open another can of The Beast. The gas can he placed back where he found it; he detached the two empty beer cans and tossed them into the dark recesses of the garage. The scampering of padded feet accompanied each impact. Bry ignored them in favor of wheeling the machine outside. Slung from one of the levers was the remains of his six-pack.
Dragging it through the almost two-foot tall growth of grass, he encountered a nasty, vile, disgusting weed that was over six feet in length. Though he knew almost nothing about horticulture, Bry knew the name of this weed on sight. Lloyd Slaughter.
"What're y'all doin', Bry?" the weed called from across the low hedge deviding their property. Lloyd's voice was rough, the by-product of chain-smoking unfiltered Camels for fifteen years.
Bry looked over the hedge at his neighbor, whose lawn would rival a golf course's. He duplicated friendliness in his reply: "Some yardwork." Under his breath, he added 'You ugly cracker.'
Lloyd effectively concealed his shock. "Well, if y'all be needin' any help, feel free to come git me."
"Will do and thanks," he again replied and began towing the mower toward the back of his house. Lloyd watched him silently, knowing full-well that Bry wouldn't ask him. Lloyd's real estate firm had relocated him here from North Carolina five years ago, and he was only now realizing that New England had the "Good Ol' Boy" mentality just as strongly as the south did. He was slowly learning that he would never fit in, and it wouldn't have surprised him to learn that he was the brunt of many jokes between Bry and his friends. Bry's personal favorite was "A Redneck Threat" done in a southern accent that sounded suspiciously like Lloyd's: "Oh yeah? Ah'll fuck yer dawg!" accompanied by laughter like Mumbly the cartoon mutt. Lloyd took a final drag off of his cancer stick, tossed the butt across the hedge, and ambled back into his house.
Bry reached the drop-off into the bog that marked the back end of his property. He paused for a minute, surveying his back yard. It was about two-thirds of an acre, though suddenly it seemed the size of Cleveland. He wondered if he was up to mowing all of Cleveland, mysteriously decided that he was. Reaching down, he took hold of the starter, yanked the pully.
It caught on the fourth try. The mower roared to life, giving him a warm, vibrating feeling all through his frame as he grasped the handle. The toggle from which his beer was suspended turned out to be the blade height. He checked it: three inches. He pushed foreword on the machine, and began plowing into the expanse of grass. From the side of the machine, green fibres vomited out to coat the dirt on the embankment several feet away. The machine seemed almost reluctant to wield its rotary-blade destruction on the lawn--he had to really push it to gain momentum.
At long last he reached the hedge, and wheeled the machine in a 180, preparing to do the next strip. He flipped on the IDLE switch before doing so. Taking hold of the bottom part of his white tank top, he blotted his face; he was already starting to work up a sweat. Bry glanced at the sky. Partly cloudy, high 80s. At least there was a breeze blowing - the uncut grass waved in it like a prairie. He reached down and removed the six-pack. He cracked open a fresh one, and half of the contents fountained out onto him. Great, he thought, but actually didn't complain: it felt refreshing as the alcohol evaporated. Well, since he'd cooled the outside of his body with The Beast, it was only fair that he cool the inside as well. He finished the can, chucked it over the embankment, and reslung the pack from the lever. He decided that he'd better start cutting back on the brews, or he'd be doing the Bathroom Dance every ten minutes. With that, he disenabled the IDLE and pressed on.
Bry began to hum "Ride of the Valkries" as he waged death and destruction on his lawn, when suddenly the machine lurched upwards and a disgusting grinding noise came from inside. An unhealthy snap, and part of a mottled grey form flew out toward the embankment. The remainder slapped around the blade for a moment, producing a chorus of unsettling crunching and rending tones before the pulpy mass spat out to land a few feet away. At first, he thought that it might have been an apple from the sickly gravensteen by the side of the house, but a cursory glance showed it to be Lawn Pizza. He chuckled to himself : BRY 1, SQUIRRELS nothing. Then again, as he reached the hedge he subtracted the point - that squirrel was dead already. It had to have been, with no death scream or evasive action. So no score for a Lawn Kill. Oh well, the day was young, and the varmints abounded.
He wheeled the mower around and prepared to do the third strip when he saw something hit the idle switch again.
To his right was the embankment, and to his left the regiments of uncut grass. In between, the two rows he'd cut. Those two rows were well defined, because the one he'd just cut was shorter than the other. Not by much--maybe half an inch-- but it was undeniable. He pondered this a second, and then his booze-swimming brain achieved the solution: in putting the six-pack back onto the blade height lever, he'd lowered it a notch. He reached down to readjust it, only to find it exactly where he'd left it: on three inches. Not only that, but it was designed in such a way that it could not accidentally slip.
Bry killed the engine and walked half way out into his yard. He squatted down in the second row and studied the grass. There was clearly a difference between the two places he'd cut. The strip done first was well over three inches, and though he wasn't a great judge of measurements, it looked like the second patch wasn't just three inches, either. Bry remained motionless for several minutes, staring at his lawn. After some observation, he decided that his eyes were playing tricks on him; he needed further proof to support the ridiculous conclusion he'd just made. From the pockets of his baggy yellow bermutas he produced his keys. Dropping them into the patch he'd cut first, he saw that from the angle he was at, the blades of grass reached half way up the keys. After counting under his breath to one hundred, though, they, were touching the tops, giving Bry decisive proof that his lawn was, in fact, growing.
Retrieving his keys, he stood up and contemplated his predicament. Hmmmmmm - he may need Lloyd's help with this after all. And if worse came to worse, he could just paraquat the entire fucker...
He started to walk inside when he discovered that he couldn't: his feet refused to move. Wildly, he looked down. The grass was up around his ankles. With all his might, he yanked his right foot up. There was the sound of uprooting turf, and his foot came free. Attached to the sole of his sneaker was a huge clump of grass. Severed roots dangled and writhed as dirt flew about. In his surprise, though, Bry lost his balance and toppled over; he caught a glimpse of the squirrel just before impacting with the ground. There was an odd tingling in his still anchored left foot, which quickly became a burning itch.
Next door, Lloyd Slaughter heard a very loud scream. With some actual concern, he rushed outside to investigate. It sounded like it had come from Bry's back yard, but looking over the hedge, he saw nothing of concern.
"Bry?" he called out.
There was no reply, because there was no one to give one. All that was in his neighbor's back yard was the lawn mower, and by the foot-tall grass by the embankment, a white tank top and some yellow bermuda shorts.
Shrugging, Lloyd went back inside.
© 1988, 2001 Matthew Thomas Farrell