On Saturday mornings the lawns are green and short, but men mow them anyway. They sit in breakfast nooks and on porches, or clean up their garages, or sweep their sidewalks knowing they will only have to sweep them later when grass clippings are dusted across the surface. Each man plays a waiting game; it’s nine in the morning and a pane of silence caps the neighborhood. Starting the mower too early would be discourteous. Starting the mower too late means a morning of wives asking, “when will you be done with the grass?”
Frank Canton starts his mower first, as he does most Saturdays because he doesn’t care if anyone is asleep at nine o’clock; if they are, they are lazy pricks and need to get up and get their shit together. He’s pushing eighty, and has half a colon. He gave the other half to cancer, as if bartering for a few more years. He mows in a square pattern, but always finishes mowing in a circular pattern because he rounds the turns, driving slowly, taking his time because there’s not another god damned thing to do around the house when you’re eighty and don’t work and the wife is dead and the god damned kids don’t bother coming around anymore. They call and tell him things like the newspeople on CNN, reporting things, updating things, and their signoff is “I love you, dad,” and he knows they do but in a different way than it used to be when he sat on the same mower, a Murray with a faded red chassis, beer in his right hand with Tim steering between his legs. He drives and turns and thinks as the longer grass evaporates, giving way to the blade. He stares straight ahead. The grass cuts itself, the duty a reflex, and he instead counts down the days to Thanksgiving when they’ll all be home, even though it’s just now August. He thinks that after the grass, he will read the rest of the newspaper and turn on CNN and drink coffee during a hot afternoon, maybe watch some westerns, and go to bed early, around six, because he’s bored, and then he’ll wake up at three and take a dump and pray to God that there isn’t any blood in the toilet. There were some spots two days ago, as if cancer were telling him, I’ll be back soon, Frank, for the rest of you, and if cancer wants these old and broken parts, fuck cancer, the joke’s on cancer, and cancer can take a middle finger with all the rest.
Bruce Langley’s lawn is mostly Bermuda grass, twisting and turning underneath the soil, curving around concrete and stone, around roots and holes, popping up in any spot of dirt on the lawn. Bright green and waxy, crayon-like, shining in the heat, Bruce is thirty and cuts his grass with earbuds stuffed into the sides of his head and an iPod tucked into the waistband of his shorts. He doesn’t finish any of the songs; there are over two-thousand songs on the iPod, and the potential of the unplayed thousands always trumps the quality of the song in his ears. He flips through songs with his thumb, never finishing anything, afraid to hear himself think because when he’s by himself and all is quiet, he tells himself the truth.
Marc Crawford has a date tonight. If he cuts the grass, Mom’s going to let him borrow the car. He has the mower in high gear, taking wide turns, missing stripes he has to go back and hit because Mom will definitely notice. She would notice a fingerprint on the coffee table or a crooked picture, just get drawn to disorder the way a cats ears perk up at the howl of a dog, so he’s got to hurry to feel like hurrying but still has to go back and make sure things are done right or she’ll get pissed and pull the car keys on him. Dana’s the date tonight; she’s older, going to be a senior at Collins U. next year and she’s juicy in all the right places, a real knockout. He goes through it, unspooling the night in the way that most excites him:the excitement of a date is possibility, not the date itself, which usually doesn’t live up to his expectations. Even if he does get laid, those honest moments settle in like fog; she’s easy, she’s not the one, all the guys must get her this easy, I’m going to have to go wash the stain out of the backseat of Mom’s car now. But tonight is different because it hasn’t happened yet. Tonight, she’ll laugh at his jokes during dinner. She’ll have a drink because she doesn’t care if she loses her inhibitions around him. They’ll touch legs, fingers, hands during the movie; a slow kiss will unfold on her porch, turning into a wildfire of tongues and teeth, but he’ll stop short of going any further, even though she’ll want to. He’ll drive away, park down the block, then walk back and leave a rose on her windowsill. He’ll text her cellphone and tell her to open her window: she’ll open it, expecting to see him, but will see the rose instead. She will text him back and he will text her back and eventually, she’ll show up at his window, still in her nightclothes: flannel jammy pants, a worn tee shirt, and she’ll have a bra underneath, for sure:and she’ll climb in through his window. Her skin will be hot underneath those flannel pants, and with just one flick of the finger, they’ll fall away entirely, and just when the good porno stuff is really about to start, Marc’s parking the lawnmower with a hard-on he’ll have to drain in the shower.
Alan Finn is one of the dozen or so men thinking about the one time they slipped up and cheated on their wives. About half of them are guilty about it, and lash themselves with memories while they mow. Alan is no different. He thinks about the stubble on the woman’s legs, and can’t remember her face or her name but remembers the back of her head, the greasy feel of her hair against his palm and how she spread her legs in the back of his pickup truck saying, “If I knew we were going to do this tonight, I would have shaved my legs,” and he doesn’t last long because it’s so wrong, so downright fucking wrong and naughty no man can stand up to the heat of it. He pulls out and ejaculates on the long grass of the ditch of a country road, already wet with the dew of that time that is neither night nor morning, and he regrets it right away and tells her he loves his wife and she says she’s no home-wrecker and they don’t speak again. All of them, even the guilty ones, get horny recalling their affairs. All of them occasionally masturbate to them. None of them have told their wives, and feel there is something noble about taking this secret to the grave, and promise God and themselves that it will never happen again, that this was a one-time only mistake and it’s out of their systems and they love their wives. About half of them will break that promise.
Jimmy Pugh cares about his lawn, and takes careful measures to punish dandelions, ground ivy, and anything else that compromises its purity, but that god-damned fucking cocksucker Bruce Langley has that fucking cocksucking Bermuda grass that is invading his Kentucky Blue. Bermuda is a weed, not a grass, and once it’s there, it’s there forever, like a secret or love or a memory. Only one sure way to get rid of Bermuda: pave the lawn. He mows his grass staring carefully, monitoring for weed activity, hating Bruce, thinking of putting copper nails in Bruce’s trees to kill them off and cause that fucker some heartache.
Shaun Kimble cuts the grass and smiles a lot. He waves at neighbors and is always outside:washing his car, taking care of his lawn, helping elderly neighbors with errands. He has his shirt off on many afternoons, including this one. When the high school is out at 3:15, he is usually outside taking out the trash or sweeping his driveway, without his shirt on, and lots of girls honk. On Saturdays he mows and thinks about those girls, about them moving in with him and Missy Sampson, who is buried in his basement because she’s a tease and needed to be punished.
Don Peterson has a Snapper hydrostatic lawnmower with a sixty two inch deck. He can mow his postage stamp of a lawn in eight minutes: no shit, eight minutes. He’ll tell you as much while he’s buying shotgun shells and beef jerky and paying for diesel fuel at the local Shell station; these purchases financed by the many lawns he mows with his ten thousand dollar mower. He’s semi-retired, which means he retired and it was a mistake and now he’s almost broke and mows the grass to keep things afloat, and what self-respecting man is going to cut lawns without a lawnmower that costs more than the cars in the driveways of the places he cuts. He spends almost thirty hours a week cutting lawns, with a red headset to keep out the noise and yellow-tinted safety glasses. In this cocoon, he wishes he was still out at the insurance office, wearing a tie to work, and still earning enough to not worry about the utility bill. He wonders how to calm his wife down; she is thinking about going back to work at the age of sixty-five, at the bank, to supplement their dwindling income. He tells himself over some lawns that he can cut more grass, make more money, maybe start a job search himself. Over other lawns he tells himself that at 300 pounds, he isn’t healthy and being depressed only makes him eat more things that make him need more pills. The first bill he pays each month is his life insurance policy. He thinks about how comfy she’ll be when he’s gone, and searches his chest in his mind for ticks and pains. He runs a little status report, almost expecting the big one to come and stop his heart. Over some lawns he wants to live. Other lawns he wants the big one to hit. When there are no lawns left, he showers and watches television while his wife reads in the other room. She can’t even look at him, so he goes into the kitchen to put together a fried egg sandwich and accidentally throw away some of his heart medication.
Elliot Sampson cuts the grass and misses his daughter, wondering if maybe she really did run away for good. He waves to Shaun Kimble, who’s a nice guy and always offers to help him with errands. Once, Elliot removed the trees in his front yard. He scattered seed on the two circles of dirt, and while he was inside getting an iced tea, Shaun came over and was scattering straw over the seed. He had some extra straw, he said, and asked about Missy. He asked if Elliot was doing okay with everything, if she would really run away. He’d always liked Missy, he said. Elliot cuts the grass, and behind his sunglasses, keeps catching Shaun looking at him. Maybe he’s a fag like that Miller boy down the street, but still, he’s a damn nice guy and must keep that fag stuff to himself.
Night falls, and pockets of coolness hover over the lawns. The grass bleeds a sweet scent into the air, and crickets hum their tune as landscape lights begin to pop on. Occasionally, a pair of headlights will carve down the street. Most men think these headlights are traveling too fast, there’s kids around, what the fuck are they thinking? Most men go to bed and sleep like rocks, errands having drained their bodies of energy, and the meditation of yardwork having sedated the thoughts they will carry until they die.
Some men go to bed, and lay awake, their windows open to save money on utility bills, their wives asking them, are you awake? Men ignore this question. Of course they are asleep, not keen for talking, and she doesn’t want to hear it anyway.
The next morning, Frank Canton’s body will be discovered. His well-attended wake will be on Wednesday. His funeral will be on Thursday. On Saturday, garage doors will rise in near-unison, and the neighborhood will fill with the sound of engines and blades, the scream of the town that no one seems to hear.
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