BY DON HERALD
Copyright is held by the author.
THE STEADY drizzle over the past week had denied the Man his passion.
Yesterday the rain-darkened clouds cleared somewhat, the wind dropping. This morning just after eight, the Man had stepped out onto his lawn. Leaning over, checking with the outstretched fingers of his left hand, it had to be his left not his right, he felt for how much moisture was on the blades. Not quite ready yet, he thought. With the sun out now, I can be on it by 11, no problem. That was very satisfying to him. So the Man went back inside to wait. He’d read the morning paper and sip his usual large mug of black coffee. Freshly ground and slowly pressed after precisely four minutes.
A few minutes before 11, the Man went out to the garage. From the cardboard box under the rear window he pulled out his yellow work gloves, well-worn with somewhat tattered fingertips. But comfortable. Wearing them, the Man knew what he could expect. That was important to him. Yellow ear buds, soft tipped to dampen down the harsh engine sound, sat on the machine’s black plastic seat. Like the gloves, he treated the soft rubber buds with extreme care, squeezing each into an ear, slightly twisting, settling both in tight. Most people wouldn’t bother with such things, but he did. Always had, always would. Just like Dad had taught him years ago. Honour the wisdom and teachings of your elders. The Man believed it. Lived it every day. But not many young people did these days. Damn shame.
Easing himself onto the deep foam plastic seat, he positioned his freshly polished work boots comfortably on the mower’s pedals. Brake to the right. Clutch to the left. A quick twist of the ignition key tagged with a small fragment of fluttering red ribbon. The fragment was the only remaining artifact he had from her. It seemed right that it was now part of his precious mower. The engine kicked hesitantly into life, coughing loudly. It always reminded him of his old man clearing his throat every morning before breakfast. He gave the engine some throttle, not too much, but just enough to lightly feather the engine into a steady, quietly pulsing sound that pleased him.
Shifting into forward, the Man easily moved the red machine out onto the drive, turning left until he was facing the walkway along the front of the house. Into reverse, a touch back, a bit left. Then into forward, carefully re-positioning to the very edge of the grass. He was ready.
For him, the first cut was always the most important. It had to be perfectly parallel to the front of his house. From his starting point at the top right corner of the driveway, it was exactly 60 feet 4.5 inches across to the concrete curb bordering Lake Street.
Satisfied with his line, the Man gently shifted into forward, adjusted the throttle down a notch, then with his right hand, slowly pushed the yellow-handled lever that engaged the twin-bladed cutting deck. The mower blades strummed and vibrated beneath him. Their pitched whirring filtered in through his ear buds. Like always, he listened intently for a blade tick or the faint squeal of a worn drive belt. Not that he expected anything. It’s all in the maintenance of the mower. He was the best at it of anyone he knew.
Letting out the clutch with practiced ease, the Man and his red machine slowly advanced along the imaginary first cut line. From the right side of the deck, thousands of grass tips shot out in a pleasing green arc that expanded rapidly then settled lightly onto the uncut portion of the lawn. He smiled. Beautiful.
The fragrance of freshly cut grass filled the air. He breathed deeply. One of the best smells in the entire world. For him, nothing could possibly match it.
Now approaching the curb, the Man prepared for a precisely plotted right turn into his second cut heading back to the driveway.
The first and second cuts were critical. Together they created the necessary template for the rest of the lawn. His credo: perfect alignment yields perfect symmetry. The sight of the finished lawn always moved him emotionally. He had once heard of something called a “peak flow moment.” For him, the lawn was just such a moment. Week after week. It never failed to arouse him. God damn, he did have the perfect life.
Uninvited, left to right, a shape slipped slowly by. White. Boxy. Dark blue lettering. Glancing up involuntarily as he curved into the turn, the Man was surprised to see an ambulance. Light bars and side strobes oddly dark. Through his earbuds, he could hear the faint knocking of its diesel engine. Needs some work, he thought.
As if not sure, then making up her mind, the driver turned quickly into his street, passing within two paces of the Man just as he lined up for the important second cut. Of course, it must always be perfectly parallel to the first.
The Man cursed silently. The unexpected appearance of the ambulance had distracted him from setting up exactly off the turn. No harm done. He’d make the slight adjustments on the next pass. But still, the unwelcome break in his concentration was very annoying.
As the Man rode the mower back on the second cut toward his driveway, he saw the ambulance suddenly brake in front of Charlie Daniels’ place four houses down on the same side of the street. Old Charlie had been deliberately tricked and forcibly placed into a care facility by his treacherous, greedy kids. Told Charlie they were treating him to his favourite burger down at Alexander’s, belted him into the back seat of the son’s flashy new Lexus and delivered Charlie lock, stock and barrel to the continuous care facility over in Riverside. Bastards, he thought. Effing idiots.
The Man wondered if Old Charlie was still alive. Those god damned nursing homes were a sure recipe to kill you quicker than you could spit. Of that he was certain. It sure as hell wasn’t going to happen to him. They’d have to carry him out the front door of his place in one of those shiny black body bags.
As quick as you can count to 10, Charlie’s kids cleaned out all his stuff into two extra-large dumpsters on the driveway, put the house up for sale at a good price and left everything in the hands of some hot shot lawyer down in the city. Charlie’s next door neighbour said the agent told him the house was a fixer upper in a desirable neighbourhood so it would go quick. Sure enough, five days later a “Sold” sign appeared on the lawn.
A month ago, four young people, all early 20s, long hair, metal in their ears and tattoos everywhere else, pulled up in a rust-covered, fading-blue Ford van of indeterminate year. Dirt-encrusted out-of-province plates. Quickly unloaded their gear into Charlie’s place and very noisily settled in. Richie, six houses down on the other side of the street, swore they were just jerk-off college kids. First year by the look of it, ready to party.
Shit, the Man thought, there goes the god-damned neighbourhood.
As the mower closed in on the driveway, the Man began to prepare for his usual precise right turn into the third cut.
Sudden movement on Charlie’s lawn forced him to glance up again.
God damn. A shirtless young man was standing out beside Charlie’s blooming magnolia bush. Charlie had planted it when he moved in nearly 40 years ago. Baggy pajama bottoms slung low. Barefeet. Lots of coloured tattoos down both arms. White skin everywhere else.
The Man knew instantly this must be Tat Guy.
A couple of weeks ago when Sam, his 15-year-old granddaughter had dropped by unannounced, she had seen the guy walking by out front. She admired his heavily tattooed arms. Sleeves. Yes that was it. Tat sleeves she had called them. Wait until he’s 50 and everything begins to sag, the Man growled at her. Sam just laughed, said Tat Guy was hot. Several times she tried unsuccessfully to take his picture through the front window with her iPhone. Fucking shit, Sam had said. The Man couldn’t be bothered to say anything about her language. Wasn’t any of his business what she said, or for that matter, what she did.
While concentrating on making the perfect turn into his next cut, the Man caught a sharp, bright reflection of something shiny Tat Guy out on the lawn was waving at one of the paramedics. The Man didn’t like that Charlie’s lawn had gone all to hell with weeds ever since he’d been abducted. Tat Guy was doing choppy, jabbing thrusts at the woman paramedic. She was trying to talk to him while her partner was huddled over his lapel mike, gesturing urgently at the guy with what, the Man finally decided, must be a god-damned knife.
His full attention flipping back to making the final loop of the turn, the Man smiled at how nearly perfect his lawn was becoming. The best grass seed money could buy had been sown four years ago in his five-year plan to have the most perfectly groomed and healthy lawn in all of the city. Every foot of each 60 feet 4.5 inch cut gave him so much pleasure.
But keeping the mower’s left tires tracking along the cut line of the previous pass demanded his total concentration. He willingly gave it to the machine. A warm, comfortable feeling of contentment was beginning to flush through his body as he and the machine made those perfect cuts. It was exactly these beautiful moments he lived for.
Right turn coming. Now.
Flashing blue-white lights from a police car parked at an odd angle at the end of Charlie’s driveway drew the Man’s attention away from correctly finishing the turn into the next cut. Damn. That will sure show, he thought.
The cop was out of his car, legs apart, facing Tat Guy. What the hell’s the cop holding in his outstretched arm? Oh shit, he’s pointing a god-damned gun at the kid.
The Man intuitively sensed his mower drifting once again a bit too much to the left. Not acceptable. His eyes darting quickly back to the imaginary line, he over-corrected the actual cut, leaving a slight wiggle waggle in the visible line on his perfect lawn. God damn it to hell, he thought. The neighbours who always make it a point to come by to gawk and admire my lawn, are going to start doubting my ability to create perfection where no one else possibly can.
Focus. For god’s sake, focus.
The next 52 feet of the cut was perfect. He smiled. It felt so good to know that he’d got everything back on track. The curb was just feet away. But the Man was ready for it. As always.
Right turn coming. Now.
More quick movement down at Charlie’s drew his eye away from the turn radius.
Another cop car had arrived. Now both officers had guns out. Tat Guy seemed to be shouting at them, still thrusting the knife at the nearest officer. Suddenly, a puff of white smoke appeared between the cop and Tat Guy.
The mower again seemed to be drifting slightly left. The Man made a slight correction on the bars as he quickly re-focused his attention onto the imaginary perfect cut line extending out to the edge of the driveway.
What the hell? Tat Man? The cops? The paramedics? It’s no god-damned concern of mine. They’re messing up my cut lines. I’m screwing up the most perfectly kept lawn in the entire city. Perhaps even in all of Kingsborough County. Damn it all.
Focus. For god’s sake, keep your god damned focus.
The Man thought about how it all started at Augusta four years ago. The memory was always calming. It helped him enter that Zen-like state he needed to make those perfect cuts over and over again.
He’d driven non-stop down to the Masters in Augusta. He didn’t care one bit about the pro golfers. He’d only come to examine the turf on the fairways. If possible, he planned to sneak into the groundskeeper’s yard to see what mowing equipment they were using. Most important, hopefully find out what special seed combinations they were spreading on the greens and fairways to make them so lush and give everything that legendary emerald green.
To his disgust, he discovered that each evening when the players and public were off the course, ground staff sprayed sections of the shallow rough and any slightly brown or heavily trodden fairway patches with a green mist of permanent vegetable dye. The Man smirked at the memory. That oh-so-green grass was a god-damn fake, all of it done under the cover of darkness, to deceitfully impress the millions each day who were watching on television.
The Man involuntarily set his jaw and puckered his lips at the memory. He could feel his cherished Zen slipping away.
He’d returned home resolutely determined to do his lawn all natural. The best seed. The best mower. Just the right amount of water, meticulously calculated per square metre of grass. He’d install those expensive in-ground sprinklers with special sensing heads that automatically adjusted the water flow to suit the weather and turf conditions. He’d hand pick out every weed and dandelion and carefully dispose of each one so as not to accidentally spread seeds. He’d never use herbicides.
It took him many satisfying hours each week to cut and care for his perfect grass. Perfection never comes easy his Dad was always fond of saying when, as a kid, the Man desperately wanted to quit something because it was good enough.
Dog walkers quickly learned to never let their animals squat on his lawn. In those first years, many owners had suffered his angry and profane outrage. But not anymore. It was whispered that all his neighbours with dogs avoided his end of the street, taking long detours to other more dog-friendly lawns and park spaces.
He laughed out loud at the memories of it all.
The vibrations of his mower beneath him felt good and comforted him. No, it was more than that. It was a pride thing. He felt damn proud of what he’d created. What he’d nurtured and protected every day of the week. The Man was especially proud of those precisely cut patterns on his so-much-better-than-the-Masters, all natural, emerald green lawn.
But whatever was going on down at Charlie’s place was messing up his routine, chasing away the elusive Zen.
Right turn coming. Now.
A perfect arc just kissing the edge of the curb. Nice. Very nice indeed. The Man could feel the calming, centring vibe returning to his entire body. It was magical when both man and mower merged, became One. Making the cuts together. Perfect lines. Glorious to . . .
Tat Guy was on his back. Spread eagled like Jesus nailed to the cross. The cop was still pointing a gun at him. Over by the magnolia bush, a couple of young women, probably Tat Guy’s roomies, were jumping up and down, wildly gesturing and shouting at the cops. Most of the neighbours from all along the street were rushing toward Charlie’s.
Both paramedics were crouched over Tat Guy. Black bags with white reflective strips were open beside him, the medics pulling out a clear plastic mask, some tubes and other stuff, sticking it all on the motionless body. Their light blue latex gloved hands, streaked with bright blood, moved quickly back and forth.
Not a hope in hell, thought the Man.
More flashing blue-white lights appeared up at the corner. Probably another cop car.
The Man mumbled to himself that all this shit at Charlie’s was just getting to be too much. It’s gone too bloody far. That was quite witty, he thought.
Keep off my so-much-better-than-the-Masters lawn, you dickheads.
Right here, folks. This is perfection. You all should be so lucky to have it in your lives.
To have me living on your street.
Sure as hell Tat Guy won’t be looking at it anymore.
The Man laughed once more at his sharp wit.
A television news cruiser pulled up behind the cop cars. The Man thought that maybe when all this fuss at Charlie’s settles down, the camera guy and his pretty lady reporter will work the street doing witness interviews.
They’ll see my lawn. They’ll want to put me on camera to hear how I got my lawn so perfect looking.
I’ll tell them how it all started with the Masters. Point out my clean cuts, especially at the turns. They’ll never the notice the small wiggle waggles on some of the edges. My perfectly cut, all natural, greener-than-the-Masters lawn will be a two minute clip on the local evening news.
Probably will get picked up by the national network.
Then, the video of my perfect lawn will likely go viral.
Right turn coming.