“The new owners kept the lawn up all right, they hired a crew to come in once a week, Mexicans in a pickup, trailer in back, mowers and edgers and in an hour it was done. Other than that, though, things were worse. Way worse.”
—-Bill Chance, Weeds
Wildflowers, Huffhines Park, Richardson, Texas
I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.
I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.
Here’s another one for today (#11). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.
Thanks for reading.
Jonny pulled and moved forward. Working carefully on his hands and knees he inched along his side yard. This was Tuesday and Thursday work, pulling weeds. He was retired and had the time to do this by hand, to do it the right way. Monday was mowing and edging. Wednesday was for the flowerbeds, Friday the vegetables. The weekend was for fixing and painting.
He glanced up for a minute from the lush green growth to look across the street at the house there. It had been purchased six months earlier by some young man, named Douglas. At first Jonny and the other neighbors were happy, anyone would be better than the crazy slob that lived there before. That nut never kept the place up at all. When his nephews came to visit Jonny had been so embarrassed at the tall grass across the street he sneaked over one day when the nut was gone and mowed it. The nut called the police when he came home but they wouldn’t do an investigation, mowing someone’s lawn might be trespassing, but it wasn’t a thing they had time to pursue.
The new owners kept the lawn up all right, they hired a crew to come in once a week, Mexicans in a pickup, trailer in back, mowers and edgers and in an hour it was done. Other than that, though, things were worse. Way worse.
First were the bars on the windows. Then the big siren up on the roof, hooked up to a burglar alarm. That damn thing went off one night, woke up half the neighborhood. Cars coming and going, all night. Dark cars, tinted windows. Quick, hairy, odd folks. Darting in and out.
Jonny didn’t like it. Not at all. Right across the street.
Not much he could do about it. He cursed a little under his breath, turned his head back to the lawn and started to inch forward again. This time of spring the spurge was bad, round bright green leaves mixed in with the darker St. Augustine blades. It didn’t look right, so Jonny would pull them by hand, before they could get a stranglehold on his lawn. Had to nip these things in the bud, Jonny always said.
He was so intent on his weed pulling he didn’t see the first police van pull up. It was silent, no siren. The second one came faster and squealed its brakes. Jonny snapped his head up in time to see the third, fourth, and fifth speed in from different directions, all slamming up to the curb along the neighbors house. A few police cars came screaming in too, filling the street.
The black-clad helmeted police poured out of the trucks and ran up to the house, one at each window, the rest in groups at the front and back doors. Then the shouting started, and a loud banging, and the sound of wood being torn apart. The two groups of police disappeared into the house and, on cue, a big dark green truck pulled up, one with big back double doors that opened wide.
More shouting. The police came out with a black man wearing only bright red underwear, his hands cuffed behind his back. They threw him roughly into the back of the truck. Then they led out a skinny blond woman, wrapped in a blanket, smoking a cigarette, she went into one of the cars.
A group of police came out the back door, shouting louder than ever. Jonny could hear grunting and cussing, the police were red-faced and heaving at something. Then Jonny recognized Douglas, the young fellow that bought the house, he was wearing a black leather jacket like the police, it was hard to tell who was who.
Suddenly Douglas let out a scream and heaved forward and somehow broke loose. His hands were cuffed behind but he took off running across the street, straight for Jonny’s house. The police pulled guns, but didn’t fire. Two of them, maybe the biggest men Jonny had ever seen caught up with Douglas and knocked him down like he was made of straw. He bounced into the grass not ten feet from Jonny. The police gathered him up, quiet now, and hauled him quickly over to the truck. Even though he was right there – nobody said a word to him. They ignored Jonny completely, like he was invisible.
The trucks all left along with most of the cars. Only one marked car was left behind. One man took photos while another stretched yellow tape across the doors of the house. Soon then they left too. Suddenly quiet. Jonny hadn’t moved an inch. He still was on his knees, a freshly pulled weed between his fingertips. Nobody had said a word to him.
Jonny knelt for a minute, trying to decide what to do. Should he go in the house? His wife wasn’t home; on Tuesdays she spent the day at the Center… was it ceramics day? He thought for awhile but couldn’t come up with any reason not to keep weeding. Jonny looked up and saw something white on the grass, right where the police had thrown Douglas down. A fleck of what looked like a scrap of paper. He started to get up to walk over, see what it was.
“Jeez! That shore was sumpthin’!” a voice startled Jonny. He stood up quickly and looked into the face of Fred, a neighbor from down the block. Fred smelled of fresh clippings, he must have been mowing.
“Uh, yeah,” was the only comment Jonny could come up with.
“I always knew somthin’ fishy was goin’ on over there… but Jeez!” continued Fred. “Come back from Vegas yesterday, lawn growed up somethin’ awful. I’s out mowin’, then this. Jeez!”
“How was Vegas?” Jonny asked, eager to change the subject.
Fred was happy to oblige, “OK, I suppose.” “Wife and I ate at the buffet, at the Brass Nugget, same as always. ‘Cept this time we went to pay and the girl said ‘Thirty-Two dollars.’ ‘Thirty-Two Dollars!’ I says back at her. I couldn’t believe it had gone up that much. ‘It’s whole lobster night,’ she says. That explained it, it was whole lobster night.”
“Did you eat a lobster?”
“Yeah, you had to use a coupon so it wasn’t really all you could eat, you only had one. You picked out your lobster, only they weren’t very good. Too big ‘n tough. I’d never had a whole lobster before, only tails ‘n claws. This one was too tough.”
“Well then,” Fred went on, “I went back, to the regular part of the buffet, and got some of the meat. Some beef. And, you know, it was so tough I could barely chew it. Like horsemeat.”
“Oh, the buffet wasn’t so good?”
“It’s OK. Same as always, really. All you can eat. Can’t beat that.” “Well, Jonny, I’d better get back to that mower. Lawn’s all grown up ‘n all.”
“Oh, talk to ya later, then.”
“Talk to ya later.”
And Fred strolled off. Jonny watched him for a minute, thinking about Fred flying all the way out to Las Vegas for a vacation. Thinking about going all that way to wait in line in an all-you-can-eat buffet. Piling up tough meat on a plate.
Jonny turned and looked at the fleck of white. It looked even worse than a weed, so he walked quickly over to get it off his lawn. In a few steps he was on it and could get a good look down into the turf.
He wasn’t so young anymore, he wasn’t up on all the new stuff, but he wasn’t an idiot either. He knew what that was down there. It must have fallen out of Douglas’ pocket when he went down. In all the hubub nobody noticed such a small thing stuck there in the blades of grass.
It was a marijuana cigarette, a joint. Handrolled, ends twisted, a little bent, Douglas must have rolled onto it as he fell. Jonny had never seen one of these before. It looked familiar, though. In the army, he and the other men would buy tins of tobacco, packs of thin, gummed papers, roll their own cigarettes out on maneuvers. He knew this wasn’t tobacco, though.
Jonny didn’t know what to do. The police were all gone. The few neighbors that had come out onto their porches right after it happened had all retreated back inside. He looked down the block and saw Fred pushing his mower around the corner into his side yard.
Jonny bent over, picked it up quickly and walked fast into the door of his workshop.
It used to be a detached garage, but Jonny added space on to the front that would hold their car and converted the rest into storage for his tools and a bench. It was dark and quiet, the one place where Jonny felt always at home. It had been more than five years since another human being had been in this room. He pulled the hand-rolled cigarette out of his pocket and put it down on the bench between his soldering iron and the case of his socket set.
Jonny stood there motionless. He kept thinking of Fred and the buffet. He could see the trays, almost taste the tough meat. He thought of all those retired people on vacation, trading in their little coupons for tasteless old lobsters, picked from a tank and boiled alive. He could hear the sound of mowers through the wall of his shop, not only Fred, but others out pushing the machines. It sounded like bees buzzing through the walls. Jonny thought of the third of his yard he had left unweeded, of the brighter green leaves of the spurge mixed in with his carefully tended turf.
Without even knowing why, Jonny reached out to his pegboard and pulled the long propane lighter he used on his bar-b-que grill.
He sat down on a stool. “I think I’ll let the rest go today,” he said out loud to himself and picked up the marijuana, stuck it in his mouth.