e was thinking about better days when the mower bucked in his hands and died, down at the far end of the big lawn, where the brush was stalking in, reclaiming territory. He pulled off the red sweatshirt he wore for yard work and gave the cord a pull. The engine coughed, the blade spun once and then stuck on something. There was the cry of a bird or a child. He looked toward the house. Nothing on fire.
He needed to replace those shingles. And the siding. And a new coat of stain on the deck. Inside, the kids would be playing with their toys. Making believe, she called it. Making a mess was all he saw. They were old enough to start taking on responsibilities. He gave the lawnmower a kick. Life was not all skipping and tra-la-la.
He pushed. He pushed some more. But it wouldn’t move. Mired in the deep. She’d have a field day with this. She’d told him he’d let the grass get too long. He strained. He struggled. He leaned into the mower with sisyphean commitment and quixotic tenacity. He just wanted the best for them, that was all. Wanted more for them than head in the clouds, feet in the shit.
He flirted with strokes, coronaries and aneurysms. He pushed and with a final tearing sound, the mower moved a few inches.
On the ground where it had been were the scattered chunks of red spotted mushrooms. Maybe some kind of fungus in the sod he’d laid down last fall. He’d bought it cheap off a shifty looking fellow with an ugly cat and a penchant for black cloaks. Always cutting corners, she said.
He went down on one knee, searching through the grass. The shreds of some white fabric, like a tiny pair of pants from one of the kids’ dolls. He looked back at the lawnmower. Where the bag bulged, there was a dark liquid seeping onto the grass, staining it the colour of midnight and old dreams and ocean and blue, blue, blue.
He’d clean the mess up quick. They wouldn’t have to see.
e didn’t notice the change. It’s hard when you’re together every day. It had been too gradual, like the air leaking from a balloon after a party. One day all that’s left is a wrinkled bit of rubber you find under the chesterfield. But balloons were not cats. Cats could live fifteen, twenty years. It was a long time.
He calls again for breakfast. It used to be that he was the one woken up every morning. But there’s no pounding down the stairs now. No meowing banter.
He doesn’t bother with the bagged food anymore. Instead, he makes the cat’s favourite, hoping the smell will lure it down to eat. To shit. To make it through a few more hours before falling back to sleep again. Day after day being stretched like some old piece of leather. You never know when it’s going to rip.
He used to make it from scratch. Nature’s most perfect food. Peel and seed the tomatoes, boil down the sauce. He’d buy the noodles at the little grocer’s up the way. An old Italian widow rolled them by hand. The store was gone now. They’d plopped something big and cold and mean on top of it. Maybe crushed the widow, too.
So, now he bought the frozen stuff. Microwavable, but he doesn’t have a microwave. It took twenty minutes in the oven. Tasted like gym socks. But it was easy. And he could watch TV while it cooked. He hitches his belt in another loop. He doesn’t eat so much himself these days. He’s too scared to ask why.
He’d lost the dog last year. The car hadn’t even stopped. He dug a hole in the backyard and the work nearly killed him, too. But one of the neighbours called the city on him. An officer showed up, lights and everything. You can’t do that anymore, the officer said, They got cemeteries for that now. After he’d gone, he lit a bonfire and tried to cremate the dog. The officer came back, followed by a fire truck. The whole street was lit up like Christmas. They wouldn’t let you have fires anymore, either.
He climbs the stairs with the pan in his hand. It takes him a while and he has to lean on the wall a few times to catch his breath. He’s not the spry bachelor he used to be. Just another old, lonely man.
He stands in the doorway, looks at the cat sleeping. The little wooden box and the blue baby blanket. Half of it spills onto the floor into a furry puddle. Fat, the veterinarian said. But he just thought of it as big.
He sets the pan on the floor and pulls his pants up again. The cat opens its eyes, too tired to even yawn. He’ll feed it by hand if he has to. It keeps on growing and here he is, wasting away. They were disappearing in different directions.
he kicks through wet leaves. Orange and red, dying and dead. The streets are empty. All the children, their laughter and their shouts, are safely tucked away for another year. Butterscotch wrappers scattered in the gutters are all that remain. She follows the pools of lamplight, jumping in and out of darkness, like she has for most of her life. Nobody rang the bell again this year.
Here, she climbs the wooden fence. Paint flaking, boards leaning like old men trying to catch their breath. She can’t hop it like she used to, barely breaking stride. She gets one leg over and her coat catches on a scab of wood. She gives it a yank, the seam tears and she lands on her ass in the dirt of the field.
Nothing’s been sown here but weeds for the last twenty years and even those aren’t doing so well these days. There’d been some sort of run-off from the factory. Folks just bought their pumpkins from the supermarket nowadays.
She finds him here at the far end of the field. Stretched out on the earth, his ratty blue blanket tucked under his head. His skin glows in the moonlight. So pale, you almost don’t notice the grey in his hair. His face looks so relaxed in sleep without all the tremors or tics.
She plays with the torn seam on her coat. New this year, but now as ruined as anything she owns. Just like him. The neighbourhood kids have their jokes. If his failure weren’t so sincere, she’d laugh too. Coming out here, year after year. He’ll freeze to death if she doesn’t bring him home.
She pulls the edge of the blanket up to cover her brother as best she can. They have a long walk ahead. But for now she’ll let him sleep. The disappointment of tomorrow could wait a while longer.
hey put him in therapy again and told him to stop imagining tigers. They didn’t seem to care that the idea to throw a brick at Susie’s husband hadn’t come from him. It wasn’t his fault the guy didn’t know how to duck.
The doctor smiled and nodded a lot, but she kept insisting that his best friend, on the couch beside him, was only a stuffed animal. He was almost thirty. Didn’t he think he was too old for stuffed animals. He got a peppermint when he left.
His mother and the doctor talked in hushed voices while he waited in the room with the old magazines. But tigers have keen hearing. They were going to lobotomize him and put his best friend in the zoo. His mother cried in the car on the ride home. After the last time his parents yelled at each other, his dad had gone on a business trip. That was six weeks ago and he still hadn’t come back. She had taken to drinking alone at the kitchen table. Sometimes he found her asleep there in the morning. He knew it was all because of him.
When he got home, he went into the basement and closed the door. His mother knocked at it for a while before finally giving up. He could hear the bottle sliding out of the cupboard.
He got to work on the cardboard box. First the scissors and then he pulled out the felt marker. He wasn’t sure what he would call it yet. Or what it could do to make things better. He just knew he was tired of being an adult. Their problems seemed so petty.
His best friend watched him with dead eyes. They had nothing more to say to each other. The marker was drying out. He was just so tired.
Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.