The Lawn Can Wait
The old man didn't hear his wife when she opened the front door, barely handling the two bags of groceries in her arms as she dipped inside and kicked the door shut, scuttling to the kitchen. She never let the clerks use plastic bags at the store because the straps cut into her hands. He didn't notice her as she put away the soup cans, milk carton, chicken breasts, eggs, rice and the rest. Even though he sat less than five feet from her at the kitchen table, his attention was fully drawn out the small kitchen window.
“George!” she finally yelled, which came out as a harsh screech like a child's cough. He didn't turn but grumbled and batted at the back of his head as if a fly were buzzing about. “You're being rude.”
“Lady, you need to shut your trap,” he grumbled, still looking out the window. “I saw you when you came in. What do you want me to do, get up and dance?”
“Not rude to me you troll. To our new neighbors.”
Now he did turn around and screw up his wrinkled old face at his wife of fifty-five and a half years. “Rude to them?” he threw his thumb behind him. “How am I being rude to them? I can't even see them good through this damn window. You ever going to clean this window, Lady?”
“Well I can see you from outside just fine, and I know they can too. Why don't you give them a chance to move in before you show them what a peep you are?”
George grunted at her and turned back to the window.
“Why'd Jim have to go first? Leave us to go and deal with a new neighbor. Jim was quiet, he took care of the place, and he left me alone! These two are young, Lady, too damn young. They'll have all-hours parties and play all-hours boogie music and leave trash in the driveway. I didn't work at the shop for thirty years to make our two-hundred and thirty-eight dollars and twenty-seven cents payment every single month like a German clock so some hippie could move in next door and turn this neighborhood into a junk yard.”
“George you're running red, fool. Stop it before you kill yourself.” Her voice still screeched like tires to pavement, but a bit of the aged concern and love showed in the tremor. “I'm sure they are very nice.”
George calmed with a couple of deepish breaths and turned back to the window.
“Better be taking good care of Jim's lawn.”
The neighbors didn't have wild parties or throw trash on their driveway or play boogie music late at night. They didn't have kids screaming down the street or a hot rod with a deep, rumbling engine. They were quiet and kept to themselves. In fact George rarely saw them as he stared out the kitchen window that his wife still hadn't cleaned.
Four weeks after they moved in, just after Christmas on an icy Saturday morning, George's wife found him very early in the morning, staring out the window, ignoring a chilled cup of coffee and the paper.
“George, for pity's sake,” she said. “Those poor people must think you're a lunatic.”
“Look at the lawn, Lady. Just look at it.”
His wife looked, peering into the scant morning light.
“What of it.”
“They haven't mowed it.”
“George, it's the middle of winter. How many times have you mowed our grass in the last month?”
“But it needed a trim when they moved in. They haven't touched it.”
“I swear to Pete,” she said, throwing up her arms and leaving him to his obsession.
In early spring, George's wife came home from a visit with the grandkids across town and found her husband pacing up and down the kitchen in his bedroom robe and slippers, her wax job gone dull in his wake. His head was down and he grumbled with each step.
“George, what's the matter? What's happened?”
He advanced on her pointing his fat, ancient finger.
“I told you, Lady. You said nay, but I told you.”
“The lawn. Have you seen Jim's lawn?”
“I've seen it.”
“They haven't cut it once. Not once. It looks like hell.”
“George, you stay out of it, hear me?”
He held up three fingers and waved them back and forth.
“Three days, Lady. Three days or I'm going over there to complain. I will not let them ruin this neighborhood, by God.”
“You leave those poor people alone, George.”
“Three days!” he yelled and stomped down the long hallway to their bedroom for a shower and shave.
The three days came and went and nobody mowed Jim's lawn. George, being held back for several months and three days, waited for his wife to leave the house and then dressed and marched across his perfect lawn, through Jim's neglected jungle and up to the front door of Jim's house. He knocked four perfect, sharp raps.
After several long moments, the door finally opened. A man stuck his head out. He was older than George had guessed, but still very young, probably in his early thirties. His dark hair lay matted against his head and his clothes hung wrinkled and sloppy on his thin body. But he smiled when he saw George and stuck out his hand.
“Hey neighbor,” he enthusiastically grabbed George's hand. “I'm Charlie Cochran. Nice to finally meet you.”
“Uh, yeah,” George said. “Same here. Name's George.”
“Nice to meet you George. What can I do you for?”
“Uh, well. Truth is, Charlie, I'm here to complain about Jim's lawn.”
“Oh,” Charlie looked around at the neighborhood. “Which one is Jim's lawn?”
George wasn't sure if Charlie was making fun.
“Jim's lawn is your lawn,” he said. “You're letting it go. You need to mow your lawn.”
“My name's Charlie.” Charlie let go of George's hand and subconsciously wiped his palm against his thigh.
“I know damn it! Jim is dead. This was his house. You aren't taking care of his lawn.” George's face was turning red again.
“Oh, I see,” Charlie lowered his head. “Well, I should go, George.”
“What about the lawn?”
Charlie looked up and smiled again.
“The lawn can wait,” he said and slammed the door.
George watched the neighbor’s lawn grow through the wet months and right into summer. He paced his house and yelled at the window. He complained daily to his wife who shushed him and told him to mind his own business. He even called the police one day, but they told him bad lawn care was not a crime.
As the hot months came on and the rains dried up for the year Jim’s lawn quickly died. By mid-summer it was nothing but long, dead grass and hard, cracked earth, and George felt as if he would go crazy if he didn’t confront the lazy bum next door.
One day in mid August, George walked across his perfect lawn and through what used to be a lawn and up to the front door at Jim’s house. Again he knocked hard and sharp and again after too long the door finally opened.
“Hello George,” Charlie said with a half smile. “What is it?” Charlie was dressed much as before and the house was dark inside.
George turned and presented the yard.
“This,” he said. “First you won’t cut the lawn. Now you just let it die? What the hell? This used to be a nice neighborhood. Now, thanks to you, mister, it looks like hell.”
“I gotta go, George.” Charlie sighed heavily. “Is there anything else?”
“Yeah, give it some water. Turn on your sprinklers for God sake.”
“The lawn can wait,” Charlie said and again, slammed the door.
Four days later George woke early in the morning to a flashing red light. He rose from his bed, put on his robe, relieved himself and walked to the kitchen, where the light was strongest. He looked outside and saw an ambulance and fire truck outside Jim’s house. It was so much like the scene after Jim died, George thought for a moment he might be dreaming. But when he saw his neighbor walking out of his house, one hand on a white blanket covering someone lying on a gurney as two EMTs wheeled it toward the ambulance, he knew it was real.
Every instinct in George’s old and feeble mind told him to stay in his house, and when he reached for the front door he felt as if he was pushing against air as thick as water. As he walked across his perfect lawn and then across the barren wasteland of Jim’s old lawn his mind turned over, dizziness threatening to knock him down.
He reached his neighbor just as they were putting the body in the ambulance.
“Charlie,” he said, his voice cracked. Charlie turned and looked at him, a face covered with tears, eyes distant and lost.
“Charlie,” the old man said again. “Was that your wife?”
“Missy’s had cancer now for seven years,” Charlie finally said. “She’s fought it so hard. Almost had it once. Total remission. But there was a tumor they missed. Started as breast cancer you know. Did the whole mastectomy thing. Then, a year ago, out of the blue, she says she wants to move back here, to this town where she grew up and buy a house in the neighborhood where she used to play. Well, what’s a guy to do?” He shrugged, a fresh pour of tears spilling down his cheeks. “I quit my job, bought this place, moved four hundred miles and gave her a few months here, looking out her window.” He looked hard at the old man.
“Like you George.”
Charlie turned his back on George and started walking back towards Jim’s house.
“I’ll get on the lawn tomorrow, George.”
My cousin mentioned this story recently on Facebook, so I thought I'd post it next. He said his lawns haven't been so manicured since he read it. I take that as a huge compliment. Thanks Bill.
Thanks for reading. Off to write!