Long Grass (short fiction)
It was getting a bit much. Left to its own devices, the grass on Ryan’s lawn was getting pretty darn long. It made a clear distinction from his property line to his neighbors’ shorter, well-maintained lawns. At least it was roughly where the property line was. There was no fence separating his property from that of his neighbors. I guess Bob on Ryan’s left and Sanjeev on Ryan’s right estimated as to where their property ended, and they stopped mowing there. It’s not as if they brought out a tape measure and measured twelve feet (or whatever the official determinant was) from their houses to determine the legal property line.
But that’s not really important here. The effect of the nicely shorn grass on either side of Ryan’s property and the longer grass in the middle was that of a mohawk. Which none of us in the neighborhood actually have. Tattoos can be found here and there, sprinkled on biceps and calves, your typical small heart and tribal stuff. No edgy stuff around here. And no mohawks around here, either.
We disagreed over Ryan’s lack of mowing was due to Debra, his wife, running off with someone from her office. That had happened several months ago, when winter was winding down.
“But back then, he didn’t have the opportunity to let his grass grow,” Maria, Bob’s wife, said. “It was too cold for the grass to grow. So perhaps this is a latent reaction.”
“I think you mean quiescent more than latent,” Allana, Sanjeev’s wife, said.
“I think dormant might be a better word for it,” Bob said.
“That’s not really important here,” I said. “What’s important is that he goes back to mowing his grass regularly like he used to. He used to maintain that lawn beautifully.”
“The reason behind his latency would be helpful to know, though,” Maria said. “If we know the reason, then maybe we can convince him to go back to moving. I mean mowing.”
“Could you talk with him?” Sanjeev asked me. “You guys seemed to have clicked more than anyone else around here.”
I agreed to do it. I wasn’t excited about it, but it was for the community good. So I went over with a six pack, and Ryan agreed to beers and a chat at his backyard patio table.
“Grass is getting long out there,” I said as I peeled off the beer’s cap with the opener. “Any plans to mow in the near future?”
“Not at all. I figure I’m gonna let things run wild for a bit. See how it goes.” He shrugged as he drank from his beer bottle.
“And your gutters, you’ve got little oak trees growing them.”
“Those little helicopters? They’re maple?”
“Yep. I loved ’em as a kid. Tried to catch ’em falling down.”
“I think all kids tried to do that.”
“Maybe so. But anyway, I’m letting them go for now. Got a mini forest up there.”
“But it’s looking pretty unruly.”
“So what? Let it shake things up some around here. Don’t you think this place needs some wildness? Everybody’s lawn looks so nice and perfect. Ticky, tacky houses, as the song goes, right? So what if the grass gets longer? It’s not like lions are gonna move in or anything.”
“No, I guess not. But we’ve been friends since you moved in across the street. All of us, all the neighbors, we’re worried about you.”
“No need, buddy. No need. I’m good.”
He seemed good. He was shaved, shampooed, and laundered. Thankfully, he didn’t let himself go as he was letting his yard and gutters go. And so, the grass and maple trees grew longer. Lions didn’t move in. None that I could see, at least, squinting at his lawn as I left my house every morning for my commute to work. But perhaps some well-camouflaged creatures set up shop in there. Lots of creatures are hard to see in the forest.
Not often seen in Ryan’s driveway was his car. Like before, it was missing during work hours–as was mine and most cars around here. But Ryan’s car was now also frequently missing in the evenings.
“He’s got a girlfriend,” Emily said one night after we shut the TV off and headed upstairs. “Or he’s dating around.”
“Think so?” I asked.
“What else could it be? You think he’s sleeping at work?”
“No, I guess not. I bet you’re right.”
We passed by Madison and Michael’s bedrooms, got into ours, and shut the door behind us.
“Thank goodness they didn’t have kids,” Em said. “It would make it a lot messier.”
“Think Debra would’ve run off if they had kids?”
“I can’t see how, but you never know. Who knows what people are capable of.”
After a few more weeks of non-mowing, the neighbors grew more restless. Bob wanted to mow Ryan’s yard for him. Bob said it would be simple. After mowing his own yard, he could simply keep going and take care of Ryan’s front yard.
“I don’t care about his backyard,” Bob said. ” But I could mow the front, and we wouldn’t have to look at that any more.”
“Don’t do it for him,” Sanjeev countered. “Respect the guy’s decision.”
We told ourselves that we had to be a united front against Ryan. In this matter of the long grass, not on everything. We wanted him here, after all. None of us wanted to kick him out of the neighborhood. At least not that I know of. We had different ideas on strategies, but we had to press upon him that we were very concerned about the appearance of his property. The neighborhood was nice and neat, save for this one lone yard. They wanted me to talk to him again. Try once more, they said. Otherwise, all of them would see him at once. An intervention of sorts. I pointed out that he was rarely home any more, and they nodded their heads. They said to wait till he was home, then give it one more one-on-one attempt.
Ryan’s car was finally in the driveway one Saturday. It wasn’t there Friday night, but came in around noon on Saturday. I grabbed another six pack and went over, making sure to avoid walking through the tall grass. I went up the driveway. Much safer that way. I didn’t see any lions in that grass, but you never really know for sure.
After I knocked, Ryan answered the door. He now had little beard stubble on his cheeks and chin. Not messy looking, but trendy, cleaned-up stubble. There was the line where he had shaved above the beard and below, on his neck. He looked like a pop music star or an actor still in demand.
“Oh, hey,” Ryan said. He took in the six pack in my hand, then smirked and said, “Over again to try to get me to mow?”
“Well, yeah,” I replied. No use in beating around the bush. He could see right through the bush.
“No need. I’m going to mow it today. So you and the other guys around here can stop worrying, okay?” His voice had an edge to it.
“Um, we’re just concerned, is all. It’s just that your yard stands out, and—”
A woman suddenly appeared behind Ryan. Coming from the kitchen, around the corner, and into the living room. Ryan saw my surprise, and he spun to greet the woman approaching him.
He said, “Lily, this is Adam. He lives across the street. Adam, this is Lily.”
As we shook hands, Lily sported a toothy grin and chirped a friendly, “Hey there.”
“I was, um, just stopping by,” I stammered, holding up the six pack to show the reason I was there. Well, one of the reasons.
“Adam and the rest of the neighborhood wants me to cut the grass out front,” Ryan said.
“Can you blame them?” she asked. “I mean, look at it out there. It’s a jungle.” She bumped her hip against his side and giggled. It was an intimate gesture and confirmed Emily’s suspicion that Ryan was indeed dating and not sleeping at work. She looked up at me and said, “Well, don’t you worry. We’re gonna get it in ship shape today. It’s gonna look beautiful by the time we’re done with it.”
“Wonderful to hear,” I said.
Then it felt awkward. I didn’t know what to say next. Ryan and I had talked over beers many times, about many different subjects: work, sports, movies, our wives, my kids. Tons of things. But now, I was so caught off guard by this new arrival, that I was stumped.
“Well, okay,” I managed. “I’ll let you guys get to it.” I held up the six pack again. “Here, for when you’re done. Nothing like a beer after mowing the lawn.”
Ryan accepted the beer, they thanked me, and I left. Once home, I told Emily about it, and she absorbed the news with wide eyes. Sure enough, Ryan soon started his lawn mower and attacked the long grass in his front yard. It took him a while, as he had to push the handle of the mower down, raising the front two wheels, and lowering the mower’s whirling blades on the overgrown grass. It was slow going, but he finished it. His yard looked amazing once again. Then he brought his ladder around front and pulled out the maple saplings in the gutters. While he worked, Lily pulled weeds out of the garden. Debra had planted a few rose bushes there, just after she and Ryan had moved in. They were nice, deep red roses, and she had spent a lot of time caring for them, pruning branches and spraying for bugs. The roses were blooming now, and Lily cleaned up around them, making the garden look much better.
Meanwhile, phones around the neighborhood lit up with calls and texts.
copyright Dave Williams