by : Chad D. Christy
Jason enjoyed the time he spent each summer walking behind his old-fashioned push mower. It wasn’t self-propelled and it didn’t have a cup holder on the handle, but there was something to the 1985 Lawn-Boy 2 cycle mower he’d bought at a garage sale for twenty five bucks. Maybe, he considered, it was a connection to his childhood; he remembered sitting on the porch watching his father push around a similar green mower. In some way, that mower fit into his perception of what it meant to be a man.
Kneeling on the oil-stained floor of his garage, Jason topped off the mower’s reservoir with mixed fuel and quickly wiped off the air filter. Once everything was back in place and he’d wiped a bit of mud from the aluminum deck, he pushed the mower out into his driveway.
Glancing into the clear blue sky, he squinted into the sunlight before pulling his ball cap down a little tighter. The forecast called for early evening rain, and the dark, billowy clouds on the horizon promised to make the weatherman correct for once, but he had plenty of time to finish the job. Jason took a deep breath, slipped on a pair of sunglasses, and bent down to grasp the mower’s pull cord. One. Two. Three pulls kicked the engine over and the Lawn-Boy coughed out a small cloud of bluish smoke.
Jason pushed the mower down the sidewalk, studying the fading lines in the grass from his last mow, and decided to work perpendicular to the roadway. The line by the flower bed at the front of the house was always a tad tricky at that angle, but the finished aesthetic was well worth the extra time.
He started in on the job and let his mind find quiet. People always seemed incredulous when he told them he actually enjoyed mowing his lawn. There was just something about it, he’d tell them, that was perfectly zen. Jason let his thoughts drift. He’d listen to the sound of the mower’s engine churn under the workload of the grass, an indication of how well he’d been maintaining the balance of feeding, watering and mowing. He appreciated the sensation of the sun on his skin and the prickling of drying sweat on his forearms.
All in all, he was content to just be.
As he was pushing the long line on the east side of his house, Jason noticed his neighbor walking down the sidewalk with a pair of work gloves in his hand. The man’s dark blue polo shirt was sweat-soaked and the sparse hair atop his head was scraggled askew. When the neighbor waved his hand, Jason finished the line by turning the mower out onto the sidewalk and released the throttle.
“Hey, there,” the neighbor said, “mowing your lawn, huh?”
Jason grunted a nonverbal answer and nodded his head.
“Yeah, well, hey, listen,” he continued, “I live just the other side of you there, two houses down.”
“I know, Mickey,” Jason replied.
This was the problem with modern neighborhoods, Jason thought. All the porches were on the backs of the houses, so no one really paid attention to what was going on anymore. A lot of the social aspects of being a neighbor were gone.
When he’d first moved in two years before, he’d made it a point to knock on the doors of each of his neighbors’ doors to introduce himself. Three houses down on each side of his house and on each side of his street. Admittedly, he didn’t remember each and every one of their names or who was married to whom and what kids belonged where, but the point was, he had made the effort. But it was so uncommon, yet apparently so poorly remembered, that whenever he talked to any of them, they had to introduce themselves again and remind him where they lived.
And with Mickey, that was considerably more often than the rest.
“Yeah, sure,” Mickey said. “Hey, anyhow, you remember when we got that snowfall over the winter? Been a few months now, hasn’t it?”
“Lot of snow,” Jason agreed.
“Sure was, and you remember how you were out here shoveling your drive way?”
Jason nodded, sensing he was about to be hit up for a favor.
“And how I came over with my snow blower and helped you out.”
Jason smiled. “Very neighborly.”
“Well,” Mickey chuckled, “that’s what neighbors are for, right? I mean, we got to help each other out when we need it, right?”
“Very neighborly,” Jason repeated.
“Right, yeah.” Mickey stalled.
Jason glanced down at his Lawn-Boy. He wasn’t going to offer, that was certain. He’d be willing to help out with whatever it was that Mickey needed, but he wasn’t going to offer. He imagined that Mickey had a score card hanging on his refrigerator, tally marks showing all the favors he’d done in the past and all the favors he had yet to call in. In Jason’s mind, if he offered before Mickey asked, it wouldn’t count as reciprocation. It wouldn’t count toward his tally.
“You probably noticed that we’re replacing the privacy fence out back,” Mickey said.
“Let me tell you, those permits are pricey, but I guess the city’s gotta make money how they can.”
“Anyhow,” Mickey was revving himself up now, “we’re trying to get the last of these posts out—that’s me and my boy. You ever met my boy, Junior? His name’s Stanford, named after his grandfather, but we call him Junior.”
“Yeah, well, if you could come on over and help us out, you could meet him.” Mickey paused, but continued before Jason could respond. “You see, these posts are all crudded up in cement.” He said it “see-ment” with a couple extra e’s thrown in for good measure. “They’re a bit heavier than just the two of us can handle, and I was thinking that maybe since I helped you clear off your drive way when you were shoveling it, when I came over with my snow blower, you might be willing to come over and help us drag these things up front and get’em up into Junior’s truck.”
Jason smiled and began to agree.
“I see that you’re busy,” Mickey continued, “but it would be real nice if you could help us. We got all the holes dug out, so we just have to heft’em up and get’em onto the wheel barrow. Then we just have to get’em up into the truck. They’re already dug out.”
“Sure,” Jason said. “Let me just –”
“I got gloves for you here.” Mickey offered the gloves in his hand, but Jason waved them off.
“Let me grab mine. I’ll meet you over there.”
Mickey smiled and nodded, but didn’t move.
Jason walked back up his driveway, looking over his lawn as he went. It wasn’t even a quarter done, but he felt good about what he was doing. He didn’t keep track of favors, not the way Mickey did. Jason just wanted to help. If people felt like helping him out in return, that was great, but that’s not why he did it. He just wanted to be a good neighbor.
Gloves in hand, he clapped Mickey on the shoulder and said, “Let’s get these posts out, yeah?”
“Oh, right, yeah,” Mickey replied. “I sure do appreciate you helping us—me and Junior—cause we just couldn’t do it on your own. It’s real nice of you.”
“It’s what neighbors are for, right?”
“Ha!” Mickey laughed and snorted. “That’s what I said to you when you thanked me for snow blowing your driveway.”
Jason grinned and nodded. “That it is.”
When they got to Mickey’s back yard, Jason did his best to skip the introduction with Junior or Stanford or whatever his name was and pointed to the posts still sticking in the ground. Six of them and two more laying on the property line.
“These the last?” Jason asked. He walked over to the closest and stood over it. “Mickey, we’re gonna lift this, so why don’t you get that barrow in place right next to us.” Then to Junior, “All the weight’s on this end. You good?”
Jason tugged his gloves on and positioned himself to lift. “On three,” he said, watching Junior get set. At Jason’s count they lifted and took the two steps to the wheel barrow where they settled it. Jason kept hold of the post, steadying the load as Junior pushed the load toward the front of the house.
“Not too bad, huh?” Mickey said. “Not too heavy.”
“It ain’t light,” Jason said.
“Well, that’s what I was telling you. It’s more than just Junior and I can do.”
When they got to the truck, Jason reached over and lowered the tailgate. The bed was mostly full of concrete-rooted posts, thrown in without any sense of order. There was a lot of wasted space, but Jason thought they could fit the rest, so he wasn’t about to tell them how to reload the bed.
“Now, this is the tricky part,” Mickey was saying. “We gotta lift the post and get around the wheel barrow.”
Jason didn’t see the issue.
“Well,” Jason said. “Junior stands there, I stand here. We lift it up and you can pull the wheel barrow, if you want.”
“Oh, it sure is heavy, though,” Mickey said. “You be careful.”
Jason looked at Junior. “You ready?”
“Sure,” Junior answered.
“Okay, on three,” Jason ordered.
On the count, Jason lifted. Junior lifted, but was unable to clear the height of the tailgate. Jason struggled for a moment, but managed to get the chunk of concrete high enough to set it on the truck. Junior groaned as he tried to help, but his grip failed.
Jason wasn’t quick enough to pull his right hand clear before the ball of concrete smashed it against the edge of the tailgate. Pain registered immediately, and as the mass rolled off the truck, Jason pulled his hand back to his chest, afraid to look at the mangled mess he was certain remained.
“Well, shit,” Jason said, his voice tight.
“I’m sorry,” Junior cried.
“You all right?” Mickey asked.
Jason shook his head and hugged his arm to his body. “Hand’s broke.”
“Oh, oh, you’ll be all right, won’t you?” Mickey said. “It’s not broke, is it?”
“How bad is it?” Junior asked.
“Bad enough,” Jason replied. He risked a glance down at his hand to see two of his fingers bent in places God didn’t intend for fingers to bend and his glove slowly turning dark red.
Jason looked at Mickey and Junior, but they were frozen, staring at his mangled appendage.
“My truck’s a manual,” Jason said. “You think you can help me bandage this and get me down to the emergency room?”
“Well, now, I don’t know. This here is Junior’s truck and its all loaded up, you see. I don’t know that my car has enough gas to make it, and then there’s this fence post here in the driveway and if you and Junior can’t lift it, I don’t know how we’re supposed to.” Mickey was rambling on and Junior’s mouth was still agape.
“You could just drive my—” Jason bit back on his response. Somehow he knew he was driving himself.
“How about bandaging? You got a knife or some scissors to help me get this glove off?”
“I wouldn’t want to cut you,” Mickey said. “Plus, I don’t know that I got a knife sharp enough to get through that leather without hurting you more.”
Jason spat a strong curse word and turned toward his driveway. He reached across his body, fishing in his right hip pocket with his left hand for his keys. The pain was really starting to set in and he had to grit his teeth to keep from letting it escape through his mouth.
He got into his truck, bumbled his way into reverse and pulled out into the roadway. Then he saw his Lawn-Boy resting where he’d left it, sitting on the sidewalk. Surely his neighbors would push it into his garage, right? Especially with the way those clouds looked on the horizon.
Copyright © 2016 Chad D. Christy
All rights reserved.