published in Volume 5, Issue 2 on June 1st, 1998His lawn was in a state of disrepair and had been keeping him up at night. Last night, after dreaming about it, he woke up with his legs stuck to his wife's back and all covered in sweat.
"What were you trying to do?" she asked.
"I was planting seeds," he said. "But I've got it all backwards. Go back to sleep. I'll take care of this thing in the morning."
His wife rolled over, the front of her body now facing him, her mouth open. They used to discuss things like this, he thought, but not since he started working. All she said now was that she didn't deserve this.
His lawn was sloped. It was sloped just like the surrounding hills. When together they first purchased the house, he liked to sit outside on his lawnchair on the back porch, where the grass wasn't as high. There he would read the morning paper.
Often his wife joined him. When she did, the two sat silently, stared out at the skyline and the high trees, and drank their coffee, but when he started working, their lives suddenly changed.
The lawn was, by now, in need of desperate repair. However, rather than cut the grass, he built a small deck, about ten feet high, and placed the two lawn chairs on the deck, overlooking the sea of grass and weeds. When chance permitted, the two of them sat, late in the evening, and looked at the stars.
Even then, neither one of them said anything about the lawn. But it had not been mowed in over three years.
When they bought it, they simply had no idea. They had looked at several houses before choosing this one, all in different neighborhoods. None of them had a lawn like this. It was the only reason they bought the house.
They rented during the first few years of their marriage and on her salary alone saved several thousand dollars for a down payment, but after that they were broke. They didn't have a penny leftover for repairs, for lawn care, or any other costs and they were not the kind of people inclined to take care of the lawn themselves. The real estate agent never told them how to care for a house, and it was something they never thought of on their own. He never said it to his wife but he had never mowed a lawn in his life and was not about to start now.
So all this time he let the grass grow. And the trees. He never pruned them and with each passing new year, the trees sprouted new limbs. The leaves that fell he let lay on the ground until they got buried under snow. When, during the second spring, the leaves began to smell, at first he thought it was him. Stress can do that, he said to his wife. It can make a man sweat. It can do just about anything you can think of, he said.
Once he came home after work to find a deer asleep on his lawn. He had gotten off work early, and the first thing he did was chase the deer away. He actually ran after the thing.
Then he went inside, where his wife was watching t.v. He said he wanted to show her something. His wife got up from the sofa, and he showed her where the deer had slept. You could see where some of the grass had been flattened. There was a giant indentation in the lawn and he imagined a black hole sucking him in, tugging at his ankles.
Pointing to it, he said to his wife, You can imagine how many others slept here. He said that he was glad that nobody had seen.
"I accept responsibility for the lawn. But not the deer. They have nothing to do with this. They're a separate issue."
"Honey," his wife said, "it's just a deer."
She turned her body around and looked out at their lawn. She tried to take it all in. Unlike him, she took pride in their house. She still considered it a miracle.
"But our neighbors," he said. "You have to consider them. They see something like this and they think it's our fault."
She put her hands on her hips. With the exception of the Rollins, who once came over for dinner, they did not like most of their neighbors. They were also fairly certain they knew what their neighbors thought of them.
When the Rollins came over, Mr. Rollins brought over a bottle of wine. Before
drinking the wine, he served whiskey. And it came out that some of their neighbors
considered them white trash. He and his wife acted surprised, but by the end of the
night they all had a good
"I'll take the blame for the lawn," he was still saying to his wife. "But I won't be held responsible for the deer."
"For Christ's sake, Jack," she said.
"Mary," he said, "the deer are here by their own design. They're somebody else's creation. Not mine. The lawn may be, but not the deer. That's where I draw the line."
He bent down and drew a line.
"For Christ's sake. You're sick, Jack. Has anybody told you that?"
When, after a poor night's sleep, he woke up, the first thing that came into his mind was, I ought to take care of that lawn before it takes care of me. The two of them kept lists, and at the top of each one of his lists was inspecting his lawn. Other things got crossed off and, eventually, inspecting the lawn, had moved its way to the top.
That's how it happened. He understood this the moment he woke, put on his clothes, and walked outside.
He didn't have a choice anymore. Whatever had happened in the past was behind him. Nothing else mattered. He knew there was only one thing left for him to do.
But who had ever heard of such a thing? A grown man losing everything. Because of his lawn.
Of course, it wasn't a lawn anymore. It was a bog. Or a marsh. And deer slept on it. Just then, a strange wail came from him.
He remembered that, on one occasion, not long ago, he got out of bed because he thought he heard a party going on outside, on their lawn. He got out of bed and stood in front of their bedroom window to see what was happening out there.
"What are you doing?" his wife called to him.
"Somebody's outside," he said. "Go back to bed. I'm taking care of it," but his hands were shaking.
He put on his pants, a shirt, a sweater, and his shoes. Then he walked quietly down the stairs and slowly opened the front door trying not to make a sound. He could not believe it.
On his front lawn was a man setting up his tent. When Jack saw the man, he wanted to rush over to him and say, "This is my lawn." Instead, he stood where he was.
His hands were in his pockets to keep them still and he watched the man finish hammering the spikes into the ground to prevent, Jack imagined, his tent from falling down. Because of the height of the grass and the weeds, he could hardly see the man as he bent down to hammer his spikes into the ground. For a moment, the man disappeared entirely.
When the man looked finished and had stood up, Jack walked over to him.
"What do you think you're doing?" he asked.
The man looked at Jack as if Jack had asked him a stupid question. Thinking that the man was probably crazy, Jack asked him an easier one. "What's your name?" he asked the stranger.
"I'm glad to meet you, Frank," Jack said. "But you're going to have to leave. This is my lawn."
He spoke slowly and tried to get close enough to the man to smell his breath to detect if he had been drinking. The man stood still and let Jack inspect him.
"I've got nothing to hide," the man said.
"You're going to have to leave," Jack said it again. "You're on private property."
Then he turned around to see his wife. Mary was in the upstairs window watching him. There was enough light in the sky coming from the stars so that he could see her features in the dark.
"It's o.k.," Jack said, and he waved his hand. "Go to bed," he said and turned back around to face the man.
A strong wind blew, but the tent remained perfectly still. After the wind had died down, the two men started up a conversation. Frank Baker had wondered aloud what it would be like to have a lawn like Jack's, and at first, Jack didn't understand him.
He opened his eyes wide. Until then, it was as if he was still in a dream.
"What are you saying, Frank?" His arms were opened wide and, as if he were an actor, he gestured to the lawn, his lawn.
"Nevermind," the man said.
"You're right," Jack said. "Nevermind."
By now, he had put his hands back into his pockets. "I'd consider letting you stay," he finally said, "but I've a wife and I've got neighbors."
Without looking at her, he indicated to his wife by jerking his head towards the window and rolling his eyes.
He did not know if the man understood him or not but he continued.
"I'll take the blame for the lawn," he said, if not to the man, then to himself. "But not this."
He waved his hands frantically. "I'm sorry, " he finally said. "But you're going to have to leave. Do you understand?"
The man turned his back on Jack and, at first, Jack had no idea what he was doing. Then he heard a zipper being pulled and saw the man climbing inside his tent.
Jack ran back inside. He had had enough, he decided.
But when he got inside, his wife was waiting for him. She jumped out of bed. She stood behind him and watched as he opened his dresser drawer and began pulling out his socks.
"What are you doing?" his wife demanded.
He found what he was looking for and, ignoring her, held it in his hand. He started to go back down the stairs. His last words to her were "I'll take care of it."
He ran outside and pushed his hand through the flap that the man had left open. "I've got a gun," he said in the dark, "do you see?"
"Just get your stuff and leave."
Then he raised his voice. "It's the middle of the night, Frank.
Who do you think we are here? The Holiday Inn."
He discerned a slight movement so he toned it down, "I'm serious Frank, or whoever you are. I'm asking you as nice as I can to leave before this thing gets dangerous. Don't make me have to use this," he said, and he waved his gun.
By now, half of Jack's body was inside the tent.
He couldn't tell for sure, but he thought the man was wrapped in his sleeping bag and was trying to sit up.
Jack suddenly wondered what would happen next. The man was a trespasser. And even if he didn't look to be a threat, how was Jack to know that? All this had happened without any warning, and Jack failed to make the connection between the man with the tent and the deer--if there was one. For Christ's sake. It was the middle of the night. What if Jack let him stay and the man hurt somebody, like Jack's wife or somebody's kid. It didn't have to happen tonight, Jack realized, but tomorrow it could happen or the next day.
The man started to stand up inside his tent.
"Don't shoot," he said. "It's o.k.," he said and he made a rustling noise. "I'm leaving, Jack. The tent, too. It's all yours."
The man exited the tent and Jack watched him walk down the road.
Before taking down the man's tent, Jack decided to crawl inside, all the way, just to see what it was like in there. He laid down on the man's sleeping bag and closed his eyes. The tent smelled of stale breath. Jack opened the flap a little wider and then drifted off to sleep.
In the morning, just before dawn, the sound of an engine woke him up. When he remembered where he was, he quickly grabbed all the man's stuff, took down the tent, and threw everything in his garage. Then he climbed back in bed with his wife.
He tried not to move around but he needed to be comfortable. He rolled over. Then, turning just his head, he looked at her. She looked like she was about to wake up. "I know this isn't what we wanted," he said. "But things will be better, Mary. You'll see. The lawn, everything," he moved closer to her. "It will be taken care of."
That was when he knew things had gotten out of hand.
Starting at dawn with the clippers his father had given to him when they first purchased the house, Jack clipped the branches off the trees so that there was a clear path to their front door.
Then he bent down on his knees and began to pull weeds. He pulled at the weeds that were taking over his lawn. He dug his fingers in the dirt where the roots would not come out. After he got rid of the weeds, he looked up at the sky for the first time.
The sky was an ochre color, like it might rain. He wanted to finish with what he was doing before it rained but just then one of his neighbors, on his way to work, crossed the street and walked over to him.
His neighbor said, "Nice day for it."
Jack stood up and wiped his hands on his pants. Then he shook his neighbor's hand. He saw that his neighbor was wearing his galoshes. For a moment the two men were silent. Then at the same time they both looked at the sky. It was going to rain. But he knew that if he went back inside, there were too many distractions.
He tried to look past his neighbor. Maybe it was true that things had happened, but couldn't he see that Jack was going to take care of this.
He took a few steps forward. Then he thought about the rain. It nearly got him to cursing.
He knew, of course, there was nothing stopping him from working in the rain. His neighbors went to work every day and, now, he was at work, too.