The Lawn Mower
Denise H. Long
She kept her focus on the straight lines. On the engine propelling her forward. On the feel of the vibrations in her fingers. She enjoyed the symmetry of the lines appearing as the grass fed through the blades. The sharpness of the lawn’s smell--too fresh, too clean. The way the shards of grass would fly out the shoot, scattering in the air. She could track her progress across the yard, a job well done.
Before she’d begun cutting the grass, she’d poured the gasoline into the small hole, careful not to spill any. Down the street, Mr. Sorenson was using his pressure washer to clean away the clumps of grass from his mower. He’d looked up at one point, waved, his fingers spreading with hesitation. She’d turned away and went back to what she was doing, barely nodding her head. Her own mower was new but already shabby from poor care. She hadn’t anticipated maintenance on a tool to maintain her yard. It wasn’t something she’d thought about before.
As the square path she cut grew smaller and smaller and she came closer to the center of the yard, she thought of how the neighbors had kept their distance in the days immediately after
the accident. But, by the time her husband’s funeral was over, they were visiting in droves. Her
world summed up by casseroles lining her freezer. They were still there all these months later. She knew the women who lined her street expected their Pyrex and Tupperware returned. She’d grown weary with caring.
She thought of the pity fracturing their faces, as they imagined What if it were my husband? What would I do? And she thought of how much she wanted to scream at them, The accident wasn’t the worst part! You don’t know the half of it! But maybe they did. It was hard to tell.
She thought about her husband’s face that night out at dinner. How he told her he was leaving. How his Adam’s apple had moved up and down, up and down, as he wrinkled his napkin and waited for her to respond. She thought of the set of his shoulders as he’d shattered her world. How he’d become a stranger in what felt like seconds, someone else’s now. No longer hers. Later, she’d realized the signs had been there all along.
As she pushed the mower back and back forth, back and forth, she glanced at the darkening sky. The sun was moving closer and closer to its breaking point. Her sons already asleep in their beds inside. She felt at peace in the isolation of their privacy fence.
After dinner, her husband and she had driven home in silence. At one point, he’d reached across the front seat. Settled his hand on her knee. “Listen—” he’d said. She’d stopped him by sucking in her breath. With two fingers she removed his hand from her knee. “I don’t have to. Not anymore.” And the quiet had settled again between them.
As she pushed the lawnmower across the last stretches of the yard, she felt trickles of sweat move down her back, along her jaw, and between her breasts. She felt little bits of grass sticking to her skin.
The pop she heard as the mower hit something was not unlike the sound their car made on the way home from the restaurant months ago. Only this was more muffled. Subdued. That other night, the sound had been a tire blowing out. It was followed by screeching wheels. The sharp sting of metal and glass shattering the air. This sound, in her yard, was isolated, but quickly followed by a smattering of sticky red liquid spraying across her legs and stomach and arms.
An errant paintball left in the yard.
As she stopped the mower and the silence crashed around her, she thought of the quiet in the night when she had waited, pinned under the car, for help to arrive. Her husband, so still. Already gone. His body at an impossible angle, half in the car and half out. She’d wanted to cry, but the only sound that crept out of her body had been a squeaking sound, not unlike a laugh that carried through the air like dry rain.
She reached down, touched the red paint on her thighs and spread a stripe across each cheek.
About the author:
Denise H. Long’s fiction has appeared in Kentucky Review, Burrow Press Review,The Avalon Literary Review, and elsewhere. A copy editor and fact checker, she also serves as the production editor for Carve magazine. Denise lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with her husband and two young sons. You can visit her online at www.denisehlong.com.