I Lost My Job and Now I’m Mowing Lawns?

Fiction
Kyran Lambert


Photo Credit: LancerE/Flickr (CC-by)

When my wife invites me to the kitchen table, a Heineken waits at my place setting. Grave thoughts arrive. As I sit, my wife doesn’t belabor. She makes her ask swift and concise. I process her words. Gratitude for the things she doesn’t say dampens the discomfort of her suggestion.

She isn’t pregnant.

She isn’t having an affair.

She isn’t gauging my interest in a second trip to the adults-only store.

“You want me,” I repeat her exact words, “to go door-to-door to see if the neighbors will pay me to cut their grass?”

She nods, seemingly proud of my comprehension.

“Let me get this straight.” I crack open the beer. “You want me to ask Bill if I can cut his grass?”

“Not just Bill,” she says, “Roger, Kent, The Whiteheads, Murray—”

“But they cut their own grass.”

She anticipates this response and scoots her chair beside mine. She uncaps a blue pen with her mouth and starts doing math on a mortgage statement that happens to be on the lazy Susan.

Something about the scene feels orchestrated. I feel like I will have lines to say rather than decisions to make.

As she writes, I wonder how long she has been preparing for this encounter. On the back of the mortgage statement, she estimates forty neighbors at fifteen dollars per lawn, four cuts per month. Finally, she writes $2,400. My wife doesn’t mention that this used to be my monthly income, but she does extend the tail of the comma to circle the amount.

A month ago, two months since losing my job, we had a similar conversation. That time, a Hostess cupcake waited at my place setting. As I ate the cupcake, she suggested that I ask her brother for financial assistance. When I asked why she hadn’t asked him herself, she told me that she wouldn’t dare, that I was the head of the household and so forth. Her explanation left me willing to ask for help. She managed to make me, a vulnerable man, feel like a regular one.

My brother-in-law is like most brothers-in-law—forty, thin, and successful. He uses words I don’t understand, and I pretend to understand them, and, because of this, he must think I am pretty smart. To an outsider, my brother-in-law is the thinker, and I am the fighter. Sadly, not even this theory stands up as my brother-in-law is a black belt in some version of karate I cannot spell. He is unmarried and nabs girls who are thirty-something but look twenty-five. I’m glad I don’t have a son who will look up to him. My brother-in-law happily gave us the money.

“So,” my wife asks, “what do you think?”

I study the numbers on the envelope. “I don’t know where you’re getting forty lawns from.”

My wife stands to pull out a folded paper from her back pocket. I realize her jeans are almost a decade old. I am lucky she can fit into old jeans. Is she unlucky to be with a man who doesn’t insist she get a new pair?

The note contains the first and last names of our neighbors. I briskly read the list and try to connect the names to people I might have met at our block party or trick-or-treating with the girls. The girls. What will the girls think of Daddy cutting the neighbors’ grass? Do a couple of ten-year-old girls understand that their daddy’s career, or lack thereof, will soon affect them? Was cutting grass even that much different from laying wire for Trent Telecom? At least when I worked at Trent, the stains of my labor were about my uniform and, therefore, seemed to belong to the company. The smears of wet grass will belong to me.

My wife starts explaining the origin of the list, the lengths she went to acquire it. I can see addresses next to each name. There are small descriptions, like this is the house that had the three cats on the roof in ’91. As she speaks, I appreciate the fact that my wife hasn’t reminded me that the grocer disallows her personal checks and that the bills we receive these days are collection notices from out-of-state vendors.

“You’re not saying much.” My wife places her hand on my knee. “This is temporary, and I know you are so much more than this. It’s not our only option, but it’s an option until work comes to town.”

I almost tell her that her idea would be fine—if it were my idea.

Our dog, Travis, barks through the picture window. Travis only barks at the out-of-ordinary. I leave the kitchen table to inspect. I see Bill standing at the end of his driveway across the street.

“What is Travis barking at?” my wife asks.

Bill begins inspecting the irrigation hose beneath one of his rose bushes. “Bill’s fiddling around his drippers.”

Travis wouldn’t have barked if Bill was solely checking his drip system. I, like my dog, sense something spurious.

“I’m going to…” I smile at my wife rather than finish my sentence.

As my patio door slaps shut, Bill rushes to his feet and waves me over. I look back toward my house and see only Travis in the window.

Bill is hard of hearing and always seems to yell rather than speak. “I hear you are looking for work!”

At this, I expect neighbors to rush from their front doors in a coordinated dance, singing, parodying a show tune about neighborly love while rhyming temporary-leaf-raking with auxiliary-wage-making.

I expect to see my plotting wife in the window. Only Travis. “Let me guess—”

“You,” Bill interrupts, “worked for Trent, right?”

I nod.

“My cousin owns an outfit that lays cable for the internet—I don’t have a computer—and, anyway, they need experienced people who worked at Trent. Pay is better. He asked if I knew anyone just a couple days ago, and it hit me that you worked for Trent.”

I feel my brain release a cocktail of joy and disbelief. My skin shimmies. If I were a different man, I’d hug Bill. Instead, I shake his hand and offer to help with his drippers. He tinkers with the timer. The drippers seem to be working fine. When I tell him such, he says the tiny hoses are scared of me.

Bill enters his house to get his cousin’s phone number. When he returns, he hands me a sheet of loose-leaf and warns me that the number belongs to a cellular phone.

I walk back to the house, searching the window. Still Travis.

I hear plates being washed in the kitchen. “Honey.” I move into the kitchen. “You’re not going to believe this.” I wind down my enthusiasm. I take my hat off like men who deliver bad news. I swallow. I am careful not to minimize her role in my discovery.

My wife rips off her dish gloves with a smile. “What?”

“I approached Bill… ready to talk about the lawn idea.”

Her smile turns on like a flashlight. “What happened?”

“Well.” I look between her feet and then to her eyes. “Turns out his cousin owns a communication company very much like Trent.” I hand her the paper with Bill’s cousin’s phone number on it as if the paper outlines guaranteed security. “Bill told me to call today.”

My wife snaps a dishtowel at my rear end. “What are you waiting for?”

I snag the paper out her hand and hold the sides of her face. “I love you.”

“See,” she whispers, half kissing my ear, “I just knew the lawn idea would be temporary.”

I move to the den to make the call. As I dial the number, I wonder if there was anything wrong with Bill’s dripper.

pencil

Kyran Lambert is an emerging writer who holds a BA from Arizona State University. Kyran lives in Phoenix with his wife and two young children. When he isn’t circling the state on sales calls, he is changing diapers. Kyran has recently finished a literary fiction novel. Email: kyran.a.lambert[at]gmail.com