A WELL TRIMMED LAWN
by Robert Pettus
OPENING HIS front door, Martin saw in front of him the continuously waving future hay, a wall of grass.
Martin sneezed, thick green snot covering his palm. He had bad seasonal allergies.
‘Hello,’ he then said through a muffled nose to the grass like a crazy person. His eyes were wide and bloodshot, quivering.
This shit was going to make him rich! He knew it.
Real rich. Pre-climate-crisis-rich. Rich like a person who spends his entire life blowing cash as if completely unaware that money even exists—oblivious to the fact that if he didn’t have money, he would be unable to buy random, dumb, pointless shit.
Life is best when it’s fun; when it is lived in the name of purposeless consumption. That’s why this climate crisis happened in the first place, thought Martin—too many people were living life the way it should be lived.
Martin felt jealous of the people of the pre-crisis past.
The healthy green grass—a combination of bluegrass, poa, and bentgrass—continued billowing in the forceful wind.
That was why Martin had said he was growing it, initially—to protect the structural integrity of his house; to guard against those continuous blasts gusting for miles upward off the shore of the Ohio River like an army of screaming, mud-encrusted toxic banshees.
That was a good reason, and a practical one at that. Martin knew his neighbours would be doing it, too, if the cultural ideal of a well-trimmed lawn hadn’t so ruthlessly ingrained itself into the American psyche—but that wasn’t why he did it.
Martin was an entrepreneeeeuuuur.
He said that to himself through clogged sinuses, grinning and exaggerating the last syllable like some sort of failed comedian as he stared forward vacuously into the waving foliage.
Bugs buzzed around the shifting canopy of the green blades. A couple katydids flew skyward, nearly being gulped by swooping birds before falling back into the camouflage of the plant-matter; their bodies again leaves.
Martin chuckled to himself.
‘Katydids,’ he said, ‘An insect evolved to look like money. What a hell of a world we live in.’
The grass was nearly fifteen feet tall.
It rained all the time. The season hadn’t changed in years; spring sprung eternal. That would end soon, though—everyone knew that. This erratic, rainy and then sunny and then windy weather would soon shift into some sort of bleak, chemical winter; toxic clouds forever blackening the sun and ashen snow falling perpetually to the singed earth.
This grass was a goddamn goldmine.
Martin thrust his hand into the thick bush, clenching and unclenching his fists.
‘Should I go ahead and start the chopping?’ he said to himself through crackling voice with manic glee.
He had his machete ready to go in the basement. He had sharpened it so many times, carefully edging the blade along the spinning grindstone as his foot pushed the pedal with psychotic obsession.
He was ready.
He was going to use a traditional machete rather than something more modern; Martin liked the idea of whacking through the grass like Indiana fucking Jones searching for the Temple of Doom.
Movement ruffled within the grass. Out from within the thick green curtain sprang a lost, startled racoon. Glaring at Martin, it then turned and retreated back into the grass.
Martin shivered, goosebumps prickling his skin.
That’s why he knew he would never be Indiana fucking Jones.
He wished he could venture into the jungle of his front-yard like a true explorer, but he knew there were wild animals—mostly nocturnal and crepuscular animals—that chose to sleep there during the day. Martin didn’t know what he would do if he stumbled upon some startled, sleeping raccoon, opossum, coyote, house cat or—God forbid—a fucking bear!
Martin again shivered and then walked back inside. He had sharpened his machete so many times, but he knew he couldn’t bring himself to do it—he would have to hire people to come and cut his grass.
That thought made him shiver with cold-sweaty, nauseating, anxious fury. Would they attempt thieving his spoils for themselves? Martin wasn’t sure. He didn’t want anyone reaping the benefits of his hard work, of his genius foresight.
Economics was foresight; thieves preyed on individuals with foresight. That was life.
Martin stepped back inside, suddenly gloomy.
He limped upstairs, drew the curtains, and gazed outside, over the waving canopy of the grass into the cracked asphalt street beyond. The sun was beating, as was customary in Kentucky at this point in the big-history of the planet. Beating sun, swarming clouds, pelting rain; that was the current Kentucky season, a season for several years thus far unchanging.
‘I have to bale up this hay before the long winter hits,’ said Martin to no one. He then felt a soft nudging at his ankles. Turning, he noticed at his heels his pet rabbit, Achilles.
Martin bent down, his knees cracking in revolt, and softly stroked Achilles’ fur between his long ears. Achilles purred, grinding his teeth in ecstasy.
‘Life is so simple for you, old boy,’ said Martin. ‘Somehow, after I wrangle up all this greenery, life will too be simple for me.’
A noise outside.
Some people chattering and raising their voices, then bellowing up to the opened window:
‘Come on out, Martin! It’s time we talk business!’
Achilles, turning abruptly, thumped to communicate his fearful surprise before darting back into the safety of the bedroom, under Martin’s bed which Achilles considered his den.
Martin looked outside.
It was fucking Jimmy from down the street.
Martin loathed Jimmy. He was always bitching about Martin’s tall grass; about how he needed to mow it; about how it negatively affected property values for the whole neighbourhood, or some shit—as if anyone gave a single fuck about that anymore.
No property held any real value unless it featured a domed terrarium that could withstand both flooding and intense solar radiation; that could stand up to the concussive meteorite blasts of continuous crashing space rocks once the atmosphere eroded. Martin thought of when he was a kid, at the beach in South Carolina; when he and his siblings would try and prevent the incoming tide from destroying the castle they had worked all day to construct.
It was impossible. Gravity was undeniable.
This was a similar situation. You can’t go to war with nature.
Jimmy probably didn’t know that though; Jimmy was a real dumbass.
Martin walked outside, though first grabbing and leaning his machete just inside the wall near his front door, for easy access—just in case.
Grabbing the wobbly wooden stool lying in the corner of his front porch—Martin couldn’t see out to the street over the grass unless he had it—he stood atop it, putting his hands on his hips and glaring miser-like ahead, surfing with the wave of the wobble:
‘What the hell do you want, Jimmy?’ he yelled in that tonally shifting, uncertain way only unbalanced people are capable of.
Shielding his eyes with his palm from the blinding midday sun, Jimmy looked confidently back: ‘It’s time for you to cut this grass. It’s bad for property values here in our neighbourhood This place is our home; we need to protect it.’
‘No one gives a shit about our neighbourhood,’ Martin said through a crackling, nervous giggle, ‘and the respectability of a well-groomed lawn is an antiquated cultural value!’
Martin felt satisfaction with his delivery of this fact.
‘I care,’ said Jimmy, ‘I care for our neighbourhood and its lawns.’
The crowd gathering around Jimmy—more of Martin’s miserable neighbours—stepped forward as if to communicate their aggressive agreement.
‘This grass is mine,’ said Martin. ‘I’ll cut it when I’m ready.’
‘You’re ready now.’
‘No, I’m fucking not.’
Martin put special emphasis on the percussion of the t, as if it might clatter its way across the lawn and club Jimmy unconscious.
‘Yes, you are,’ responded Jimmy. ‘We’re cutting it today, and we’re taking the hay and selling it to help benefit the neighbourhood. We’ll use the funds to build a park, or something—help the property values.’
‘If you steal my hay, I’ll fucking kill you.’
‘It’s not stealing. Neighbourhood policy says you can’t have grass anywhere near this absurd length. That policy’s been in place for decades. Your lawn has to be cut, and as chairman of the neighbourhood watch, I’m going to cut it whether you like it or not.’
Martin knew it was war.
Jimmy stepped forward from the decrepit street into the tall brush of the front yard. Martin—first opening his front door and removing the newly sharpened machete—walked down the steps of the front porch and did the same.
The steps had too much dive; they were old. Travelling down each one Martin thought he may at any moment fall through the brittle wood into the muggy, soft dirt of his home’s underbelly, the thick, slithering worms encroaching on him instantly.
That didn’t happen, though; he pushed forward into his wavy, manufactured jungle.
Martin knew there was no way he would be able to sneak up on Jimmy; he began sneezing immediately. He had allergies, which were so bad in the spring—this spring that had somehow lasted years.
He sneezed and sneezed; snot thickly painting his face; his eyes colouring as if to signal to Jimmy his location.
He clutched his machete through slimy, sweaty palms. He knew how to use it.
A shuffling in the bush northeasterly, though relatively distant.
As Martin pushed past, previously dormant field mice scurried frantically up the thick blades of grass as if running from the dark swamp of hell toward the blinding sky of a bright heaven. Squirrels, not sleeping but even active, glared at him aggressively before launching outward, easily exiting the thick brush. Scampering robins and bulbous mourning doves, taking advantage of the abundant worm life on the moist floor of the jungle, sputtered in irritation before flying away, the uncoordinated wings of the doves rustling the towering, though somehow strangely still blade-like, green grass—a natural Arabic script.
Martin stopped abruptly. He heard a shuffling nearby, the shuffling of some large animal.
‘It could be a doe bed down,’ thought Martin, ‘Or it could be fucking Jimmy.’
The shuffling continued. Martin dove toward it, slashing with his machete in every direction, throwing green hay skyward like Scyther does on that Nintendo 64 beach level of Pokémon Snap.
An obese raccoon spun frantically before scurrying between Martin’s legs away into some other hidden corner of the yard.
Martin, now wide-eyed and manic, was heaving, chaotically swarming pollen coating and crackling his throat and nasal passages. The allergenic grass and thick mugginess of the jungle interior was snatching his breath. He put his hand on his knees momentarily, retching downward to the soft dirt. He balled up whatever sparse, chalky liquid he had remaining in his throat and spat it to the ground. He then ejected whatever shit had collected in his nose. This mucus engulfed an innocent ladybug, which had been previously lounging aside one of the wide blades of grass. The ladybug spun around in the goopy bubble, stuck.
It couldn’t get out. Martin didn’t give a shit about that.
Another shuffling in the distant grass.
Martin was now so pissed. He didn’t even care.
He continued toward it, grunting and growling, his machete slicing, sweeping through the grass.
Squirrels! It was a pair of quarrelling squirrels! Where was Jimmy? Where could he be?
Martin saw a light through the jungle.
‘Yes,’ he thought, chuckling nefariously. ‘That bastard Jimmy chickened out. I’m going to have to kill him in the street, in front of everyone. So be it.’
Though still kind of purposefully, Martin subconsciously said this last bit in the manner he imagined classic villains to speak.
He trudged through the remaining grass, out into the sunlight.
The day was bright. Martin couldn’t see. He tripped on a fire hydrant, covered by the edge of the grass, which had by this point been shielded like Baba Yaga’s hut sat down to nest.
Martin hit his shin hard on the hydrant and then fell forward out into the street. He caught himself with his palms on the pavement, the asphalt bruising and scraping the inside of his skeletal hands.
Martin again grunted and growled. From behind he heard a chorus of laughter, some of it genuine, some of it bullying, some of it uncomfortable. Martin flipped around and saw staring into his rabid eyes the towering figure of Jimmy, his shadow frustratingly providing unwanted comfort from the otherwise blinding sun.
Jimmy put his hands on his hips and began cackling boisterously.
‘What are you laughing at?’ shrieked Martin, leaping from the ground and grabbing his machete, waving it around rhythmically as if he thought he were some sort of ninja conductor of classical music. ‘It’s time to die, bitch!’
Martin made to leap forward at Jimmy, but before he could move he felt from behind a pair of arms reach into his, latch tightly, and pull him backward. Martin flailed his neck chaotically as if to attack these unseen aggressors. Martin was no giraffe, though; he was no long-necked, regal swan; he could do no damage by swinging his neck.
They were cops. The fucking cops had come.
‘I told you we needed this grass,’ said Jimmy. ‘But don’t you worry; you’ve done something great for the community, whether you know it or not. This hay is invaluable. We will sell it, and we will use the profits to build a new park—the park will help property values. Perhaps we will even name it after you. Property values, as you know, are everything, these days.’
‘That’s my hay!’ shrieked Martin like a rabid, froth filled Smeagol. He then collected himself, but only slightly:
‘Property values are bullshit! A well-trimmed yard is an antiquated cultural value!’
‘Your views, though unique,’ said Jimmy, ‘are unfortunately untrue, and too unfortunately impact our otherwise exceptional community.’
The police then threw Martin into the plastic-cushioned backseat of the car and sped off. Jimmy, lifting Martin’s machete from the street as if some sort of dystopian Excalibur, turned and looked back to the crowd:
‘Who wants to take the first whack at it?’ he said with light-hearted finality. The collected group, cheering in unison, moved toward the yard, ready to harvest the hay.
Achilles, looking down at the activity from his place inside the house, thumped and ran into his burrow under the bed.