BRETT A. YOCUM is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine.
BRETT ALLEN YOCUM
Janie's butt hurt. She danced the hokey-pokey in her wooden rocking chair, but still, she was no more comfortable than before. The bone was drilling into her right cheek and she decided she had sat on the patio long enough, but she did not attempt to get up. The cool scent of fresh-cut grass wafted up to her on a warm breeze as Brad killed the mower and smeared the palm of his hand on his tomato red brow, leaving a black streak that ran from one temple to the other.
"You ain't done yet, are you?" she asked.
Brad looked quickly at her, and moved his mouth as he walked to the fence to talk to the neighbor. She watched dispassionately as the two men gossiped. Brad sported light green clippings in his dark hair, like the blue and red lines ingrained in dollar bills, and his big arms glistened in the late afternoon sun as he looked down at Clifford and spoke softly. He was still good-looking (Brad not Clifford), even after eight years of marriage, but the lines under and over his eyes betrayed his nearly thirty years.
Her eyes left Brad to scan the lawn. It was early April and the roses along the back fence were just blooming. The yard looked like an aerial photograph she had once seen of a prairie next to a dark forest. The cut side was flat and defiantly regular in contrast with the tall and uneven forest of grass and wildflowers on the other side of the yard. Janie hated wildflowers: ugly weeds that make you sneeze. They serve no purpose, she reasoned, so they don't deserve to live. Just detract from the beauty of real flowers. Something to mulch and feed to more worthy plants. Janie hated weeds and she had insisted on Brad doing something about them. To her dismay, he felt that mowing was doing enough.
Coward, an old, half retarded mongrel who deserved every letter of his name, clawed at the ground and chased the rocks he slung behind him. He liked to eat rocks. Occasionally, Brad would turn and yell some profanity at the big dog, who would jog to the other side of the yard and stare back with a toothless, defiant grin and begin another excavation project. Janie envied that defiant grin. Janie envied a lot of things, but mostly that grin. She sipped at her tea and lit a cigarette, watching, rocking, thinking.
Janie blinked and saw Danny standing in front of her holding a handful of weeds. "What is it, Sweetie?"
The boy held out the flowers. "I picked you some f'owers."
"Thank you, Honey. They're beautiful." She gently laid the bouquet on the wicker table next to her tea as Danny skipped back to the yard, blond hair bouncing, and up to Brad, who patted Danny's head as he spoke to Clifford. Something tightened in her stomach, but she quelled it quickly. How stupid, she thought, to be jealous of a four-year-old.
When Brad began to make his way to the house, Janie got up to start dinner. "What do you want for supper?"
"Don't matter." He walked in the house without looking as he passed her. Danny ran across the yard laughing and chasing Coward.
"Are you going to do the rest of the yard tonight?" She tried to sound pleasant. He didn't answer. That was the worst part, his complete lack of temperature. Brad was not hostile, nor abusive. He had never hit her; he had never sworn at her. In fact, they hardly ever argued. She felt that if he would only lash out - yell, or hit - she would have something to grasp, some manifest purpose for her own unhappiness. Instead, he just ignored her, which was worse than anything. At least she thought so. She sighed and opened the refrigerator to inspect what was there. Through the kitchen window she heard Danny singing a broken version of "Old McDonald's Farm."
"A pig had a farm. With a oink, oink there and a oink, oink there. A pig had a farm. . . ."
"Doctor Peters called Mom today," she said as she set a frozen pizza on the counter.
"Wha'd he say?" Brad was in the bathroom. His voice sounded distant. It was always distant. She heard Coward barking.
"They said she had a small ulcer. Nothing serious. He wants to do another test, though." Brad did not reply. She didn't expect him to reply. "Did you hear. . ." A scream cut her off. A high shrill scream. Danny's scream.