by Wayne Conti
Just try and please people, go ahead. You end up wanting to see them dead, for example your wife, or your neighbor, someone. That's how it is with you. Leave your lawn alone! Let it go to crabgrass and the chinch bugs. Don't buy fertilizer or axes or anything you can find in a tree nursery. Just watch TV and drink your beer. You won't want to kill anybody.
You know how it is, you live in a neighborhood a couple years, you come back home from work, drag stuff out of your car, and you see your neighbor standing in his yard, just watching you. That's O.K., that's O.K., you tell yourself, but you know perfectly well that it's not quite right, you know? Like you get this little feeling crawling up your back, a caterpillar of doubt kind of working it's way up your spine. You want to ask yourself what might be going on between him and your wife when you're not home, but you don't. You overlook it. Know why you overlook it, know why? 'Cause you're scared, you ought to have just put that bag of groceries down on the hood of your car, pulled a bottle of Bud out of the six pack and whaled it right at your neighbor's head. That's what you should've done. But you don't 'cause you're chicken. Instead you just look at him and how he's looking at you, and when he talks you listen. You listen, idiot. Get that gee-dee bottle out, walk up to him, then smash the bottle against something and ram the business end of it in his face. You're doomed if you don't and you don't. You're doomed. You just look at him and he says, "Your rhododendron looks a little peak-ed." You listen. The rest is inevitable.
So you go inside, all your bottles of beer intact. You tell yourself your neighbor is just an idiot, he just came with the property, the moron. But then, you being you, you ask your wife, "Get a chance to water the rhododendron, Sherry?" And she just looks at you. You don't pull out a beer even then. A circle of blood gushing out of her face would be just the thing, but you won't do it. So you put the beer in the fridge, with the milk and the Wonderbread and the marmalade and the eggs and the lettuce and the celery and the radishes and the pickled herring, and you ask her if she wants anything, but somehow you just hate your voice.
Your wife asks you, "That guy next door say something about our yard?" She has the right attitude. That guy. Now you're in trouble. Say "Yes, he has been bothering me about it," and you're a coward for bringing it up, say "No, I'm the one who thinks it needs watering," and you're nagging. You are just plain doomed.
Next thing you know you're off buying a hose 'cause the other one's got more black electric tape on it than a mile of busted-up phone lines, and the guy who works there at the nursery pushes you around until you buy a reel for the hose so it won't get run over by the lawnmower next time, you moron, and he sells you a bag of fertilizer, 100 lbs, to put you in the hospital, but they'll deliver it, even though tomorrow's Saturday, if you buy a dump truck full of topsoil, so it's settled and you're suddenly three bucks short and they only take cash so you'll have to pay the driver and you don't have any money for gas till you get home, if you make it, and you spent all this money just because, as you already know, you didn't put a bottle in someone's face.
So it's the next morning, Saturday morning. The truck comes, and it's been raining all night, so the guy drives the truck backwards through the softest part of the lawn and now you have a truck half way up to the axles, and your wife is watching this from the kitchen window and the driver gives you this So what? look and over there by his garage is your neighbor and now you have half a six pack of faces to break bottles in so you tell the driver to come back with two more truck loads to fill in the ruts and it turns out you'll need a tiller too, so bring that too at how many dollars a day, you might as well buy that as well so you give him the three dollars you owed, plus a tip for tearing up the front yard, plus a deposit, and he comes back and you till up the front yard and around the side of the house and your neighbor has a beer bottle in his hand and he says, "It's looking good, Sport," and he laughs. Your wife is looking out the window, and she's looking at you, then she's looking at your neighbor, then she's looking at you again. So you push the tiller round by the rhododendron, and the rhododendron falls over because it's, really, dead, so now you have to go back to the plant nursery and you're buying new rhododendrons for all around the house, but the lady next to you tells you something, and you listen, because, you being you again, you always listen to strangers, and she tells you about the rhododendron blight, so you buy this other kind of bush that makes pink blossoms and is very hardy and will frame your house, aesthetically speaking, and that is what your wife sees unloaded all around the yard now and when you explain it has pink flowers from early July to late September she looks at you, just looks at you, and you say, "Is that OK?" and she says, "I hate pink," and you say, "You do?" "Yes," she replies, and you say, "You do?" and she doesn't reply so there are more ruts in the yard as the guy takes them back but you find out that that plant doesn't have a variety with blue flowers. Apparently no bush has blue flowers, except the very most expensive one in the whole world and it frames the house nearly as well, so you don't have to buy that many more, so now your wife doesn't look out the window as the guy drops these things in their burlap bags all over the planet and your neighbor says, "No half way measures with you," and you know, as you think about it, he's right, and you know, as you think about it more, what he means, what he really means, you can spend half the afternoon thinking about that as you try to dig holes for these suckers but the soil around your house is kind of rocky so the guy from the nursery sends his son who brings one of his friends who brings one of his friends and they start to improve your property by drinking your beer and pissing on the side of your house and now there are holes all around the place and they mention your property is not landscaped and the sight lines would be a lot better if the place wasn't as flat as a dead possum run over two hundred times on Route 80. So they break your tiller and come back on a John Deere with a backhoe and they tell you it's going to be amazing, but they have to get in the mood, so after they're finished smoking something together, they really get into it until they say "Wow, we really got into it," and they've dug straight down till they hit the old septic tank and now your neighbor is watching you from a window in his house and your wife is watching you from a window in yours. It's funny, and you're the only one that would notice something like this, but even though you haven't used the septic tank since they made the connection to the sewer system four summers ago, the septic tank still somehow smells really bad. You theorize that the repulsive odor of human excrement, masked by the smell of the methane, is really the smell of blood. You theorize that blood evokes the smeller's sense of mortality and it's that that gets to one, that's why human beings don't like the smell of their own waste. It's funny being watched by two people on a regular basis, even you notice it.
But now you're thinking, You know, maybe this is not so bad, so you find the son of the guy from the nursery, who just happens to be hanging around the front of your place, still, and every time you talk to him, he says, "Yeah . . . yeah . . . yeah, that's amazing," as you walk him over to the hole and you tell him to look down and just imagine it, imagine being down in it, how quiet it would be and you tell him what you want is a grotto, a quiet place away from the world, so he comes back with a small cement truck and a Caterpillar with a backhoe which has headlights and you pour concrete into the night and they backhoe to their hearts content until you strike water and the hole fills in and someone says Excuse me and it's the police and they say Do you know it's 3:15 in the morning and What exactly is it you're doing here, Do you have a permit, There will have to be inspectors, and you say that's all right 'cause you're just going to fill it in. But. But, now, for the first time in your life, it seems you're really thinking, so after everyone leaves, you break the handles off the tiller and you break the handles off the shovels and the rakes and every other thing you can get and you whittle them all down till they're good and sharp and you are lucky because all the water in the hole has kept the cement down at the bottom from setting just yet, so you push the sticks down into the cement till they're all perfectly sticking upright, good and sharp, just below the surface of the water, and you take a thin tarp and you cover the water and you take some topsoil and you cover the tarp and you take some sod and you ever so carefully cover the topsoil, if you don't look too close, you can't see that the sod is moving in waves, and the sun is up now and you stand on the side away from the two windows of your neighbor and your wife and you say to each of them, "Come on, it's amazing, come here, see what I've done," and it would all have been so much easier if you'd just pulled out a bottle of beer.
About the author:
Wayne Conti's stories appear on epiphanyzine.com and anderbo.com. He lives and works in N.Y.C.