“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Cutting your grass so you will stop waking up the whole fucking world, minus England.”
I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. “You can’t cut the lawn. Besides, I think it’s broken.” Within a couple seconds after he yanked the cord, the lawnmower started up. Well, this is embarrassing. “Seriously, though. You can’t cut my grass.”
He didn’t turn back once to look at me. He just went to complete his job—the same job I’d never asked him to do. I was seconds away from continuing arguing with him, but then I remembered how he’d killed a cat for meowing wrong, and well, I liked my sad little life enough and didn’t want to risk dying.
“You did a great job with the lawn,” I said, watching Tristan shut off the lawnmower. “My husband…” I paused, taking a breath. “My late husband used to cut the grass in diagonals. And he would say, ‘Babe, I’m raking up the grass clippings tomorrow, I’m too tired now.’” I chuckled to myself, looking at Tristan, but not really seeing anything anymore. “The clippings would stay there for at least a week, maybe two, which is weird because he always handled others’ lawns so much better. But still, I liked the clippings.” My throat tightened and the burning of tears entered my eyes. I turned my back to Tristan and wiped away the few that fell. “Anyway, I like how you did diagonal lines.” Stupid memories. I grabbed the white metal handle and opened the screen door, but my feet paused when I heard him.
“They sneak up on you like that and knock you backward,” he whispered like an abandoned soul kissing their loved ones goodbye. His voice was smoother than before. It was still deep with a bit of gruff to it, but this time there was a slight bit of innocence that existed in his sounds. “The little memories.”
I turned to face him and he was leaning up against the lawnmower. His stare had more life to it than I’d ever witnessed, but it was a sad kind of life. Broken stormy eyes. I inhaled just to keep from falling. “Sometimes I think the little memories are worse than the big ones. I can handle remembering his birthday or the day of his death, but remembering the little things like the way he cut the grass, or how he only read the comics in the newspaper, or how he only smoked one cigarette on New Year’s Eve…”
“Or the way she tied her shoes, or puddle jumped, or touched the palm of my hand with her pointer finger and always drew a heart…”
“You lost someone too?”
“And my son,” he whispered, quieter than before.
My heart shattered for him. “I’m so sorry, I couldn’t even imagine…” My words faded off as he stared at the newly cut grass. The idea of losing both the love of my life and my baby girl was too much; I would’ve given up.
“The way he said his prayers, the way he wrote his Rs backward, the way he broke his toy cars just so he could fix them…” Tristan’s voice was shaky, along with his body. He wasn’t speaking to me anymore. We were living in our own worlds of little memories, and even though we were both separate, somehow we managed to feel for one another. Lonely often recognized lonely. And today, for the first time, I began to see the man behind the beard.
I watched the poor soul’s eyes swell with emotion as he placed his headphones on his ears. He began to rake up all the glass clippings, not speaking another word my way.
People in town called him an asshole, and I could see why. He wasn’t nice, he wasn’t stable, and he was broken in all of the wrong and right places, but I couldn’t blame him for his coldness. Truth was I sort of envied Tristan’s ability to escape reality, to shut himself off from the world around him. It must have been nice to feel empty every now and then—Lord knew I thought about losing myself daily, but I had Emma to keep me sane.
If I had lost her too, I would’ve been emptying my mind of all emotion, of all the hurt.
When he finished with his work, his feet stopped moving but his chest kept rising and falling hard. He turned toward me, his eyes red, his thoughts probably scattered. His hand wiped against his brow and he cleared his throat. “Done.”
“Do you want some breakfast?” I asked, standing. “I made enough for you.”
He blinked once before he began to push the lawnmower back toward my porch. “No.” He walked toward his porch, disappearing from my view. As I stood there alone I closed my eyes, placed my hands over my heart, and for a small moment, I lost myself too.
The next morning, I knew I had to stop by Tanner’s auto shop for the surprise he’d mentioned to me earlier that week. Emma, Bubba, and I skipped into town, her singing her own version of the Frozen soundtrack, me pulling out my eyelashes, and Bubba being a pleasantly silent stuffed animal.
“Uncle T!” Emma yelled, bum-rushing Tanner, whose head was looking under the hood of a car. Tanner turned around, his white shirt covered in oil stains, and his face dressed with the same substance.
He lifted her in his arms and spun her around before pulling her into a close hug. “Hey, munchkin. What’s that behind your ear?” he asked her.
“I don’t have anything behind my ear!”
“Oh, but I think you’re wrong.” He pulled his faithful quarter from behind Emma’s ear, making her laugh and laugh, which in turn made me smile. “How have you been?”
Emma smiled and went into a deep, thought-provoking story about how I let her dress herself that day, which ended with a purple tutu, rainbow socks, and a T-shirt with zombie penguins.