Maybe I’ll Mow the Lawn Later
David Jack Sparks
For whatever reason, he’s thinking about how outdated the living room carpet is. It was already on the floor when they’d moved in, and they’d never bothered to change it, so who knows how long it’s been there. And it’s bad—multi-textured pile like haphazard mounds of cottage cheese, matted down flat. It’s the same earthy green as the lawn out the window and the turf of the ballgame on the television in the corner, so that from his place on the couch, one surface blends into the other on the plane of the horizon like how the far end of the sea melts into the sky.
He examines the thin stack of papers from beneath a knitted brow, one hand-crinkled page after the other. And when he’s read them all, he peers up at the kid, who is standing perfectly still in the center of all that green, his eyes fixed on the TV screen—the naked afternoon sunlight against the hyper-real grass and the brown of the dirt and the beautiful cream uniforms of the home team.
“It’s not much of a story, is it.” He replaces the final page onto the backs of the others and shuffles them into an orderly stack. Then he cuts back somewhere in the middle and leans his face in close and squints like he’s having trouble making it out. “I mean, you just kind of introduce the characters and not much happens, and then, boom, it’s over. I mean …what’s his name again?”
He flips the top half over to the title page, typed up big in 36-point Times New Roman. “Ok, you need a few vowels in ‘cactus,’ first of all. Second—I don’t know. Why an origin story? Aren’t origin stories a little …. Do we need to know how he became Cactus Man to accept him as a legitimate protagonist? To empathize with him? To grasp his mission as a superhero?”
The kid’s eyes remain fixed on the TV, but he shrugs his shoulders, an almost imperceptible bounce of his bony, little clavicle. He’s grown so much taller the past few months, but he’s still a head shorter than the man is sitting down.
“And it’s terribly derivative. This Cactus Man—his ship crashes into Earth, and then his alien parents are murdered by government agents. It’s Superman meets Batman meets E.-fuckin-T. Do you know what I mean by ‘derivative?’”
The kid nods his knobby head, his mouth drawn tight.
“I mean, what does he do? Prick people? Can he even move?”
“Yeah, he can run really fast like the Flash.”
The man sips lukewarm beer from the bottleneck poking up from the papers at the web of his thumb and looks over at the game. Top of the second, guy on first, no one out. Gutierrez is really struggling to get anything over the plate. Jesus, the Tigers got shitty quick.
“Hm. Fast cactus. That’s a new one.” He riffles back through the stack—a single sentence typed at the top of each page, illustrated by the author in the copious white space beneath—pencil traced with ball-point pen and crayoned in haphazard ravens’ nests of jumbled, slashing strokes. “Is that Cactus Man there?”
“No, that’s the villain. He’s called the Eagle. He’s got big talons, so he can perch on Cactus Man and not get poked. That’s Cactus Man here.” The kid points at a mass of inky scribbles vaguely laced with granular smears of green wax.
“Hell, this Eagle looks more like a cactus than that does. Maybe you should switch them.”
Burcholtz scrambles over onto his knees to smother Gutierrez’s full-count slider into his gear and keep it from skipping off the cleat-scarred dirt of the batter’s box and all the way to the backstop. Good block, keep the baserunner off third, at least. The batter tosses his bat and trots to first with a look on his face like, why did I even bother? The man points to the TV with the bottleneck. “See that, kid? Guy can’t pitch for shit, and he’s making $4 million this year, alone. Why don’t you grab your glove and go out and play catch with your sister?”
“Ok,” the kid says and bounds out of the room.
“Missing out on this beautiful weather outside.” He reclines back into the corner of the couch, tosses the papers onto the end table, and kicks his feet up onto the ottoman, his stockinged toes curled around the edge like the talons of a perching eagle. “Goddamn origin story.” He sips his beer with a glunk back into the bottle and gazes past the TV and out the window to the backyard, the warmth of the sun through the glass baking one side of his face. Big spiders crawl in eerie slow motion upon the intricate webbing stretched across the windowpane from corner to corner. They have adapted to humans, these spiders, and to him specifically. They know his movements. They understand the synaptical patterns of his mammalian brain. And they know he will not kill them or destroy their homes so long as they stay on their side of the glass. And if they venture inside, they know to hide up in the dark recesses of the ceiling and only come out when the lights are off and the house is still. Somehow, they have learned all this.
The kid is out there now, his mitt on, tossing his ragged, grass-stained baseball up onto the roof of the garage high above him, poised to snare it when it rolls down past the eaves and back into view, maybe dive for it into the ankle-tall thicket of dewy grass. It could stand mowing, the grass. Too humid to do it now. Maybe later on, when the endless Michigan twilight settles onto the rooftops poking up over the fence—his shirt lying limp on the porch, the damp air cooling on his chest, the grandson of this bottleneck slung between the first knuckles of his strongest fingers, clunking against the mower’s handle with the gentle swells of the sodden ground.
He drifts off thinking of grass and infield dirt and warning tracks and oiled leather ball gloves and double-decker grandstands of green wooden chairs. Of milling around on the field, over by the on-deck circle, talking shop with a generic-type slugging first baseman, who is hauling two bats from shoulder to shoulder like in the old days. Talking bunting against the shift and the designated hitter and scoring pussy and the interminable bus rides from hick town to hick town back in the bushes. And then he’s in the dugout in full uniform, wearing a rut in the floor at the end of the bench, waiting for his shot at bat. Pinch hit in the late innings for the catcher or whatever. And heading out of the clubhouse after the game, his hair still wet from the shower, he has a chance encounter with that girl from back in junior high—the first girl he can remember falling in real love with. Or maybe chance had little to do with it, given how she’d walked directly up to him on the path out to the players’ parking lot, already wearing a lively, pregnant grin like she had expected to find him there. Older now, of course, but just as nubile and bright-eyed and flushed with throbbing sexuality as he remembered her when she’d materialized into his class out of nowhere in the fall of eighth grade and then vanished out of it again just as suddenly the next summer, only now she is possessed of a filthy way of talking that in no way diminishes her demure prettiness, and she promises him in no uncertain terms that she will let him do whatever he wants with her in the luxurious privacy of his Lincoln Continental. Windows tinted midnight black. Cool, buttery leather seats. A push-button in there for everything. Except he never quite makes it into the car with her. And then he’s at his desk in English Lit, but she’s not in her regular seat kitty-cornered ahead of his, and he’s left only to imagine her peeking back his way over her shoulder with hot, coy eyes to acknowledge whatever clumsy pretext he might have devised to speak to her. (What was her name, anyway?) And there are silhouettes of huge, meaty spiders against the pale glow of sunlight through the lacy curtains of silk papering the classroom windows out to the parking lot—bulbous abdomens and thoraxes and wriggling mandibles and curling, creeping, delicate, segmented legs. And then he’s decorating the house for a birthday party for one of his kids—or both of them, maybe—and his mother is there helping out, hanging the crepe paper across the ceiling and blowing up balloons and writing Happy Birthday on the cake with a piping bag. She’s a young woman again—in her thirties, maybe—probably younger than he is now—and somehow this makes her both more familiar to him and more strange. And he wakes up to find the game is in the bottom of the eighth, and the Tigers are still shitty, and his boy is in his bedroom reading comics.
David Jack Sparks was raised in a very small town in Michigan and now lives in a much bigger one in Illinois. His fiction, poetry, and humor have appeared in 3:AM Magazine, The Binnacle, and others.