Some nights Dad would come home with the demon on his breath and topple right over in the yard. Momma would have to go tug on him till he came inside so the neighbors wouldn’t start yapping.
One night she didn’t even bother waiting up, and he was left out there on the lawn. He woke up the next day to the crunch-crunching of the garbagemen. I was running to meet friends at the pool and almost tripped over his legs.
“Can you believe it, Luanne? Your momma’s abandoned me.” He was weeping into a handful of dandelions.
I could see the neighbors’ silhouettes watching us behind their curtains. Momma had told me not to help him, but he grabbed at my ankle, so I gave him my lunch. It was only baloney and Swiss anyway.
When I got home, Dad was still sprawled out on the front lawn like he was trying to make a snow angel out of grass. The neighbors were peeping through holes in the fence.
“I married a damn fool,” Momma said. “He can rot out there for all I care.”
I snuck him a pack of crackers later. He was bunched up like a pile of leaves in the dark. Up close, I noticed his face was scrunched in pain.
“Luanne, love eats away at you like a colony of termites,” he said.
I told him he should move inside, that he was liable to melt away in this heat, but he said the woman inside was not the same woman he married and that was a terrifying thing.
Dad stayed there all summer. Momma wouldn’t talk to him, just smoked cigarettes and stared at him through the window. I was sneaking out the back door to see Jimmy Jackson that summer. He had a bright yellow motorbike and took me anywhere I wanted to go. One night, Jimmy put his hands under my shirt and said we’d never be apart. I skipped right across the yard forgetting Dad was there. He was scowling as Jimmy rode away through the night. In the weak glow of the streetlamps, his face looked thin and green.
Finally Momma went outside and grabbed his arm.
“All right,” she said, “we have our differences, but who doesn’t? I think we can start again.”
“I fear it’s too late,” he said. When Momma tugged on his arm, he screamed in pain. The grass had already grown up through his skin and his roots had taken hold. I had stopped bringing him food weeks ago.
Slowly his body grew softer and greener until it split apart into the lawn. Momma cried a lot in the bathroom with the tub running. Fall crept up on us and the summer was done. Now Dad was just a thick clump in the dirt. I kneeled next to him and put my ear to the ground.
“Promise me you will keep me nice and trim,” the wind whispered through the blades. I didn’t think he could hear me anymore, but I said I would.
I mow lawns all around the neighborhood. I have a shiny red mower I can spin around on a dime. I charge exactly ten dollars a yard.
One Thing After Another
To skip to the ending: they all died, the mother and the father and the five babies. Before this, the mother had already eaten most of the children, but then she rolled over, wide-eyed and bloated.
Later, his girlfriend had this theory that the carpet fumes were to blame, at least for the final deaths if not for the earlier cannibalism, although perhaps that too, in a roundabout way, if the fumes had eaten into the mother’s brain. A few days earlier, they had gotten a new carpet installed and it had made the whole living room smell like a chemical factory. She had picked out a bright blue carpet to represent a new day, she had said at the time, because before the deaths they had decided to move in together or, rather, he was moving in with her, which was a serious step for him, something he had never done before even though he had dated several women for long stretches of time before her.
“This just happens with small mammals,” he said afterward. He placed a hand on top of her shoulder in reassurance. She was wearing a yellow dress and looking away from him.
Of course, all of this was after they had been talking about having a child of their own. They were going to have it after the wedding, which would be maybe a year after they moved in together, if all went well, but they had been talking about it long before.
He had wanted to take it slow because the move was already frightening to him, even though it was only a short move in a geographic sense. He wasn’t sure if he was really ready for a child, but he knew she was and she probably only had a few years to start having them if they wanted to be safe, medically speaking.
“Maybe we could get a pet first,” he had said back then, before kissing her below the ear, “to make sure we can love something and make it grow.”
“How about a puppy,” she had said next. They had been sitting on the porch sharing a bottle of red wine and watching the fireflies.
“I was thinking hamsters,” he had said, because before all of this, many years earlier when he himself was a child, he lived in the country and was lonely and his mother had given him three hamsters that he had kept in his room in a plastic maze and watched them and played with them and tried hard to love them as best he could just as now, twenty-five years later, he was trying to do the same thing with a woman who was staring out the window and asking him what they were going to do next.