He starts the lawn mower engine abruptly at eleven o'clock at night, every Wednesday night. I sleep lightly and when I wake up it's no small task to get back to sleep. I listen to him now, mowing back and forth and back and forth across his yard, pausing for the occasional stone. A half hour will pass before he stops. He has a small lawn. The noise is less than welcome when I'm trying to sleep but I don't complain to him about it. Back and forth and back and forth he mows as I think about last Thursday.
My coffee was cold. My wife, anticipating my arising for work, had poured it over an hour ago. I was that late. I drank it in a thermos as I left the house. I stepped outside and the smell of cut grass usurped the smell that my coffee would have had, were it still hot. I had been meaning to ask my neighbor about his mowing habits but, being pressed for time, I made haste to the car.
Work is never terribly difficult, though I caught some from my boss when I got in late. My job is to watch an x-ray machine in airport security. It may not be difficult, but watching a screen only augments my already tired state. That's probably a bad thing, considering I'm kinda responsible for stopping potential terrorists and hijackers. It's my neighbor's fault if a hijacker gets on the plane for keeping me up with his mowing. My neighbor keeps me up. My neighbor is aiding hijackers. I picture him with shady people in an alley. They talk in hushed tones and hire him to mow his lawn at night to keep me up so that airport security will be more relaxed. My neighbor receives a nondescript briefcase with something in it...something I couldn't quite discern. I told the other guard to open the bag. It was a blouse folded strangely. The passenger went on her way. She didn't look like a terrorist; but then, neither does my neighbor.
I got back home at around six forty. I don't work the night shift. The smell of cut grass had lessened significantly but still reminded me of the fact that I needed to talk to my neighbor. His car was gone. I'd have to wait for another opportunity.
It was warm out that night, so my wife suggested we go out on the porch for awhile to look at stars. We got out some beach chairs and sat there looking up. My wife tried to find the north star but got frustrated when clouds kept moving across where she was looking. Some sauntered across the sky, others moved quickly towards wherever they were headed, all hindered the view. Still tired from not having slept much the night before and from work, the clouds in the sky made their way earthward and descended on me, moving their wispy arms about me and clothing me in a state of apathy and bliss. Apathy, of course, for the bugs that woke me up and had been biting me for quite some time now. I slapped at one and looked around. My wife had gone inside and it was a few hours since I had last been conscious. I looked next door and noticed that my neighbor, the terrorist, was home now. Lights were on inside and I saw him pacing around in the window. I wanted to resolve the mowing issue.
I knocked on the door. A light downstairs turned on and he eventually came to the door. Puzzled, he emitted a questioning hello.
"Hi...uhh...my name is Bill. I live next door."
"Yeah, I know...what do you want?"
"Well I was up anyway and I noticed you were, too, and I've been meaning to come over and say hi...I haven't even welcomed you to the neigborhood, really."
"Well, uhh...come in I guess. My name's Jerry. Jerry Fitzgerald." I shook his hand and stepped inside and followed him to his living room where we sat on opposite sides of his coffee table. I made small talk while waiting for a good time to bring up the mowing issue, but an appropriate time did not make itself available. Eventually, he asked if I wanted anything to drink and I said I'd have whatever he had around.
He left for the kitchen and I gazed about the smallish room. There were a few chairs, the coffee table, a sofa, a bookcase filled with books and a lamp stand as far as furniture goes. There was no television. I stood up and looked at the titles in the bookcase. An encyclopaedia set dominated the bottom shelf with its many volumes. Above that were other reference materials. He had an atlas and a dictionary and stuff like that there. Above those still were pleasure reading; novels and the like. The Brothers Karamazov, The Art of War and The Catcher in the Rye all had their places. All the books were arranged according to size with the largest at the left and progressively getting smaller towards the right. If there were not enough books to fill the shelf, there was a book-end to hold the books that were there perfectly upright. No dust was present in the least and it would seem from the books' appearance that they had all been read, with the exeption of the reference materials. Jerry came back from the kitchen with two glasses and a bottle with the name Talisker on it. Upon tasting it, I realized it was scotch. Really good scotch.
"This is great. Where do you get it?" I asked.
"I have to go down to Donny's in Philipsburg," he replied. "You can't really get it anywhere normally, but I know a guy there and he holds on to a case for me when they come in."
"Oh. I don't think I've ever been down there. I was just noticing you have quite the collection of books here. Do you read much?"
"I try to make it a point to once a day."
"That's good. It's probably good for you to read once a day. I don't read much of anything, really."
"That's too bad. Hey - if you don't mind me asking, what're you doing up at this hour?"
"Huh? Oh...what time is it, exactly?" I asked, since I had forgotten my watch.
"About two in the morning."
"Oh...wow...well the missus and I were stargazing and I fell asleep. I woke up and saw your light on, so I decided to stop in on you."
"Ah. I see."
"How about you?"
"Oh, I'm always up at this hour. Doesn't bother me in the least when I get up in the morning, so I stay up and read or fix things around the house. You know, act productive."
"Sheesh. You mean you're not tired when you get up?"
"Nope. I don't need much sleep I guess."
"Huh. Well I wish I had that ability. I need plenty of sleep or I can't get up for work. Which reminds me..." I started.
"Wait. Hold that thought," he said as he walked into the other room. I cursed softly after he left. It was as if he knew I was going to say something that would inconvenience him. he returned with a pair of cigars.
"Uhh, no thanks," I declined when he offered one. "I don't smoke."
"Have you ever tried a cigar?" he asked.
"Well, no, not really," I admitted.
"Try it. You might like it."
"Ehh...alright. Fine. Light it up."
I have to admit. I rather enjoyed that cigar. My father used to smoke them and I grew to hate the smell of tobacco when I was younger. But this seemed pretty good. When I told him so, he only nodded in agreement.
"The best things in life are simple. Reading, smoking...they're truly divine."
"Who said that?" I inquired.
"No, I mean who said it first...I assume it's a quote."
"Nope. Just an observation."
"Oh. Sorry, it just sounded like a quotation."
"S'alright. Anyway, you'd probably better get going. It's late and you said yourself that you need a lot of sleep."
"Yeah, you're right."
"Alright, well maybe I'll see you again soon."
As I left the house and walked back to mine I realized that I had completely failed to talk about the mowing situation. But I wasn't going back just for that. He seemed like a perfectly nice guy. Just a little odd. It isn't everyone who can stay up all hours of the night and still get up for work. When I got home I went to bed. My wife was already asleep.
He finishes mowing and quiet reigns once more. I haven't spoken with him since that night, but I wave to him when I see him now. I hear him put the mower away and go inside. Why does he mow at night? I must get an answer. I get out of bed and put some clothes on. It's time for another visit. Down the stairs, out the door, take a left and a quick walk later, I was there.
"Hey Bill. Stargazing again?"
"No, I can't sleep."
"Well come in, come in."
"So, Jerry, I can't help but wonder...why do you mow your lawn at night?"
"Oh, I'm so sorry! Did I wake you up?"
"Well to be frank, yes. But I'm not so much annoyed as I am intrigued. This isn't a one time thing. You do it every Wednesday."
"Well...is there a reason?"
"I'll stop doing it if you want. It's no trouble."
"No, no, no...I really don't care. I just want to know why. I find it extremely odd."
"If you want me to stop, just say so," he offered again. I sighed.
"Well I guess I'll just go then. If you don't want to tell me, that's okay. Goodnight."
"Well yes...umm...here, sit down and I'll be right back," he said as he walked towards the kitchen. I was rather dismayed at his avoidance of the issue. I was dying to know. He returned with the same bottle of Talisker and two glasses.
"Now, where were we? Oh yes, my night mowing. Well, it's a sad story, really. See, I used to be married," he related slowly, "and it used to be that when my wife and I would fight, I'd go and mow the lawn to blow off some steam. Well, she died a few years ago...killed herself. I was mowing at the time. It was around eleven at night on a Wednesday."
"Oh, I'm sorry! I had no idea!"
"It's okay...I...I needed to tell someone anyway. I've been mowing at night for quite some time now...since my wife died, really...I guess it's just my way of remembering her. When I look for reasons for things that happened, it helps to be doing something that reminds me of the circumstances, I guess..."
"Well don't let me get in the way of that. You mow whenever you want."
"Thanks. I appreciate it."
"No problem. I guess I'd better go. Thanks for the scotch again. Maybe you can come over for dinner sometime."
I let myself out of his house on account of the fact that he was staring at the floor. I couldn't help but think that maybe I had pressed too hard in asking about why he mowed so late. But it all made sense, now - the books, the mowing, the late nights. He was searching for answers.
As I returned to my bed, I considered the seemingly futile nature of his quest. Would he ever really know the reasons why his wife killed herself? Probably not. Why does he continue his search? Surely he would know that his searching would yield no results. It was illogical. But the truth is never very logical...maybe he's on to something.