Warning: The following story contains descriptions of violence against people and animals. While based on true events, this piece is a work of fiction, and no people or animals were harmed.
The grass had grown and grown and grown until, one day, my father declared that it was unacceptable. He went out to the hardware store and returned an hour later with a lawnmower. E-Go, Self Propelled! the packaging proclaimed. “Electric,” my father said, proudly. “It’s the newest model, nobody else on the street has one.” Yes, I agreed. The slogan on the packaging was certainly apt for both product and consumer, though I knew better than to say that last part aloud.
The task then fell on me to use the machine to tame our wild yard. The mower turned out to be pretty easy to use. Just pop the battery in, pull the bail bar and, every once in a while, steer around the odd piece of shit, courtesy of the neighbor’s dog. No messing around with gas or oil or starter cords that threatened to dislocate your shoulder if you pulled them at the wrong angle.
I started at the front of the house, near the mailbox. Things were easy enough until I reached the box’s post, at which point I had to violently jerk the mower in order to get it around the small rectangular base. The same thing happened every time I reached the trunk of a tree or an oddly shaped corner which the mower would not fit into. Such was the difficulty of navigating these irregular spaces that by the time I was halfway through the backyard, I had riled myself up into a great anger and was cursing profusely, even during the easy open areas.
Soon, images of destruction were on the forefront of my mind. I imagined the blades of the mower decimating entire ecosystems. I imagined a grasshopper getting swept up by the vacuum and torn into shreds. I imagined families of worms struggling vainly to burrow into the ground only to become engulfed in a hellstorm.
Insects then progressed to small critters, rabbits and dogs and the like, which eventually led to humans. Violence turned towards self, and I could feel my legs being drawn into the blades, emerging in a shredded mess of bones and tendons. I wondered what the neighbors would say if they found my mangled body underneath the mower. Look at this boy. This is what happens when those people come here, they don’t know how to do anything. Let the grass grow so much, then ran over himself. This neighborhood really is going to shit.
And now I was cursing this white man’s machine because, after all, this whole lawn thing was a fucking colonial construct anyways, right? “I’m against colonialism because it makes people mow lawns,” I announced to no one in particular.
As if on cue, a white neighbor surfaced from his newly constructed pool. “You missed a spot over there,” Neighbor One said while toweling himself off.
Neighbor Two from a couple houses down concurred. “Also, my pool is better than yours,” added Neighbor Two, glaring at Neighbor One before disappearing back into their house. (Neighbor Two started building their pool once they found out that Neighbor One wanted a pool. Due to a combination of bad luck with contractors, and Neighbor One’s general inability to follow through on home improvement projects, Neighbor Two managed to finish their pool first and would spend the evenings floating contently with a glass of lemonade, while looking over at Neighbor One’s muddy ditch. But now that Neighbor One’s pool was no longer a muddy ditch and was, in fact, an actual pool, Neighbor Two was in a bad mood because the only reason they built their pool was so they could gloat over the fact that Neighbor One did not have one.)
This can’t be real, I thought to myself. But I went over to the spot that the Neighbors had pointed out and mowed over it again just to be safe. By now, I was no longer angry because it seemed that having a pool was a much bigger nuisance than having a lawn.
I hope all this mowing gives me some muscles, I thought to myself, because I was sweating a lot now. When I got around to the front of the house again, Neighbor Three from across the street had also started mowing. When I caught his eye, he raised his hand and gave a slight nod of his head. I was excited because, in his free time, Neighbor Three worked with cars and gears and various lubricating products, so his acknowledgement meant I was a manly man.
After I was done mowing, I sat on the front porch and admired my work while scratching the numerous rashes I had developed from touching so much grass. On the other side of the world, my grandfather was riding his bicycle when he had a stroke and fell into a ditch. This particular ditch didn’t have any grass (or other soft vegetation, for that matter) because eighty years ago, the British had razed all the plant life in the area in order to create an irrigation system to help water the governor’s English garden. So there was nothing to cushion my grandfather’s fall, and he broke a few of his bones when he hit the ground. But, of course, that didn’t really matter seeing as his brain had decided to stop working.
“He’s dead,” said the rickshaw driver who found my grandfather’s body.
“He’s dead,” said the attending physician after the rickshaw driver turned up at the hospital with my grandfather’s body in his backseat.
“He’s dead,” said my father after the physician called him up and told him the news.
“Do we have to go to India now?” I asked.
My father wordlessly surveyed the yard. He stood there, phone clutched in hand with a slight frown on his face. His pupils swirled, a pair of black oil spills, and I thought he might cry. Our eyes met, briefly, and a feeling of intense embarrassment overcame me as I realized that I had never actually seen my father cry before. I turned away, staring intently at a crack in the concrete porch. I wondered what would become of that crack in fifty years, if it would shrink and close up, leaving only a sliver of proof that it ever existed, or if it would steadily open its jaws, gaping to ever increasing proportions, before, with a final yawn, it swallowed the whole house. I wondered if, in fifty years, I might stand in the place of my father and receive the phone call from the physician and wear my father’s blank expression of grief. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with the desire to have a son. But the feeling soon passed, and there was nothing for my father and I to do but sit in silence and watch the grass grow.
Five inches later, my father finally spoke.
“No. I have work tomorrow. And we need to mow the lawn again.”
MiC Columnist Ashvin Pai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org