Lockwood’s LawnPreviously published in Word
Mr. Lockwood stood in his living room staring at his front yard through a crack in the shutters so he could catch any little boys or teenagers who cut across his lawn. Every evening he did this. First, he closed all the cream-colored shutters on all the windows so no one could look in, and then he stood there, watching. If no one cut across the lawn all night he could relax. If someone did cut across the lawn, he’d curse, and wish he could shoot the little bastard. He’d feel violated all night. On one hand, he knew his reaction was out of proportion to the circumstances. But deep down, he felt that it was the correct reaction. People shouldn’t walk on your lawn; it was rude, it was aggressive.
He stood there for only a few minutes, rubbing his fingers together. Then he paced away from the window, shaking his shoulders loose. He strolled the living room in a circular pattern, stopping in front of the mantelpiece to stare at an old photograph of his three daughters. They had been visiting Santa Claus. They wore bright, candy-colored dresses, and they peeped at the camera like box full of kittens. Angie was making a big effort to hold her shoulders back.
He stared at the picture, astonished, fascinated and sad. Not one of them had held on to her virginity past the age of eighteen. It had been one sweaty, lumpy boyfriend after the other, sitting on the couch and mumbling. Some of them had been nice boys. Some of them had laughed at his jokes and talked to him about baseball and politics and how hot green peppers are. Two of them, one a jazz musician and the other a medical student, had actually gone so far as to marry Angie and June respectively. This confused Lockwood. On one hand, he’d been unable to understand why the boys had wanted used merchandise. On the other, it was obvious that June an Angie were pretty, intelligent, friendly girls. Of course boys would want to marry them. He didn’t know whether to be proud or ashamed.
He hadn’t thought about it for a long time. They’d done it and the roof hadn’t caved in. None of the disasters he’d warned them with had occurred. Two of them were married. The whole issue had gone away, like any other nightmare.
Then Louise took up with that black guy that drove a bus for the mental hospital.
Louise was shy, bookish and overweight. He’d never worried about her before because she’d never gone out with boys. The first time Louise went on a date she was eighteen years old, and she went with a thirty-five-year-old black man who drove a busload of crazy people around.
He circled the livingroom again, glancing out at the yard as he passed the window. No kids.
He went into the kitchen, wiping his hands, which had become a little sweaty, on his shirt. His wife stood over the stove in jeans and a rumpled sweater, gently stabbing at two small steaks that were frying in a pan. “Almost ready!” she said. Her voice was as exuberant and comforting as it had been twenty years ago.
“Steak again? What else is there?”
“Scalloped potatoes and–oh!” She dashed to the counter with the dripping fork and began frantically stirring something. Her white upper arm quivered helplessly. “Can’t let this sauce sit still or it’ll go to sleep. It’s for the potatoes.”
His mouth opened: “Ahhh.”
She poked her finger in the sauce, scooped up a blob and put it in her mouth. “Ummm.” She adjusted her crooked glasses and stirred briskly, her thick, dark eyebrows and long, Roman nose seeming to point a steadfast beam of thought at the sauce.
He opened the pantry door, half out of nervousness, half to look for sardines. He stared at the wild jumble of pans, cereal boxes and cans of vegetables, unable to find the sardines, which he knew were there. The pantry floor was covered with blobs of dust and crumbs. Mrs. Lockwood was a good cook, but a terrible housekeeper. He looked at the pantry and thought, the house is filthy, every kid in the neighborhood rapes our front yard, and Louise is sleeping with a spear-chucker.
“Aren’t there any sardines left?”
His wife let go of the stirring spoon and came to stick her head in the pantry. “I thought there were.” She absently scanned the pantry jumble, her back leg lifted off the floor in mid-walk, and then returned to the steaks.
Lockwood half-consciously groped over a two-point comparison; the flabby upper arms and the pleasant voice, the good cooking and the horrible pantry.
“What’re we going to do about Louise?” he said.
She didn’t say anything, but he knew she was listening.
“I used to think she was okay because she was quiet and serious. But she’s turned out worse than Angie or June. All she ever does is sit up there on her butt and watch TV.”
“It’s repulsive,” agreed Mrs. Lockwood, poking thoughtfully at the meat. “But she’s so sullen you can’t talk to her. The last time I suggested therapy, she said ‘are you going to put me away like you did Angie?’”
His stomach tightened. “That’s a vicious thing to say.”
“Louise is very angry.”
“About what? What does she have to be angry about?”
“I don’t know. I’d rather talk about concrete than Louise.”
“She did have a harder time than Angie or June. They teased her and kept her out of all the neighborhood games. Then she got fat. You really handled the whole appendicitis episode badly. And you gave all the attention to that damn Angie. Louise got ignored.”
“I paid attention to Angie because she was disturbed.”
“It didn’t help, with Angie.”
Mrs. Lockwood turned the steaks over, put the fork on the little white grease plate and went to the sink to rinse lettuce for a salad. “I know. That’s why I don’t bother Louise.”
He watched her pick over the dark, ruffled lettuce. Nervous, he paced back to the living room, to the window. His wife sometimes teased him about looking out the window all the time. “I think you really want to see those boys out there,” she said. But he didn’t want to see them, not at all.
He rubbed his sweating fingers on the edges of his pants and went back to the kitchen.
“This thing with the bus driver is degrading as hell.”
“I never liked any of their boyfriends, except June’s David.”
“Mark isn’t a boyfriend, he’s thirty-five worthless years old. I hate him. He’s always late picking her up. He’s stood her up. He doesn’t call her for weeks. I’ve heard her crying in her room because of him.”
“Why don’t you talk to her?”
“You talk to her.”
“She doesn’t listen to me.” She was shaking out the salad in it’s strainer and not looking at him.
“What can anybody do? Throw her out? I decided a long time ago I wasn’t going to turn any of my children out.”
At one time, he’d said he wouldn’t stand for a pregnant girl in the house. Then June got pregnant. He screamed at her and she screamed back. He told her there would be no abortion. She and whoever did it took up a collection among her high school friends and paid for the abortion themselves. It was a sensation at the school. Kids told their parents, the people Lockwood saw everyday at the grocery. People who could stare at him as he mowed the lawn or drove to work.
Lockwood walked out of the kitchen, rubbing his fingers together. He glanced through the living room suspiciously. He paused and peered out the window in the stairwell, pulling his brow tight. There were no bastards. He plodded up the stairs with his head lowered as though he were using it to push through a barrier.
In the upstairs hall, he paused before Louise’s bedroom. Her television was on. She was probably sitting in front of it drinking grape pop and eating corn curls. His heart moved sideways in crabby, panicky movements. He stood there, squeezing his sweating hands together. He put his hand on her door and took it down again. Louise could be so mean. He wandered down the hall, went into bedroom and closed the door.
The chairs in the room were covered with laundry that Mrs. Lockwood had abandoned in the middle of sorting. Her bottles of perfume, some of them years old, stood all over the dresser, along with lumps of jewelry, knotted scarves and a film of dust. Her panty hose from weeks back were scattered across the floor in snaky piles.
He turned on the radio and lay on his back in bed with his arms stretched flat at his sides. The pillow case smelled like hair oil, and the sheets were covered with tiny grains and curly hairs. Lockwood closed his eyes and listened to the talk show voices tumble from the radio. They were talking about sex crimes.
Louise doesn’t know a goddamn thing about sex crimes, he thought. None of them do. They think it’s all so harmless and fun.
His wife called up stairs that dinner was ready. Lockwood listened to see if Louise was going down to dinner. She didn’t.
The man on the radio began talking about a man who had picked up a fifteen-year-old hitch-hiker in Dakota. He had raped her, cut off her arms and stuffed her in a sewage pipe. The kid had wiggled out and run to the highway for help. Now she had his ass in court. His wife had been stunned, said the man on the radio.
Lockwood had seen a long story on the crime in a liberal magazine. There had been a large picture of the child, dressed in blue jeans and a sweater, with her sleeves rolled up to show her artificial arms. They were plastic and had large steel claws on the ends of them. They made her look like a monster.
Looking at the picture made Lockwood feel funny. What a strange thing for that magazine to do, to run a big picture of something like that. The man on the radio was connecting pornography to violence. Hell yes, thought Lockwood, it’s all violent.
The article about the mutilated girl had been graphic; the kid had been very willing to tell them about it. She said he made her suck his cock. She said he asked her if she’d ever been fucked in the ass before, and that she said no, and that he did that to her. Lockwood was surprised at her willingness to use language like that.
Would it surprise Louise to know that the rapist had been kind at first, that he’d stroked the child’s neck and asked her if she wanted to stop to a milkshake?
His throat felt padded and furry. He sat up and turned the radio off. His stomach was knotted up so tight he didn’t want to eat. He wished he had a dish of ice cream. He thought of Louise. She hadn’t gone down for dinner either.
Down the hall, he knocked on Louise’s door and pushed it open. She was sitting on the floor, a foot away from her 20-inch TV set. “Did you hear your mother call dinner?” he asked.
“No.” She stared into the television, and her head seemed to recede into her body.
“There’s scalloped potatoes.” He grinned miserably.
“I’m on a diet.” She had a bottle of grape pop in her hand.
She was only about fifteen pounds overweight, but her flesh was so pale, her thighs and breasts so inert that she looked heavier. When she was a child, her face had been so pretty and big-eyed that people stopped them on the street to say, “What a beautiful little girl you have.” She broke his heart.
“Come on,” he said. “Your mother put in a big effort.”
She took a swig of grape pop and stared at the TV.
He squeezed his pant legs and rubbed his fingers together. He crossed the floor and sat down beside her, looking into the TV set. He could feel her body stiffen as if he had put his hand on her breast and it had disgusted her. He felt a horrible sensation of love.
“What are you watching?” he asked.
“Sabrina, The Teen-Aged Witch.”
He smiled and looked at the characters standing around on the screen. “How’s Mark? Heard from him lately?”
She snapped her head around and looked blankly at him. She leaned forward, shut off the TV and got to her feet. “No,” she said. “Let’s go eat.”
Downstairs, Mrs. Lockwood was sitting at the table with a fork full of salad. She was watching TV. “There you are,” she said. “Sit down, sit down, Married With Children’s on.”
Louise slumped into her chair and began dishing herself up some scalloped potatoes. Lockwood sat down, put both elbows on the table an leaned into his plate. He began devouring the food.
“How was your day Louise?” asked Mrs. Lockwood.
“The same as usual. A job like that is always one day the same as the next.”
“Why don’t you get another job?” asked Lockwood.
“I can’t. I’m not skilled.”
“You could get a skill.”
“I can’t stand the idea of some awful word-processing thing.”
“You’re at least a couple of notches above that,” said Mrs. Lockwood.
“Yeah,” said Lockwood. “But you’ve got to do something.”
Mrs. Lockwood began to chat with Louise about one of the Guido girls, who’d gotten a degree in advertising and gone to work in Chicago. Lockwood ate his salad and looked at Louise. She was still pretty in little ways. Her eyes were large and green and she had long eyelashes. Her wrist and collar bones were beautifully shaped and prominent.
Mark had long bones that stood out of his large, slender body. His long arms stuck out of his T-shirt in an aimless, naked way. He wore dark glasses that hid his eyes. He was handsome and he was silent, which made his beauty sinister to Lockwood. His silence was heavy and final, like a deaf man’s or an animal’s. Every time he talked, it seemed like the last time.
The first time he spoke, Lockwood had been surprised at the softness of his voice. He could be conversational. When he came to pick Louise up, he would sometimes sit in the living room with Lockwood, talking about movies or baseball. He told jokes and made awful, harmless puns. Once they talked for ten minutes about John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Lockwood ate his salad in gulps. Who gave a shit about “Mice and Men”? He took Louise to the most dangerous part of town. No white people lived there. Mark lived there with his mother. No one would bring a girl home and screw her right in front of his mother. But Mark might. Mark was a thirty-five-year-old man who never got out of high school. He had a shitty job and he lived with his mother. He didn’t have a father. What kind of mother could he have? An old fat black lady with bifocals and flat feet sitting in front of TV with a bag of potato chips. She probably didn’t care what Mark did with Louise, they could sit around all night and listen to rap records or whatever the hell they did, and eat pizza and roll right into bed in the next room.
Lockwood swallowed, grabbed his napkin and rolled it up into a tattered, greasy little ball. “Do you realize that every time we eat dinner we’re staring into a goddamned TV set?”
Louise and his wife stared at him, surprised. “I thought you liked Married With Children,” said Mrs. Lockwood.
“Well, I do. But this is no way for a family to live. I was always against it. It was you that wheeled the TV into the dining room to begin with. Just like you took over the bedroom and the bookshelves.”
Mrs. Lockwood got up and turned off the TV. Lockwood could see Louise clenching her jaw muscles. She probably hated him for having the tube shut off. Lockwood picked up his steak bone and gnawed at the bits of meat clinging close to it. They ate in silence for a moment.
Lockwood put his bone down, held on to his napkin and said, “Say Louise, Mark hasn’t called you for a long time now, has he?”
She didn’t respond.
“Does that mean you’re on the outs?”
“No, it doesn’t mean we’re on the outs.” She talked like she wanted to chew his face.
“What does it mean? Seems like it would mean something.” He rolled his napkin tighter.
“Obviously, it means he doesn’t feel like calling me.”
“We didn’t treat girls like that in my time.”
“Good for you.”
Lockwood wanted to smash his plate over her head.
“The only reason I brought it up is that I thought we might have him over for dinner some night. If you’re not on the outs.”
“I’ve been seeing Mark for six months,” said Louise to the empty TV set, “and you can barely stand to talk to him. Now that you think he’s insulted me, you want to bring him over and feed him. Pretty funny.”
Lockwood squeezed his napkin to shreds. He couldn’t answer. His stomach felt too terrible.
Mrs. Lockwood looked away and played with her peas. They sat quietly, staring in different directions. A large muscle twitched in Louise’s jaw.
“Say Louise,” said Mrs. Lockwood. “Have you ever seen that young man who mows lawns around here? The one who was working on the Langtree’s yard the other day? I was talking to him–just a little–and he seemed nice.”
“He’s a moron,” said Louise. “I knew him in school.”
Lockwood let go of his napkin. He got up and walked to the living room, to the window. There were no little bastards in the yard, or in the street, or anywhere in sight. Their absence gave him no comfort. He was thinking of the night years ago, that he got out of bed to go to the bathroom at four in the morning, looked out the bathroom window and saw Angie and some boy in a car parked in front of the house. As he watched, the boy staggered out of the car and peed in the street. Tiny, skinny Angie leapt out after him, her hair flying, a screaming giggle trailing from her like a gauze scarf. She tripped and fell; as she stood, he could see her pull her pants up from around her knees and stagger to the boy. He sat down on the bathtub to avoid seeing more.
He turned away from the window and thumped up the stairs to his room. He got the liberal magazine with the big story on sex crimes, ripped out the picture of the maimed child and put scotch tape on the back of it. He went into Louise’s room and stuck it on the screen of her TV.