Mary Gaitskill

Lockwood’s Lawn

Previously 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.