Emerald Impressions
Caitlin Ehrenberg
The Long Afternoon
Tim Wedge

“Bye, Dad!”
“Bye, sweetie, see you later this afternoon.”
Janie and the kids were “headed out,” as per their Saturday afternoon tradition. He, on the other hand had a long afternoon ahead of him. While they were out at the mall, he would be mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges and assorted other herculean tasks that dads did on the weekend. He watched briefly as they drove away, before checking the oil in the mower and getting to work. The 22-inch blades sharpened, his 7.5 horsepower, self-propelled, lawn-munching beast was ready to be unleashed on a lawn that had laid unmolested these last 6 days. Briefly, he thought he heard a distant metallic noise that made him sad. Just as quickly, he decided that he had not.

He fired up the lawnmower, its mighty engine easily drowning out the noise of the little Alvarez twins in matching red t-shirts coasting down the street on their skateboards. Last week, he started from the mailbox, so this week he must start from the corner opposite the mailbox. He mowed diagonally, carefully overlapping by 3 inches after every turn, and alternating directions every week.
Others might try, but none had the carefully sculpted appearance of his lawn. Artificial turf did not have that carefully sculpted appearance. He liked it when Janie and
the kids came home and praised the smooth, manicured greenery. This would be followed by a hug and kiss, and praise for Janie's “big, sexy gardener.” Sometimes Janie would make a little game out of it.
“Oh, big sexy gardener, you're so dirty and sweaty, you should come in and take a shower!” “Oh, you're nice and clean now!” “Oooh, I'm sorry I don't have any money to pay you this week, big sexy gardener . . . maybe we could make other arrangements?”
Maybe today would be one of those days. He would like that.
He finished in surprisingly short order. He opted to make a quick pit stop in the bathroom before he did the edging. He thought the house smelled a little off when he went inside. It did not stink, exactly, but it did not smell the way it had this morning before Janie and the kids left. Kind of stale, as though the house had been closed up for days or weeks. In the bathroom, he did a double take as he passed by the mirror. What was wrong with his face?
His face was covered in stubble; maybe a week’s worth of growth. Odd. He couldn't remember if he had shaved that morning, but surely he had shaved before he went to work on Friday, hadn't he? He sighed in exasperation, and shaved. He didn't want to hear about “whisker burn” when Janie and the kids came home. That done, with a smooth sexy gardener face, he resolved to get back outside and get the edging and trimming done.

He returned to a lawn gone mad. Four or five inches high at least, and no hint of his carefully executed diagonal cuts. This was a lawn that might not have been mowed in weeks. He had seen lawns like this before: at abandoned houses, in poor neighborhoods. On TV shows, maybe, but never his lawn! No, this was inconceivable! He had to get it fixed before Janie and the kids came home. He would probably still get his traditional hug and kiss, but it wouldn't be the same. He wouldn't have earned it.
Thankfully, he had not put the mower away yet. It was dirtier than he remembered it, but mowing a lawn will do that. He had just checked the oil this morning, and the gas should be full, so he fired up the beast again. As he went to work, he noticed the Alvarez brothers drifting by on their skateboards and matching black t-shirts again.
The mowing did not go as smoothly this time. He had to empty the bag numerous times, and refill the gas tank. At this rate, he would never get done before Janie and the kids came home. He looked at his handiwork with concern. Though smooth and short now, there was far too much yellow and paler-green in his normally immaculate lawn. The edges of the lawn were making some aggressive advances on the sidewalk and driveway. He was starting to feel rushed, vaguely worried that Janie and the kids would be home before he fixed this mess. Even so, he'd better make sure to hydrate before he tackled the edging; he was starting to feel a little more tired and sore than usual after hitting that high grass.
After a nice tall ice water, he headed to the bathroom. He thought the house smelled a little musty. Not his problem, though. Janie would take care of it when she got home. He did a double take as he passed the bathroom mirror. Was he growing a beard? He could have sworn he just shaved, but maybe he was wrong. He figured it wouldn't hurt to shave real quick before going back out. Were those flecks of white in his whiskers? He shaved then, and with a mild but growing sense of urgency, he headed back outside to finish that lawn.

He opened the door and stepped out into the drifting snow. Damn! Dammit all to hell! He would need to shovel the driveway before Janie and the kids got home. He grudgingly put the snow-covered lawnmower away and pulled out the shovel. He got to work as the Alvarez boys sailed down the street on their sleds. Were they getting bigger? Probably just the bulky coats. His legs and back were really starting to bother him by the time he finished, he was thankful to be finally done. Just to be safe, he decided to put some salt down on the walkway before Janie and the kids got home. He put the shovel in the garage, and found the salt. He needed to pee again before he spread the salt, though.
Damn! He couldn't believe the sight in the mirror. It looked like he was growing a beard. Some of those whiskers looked white. Did he have white whiskers now? He wasn't sure if Janie would like that. She would probably give him a little playful teasing. Now that he noticed the whiskers, he saw some white hairs in other places, too. He decided to shave, and hope Janie didn't notice the other white streaks. It wouldn't be as noticeable with the whiskers gone. When was the last time he shaved? Hadn't he shaved this morning? Maybe not. He sighed and went to work on the unkempt growth on his face, until the image in the mirror was somewhat more like the one he remembered. The he went to salt the walkway.

The snow was gone when he walked outside. Damn! The lawn! What a mess! What wasn't too high was dead and brown! What little green there was consisted almost entirely of weeds. He wanted to cry, even though that was not what big, sexy gardeners did. His knees and back were killing him. It seemed like he'd been working for hours and would never get the lawn fixed before Janie and the kids got home. Wouldn't they be here pretty soon?
He would need to re-sod. He couldn't fix this. As he headed inside to check the yellow pages, he noticed the Alvarez brothers gliding by on their new . . . scooters? Those things sure were quiet. Electric maybe? Those boys were taller now, he was sure of it. Odd.
He wasn't sure what it cost to re-sod. He was sure it wasn't cheap. He couldn't find the yellow pages. Too much junk and old newspapers in the house. Old newspapers? How long had these been here? This didn't look right. Wasn't the house clean this morning? Why did everything smell like feet?
He sat for a moment, and thought more about hiring someone to re-sod the yard. Maybe he should plant seed, but that would take too long to grow. Maybe he should talk it over with Janie first. Maybe he should go look again, just to make sure he couldn't salvage it somehow. He needed to go to the bathroom first, though.
He panicked when he passed the mirror, for an instant thinking some homeless man had broken in. His hair was white and long, and so was his beard. Didn't he just shave a little while ago? He thought he had, but maybe he was mistaken. He was sure he hadn't gone to work looking like this yesterday. He sighed. He was too tired to deal with it. He needed to go outside. He needed fresh air. The air in the house didn't smell good.
Snow again. Damn. He sighed and walked toward the garage to get his shovel. His joints hurt like hell, but he was resolute that things would be fixed before Janie and the kids got home. He grabbed the shovel, and felt a firm but gentle hand on his arm.
“It's OK, Mr. Branson. Let me have the shovel. We'll take care of the snow for you.”
The Alvarez twins. They were taller, he was sure of it now. They were taller than he was, for crying out loud. When did they get so tall?
“Mr. Branson, let me have the shovel. We do that for you now, remember?”
He remembered no such thing.
“You should go inside and rest, Mr. Branson. This cold isn't good for you. We'll take care of it. Please.”
Reluctantly, he acquiesced and went inside. He hoped Janie wouldn't be upset if she came home to find the Alvarez boys in the driveway. He was very tired. Everything hurt. When would this afternoon be over?
I'll just close my eyes, he thought. Just for a moment.

There was a noise in the driveway. His eyes flew open. Janie and the kids were back! He got up and headed outside. Absent-mindedly, he ran his hand across his face. Smooth. He wasn't sure if he'd shaved this morning. Apparently he had. His knees and back felt better. Maybe he had nodded off and didn't realize it. A nap would have done him good.

They were back.
“Dad!”
“Daddy!”
“We missed you!” Brief, happy hugs.
“Come on, Dad, you have to drive!” Drive?
Janie kissed him and hugged him, a quick familiar gesture, as she got out and walked to the passenger side. “She's right, sweetie, you have to drive.”
“But where are we going?”
“Come on, Dad! You know where we're going. You'll like it a lot, I promise!”

And it turned out that he did.