his ass was grass
When he was a younger man, he’d heard all about the various conspiracy theories involving some hidden vault in Detroit where malevolent automakers had stored dozens of alternatives to gasoline-powered engines. Most of them acquired through nefarious means. He doubted them, not because he had a high opinion of human nature so much as he had a low opinion of people to successfully execute a good conspiracy.
Too many moving parts.
He was basically a good person but there had been an incident in his childhood that had forever made him wonder about his own capacity for callousness. It didn’t seem much at the time but it still played through his head often enough to suggest it might be a fin cutting through the surface of some metaphorical sea. It had been a hot summer night and as he tried to sleep (which was difficult enough in the sweltering heat) a fly kept buzzing by his head as if intent on annoying him. Frustrated he leapt up and chased the fly to the window where it sat on the screen in as defiant a way as a fly can muster. With one quick motion the boy brought down the window and trapped the fly between the glass and the screen. Although that almost instantly made the room unbearably hot, he felt a little chill of triumph run up his spine.
Upon awaking the next day, after a fitful sleep, he was gratified to see the fly still there.
And when he got home from school he checked to confirm that the fly was still his prisoner.
This little production played itself out for three more days until finally he saw his winged nemesis lying dead on the sill between the glass and the screen. A little chill ran down his spine again but this time he wasn’t so sure it was triumph he felt.
He was smart as a child and he grew up to be an even brighter man. He appeared a decent person and his motives for pursuing science were pure. He wanted to make the world a better place and after many years of hard work he thought he’d done just that. While it wasn’t curing cancer, this was something that could improve the lives of millions of people around the world.
Or so he thought until he arrived a few minutes late the big meeting to show the higher-ups what he and his team had been working on for so long, only to see a fireball erupt from the corner of the building where that meeting was underway. And that quickly, everything changed.
A minute later his cell phone rang. He had been sitting frozen in his front seat and it took half a dozen rings to shake him from his dazed condition. Trembling, he answered. There was a long pause before a voice on the other end asked him his name. When he gave it to them the voice said simply “Forget about your grass or we’ll find you,” and then hung up.
He dropped the phone and stared at the contents on his backseat. Sitting there was all the research in neat boxes and a few large bags of seed. His breakthrough. His achievement.
The reason that all of his research team was now dead.
He pulled out of the parking space and headed south.
His head was spinning. He wondered who would care about grass that only grew two inches tall and then stopped growing? Grass that when planted grew into the perfect lawn without any upkeep needed. No mowing …
That’s when it hit him. No grass to grow equals no lawn mowers sold.
He pressed the accelerator to the floor. Nothing runs like a Deere except someone being chased by a Deere. It had to be them. Big Mowing. They had the most to lose if this grass was ever sold commercially.
He looked up into the sky to see if there were any helicopters following him.
He thought about going to the press but if he walked into the New York Times and said the words “genetically modified,” they’d probably shoot him themselves.
Distracted, he almost hit the hitchhiker standing on the side of the relatively-deserted highway. He stomped on the brake and invited her into his car, partially to pay her back for almost killing her but mostly because anyone looking for his make of automobile wouldn’t be looking for someone with a passenger.
He felt a familiar sensation run down his spine and once again he wasn’t sure if it were a good chill or a bad one.
He made it about a mile before he started blurting out what had just happened to him to the female who had until very recently been waving her thumb at his approaching vehicle. She took it all in and sat for another mile digesting it before offering her take.
“Groundskeepers! Of course!”
He again stomped on the brake and his car did a quick 360 followed by another and then about an additional 125 leaving him facing the ditch and sitting in a cloud of smoke. The other occupant of the car was unamused by this unexpected display of driving prowess.
“I was heading to Mexico. Mexico! Of all places,” he said by way of explanation.
“How do I know you’re not just crazy?” she finally said.
“Mexico is groundskeeper central. Now I think about it … I can remember seeing a lot of landscapers hovering around as I pulled up this morning.”
She continued to stare at him. “Can we start driving again?” is all she had to say about Mexico.
Finally he started driving again, away from Mexico.
“Do you want me to drop you off here now that I’m heading back in the direction we came?”
“Nope. Now that I can see that you’re not dangerous, it doesn’t matter where we’re going. I just wanted to go out for a drive.” The words were quiet and she was looking out the window and past the horizon as she said them.
“And you were worried that I was crazy?” He laughed.
“You’re the one who thinks that Mexicans are out to kill you because you invented a new kind of grass. My only problem in life is that I can’t say fucker.”
“Fucker?” he said bewilderedly. “You just said it.”
“No dumbass, I can’t say a particular word. It comes out as fucker. Makes ordering breakfast tough.”
He drove on. He didn’t want to ask. He had other issues to deal with. Big issues. He didn’t want to care but it started to gnaw at him. He was running for his life from a bloodthirsty Mexican cartel and here he was wondering what word it was that this stranger couldn’t say without resorting to profanity.
Two songs later, he finally broke down. “What word?”
“Fucker. Here’s a clue: it goes on toast. That enough for you, Fuckercup?”
He sighed and realized that his day wasn’t going to get any better.
“So who are your allies? Who would profit from grass that didn’t need mowing?” she asked.
Maybe his day was getting a little better. “That’s a great question! There have to be plenty of people who would benefit from my new grass. I can make a list and go to them for help.” He took a deep breath for the first time since the explosion.
“People who make picnic baskets. Or the makers of hot dogs,” she offered helpfully.
“Yeah” he thought to himself. Big Barbeque.
He pulled into a gas station to fill up. They started to laugh as the list of possible allies who might come to his rescue got longer and sillier.
Laughing, he idly watched the attendant take his credit card into the mini-mart and make his way to the phone. He started to dial and then looked out the big glass window and right at the two laughing occupants of the car.
One of the two abruptly stopped. What do lawnmowers run on? What do the vehicles that transport lawn mowers run on? What do the big rigs that bring lawn mowers to malls and outlets run on?
He looked up at the glowing letters G A S and a very different chill ran down his spine.
His head swimming, he opened the door and stepped out. He leaned back in and told the girl that the car was hers and wished her good luck. He took out what little cash he had in his wallet and took off running.
Big Above Ground Pools against Big Oil? He knew which side he’d bet on.
He could never stop running.
He ran deep into the woods and it wasn’t until it started to get dark that he remembered the fly caught behind the screen. Looking out at the world. All the good and bad and edible. Everything right there in front of it.
He wondered how long it took for the fly to actually die. How long did it suffer? Can I fly even suffer in a way that we can comprehend?
Two weeks later his sister got a postcard. It read:
Greetings from Fairbanks!
Death’s a fierce meadowlark: but to die having made Something more equal to the centuries Than muscle and bone, is mostly to shed weakness
Robinson Jeffers Crusoe