Standing at the entrance to the Manion estate recently I couldn’t help but admit that the grounds looked a little shabby. Not up to the expectations someone would have if they pulled into the driveway of a celebrated author such as myself.
So I did what Manions have done for generations when it comes to yardwork; I rolled up my sleeves and called a few landscaping companies to get a quote.
They were far too expensive and it looked for a brief time like I would have to figure out how my garage door opens, find the tools left by the previous owner and actually exert myself. Luckily I happened to be speaking to a neighbor that same week on the topic and he put me in touch with a guy he knew that did that type of labor for much less than his competitors. A couple phone conversations later I had sorted everything out.
A couple days later, as I sit and watched from my office above my garage, I saw his crew roll up. One old man and one old lady.
Each looked well into their seventies and as they started to unload wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of mulch and bring it up to the flowerbeds at the front of my house I felt horrible. Absolutely terrible. How could I possibly sit there and let these two old people do all of my yard work?
It wasn’t easy let me tell you. At times I couldn’t even bring myself to look out the window and watch them.
The guy was your typical haggard old man but his wife… she was something special. Short and squat, built for such activities, she wore braces on both her ankles and knees and seemed no stranger to manual labor. She looked like a miniature Russian power lifter from back in the days when they were all doped up.
There was a lot of grunting involved.
Finally, after enough guilt had welled up inside me, I ventured downstairs to get a closer look. Proving the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished, my kindhearted gesture of bringing out a pitcher of ice-cold lemonade completely backfired. Not that they didn’t enjoy it, but because I got a closer look at the old woman.
She was covered in dirt and debris and bugs. It was the bugs that got me.
They were still alive.
For reasons known only by science and whatever gods she prayed to, her skin was like flypaper. As if on cue a gnat flew into the center of her forehead and stuck there. She didn’t bat an eyelash nor did she make any attempt to remove it. It just sat there, little legs waving in the air and completely unable to extricate itself from her sweaty brow.
She continued to talk about plants or the weather or some other completely banal topic but I couldn’t hear a word she was saying. All I could do was to stare at the bug trapped on her face.
I wondered if she walked around at night amongst fireflies she would eventually look like the universe.
There were bugs on her arms and bugs on her legs and all of them were doing the same little dance. My bottom lip began to quiver. Why didn’t she feel them squirming away and put them out of their misery? I wanted to get a whiffleball bat and whack her with it until they had all passed on.
Apparently she wasn’t talking about plants or the weather because when I finally rejoined the conversation I’d already agreed to pay her another $60 to clean my gutters. Just dandy! Now I had to worry about Helga or Olga or whatever the fuck her name was thundering around on my roof and possibly putting one of her cement feet through my upstairs ceiling. I swear we’d need one of those cranes they use on highrises to pull her out.
Luckily that didn’t happen because after only a few minutes she fell off my roof. I say luckily because she wasn’t injured. I’m not that callous.
Luckily she landed on her husband.
He was injured. But getting injured is a man’s job after all. Not a delicate flower like Helga or Olga or whatever the fuck her name was. That flower drove the old man deep into the grass. After his son had collected him and driven him to the ER there was still an “old man who got squashed by a Helga or Olga or whatever the fuck her name was” imprint on my lawn.
That night I called the man and told him that I no longer needed his services. I would do what I should have done from the start; gone down to Home Depot and hired a few of the illegals that hang around there looking for work.
“Pone el mantillo en los parterres.”
Maybe Helga or Olga or whatever the fuck her name was has a pet lizard that she feeds every night with all the insects stuck to her.
“Ese sería un buen final.”