YARD WORK

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    Anthony Varallo
    Anthony Varallo’s second short story collection, Out Loud, won the 2008 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. His first collection, This Day in History, won the 2005 John Simmons Short Fiction Award. Varallo is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Literature, and his stories have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Epoch, Shenandoah, Harvard Review, and elsewhere. He received his M.F.A. from The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Currently he is an assistant professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he is the fiction editor for Crazyhorse.

    For the past few weeks my neighbor has been trimming his yard with nail clippers.  He usually starts in the evening, when I’ve just finished putting my son to bed and my wife is watching reality TV with the volume off.  I can see him outside, crouched to the lawn, his hands working furiously.  His expression is neither happy nor sad.  Sometimes he wears a Baltimore Orioles baseball cap.  I don’t know his name.

    On the show my wife mutely watches, a group of college kids have been tasked with crossing the globe in a school bus.  They seem angry about this.  They are always angry.  They yell things we’ll never know.  Sometimes they hang glide or visit landmarks.  Stonehenge, for example.

    At first I thought my neighbor was using a weeding tool.  One of those things that looks like a double-forked fork—that thing.  But it wasn’t that thing; it was nail clippers.  I saw them when I went to the end of my driveway under the pretense of taking the trash out.  I waved to my neighbor and he waved back with the clippers.  I left the empty trashcan at the end of the driveway and came back inside where my son was out of bed, watching the reality show with my wife.  We’ve been working on getting him to stop doing that, along with brushing his top row of teeth, not just the bottom, the way he always does.

    My neighbor has been working on the grass around his mailbox for nearly three days now.  After that, he’ll move on to grass along the walkway.  That seems like his plan, if he has one.  You’d figure a guy cutting his lawn with nail clippers would have some kind of plan.

    Tonight I have to read my son another bedtime story, to get him back to sleep.  We keep getting him different books from the library, but they all seem to deliver the same news: the world is more exciting than you’ll ever know—now fall asleep.  Most times I don’t think my son is even paying attention.  He gets this look on his face.

    Later I drink a beer I don’t really want and watch my neighbor finish the grass around the mailbox.  I watch him from my living room window.  My wife watches TV.  It gets dark out.  My neighbor scoops nail-clipped grass into a black garbage bag.  I think he should be ready to start on the grass along the walkway, but he doesn’t.  What he does is cross the street and start on my yard.  He clips my grass.

    “Come look,” I whisper to my wife.  But she’s already left the room.

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