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Lawn Mower and Rage (A Short Story)

April 3, 2024
AJ Diaz

Fred really needed to get his lawn mower started.

It was bad enough what had happened the night before with his wife.

“This can never happen again,” she’d said.

Fred shook his head.

He wanted to forget last night, but he couldn’t shake it.

And so Fred yanked the pull-start. The engine of the small motor sputtered. And failed.

Across the street, the young boy raked autumn-colored leaves into orderly piles. Fred looked over, pausing, wiping a forearm across his brow.

“Mr. Fred,” said the boy. “Need help?”

“No.” That was all Fred said.

Fred needed to get this lawn mower started, and he was the one who needed to start it.

That was when Fred’s wife decided to appear on the lawn, coming from the house, leaving the door wide open. Her dress blew in the wind, it seemed. But there was no wind. It only appeared that way. It always appeared that way. And Fred was so damned annoyed that this woman was so damned perfect.

Fred’s wife was the most beautiful woman in the neighborhood.

And, oh boy, did he know it.

It was bad enough that he couldn’t leave the house for more than an hour without men showing up and lobbying her for even the smallest crumbs of affection.

The boy across the street hadn’t reached that age yet. But he would. And he would become an enemy. Because of proximity, enemy number one.

It was for that reason that Fred often dreamed of claymore mines and how he might utilize the function of said mines to thwart the ever-increasing threats of incoming men but in a non-violent way of course.

Fred dreamed of setting up mines at every entry point to the house that somehow deflected men and shut down their animal, animal nature.

Fred stood there, watching his wife approach, but his mind was elsewhere: visualizing a heavily armored home that repelled men like Fred had, for all of his life, repelled women.

Before Fred had married Victoria, he’d dreamed of beautiful women. He’d watched them from a distance. He’d sat on the beach like everyone else, eating his ice cream down to the cone and watching the women as if through a glass. As if from another world. Back then, Fred had been an overweight mess. Since then, he’d had to clean up his act. He’d had no choice.

Now that he had the most beautiful woman in the city. Nay, in the county. In the state. Maybe in the damned country. Maybe in the damned be damned damned world, he began to have other dreams.

He began to dream of a homely woman who was loyal.

And now she walked towards him as if in a perpetual waltz, full of grace and untrustworthiness, touched by God Himself with the gift of beauty-beyond-compare, and angel, and fairy, and perfect, and Fred couldn’t breathe.

He lost his breath every time.

And every time he saw her, he knew he had to keep her, no matter what it took.

“Can’t get the lawn mower started?” she said, coming to a stop before him.

Complete stillness stood between them. There was no wind. Generic suburbia sprawled around them: the square manicured front lawns, the homes set in order, the street cutting down the center, the hot sun touching down, the stillness, stillness, damned stillness.

“Isn’t that a metaphor for your life?” she said.

And that cut Fred to the center of his small heart, straight through, as if she’d taken a harpoon and, with a startling throaty yell, had thrust it through.

Fred’s imaginings had been getting more violent by the day.

Fred needed to get this lawn mower started.

But, now, standing here across from his wife, deadlocked.

“What’s wrong with it?” she asked. “Do you need to take it to the shop?”

Fred didn’t respond.

“Why do you get like this? You shut down. Like last night.”

She was speaking louder than Fred was comfortable with: loud enough for the boy to hear.

And then Fred heard the mail truck arrive at the far end of the street and his blood pressure went through the roof of his skull and blew the top of his fucking head off. He saw, in his imagination, blood shooting upwards like a spout. Like a broken fire hydrant. Just spewing and raining and flooding everything with crimson, crimson. Damn.

Fred was opposed to violence of all kinds and only used it when he had to.

Fred hated the mailman. And he knew exactly what he needed to do. He needed to assert himself. He’d been driving away men from this home for a year now. They gathered like flocks. He’d yell at them. He’d threaten them. He’d call the cops on them. And Victoria had never once objected to their presence.

She seemed to enjoy Fred’s struggle.

She took sick pleasure from it.

Sure, Fred always had the last word.

When the ice cream truck driver had asked for her hand in marriage, Fred followed the man’s route all day. Tracked the guy back to his home, slashed his tires and disabled the refrigeration system on his truck.

When the Latin dancer showed up from God knows where to give roses and pledge his undying love to Victoria, Fred found the guy in the phone book, having learned his name. Then Fred burned the phone book in the backyard, making a ceremony out of it so that Victoria would never be able to search the man up. Then Fred went to the man’s apartment and breached it in the middle of the night and, wearing a ski mask and carrying a fake gun, pretended to threaten the guy for no apparent reason. Fred had made the guy strip down naked and lie in his bathtub. Then Fred packed up all the man’s clothes and doused them in motor oil, which he’d stolen from the machine shop when he’d tracked down the welder who had been sending letters to Victoria. That machine shop no longer existed.

In the last six months, Fred had slashed the tires on twenty-seven cars, had set two houses on fire, had fudged the numbers on the books of six businesses, thus causing a slow and inevitable decline of said businesses, had broken into a military base to put itch powder in a man’s underwear, had broken into a secure prison to teach a certain prisoner certain manners on what happens to men in prison who try to court his wife outside of prison, and had hacked the NSA database. He’d hacked the NSA database for no reason other than he was particularly pissed off that day.

He’s poisoned three coffees and had committed over thirty felonies.

And that was just the last six months.

And Fred needed to get this lawn mower started.

Victoria looked past Fred, eagerly awaiting the mailman. She loved to see Fred get worked up. Fred knew it. He hated it. He resented her for it. He loved her for it. Looking at her, even now, he knew that he loved her and that he needed to get this lawn mower started.

Fred was a frugal man. He didn’t have much money. He didn’t have much time. He hardly slept. Didn’t have time. Just this week, on his calendar, he had planned two arsons, one poisoning, a handful of nighttime burglaries and a bank heist because the owner of the bank had invited his wife on a trip to the Caymans.

Fred wouldn’t keep the money from the heist, of course. He would bury it in the backyard of the man he needed to frame for the robbery. The man who came by one night when Fred was out mugging someone in a back alley.

Fred didn’t have time to deal with this mailman.

Nor did he have time to deal with this damned lawn mower.

Why couldn’t Fred just settle down with an ugly young woman and sit back on a porch and drink iced tea and not have to cherry-bomb people’s mailboxes or plant incriminating evidence in people’s closed vehicles?

In one year of marriage, Fred learned how to forge documents, sell government secrets to foreign agents, hot wire vehicles, siphon gas, and cook a mean souffle’: because one time he had to get hired on as a chef so that he could learn the intimate details of a particular other chef’s life so he could sabotage him in increasingly large ways ultimately culminating in said chef fleeing out of state in an effort to, “reduce the mental strain of everyday living.”

Fred had turned three regular men into vegans, three vegans into carnivore diet aficionados, and three surfer bums into corporate sellouts. And then he turned one corporate sellout into a zoo. An actual zoo.

Fred reached for the pull cord of the lawn mower and yanked hard, with all his might, with all his lat strength, which he’d had to develop because he’d had to become a cage fighter a few months back in order to pin a guy to the floor during a Bellator match and yell these precious words into the man’s ear: “Pangea wasn’t real.”

That was when the mailman arrived and the lawn mower, miraculously, turned on.

Victoria had never cheated on Fred with the mailman, thank God. But the mailman had been trying for a year now. He was persistent. But today, the man driving the mail truck wasn’t a man at all. It was a woman. And she was beautiful.

When she climbed down from the mail truck, Fred had to hold in a gasp. His wife did audibly gasp. As the woman walked to the mailbox, she looked over at the couple with a smile that could kill.

“Nice lawn mower,” she said.


That night, when Fred and Victoria laid to rest, Victoria said, “I didn’t like that woman, Fred. I didn’t like the way she looked at you. Not one bit. No one looks at my Fred that way. Not even me.”

Fred had never seen Victoria jealous and he didn’t know what to think of it. Mostly he was considering his security setup, how top-notch it was, and planning his next heist and considering why Taco Bell Dorito Tacos were so good.

That night, Fred couldn’t sleep and he didn’t know why. And then it happened. Something tripped his alarm systems. Fred received the alert via the smartwatch on his wrist. Without waking Victoria, he bolted down the stairs, swooping up his strategically placed rifle along the way, and ran through the front door, meeting the threat face to face. It was a man. And the man was holding an identical rifle.

Fred moved out under the starry night, gun raised.

A standoff.

“Who are you?” Fred asked.

“I’m Ralph. You met my wife earlier today. She delivered your mail.”

That was when Fred lowered his weapon, and threw it aside onto the un-mowed grass. “I completely understand,” said Fred, face breaking into a smile.

“You do?” said Ralph.

“Ralph, old man,” said Fred. “Just last night I unleashed an ant farm into a man’s sock drawer for casting a side glance at my wife Victoria at Starbucks.”

Ralph lowered his rifle, drawing his eyes into a squint.

Could it be true?

Could there be someone like Ralph?

That’s what Ralph was thinking. Fred knew it. Because Fred was thinking the same thing.

Finally, Ralph returned the smile.

“Last night I flooded a man’s house,” said Ralph. “Making it look like a bathtub overflow. To top it off, I used a bath bomb. His house this morning was filled with strawberry-scented bubbles.” Ralph laughed his head off. Couldn’t help himself.

“I’ve used the bath bomb before!” said Fred. “In a similar situation except I was flooding a college dormitory.”

“I once replaced a man’s Persian cat with a Siamese cat. And then I unleashed fifteen snakes into his house a week later. Good times.”

“That’s creative and nonsensical. A knee-slapper!”

“What about you? What’s your greatest hit?”

“I once told a guy Pangea wasn’t real just to fuck with his head.”

“Did it work?”

“Yeah,” said Fred with a laugh. “It did. Because the next day I dressed up as Pangea, chased him into the back of a Chick-fil-a and made him eat seventeen sausages while tickling him. I made him shout ‘Pangea isn’t real’ the entire time. It was a fit. And in the weeks preceding the event, I’d sent him an onslaught of letters, emails, texts, postcards, signage, magnets on other cars on the same roads that he drives, billboards, all claiming that Pangea WAS, in fact, real. It was great fun.”

“Wow, that’s bombastic. Well-planned. And the inspiration I needed, honestly. You’re a revelation, Fred! You truly are.”

And so Fred and Ralph became friends. They decided to become teammates in their exploits.

“Life’s going to be so much easier now that we’re together.”

“Where should we start?”

“I need to firebomb three houses this week.”

“We can steal a police car and pillory it through the barn on Second and Adams. The barn they just raised?” That’s the one, said Fred, a glint in his eye.

That night, Ralph decided to bring his wife Emma over to meet Victoria.

While Fred and Ralph spoke of fires and felonies, the women, in another room, enjoying warm tea together, began to bond as well.

“You’re very beautiful,” said Emma. “You must get a lot of male attention.”

“No, men make grand, sweeping gestures,” said Victoria. “But, they’re all talk. I never see them again.”

“Wow, that happens to you, too? I thought it was just me.”

After some silence, Victoria brought up the primary issue plaguing their marriage. “Fred is really very hard on himself. Last night, he couldn’t get it started, and it nearly ruined him. He threw a tantrum and balled his hands up in fists. I thought for sure he was going to blow a gasket. And I told him that can never happen again. Poor, poor man.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Maybe try pills.”

“Oh, God, no, not that. Fred’s got the greatest cock in the county. Hell in the country. That’s why I married him. Greatest sex of my life. Like a revival. I could never go anywhere else for that. I’m fully satisfied with my Freddy-bear. It was just that, last night, he couldn’t get the dishwasher started. Couldn’t remember how to do it. He got really flustered. He’s like that, my Fred. Takes things very seriously.

And then the lawn mower wasn’t working this morning. I thought his hernia was going to have a hernia.

He got really worked up.

With a sigh, she said, “I’m afraid that if things keep going wrong for Fred he may do something really drastic.”


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