by Laura Citino
Out of school for so long he drums on the floor and make holes in the walls. His mother spends nights at the laundromat wearing shoes with no arch support. For some peace and quiet she sends Robbie across the street to mow the old lady’s lawn. First, to shake some of the weight off his neck, he does a whippet behind the shed and dry heaves by the rhododendron bush.
The hours shuffling back and forth over the brown grass are a sacrifice to the sun god, a mystical transformation of pure young skin into unoiled leather, the caked surfaces of deserts, moon craters, cracked asphalt. Robbie’s got headphones in and when a song ends he looks up into the silver white sky to remind himself, oh, he’s still here. His mother says you could lose a toe that way. Once he caught a frog in the mower. Blood splattered onto the grass and then he stepped on the grass and when he went inside he left two eggplant-colored footprints on the living room carpet. His mother threw her head back and closed her eyes. What am I going to do with you, she said like she says so often.
He looks up and sees the two girls. They walk arm in arm, legs like birds, one thin and the other thinner. He sees them often, their ponytails wild and heads bent close together. He watches them collapse into the abandoned lot across the street. They tumble as if their marionette strings were cut. Bodies are now invisible in the tall waving grass.
Robbie is seventeen and has never gotten past kissing. You know where his thoughts go. He thinks of angular bodies sliding across each other, catching angles of knees and ribs. Hands slipping under the waistbands of cutoff shorts. Small breasts without bras, nipples hard as candy. He thinks, maybe one girl is more experienced. Maybe she is a slut (he mouths the word to himself). Maybe she is teaching her friend how to eat pussy (he whispers). He can’t decide if he likes more the notion of spontaneity, that this is a moment these two will pretend never happened, or if it turns him on to think it’s all planned and deliberate, this particular spot and time and act. He thinks of little cries like newborn kittens, animal noises that drain the blood from the air. He rubs his fingers together like they are covered in spider’s silk.
He spends the next hour jerking the lawnmower back and forth across the grass. He doesn’t see the girls leave. He gives the lawn a bad haircut. He knocks on the front door and the old lady comes out. She squints. “Not very good,” she says.
Robbie shrugs. “Want me to do it again?”
She twirls a bony finger at his face. “You boys got shit for brains.” She presses five bucks into his hand. “Hardly worth the trouble,” she mutters, and sends him away.