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The Boys Next To Her House

John Collins McCormick (author)

John Collins McCormick

John Collins McCormick (USA, b. 1983) has varied interests and so has varied output. He works with sound, words, performance, drawing and sculpture. www.JohnCollinsMcCormick.com

Maria Vorobjova (illustrator)
Published 10 Jul 2023
Image: Maria Vorobjova

The boys next to her house asked to look at the lawn mower when I couldn’t get it started. I knew it was just dry and needed a minute to get gas in the line, but I let them take a look anyway. I told them it didn’t have a carb and you don’t have to prime it, but they wanted to give it a look I guess. He leaned over the fence and gestured at the mower with a can of Coors Light. It was early Saturday night. I got the mower started just after I told him it had been sitting with a dry tank all winter and he waved me on to go ahead and mow.

He walked into the garage with the other guy. The grass was up to my ankles and the mower puked the chopped bits out the side. It was rough going and I had to jimmy the mower back and forth a bit. Over the smell of the cut grass and weeds and gas and everything, I could tell one of the guys had lit a cigarette.

I thought about a cold beer and cigarettes in the garage. I’d kill for that.

I let the mower die and choke on the grass and I called one of them over to look at it. He leaned over the fence as he had the first time, and told me to pull the cord. I pulled it like a wet noodle and told him I didn’t know what happened.

He hopped the fence with a cigarette in his mouth. He knelt down to look at the mower and he flicked his cigarette into her yard. That’s when I hit him on the back of the head with a brick. He flopped down onto the mower and I hit him again. I dragged him into her garage and stripped off his t-shirt and jeans and put them on over mine. I put on his hat, too.

He had a pack of Marlboros and matches in his pocket and I took one and lit up there in her garage. That Virginia and Turkish blend flashed the back of mom’s hand across my mouth. I looked at the guy’s face for a minute. I didn’t think I knew him, but it was hard to tell.

I pulled the mower back into the garage, figured I’d cut the grass later. I jumped over the fence and went into his garage. I opened the cooler and got a Coors. I sat in his lawn chair next to the other guy and listened to the radio. I didn’t like country music, but the beer was crisp and delicious like I remembered.

The other guy looked me over and asked if I got that kid’s mower going. I told him it was hopeless. He asked who the kid was and how much she was paying him to cut the grass. I told him they were friends from the mannequin factory and he was gettin ten bucks, but he had to buy the gas, so really less.

He said that sounded like a bum deal and I said I think that kid’s kinda queer and I drained the can of Coors and grabbed another one.

When the lid on the cooler closed, I heard the ice shift and give a crunch like the brick had. I lit another one of his cigarettes. The other guy crushed his can, threw it on the garage floor and asked me to toss him another. I underhanded him the can and set another by my shoes. They were smeared green from the lawn.

I still had my sneakers, forgot to take his boots. I held my breath at the chopped clover stuck in my laces but this other guy was moving the radio antenna around and just asked “How many we got left?”

“Just two more,” I said and he told me I better go up the street and get another case before it gets dark. “Bad elements out there,” he said. I drained my can and stuck the last beer in the back pocket of the dead guy’s jeans.

As I sauntered up his drive I could hear her inside the house emptying her husband's lung flute; the wet whack as the phlegm hit the side of the pail. I lit up the last Marlboro, cracked the Coors. I wished I had gotten that ten bucks from her beforehand. As I walked home I was feelin pretty great and for the life of me couldn’t remember why I quit smoking and drinking in the first place.