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Lines, Not Circles

By Justin Crouse

The floppy, yellow hat reminded him of her strict lawn-mowing standards: Lines, not circles. It also reminded him that she wouldn't be fiddling in the garden when he rounded the side of the house. It was his first time mowing since she'd gone and it was the second-hardest task he'd ever had to do.

It came from a flea market on the coast, the hat, and had cost seventy-five cents. They lived eighty miles from the nearest beach, but she wore it every day in the yard. He had found it under the bed and used her sunflower brooch to pin the brim out of his eyes. They had picked that up in Goodland, Kansas, "The Sunflower Capital of the World," on their way to visit her parents' graves in Colorado, just before she went in the hospital.

Cars slowed in front of his house. Earlier, their smirks and pointing fingers had driven him into the house. He forced himself back outside, determined to see it through for her. If it was someone from his road he threw his arm up in a quick signal that, in spite of the eccentricity, he was doing okay. If he didn't recognize the car, he peered over the hood into the grass ahead of him, as if a grown man in a woman's hat was nothing worth noting.

He mowed up against the spindly Gorse plants. The herbal therapy wacko had told them Gorse essence would get rid of her feelings of helplessness. All the plants got rid of were the rest of the perennials in the bed, some that were from his grandmother's farm. He swerved in to crunch some of the stray twigs under the wheels. He wished they had imported Poppies instead. Morphine was all that had worked, and the flowers were prettier.

Blackberry thorns scratched his arm. Tonight, he and their daughter would have shortcake. He looked down at the red stinging lines on his skin. The drugs had made her arms itch, and she’d dug herself raw. He swerved in time to miss the elm tree. He forced himself to focus on the biscuits.

On his last pass he stopped and looked at his shadow on the garage. It looked a little like her with the hat. His mind filled in the details on his own shadow face: sunken cheeks, baggy eyes. He was just now getting some color back. He had been overweight when it started. He wished he still was.

He drove into the shed and stared at the swaying key while the engine died out. The new owners, Morton was their name, bought the mower too. It was getting cooler; probably be a couple weeks before the lawn would need mowing. The anniversary of his wife’s death would be past, and he'd be in Vermont. They had dreamed of retiring in Florida, but that was a two-person plan. With the medical bills, he could live off his early retirement over their daughter's garage, but not here in the home they built.

He took the hat from his head and fingered the sunflower. He'd give it to their daughter after the shortcake. He locked the mower safe with the shiny new padlock on the shed door. He checked the long lines stretched down the lawn for flaws as he walked toward the house. He smiled. They would meet her approval.

Justin Crouse lives in Mid-Coast Maine with his muse, Angie, and three-year-old Wild Thing, Max. Justin is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel. His work has appeared, or is scheduled to appear, in Heat City Review, Foliate Oak, The Pedestal Magazine, Spillway Review, The Story Garden, Flashquake, Unspoken Dreams, Prose Toad, and 3711Atlantic. He can be reached for comment at justincrouse.com.

Photos courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk.


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