“He’s at it again!”
Tom was usually a mild-mannered and tolerant neighbor, but really, this was getting to be too much.
“What?” Willa asked. “Who’s doing what?”
“It’s Jake. He’s cutting his grass again.”
“Well, so what? What do you care?”
“He just cut it three days ago,” Tom said bitterly. “Now I’ll have to cut ours, or it will look awful next to his. He used to be normal and mowed once a week like a civilized human being. What is the matter with that man?”
It was a rhetorical question. Nobody seemed to know why Jake had suddenly taken to manic lawn-mowing. It was true the whole street competed for the coveted “Yard of the Month” sign, but this relentless shearing was carrying friendly competition to extremes. Well, if Jake wanted to play that game, Tom could too. He’d be darned if he’d let his grass look shaggy and unkempt next to Jake’s. He heard the roar of Jake’s lawnmower so often it was haunting his dreams.
“I’m gonna talk to him about it,” he said, glaring out the window at Jake.
“Don’t you dare!” Willa said. “What would you say – you’re too neat? It’s not worth having a neighborhood spat over.”
Tom knew she was right, but he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of admitting it. Instead, he slammed the door a little too hard when he went out to yank the pull cord that started his own lawn mower. Wearily, he trimmed off a quarter-inch of grass along the invisible property line where the yards met. Hadn’t he just done this?
Jake stepped from the shower where he’d rinsed off grass clippings, pulled on a robe and peeked around the bedroom curtains. He smiled with satisfaction when he saw his neighbor stomping along behind his machine. Tom’s mower had a safety switch that would automatically shut down the motor if he released his grip on the handle. Then it had to cool off before it would start again, and that might take up to thirty minutes. Consequently, Tom never paused until the lawn was finished. He would be occupied for at least an hour, a captive of the shut-off switch, rendered deaf and dumb by the motor’s roar.
Jake turned his head when he heard a tap on his back door. He hurried to answer it, tingling with anticipation. There she was, wearing a raincoat and – he knew – nothing at all underneath. He swept her into his arms.
“Darling! We’ve got an hour.”