I stood in the knee-high grass, the lawn mower still where I had left it weeks ago. I had been cutting the grass in perfect rows, enviable rows with shadowed lines that were, I was certain, the envy of my neighbors. There was an art to my mowing. But the mower had died then, right where it sat now. It had been a good mower. It had mowed for years. It was lighter than most and easy enough for me to push. It was heavy enough, though, too, to make clear the patterns I mowed. But now, it was dead.
I had sinned for years, taking guilty pleasure in my well-manicured lawn, taking pleasure in the knowledge that no other lawn was as beautiful as mine. That was important to me. The rest of my life could be in tatters; indeed, the rest of my life was in tatters. But my lawn was impeccable. Appearances were all. No one knew by looking at my lawn that I dreaded sleep. No one knew my fear of dreams, dreams of a full bottle, just beyond my reach.
I knew God to be forgiving. I knew also that God made one work for forgiveness. Thus, there I stood, in the knee-high grass, alone except for the crickets and the katydids. My task? To suffer the embarrassment of wild grass. I was to feel no longer the sinfulness of pride.
My pride, though, was truly only on the surface. God knew in my heart I was humble. Why, then, would he make me suffer? Why the embarrassment of tall grass? I thought God particularly cruel.
I had no money to speak of. I could not fix the mower or buy a new one. I did have a few dollars tucked away in a mason jar behind the refrigerator, but only enough to pay someone a couple of bucks to mow once, only once. So I decided to ask around for the name of someone who might mow. I did not ask my neighbors; I did not want them rejoicing in my public repentance. Instead, I decided to walk to the bar on the corner. If I was going to repent, I was going to repent with all my heart, with all my sorrow right at the surface, in the place God knew I wore my humility like a hair shirt.
“Haven’t seen you for a while.” The bartender put a shot glass down in front of me. “Usual?”
“Surprised you remember. It’s been a long time.” Two years, six months, eight days, into the second twelve hours.
“Thought you moved or something. Or died.” He reached for a bottle.
“Not dead yet.” A ray of sunlight lit the amber liquid in the bartender’s hand. “Gimme water,” I said. “Just water.”
The bartender nodded and filled a glass. “Wondered if that’s what happened.”
“Happens to the best of us.” Happens to the worst of us.
“I’m looking for someone to mow my grass. Know of anybody?”
“Yeah. Got a broke mower. Grass is high.”
“I mow.” An old man got up from his seat in the dark corner by the kitchen and walked to the bar. “My son also mows.”
The bartender raised his eyebrows. “You and Bill mow?”
“Yup. And we don’t ask for no money.”
“You mow for free?”
“We like to keep busy, that’s all. Keep us outta trouble.” He smiled.
I learned that the father’s name was Bill, too. Not Senior, not Junior. Each man a Bill. I called them the Bills. We made arrangements for the Bills to mow on Thursday, two days hence.
The Bills arrived early that morning, before I had my coffee. It was supposed to be hot later in the day. They wanted to mow while it was still cool. They arrived, having walked down the street behind two identical mowers ancient as the father and son who pushed them. I walked through the yard with them. I described the patterns I had mowed, the straight lines, on a diagonal. They nodded, started their engines, and mowed. I stood for a moment watching them, but I was ashamed and regretted my pride. I went inside and sat at the kitchen table, hands flat on the table, fingers splayed, until the sound of the mowers ceased; the sudden silence shot through me like the devil’s pitchfork. I dabbed sweat from my brow, stood, and went outside.
The Bills stood in the middle of my lawn, identical gap-toothed grins. “Come see!” The older Bill waved me over. “Come see!” The younger Bill beckoned. I remained where I was, wondering what I had done to deserve God’s continued wrath.
The Bills walked toward me, pushing the silent mowers. The younger Bill gabbled on while they walked, taking great pride in describing the fun they had mowing, how one would mow in circles and the other figure eights. They left swaths of long grass standing, marking the squares and circles, triangles and hexagons, the simple geometric patterns that now were my lawn.
One by one, my neighbors opened their doors and peered. Across-the-street actually came out and walked to the edge of his property.
I hung my head. I decided in that instant that there is no God. I would that night sleep undisturbed. Dreamless. Afraid of nothing more. What more could befall me?
“Whatcha got going, there, Miller? Eh?”
“We mowed his yard for free!” The younger Bill seemed glad for an audience.
Across-the-street laughed. “You know, Miller, you pay some way for anything that is any good.”
The older Bill scratched his head. He seemed to be struggling to determine if this was a compliment or not.
“You shoulda got references,” said Across-the-street. “Shoulda talked to someone they mowed for before you.”
I knew he was right. My pride had gotten the better of me.
I had not thought to ask for whom the Bills mowed. They mowed for free.
Lucy Gregg Muir is a writer and middle school English teacher. When she’s not haranguing her students for misusing homophones, or chasing one daughter out of tattoo emporiums and the other away from absurd My Little Pony videos, she writes. Her published poems, short stories, and creative nonfiction pieces are scattered around the web. She maintains her website, but not very well. Ms. Muir is googleable.