The Last Cutting of the Season

A house on Oakley Street burned to the ground early this morning. They say no one was inside the home at the time of the fire – 1 a.m.

“Well, that’s kind of suspicious,” I thought aloud to myself while crawling by in my car.

The house was bursting with blackness. The garage door was melted and curled. Black and sooty streaks lurched out of broken window openings and sang mad songs to the sun-drenched day. The place was surrounded by yellow caution tape. A big ol’ fire truck idled with a rabid purr in the street and men in uniforms sternly addressed the scene.

They said the blaze began in the garage… How? What was the point of ignition and who pulled the trigger?

1 a.m. and no one was home.

Sounds a bit fishy to me.

Maybe I should watch the news because there was a cameraman and a reporter on scene giving us all the ugly details… With a laugh, a glossy smile, a pocketful of poison for the mind.

Could it have been a case of someone out to get some insurance money? Maybe someone lost a job and the bills started piling up. And there it goes – worry turns to frustration and frustration turns to a desperate act.

It’s even more suspicious to me because the house is fairly new. Probably not more than three years old and so I think to myself, logically, that a new house like that shouldn’t have any bad wiring or an old furnace set to blow its guts. No… Everything should be just right, like peach pie… But yet, a fire.

And so it goes, and I don’t know the whole story yet because obviously not enough time has flown by. But as I sit here kind of thinking about it and worrying about the safety of my home, I wonder about their lives now. Did they go and lodge in a hotel? Do they have any fun family to stay with and hang out with and have a good time with? Are they together? Are they crying? Are they a huddled and shivering mash of ash-covered lumpkins weeping beneath the boughs of some old stone bridge?

God… It must be stressful. Yes, the world has unsheathed its sword of stress once again and wielded it against some fine family of pure innocence. But how pure? How innocent, really?

I guess I can’t really say. I suppose I will have to wait for the dumbheads on the TV news to lie about it.

But then again, I never watch the news. I can’t stomach it anymore. And the presentation is just so horrible. A suit and tie are just a suit and tie. Hair grease must make the man. Her face drips with Crayola makeup. Those anchors look so polished and honest and perfectly flawless, so people believe them like they were heavenly News God and follow along with the flock all the way to the edge and off the White Cliffs of Common Sense Grounded in True Morality.

I’ll stick with what I know — getting my info from the dynamic duo at Neighborhood Watch News, right next door. To protect their identity, I’ll call them Hansel and Gretel. Just imagine Hansel and Gretel as ancient beings: Gray, slightly bent, meddlesome, snoopish, nosy, opinionated, and not so full of youthful vinegar anymore.

I was out in my front yard executing the last cutting of the season when Gretel strolled over holding a steaming cup of Sanka and that’s when she dropped the scoop on the house fire.

“I came outside at 1 a.m. and the whole sky was just full of smoke,” she reported. “You should go by and take a look at it. Yeah, it’s pretty bad.”

“I already was.”

“You were there?” she asked with a hint of suspicion.

“I was. And what were you doing up at 1 a.m.?” I questioned her with the same measure of suspicion.

She looked at me and scoffed. “I’m an old woman. I had to use the bathroom… And then I smelled something funny.”

“I bet you did.”

Just then, Hansel yelled out from the front porch.

“Do we still have any of those fresh strawberries in the refrigerator!?”

Gretel sighed and snapped her head in his direction.

“Well, why don’t you go look for yourself then!? You do know where the refrigerator is? Don’t ya?”

She turned back to me with an exasperated look on her face.

“I swear… That man! Sometimes I could just slit his throat!”

I agreed with her of course because, frankly, Hansel can sometimes be a pain in the ass.

“Maybe you should,” I said to her.

There was a brief silence and then we both suddenly laughed.

“I suppose after 48 years of marriage I can put up with his old ass for a while longer,” Gretel said, feigning joy.

I stared at the grass because I was beginning to get bored. It was a shiny green color on the verge of going dull.

“I never see your wife. Why?” Gretel asked.

My eyes knocked back and forth in my head and then slowed upon the red tips of her wooden shoes. I was really high in Colorado. I looked up at her and sort of smiled.

“Because I don’t have one. I’ve already been married — five times. I guess it’s not for me.”

“Five times!? That’s terrible. How can you treat the sanctity of marriage with such a throw-away attitude?” she steamed.

“A few minutes ago, you were ready to slit your husband’s throat,” I replied.

“Well… I would never really do it. I just like to think about it,” she said, closing her eyes and pretending to pray.

“Neither one of us is a saint, Gretel. I don’t bathe in holy water and neither do you,” I said.

She looked up at the periwinkle sky — the clouds collapsed there like sleepy children, or in America, like children gunned down at school — right before summer break. How cowardly you truly are, man with gun. Burn in everlasting hell and then some.

“It’s supposed to rain some more,” she said, and she walked off without saying goodbye and disappeared beyond her front door.

I went back to clipping the edges of my small lawn. It was warm, but I could feel the breath of impending autumn on the back of my neck. The street was fairly quiet save for a few trailing screams of fun and joy bursting forth from the mouths of neighborhood kids down the way. They were wearing candied bullet-proof vests while riding their bikes. A big airplane moaned as it crawled across the sky above me. I watched it until it disappeared. I looked at the clock strapped to my wrist.

“Must be the 11:30 from Denver,” I said aloud to myself.

And where was I?

I was alone, on my knees in the lawn, and everything felt the same except that everything in the entire world was vastly different. When I finished my work, I cleaned up my tools and put them in the garage. I pushed a white plastic button and watched as the automatic door slowly went down and sealed me off from the madness of the world. I went inside the quiet house, locked all the doors, and boiled some corn to have with my lunch alone.

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