Labor Day Weekend
Evans Brinkley leaned back into the shady morning comfort of his patio chair. It was a comfort that would be all too brief. It was only 8:30 AM and he was sweating profusely from the yard work he had just finished. Picking up a freshly poured glass of ice tea from the glass-covered table, he looked at it, rolling the glass slightly. He listened to the fresh ice cubes crack, fissures of sound created by the temperature difference of tea on ice. Then, raising the glass to his face, he rubbed it over his forehead. He took a long drink, and set the glass down. It made a slight clink as glass met glass. Leaning back in his chair, like an overseer, he inspected his work. He liked what he saw. Not a clipping of grass was visible on the sidewalks. Not one strand of Bermuda grass hung over the edge lines along the sidewalk or one any of the double-rowed flagstone walkways that led to the pool. He had manicured it all delicately and perfectly.
“Clean, clean, clean,” he mumbled. Nature and culture perfectly coifed. Perfectly balanced. No mess, no chaos, no matter out of place. The water sprinklers were now doing their job, wetting an already verdant landscape of grass, shrubs and trees.
“I love the smell of newly cut grass,” he said softly. “It smells like… order.”
But amidst the wheesh weesh sounds of the sprinklers and the sight of order, there was emptiness. He was alone. In times past, the sounds of life and laughter, brought satisfaction to a man who feels at peace with his surroundings. Missing the sounds of Brittany’s laughter, he even missed Arlene, the way she came into a room, kissed him on the cheek and asked him about his day. Even if Arlene’s attentions were ritual, her presence brought a semblance of comfort into his life. They had been happy once, and Evans now pondered about what had transpired. What had gone wrong? Where had the road turned? No one was truly guilty, and no one was truly innocent. The ambivalence of it all tore at him still, and he shook his head, part in disbelief and part in anger. Now totally alone, it was not a good place for any man to be. Evans closed his eyes tight, and a tear formed in his right eye and crept down his cheek.
Looking out at his Chinese Pistachio tree, Evans smiled at its beautiful shape, pruned and healthy. Everyone marveled at his pruning ability, the result of the many books he had read, and the evening pruning class he had taken at a local garden center. He used to prune the neighbor’s trees. But that was before Brittany’s death. Taking another long drink of tea, Evans set the glass down a little harder this time as it banged against the tabletop.
As Evans saw it, the only thing amiss about the Pistachio tree was that, in three places, small branches had been recently cut. The light meat of the wood was still visible against the outer bark of the larger branches from which they had been cut.
Evans stared at the tree, almost as if he were in a daze. Like lasers, his eyes seemed to burn through the tree into some undefinable mindscape. Anger rose, as it did so often now. Then, with the precision that comes with purpose, he rose to his feet, picked up the ice tea one last time and downed the remaining liquid. This time he slammed the glass down on the table. The glass shattered into four large shards and what remained of the stand. As fresh cracks traveled from the point of percussion outward, several ice cubes slid across the glass and fell to the pavement.
Evans walked to into the house and went his desk in the den. From a drawer he took out a calendar and a piece of notebook paper. On the calendar he had marked the holidays that he and Brittany had shared: Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. On these holidays he had also marked a black “X”. On the paper were written the names of ten people. All the names were Hispanic, and they were all male. Three of the names, Juan Cortez, Luis Hernandez, and Julio Guerra, had red check marks in the margins next to them. He put the list into his shirt pocket, walked back outside and headed for the garage. Once inside he looked for his long pruning shears. They were hanging neatly on a hook, next to his other lawn and garden tools. Neatly shelved or boxed nearby were assorted accessories, which included containers of pesticides and herbicides, assorted weed and feed chemicals, fertilizer, sprayers and applicators, funnels, tent stakes, fishing line, and duct tape.
“Ah, there you are,” Evans said as he looked at the shears in their place of repose.
They had come in very handy already. He had used them to prune part of the pinky finger from Juan Cortez’s hand. But unlike a tree, he had done it slow. That is how he got the list. He cut very deliberately, as if the pruner were slowly munching through the finger. He had stopped every few minutes or so to ask Cortez how he was feeling, and then he would launch into angry diatribes about how it was his job to cleanse the wilderness and how Cortez and others like him needed to be weeded out. At one point, reaching back to his days in a college biology class, Evans told Cortez his own twisted version of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. He told him how nature had a plan, and that plan was to reward the successful and weed out the weak and the inferior, preferably before they reproduced. As he cut he told Cortez he was a weed and needed to die. Cortez would have been screaming loudly had not Evans used duct tape to shut him up. But his eyes sure did get big, and he sure did sweat. He even pissed in his pants. At one point Evans told Cortez that he could spare his life if he would write down a list of names of, as Evans described them, “fellow weeds”. Ceasing his cutting, Evans produced a note pad and a pencil and placed it near Cortez’s right hand, what was now the good one. Cortez took the pencil and, in great pain, began writing down names of every gang member he could think of, homeboy or enemy. After Cortez had written down ten names, Evans jerked the note pad away, took the pencil and then cut Cortez’s finger off at the joint. Then quickly, he took out a pocketknife and cut a small round hole, about the size of a quarter, into the duct tape over Cortez’s mouth. He then inserted a funnel, and jammed it down into Cortez’ mouth. Evans then produced a container of liquid weed killer, removed the cap and poured it down the throat of his helpless prisoner.
“How’s that for salsa, bean dip,” Evans recalled saying as Cortez gurgled to his death.
Removing the shears, Evans walked to the Chinese Pistachio tree and eyed it. Then, finding a suitable branch, he clipped it off in one smooth quick stroke. The leaves were full and healthy.
“Let’s go see Brittany,” he said to the branch, smelling it. “Then we’ll go hunting.”