The day was hot and had a timeless quality that made it impossible to discern what hour the clock struck. The boy fished in the pocket of his jeans and found a small folded paper. He opened it and studied the few words written down. His neck throbbed and felt tight with sun.
Across the street, James Aldren was wearing a white button-up shirt with brown slacks and a pair of tan shoes, what his grandma would have called “church shoes”, while pushing an electric lawn mower from side to side along his yard. Arrows of sweat pointed down his chest towards his crotch. The boy wondered why Mr. Aldren dressed so formally even when performing the most mundane tasks but guessed that it must be one of those mysterious things old people do, like wearing Old Spice, or reading the paper, or buying gold cars. From behind, he heard the clatter of flatware and the dull ‘shushh’ of the tap. He folded the paper, sweat stained around the edges, and placed the limp square in his pocket. The front door was open. He should go back and shut it. His grandma complained when he didn‘t, said he was letting in all sorts of bugs. And sure enough later on in the night when he was dozing off in the reading chair, he’d hear the slap of a shoe against drywall followed by Grandma mumbling something unintelligible. When he’d inevitably apologize she would complain about spiders crawling around in the sugar bowl or centipedes nesting in her Scholls. She never insulted him for doing it, what mostly affronted him was having to hear that damn shoe slap against the wall. It never failed to make him jump.
His stomach ached the way it had when he contracted the flu two years ago. He should go back and close the door before going on his afternoon walk but he felt too sick to move. If he caught the flu he knew he’d have to make his own way to the hospital, for the last instance she kept him on the love couch and forced him to follow the sorrowful lives of middle aged doctors and young, lovestruck nurses as they copulated their way through the work day. Eventually, at the peak of his illness, he believed he was a ghost who had the ability to peer into the sad lives of medical professionals and that his grandmother were the voice of God, informing him on what they had recently been up to. Soon after this he’d gone nearly comatose and awoke in his own bed some days later with Grandma’s bulldog face scowling over him.
“Thought you died, boy.”
“I thought I did,” he’d said.
“Well, unless I’m dead too, you’re still here.”
Again, he knew he should go shut the door before she noticed but now something caught his attention and made him forget about his stomach ache.
Mr. Aldrin saw it too. He stood by his mower, a hand saluted under his forehead. The boy crossed their well manicured lawn to get a better look. Down the long, sun dappled sidewalk, coming towards him, was a figure ambling the way zombies did in those old horror movies that come on over the weekends late at night. Mr. Aldren shut his mower off. “Who is that?” Mr. Aldren asked.
“I don’t know.”
Mr. Aldren produced a yellow rag and mopped at his shiny face. “Funny way he walks,” he said, “maybe he’s got an iron leg or something.”
“What’s that? Speak up I can hardly hear you.”
“I said maybe,” his voice echoed against Aldren’s house and when it came back, he realized that he and this old man were the only people outside, save for the blurry stranger. The boy looked around, seeking contradiction and found nothing but the hollow gaze of empty looking houses that peered over their green gates like curious dogs. It occurred to the boy that they were listening, waiting for something to happen.
“I think you’d better go in, son,” Mr. Aldren said. He bent over and unplugged his lawnmower from a long, orange extension cord that connected to his house, and pushed it up the driveway towards the backyard. He could be heard for a while after he disappeared. The power cord on his front lawn looked like how he imagined tapeworms appeared inside of clowns.
They were closer. He thought it must be a man, judging by the broad shoulders and slightly hunched posture. And there was something behind him, black and brown and long like a rope, or maybe an extension cord. That made him turn back to Aldrens half finished lawn. Even he had been scared, but of what? Someone walking down the street? Sure, it was weird to see someone move the way the figure did, but not so strange that it should invoke fear. Somewhere, a cicada buzzed. The birds were quiet. He wanted to lay down on the concrete and take a nap, he was so tired, his legs ached for rest, his head felt light and the sun pounded noxious waves down his spine. It had to be a man. And that cord, it wasn’t a cord, it was brown like a rope. He turned to head back inside, but immediately faced the proceeding man again. If he looked away for too long, he’d catch the boy. He back stepped down the sidewalk, relying on memory to guide him into the house. His vision of outside was broken when he shut the large, wooden front door.
The tap was off and the dishes were still. “Grandma?” the boy said to the house. He creaked into the gleaming kitchen. The chairs were pushed into the round table. Dishes and silverware stood drying in a plastic rack. A damp cloth lay drapped across the faucet, dripping grey water into the steel basin. Everything was in order and gave him no alarm. The clock above the fridge read eleven in the morning. He went into the living room colored a pleasant white from the light that filtered through the thin, cotton curtains. The television was off and the assortment of pillows fanned across the cushions were untouched. A fleece blanket hung over one arm of the large floral couch. He went over to the end table near the bay window and peeked-through the parted curtain. The street was empty. The sidewalk swept clean. The boy let the curtain fall into place and stood there for a moment, listening to the sigh of the summer morning.