In Abject Defiance of Gravity
By Keith Hellard
With her back to the upstairs windows he couldn’t see what she was doing. Even if he went room-to-room, and window-to-window, he still couldn’t tell. He was too high up, and at too steep an angle, to make out the scrap of newspaper in her palm. He’d never understand, she thought, as she surveyed the front yard, the overgrown hedgerow, and the rusted remnants of the wrought-iron fence near the highway. He’d think it, and her, stupid.
For all he knew she was freeing the lawnmower’s discharge of a clump of compacted grass. Maybe she was checking the air filter, or adjusting the carburetor. Those more learned in the ways of machines spoke of those things often. Engines, like people, became persnickety as they aged, and oftentimes downright fickle. They required more attention, more TLC as it were. He couldn’t argue with that, although he undoubtedly would.
Already she felt his disapproval. He was there alright, steely-eyed and stone-faced like the gargoyles in the masonry that held together by sheer obstinacy, the cracked brick and crumbling mortar, shattered slate shingles, and rotting eves in abject defiance of gravity.
No, she reconsidered with a smirk. He was more akin to the crimson-crowned vulture of late seen atop the southern-most gable, mere feet from where he dreamed his vile, angry dreams and glared down upon her now. He could’ve been a vulture in a past life. That seemed apt.
Maybe in her next go around the tables would turn and she’d be the vulture: her penance for insulting the grim, yet noble, work of vultures everywhere. Was that how reincarnation worked? Right now she’d settle for returning as the owner of a lawn tractor. It wouldn’t even need to be a nice one.
Against her sleeve she mopped her dripping forehead and imagined the floodtide of insults collecting on his tongue. “Lay-about,” he’d scold as he wrinkled his crooked nose. “Wastrel.” And though none of his taunts would cut her deeply, if at all, their blunt ends would jab at her relentlessly until she retreated, bruised and somewhat battered, but still living.
Her attention returned to the scrap of newspaper, and an ad for a theater listing movies of which she’d never heard. Beneath the ad was the photo of an elegant Asian lady with extravagant eyelashes holding between two gloved fingers a long, old-style cigarette holder. Its caption might as well have been written in runes.
From where had the scrap come, she wondered as she recalled the fearsome winds from last night’s thunderstorm. How long was it aloft?
The longer she stared at the ad and the photo, the more she became convinced he was on the front porch behind her. She could almost hear his fragile, uneasy footsteps hissing against the sagging floor slats. The odor of stale sweat, menthols, and off-brand bourbon overwhelmed everything. Not even the freshly-mown grass, the gasoline fumes, or her own perspiration could repulse it. Still, she dared not turn around and acknowledge him, or her own indolence.
Three half-hearted pulls of the starter later the lawnmower’s engine belched and sputtered back to life. The overgrown hedgerow and the remnants of the rusted wrought-iron fence near the highway seemed further away than ever. Both she eyed suspiciously as she resumed cutting the crisscrossing stripes he favored, and demanded.
Could he do that, she asked as she fought with all her might the urge to glance at the porch and the upstairs windows. So consuming was this notion she roundly ignored the scrap of newspaper abandoned in the grass beside the steps, never mind the million pieces of it scattered in her wake.
Keith Hellard lives and writes in Frankfort, KY. He graduated from Kentucky State University with a degree in English and attended graduate school at Eastern Kentucky University. An internationally published author, his work has appeared in Trajectory Journal, From Pen to Page, and Griffel.