For Whom the Bills Mowed

A little piece written in the manner of Hemmingway. Maybe.


I stood in the knee high grass, alone amidst the crickets and katydids. The lawn mower was where I had left it ages ago. I had been cutting the grass in the most perfect rows. They were enviable rows with shadowed lines that were, I believed, the talk of my neighbors. But the mower died. It was a good mower. It mowed for years. It was lighter than most and easy for me to push. It was heavy enough, though, to make clear the patterns I mowed. But now, it was dead.


God, the great controller, took away my mower, and I was to repent. I had sinned for years, taking pleasure in my well-manicured lawn. Taking pleasure in the knowledge that no other lawn was as beautiful as mine. It was important to me. The rest of my life could be 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 also knew God made one work for forgiveness. Thus, I stood in the knee high grass alone, except for the crickets and the katydids. My task was to suffer the embarrassment of wild grass. I was to feel no longer the sin of pride.


My pride, though, was only on the surface. God knew in my heart I was humble. Why would he make me suffer? Why the embarrassment of tall grass? I thought God particularly cruel.


I had no money to speak of. I would not fix the mower or buy a new one. I had some money tucked away in the mason jar behind the refrigerator, but only enough that I might be able to pay someone a few dollars to mow once, and only once. 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 to repent, I would repent with all my heart.


“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.” Ten years, six months, eight days, into the second twelve hours.


“Thought you moved. Or died. Or something.” 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 left 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 money.”


“You mow for free?”


“We like to keep busy. That’s all. Keep us outta trouble.” He smiled.


I smiled back.


The father’s name was Bill, too. I called them the Bills. We made arrangements for the Bills to mow on Thursday, two days hence.


The Bills arrived early that morning. It was supposed to be hot later in the day. They wanted to mow while it was still cool. The arrived, having walked down the street pushing 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. They nodded, started their engines, and began to mow. I stood for a moment watching them, but I was ashamed and regretted my pride. I went inside and sat at the kitchen table 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, grinning. “Come see!” The older Bill waved me over. I remained where I was, wondering what I had done to deserve God’s continued wrath.


So the Bills walked toward me, pushing the silent mowers. The younger Bill talked while they walked, taking great pride in describing how much 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. Across-the-street actually came out and walked to the edge of his property.


“Whatcha got going, there, Miller? Eh?”


I hung my head. I decided in that instant that there is no God. I would sleep that night, undisturbed. Dreamless.


“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. I knew that I had been too caught up in my selfish pride.


I hadn’t thought to ask for whom the Bills mowed. They mowed for free.


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