Mrs. Nenslo stood by the kitchen table, sternly drying her little
white hands. She had That Look on her face. Nenslo could feel it without
even looking up from the triangle of toast which had stopped halfway into
his open mouth. Slowly, delicately, he bit off a corner. Guilt turned
the hot buttery morsel into rubber cement studded with broken lightbulbs
but he chewed and chewed and finally swallowed the grating wad. His
shoulders had risen up to his ears as if expecting a stout whack. He
glanced shiftily toward her waist, forced a grin and whimpered, "Yes,
He knew, and she knew he knew, but if he could get her to say it
and support his pretense of ignorance then he was innocent. Having gotten
her to tacitly validate his lie he would be victorious for seven ego
"This would be a good day to take care of the lawn," she said.
"Yep, you're absolutely right! It sure would!" He grinned,
leaning back, nothing in his words actually committing him to do it. She
just stood there. With That Look. And waited.
The dam burst.
GUILT. A scalding mudslide of guilt buried him, scorched away his
flesh and left only a Nenslo-shaped cavity. She knew he knew.
"Okay. I'll do it right after breakfast," a little mousy squeaked.
Limp, he shoveled cold greasy cardboard into his mouth and she
drifted silently away.
On Planet X, everybody lives right next door to everybody else.
Nenslo saw Stang across the fence, scuffling through knee-high yellow
grass. When their eyes met, they simultaneously blurted, "Can I borrow
After a shamefaced moment Nenslo said, "Gotta mow yours too?"
Stang nodded. "Yeah, an' god damn 'Bob' borrowed my mower a
coupla weeks ago an' never brought it back."
"Damn," said Nenslo, folding his arms atop the fence. "Borrowed
mine last month." He rested his stringy beard on a bony freckled arm and
cast his eyes down among Stang's baked weeds. "I just hate to bother the
guy, you know?"
They started asking around. With thousands of nextdoor neighbors
somebody had to have a mower.
The 'Brow's was a shattered heap. Lies had made his into a robot
dinosaur. Agon's was converted into a combination ELF wave detector and
musical instrument. Mostly, though, it was "Bob" has it... loaned it to
"Bob"... last week, last month, last year... never brought it back.
There wasn't a mowed lawn on the planet. Except one.
They sat on Stang's back step in the shadow of his dog.
Nenslo scraped at the dry clay with a stick. "Who you scareder
of, Ivan? Your wife... or 'Bob.'"
Stang spat like a man. "Shit. I ain't scareda 'Bob.'"
Nenslo slapped his hands on his bony knees. "Okay? 'Sgo."
"Bob's" lawn looked great. It was perfectly flat, perfectly green,
perfectly square. They shuffled up the walk between conical shrubs as if
they were walking to the gallows. From around back came the drone of a
lawnmower. "MY lawnmower," they each thought.
They headed around the side of the house to the back and stopped
short. There was Connie in a tiny little pair of cutoffs and a teensy
little striped t-shirt, striding along behind a big shiny red lawnmower
out of a dream. Connie was enough to raise the dead, but that machine was
godlike. They were instantly in love. They seemed to be floating above
their bodies, entranced by the roar of the biggest, shiniest, reddest,
greatest lawnmower in the world.
Connie rounded a tree and saw them. She waved with her whole
body, perfect teeth shone between scarlet lips, and she pointed. On the
patio was a fringed green hammock in a standup frame, and in it was "Bob."
A copy of Rank magazine was tented over his face and from under the lower
eave protruded The Pipe, benignly smoking. The mower's roar mellowed as
Connie flawlessly piloted it toward the back of their endless lot.
They stumbled over and looked down at "Bob." Nenslo nudged Stang,
who flapped an exasperated hand at him and squeaked, "uh.. 'Bob?'"
"Bob" rose majestically, as if he'd never been asleep, and in one
smooth motion took the magazine off his face, pivoted in the hammock and
placed his snow-white deck shoes on the patio's elegant Italian tiles.
"Well hi there boys!" he said in his smooth Bing Crosby baritone and rose
to his feet, placing a big warm hand on a shoulder of each of the bony,
sweating cowards who quailed before him. There was a gleam in his eye as
he said, "I'd like to do you two a favor..."
The sun was going down when Stang and Nenslo shuffled home. They
were dusty, elated and exhausted, babbling like schoolboys.
"Man, oh man," Nenslo cried, and smacked one knobby fist into a
grimy, blistered palm. "What a honey of a machine!"
Stang gouged him with an elbow and grinned, "You don't have to
tell me a thing! Did you see me back there?" He flew a hand upward like
a jet. "VROOM!"
They laughed like fools, threw an arm around each other's
shoulders and stumbled limply on, smelling each other's sweat.
Nenslo hung his tired head down and watched his dirty sneakers
walk. They were covered with grass clippings. So were his pants, his
shirt, his hair. He shook his head and said, "Man, I'd like to set that
baby loose on OUR yards some time. I bet it'd take care of 'em in..."
They froze. Stark terror clawed their souls. Stang murmured "Oh,
shit..." and they looked deep into each other's eyes as if to say,
"Goodbye, old friend."
Connie brought another perfect martini and purred, "The boys did a
pretty good job, didn't they?"
"Bob" was standing by the door into the garage. "Mmm, yeah.
He gazed mildly on row after row after row of lawnmowers, then
smoothly shut the door.
"What are you thinking?" Connie sighed.
"Oh... nothing..." said "Bob."
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