Third Person

Liam Kelley scratches at a blotch of dirt in his parents’ backyard—by the flower bed and the old tree stump. By the fence that collapsed last time it snowed and his father—Bill Kelley—was out of town. Liam lives at home and, in exchange for help with attorney fees, has agreed to fix things around the house. This is the only thing he’s gotten around to, despite his admittedly questionable landscaping skills.

So, he rakes on.

He wonders if this whole lawn will ever one day be dirt. Simply dirt. After the apocalypse or something. Full of holes with one million funnel-web spiders with eight million eyes staring up at him, like he saw in Chile last year. 2018. His sister—Erin Kelley—is there now. Drinking or something.

His younger brother—Sean Kelley—sits on the umbrella-shaded deck. Staring at his broken phone. Drinking a thousand Kool-Aid Jammers. On the deck railing is a speaker playing CPR. The shitty DJ is hosting. Liam misses Mike Flanagan.

As a song he wishes was anything by Devo plays—Mike Flanagan used to play Devo back in 2013—the rake handle becomes slippery in Liam’s hands. He is loosening the dead patch to put down grass seed. His parents care about the lawn. And since the tree was removed, the grass hasn’t grown. The bag of billion dollar seed he bought at Home Depot sits nearby. He trips on it as he rakes and swears profusely.

The dirt doesn’t seem to budge—the blemish remains.

Liam thinks about the inherent colonialism of American lawns, which brings his thoughts to John Smith—husband of Pocahontas—who he read in 2014. Not at his parents’ house, but at Colorado State University. His freshman year. John Smith wrote his accounts in the third person. Liam thinks about writing in the third person as he scours the ground. Liam thinks meta-writing is cowardly. It allows for too much separation. John was probably not addressing something, or exaggerating. Sean complains about the music between Kool-Aid Jammers. 

After a particularly forceful pull, the dirt comes loose. Or, at least loose enough. Liam throws the rake aside. He remembers that in 2006 (or 2007?), he threw his father’s high school lacrosse stick at a tree. Both were green and old. The lacrosse head broke—impaled on the thin trunk like a horseshoe around a stake. It was an accident. Mostly. Liam dumps the expensive bag of seed on the patch in the lawn. The spot sticks out like snot on a shirt sleeve. Or pee on a carpet. Liam uses too much seed—dumping it on the exposed ground with wild abandon. He wants a cigarette, but decides against it. He lives at home. He wants to be a good role model for—

On the side of the house—by the deck—the hose is coiled like it was done by a high school drama student learning to wrap mic cords in 2012. That would be Liam’s mother’s—Lina Kelley’s—doing. Liam turns on the faucet, drags the hose over to the smear (struggling with the absurd amount of kinks) and sprays. The seed expands. It’s expensive seed. Billion dollar seed.

A song by Devo actually starts playing on the radio. “Girl U Want.” Liam is now plagued with cognitive dissonance. He continues watering.

“Dad does that differently,” Sean says from the deck, not looking up from his phone.

“Fuck you. Dad supposedly fixed the fence. I know what I’m doing.”

Through the hole in the fallen fence, cars pass at speeds between thirty-five trillion and forty-five trillion miles per hour. Liam sees that across the street, his other younger brother—Noah Kelley—is leading fifty zillion elementary schoolers to a local park. Summer camp at his old elementary school. He can tell it’s Noah because he’s wearing an oversized pink sweatshirt and backwards Star Wars hat.

Digging—or perhaps scratching—at the recesses of his mind, Liam tries to remember 2003. Elementary school. Recess. Running around the field pretending to be Gimli from the second Lord of the Rings movie. He can’t remember, really. He waves at Noah through the hole in the fence. 

Noah doesn’t see him.

Liam now realizes the seed is piled too thick. Picking up the rake, he spreads it out thinner. Waters it again. Soaks it. He looks at the patch for a long time and lets his hands rest on his hips. He thinks about 1996—the year he was born—and wonders if that was a better time. A simpler time. This lawn was probably all dirt back then. His parents hadn’t moved here yet. They were away—only Liam, Bill, and Lina. No thoughts of Erin, Noah, or Sean.

The zillion elementary schoolers pass by. Out of sight behind the fence. Cars obscure their tiny bodies. The song changes. He looks up at Sean, but he has gone inside.

Bending down, Liam crumbles the used up bag of billion dollar seed in his hands and turns to look out the gaping fence hole one more time, then walks to the side of the house where the trash is. He throws the bag away, letting the lid slam and bounce beneath the window to the bathroom—the window that looks out into the yard. He wonders if he actually knows how to fix stains on the grass or not. He sees Sean through the window peeing. Liam thinks about it in third person. It’s 2019.