by Donna D.Vitucci
Driveway grit, itchy like everything, stuck to Lori's bare thighs, where she sat cross-legged in very short shorts, ready to assist Cliff. In the way a surgeon demanded of his nurse, "Scalpel!" she would hand him what he asked for. She liked imagining herself doing that. She didn't care how they spent Friday night as long as they spent it together, and he'd be so ever-lovin' grateful his girlfriend cared about cars. The song blaring from the garage radio, Molasses on the East Texas Road, made syrup of her body and mind. She lengthened her limbs and arranged bare feet and painted toe nails in Cliff's path to the tool box. She bent her knees to accent the best part of her legs—her calves.He cursed, with his head under the Chevy's hood, and in no way acknowledged her.
To Lori, this car tune-up was a bore.
She withdrew a joint from her back pocket and tried restoring its shape.
"The night demands. . ." she said, lifting it and striking a match. They passed the smoke back and forth without speaking and, when she and Cliff kissed, she tasted what she imagined as diesel mixed with weed in the back of his throat. She hoped to rattle him as much as his garage torque and his air gun, to compete, but he pulled himself up by the fender and said "Hold the thought."
Thought was too much for her small hands, which she watched with growing intensity. She used one of them to tug on the bottom of his jeans, said, "How can you even know what you're doing up there?" He was impossibly far away, standing right next to her.
The summer bugs bit teeth-ier in the dark. Cliff had rigged up a big garage lamp to flood the car outside the doorway—the garage itself too full of crap to edge a vehicle in. He blamed his dad—a fucking pack rat, he said—but stuff Cliff had stolen from Jimmy Golden's Garage sucked its share of the cement.
Lori stared at moths swirling frenzy at the big light. When she looked away, blue spots poked holes in the dark, and she thought wow, I could walk through one of those, and then she just thought, wow. Wow crowded out all her other next ideas.
She said, "You deserve some relief, baby."
"Need help with a weapon. I mean a wrench."
She scraped her hand along the concrete to locate metal among all the toolbox-tossed stuff. She handed up to him what felt hefty and utile. She said, "You say odd things."
"Fuck," he said. "I'm having a hard time getting it right."
"You want to take me home?"
"You want me to take you home?"
She stood and he grabbed her with greased-up hands, kissed her mouth, not furious and determined as she expected, but sweet and soft and abbreviated, as if promising, "more later." Then the car's guts pulled him back. The wind disrespected their kiss. Lori drifted into one of the blue spots in the dark and Cliff didn't see her go.
Down the road she emerged before a house with a yard full of shaggy bushes browned out because of root rot. She could see the back was boggy, the drainage for crap. She brought invitation to the man mowing there. She wore it on her skin.
He killed the machine, the front half done. He'd mowed crazy around chairs scattered in party leftover. Older than Lori, he floated to her in cut-offs, in combat boots, and bare-chested. His face was a smudge in the dark. She couldn't look beyond his thick neck begging for her hands there.
He said, as if it hurt his throat to speak: "Only one sees your beauty because it is only meant for one."
The way he flicked his eyes from her and to the job he had still to do, he was either dying to touch her or cared nothing about the possibility of his hands celebrating her skin. Men could be all-hell desirous and she'd never know. Men could be snakes. This one could swallow her whole.
She said, "All these collapsed characters, I mean chairs, on the front lawn."
He said, "I've run my share of riot."
They were talking of people or possibilities not yet incarnate. The air held heavier above the mown grass, a scent to swim through. She stroked and her arms felt marvelous in their windmill.
Any passerby would be justified in asking, "Who are these people and how are they possibly related?"
She cooked up a response for those imaginary folks: "The kind who in no way answer the question they've been asked."
The man nodded. "Desperation for desperation's sake."
Mowers and automobiles were poor machines, but men and women had bodies worthy of heaven. The moon roughed their skin, the planets pulled their bones to the surface. A season of heat had raised up the grass, then scythed through with a blast that slayed most upright citizens. When Lori felt she could barely stand, the man lifted her to his lap. Aboard the riding mower together they finished cutting. She held on when he steadied her from behind at the turns, his forearms mottled and smooth as a snake. He was loving her in his own way. Whirling through the lawn with him, she fully expected she'd soon be part of the sky, thrown beside Jupiter, planted in velvet. She wanted to drape it all around her. She wanted to sleep inside the night, the sky, this man's arms and thighs. He was a shell around the meat of a walnut, crevice and expansion holding every piece of her comfort.
Wakefulness and headache glued her newly into Cliff's arms, the Malibu's sun-bleached upholstery itching her bare back, grass clippings in the sweat between her toes. He didn't ask where she'd been, just brought her close and loved her up. Could a girl garner too much loving? She decided, no.
Cliff patted the dashboard. "Finally got this car running."
She said, with eyes closed against the morning, "That's good." She hummed a little no-tune and the filmy vibration in her throat lay atop mower motion and moon and now the salt of Cliff in her mouth.
He said, "What? Are you crying?"
Lori shrugged and he cuddled her until she thought she'd expire in his god-awful suffocation.
"Let me go," she said, wriggling free. "Christ, just give me some air."
"What'd I do?"
"Nothing," she said. "No thing." She tried breath without gulp, and found it possible. What else, she thought, what else? She said, "A popsicle would taste good."
"Now? There's nothing in the freezer but ice and a vodka fifth."
"The fifth. I'll take the fifth." She giggled, thinking on swearing away the secret of the lawnmower man from Cliff.
"You're loony, girl. This early in the morning?"
"Yes, I am."
He'd unwound his limbs from hers and had been walking from the car (oh why were they even sleeping in the car? Blocks of time had flown off in the night inside the beaks of birds or between the teeth of bats), but half-gone away, Cliff turned back and said, "What?"
She waved, shooing him ahead and into the trailer. "Nothing. Get."
Beyond the divisions of night and day, the lawnmower man would need to ask her nothing twice. He cut grass in the dark, made love in the light, intuited her thoughts, read her skin like a blind man his Braille. He'd said, "Your pulse close to the surface tells me. . ."
She thought he would tell her what. But that was all he said, and soon what he said proved enough, it was more than she could hold in her head. His love poured out her ears she filled up so with him. And all this lay in the grass, in the night, where she left it, for how could it possibly not dry up under scrutiny and the sun, that vicious delineator?
Morning broke over her like an egg—warm, inviting, wet. Would the lawnmower man not swoop down from his hill? She nearly turned her drumming head to glance down the driveway for sight of him, but Cliff stood at the wound-down car window, lifted the open bottle to her, as she couldn't move an inch away from the head rest. She shut her eyes to him, until he pinched her bottom lip the way he did when he wanted to love her.
He said, tender-like, "Here you go, babe."
If there'd been any kind of decision she'd been pondering, Cliff took the trouble from her then, relieved her of it that very minute by withholding the drink, and thank God, giving her his tongue, transporting her all servile and slobbery to her lawnmower man memory. Oh, betrayer of her known world, world of motor and mother and pitch- perfect hum. In the course of one night she'd been tackled, twisted, mainlined and spoiled. She beamed with the ruin placed inside her even as she pulled on Cliff's unshaven jaw and tugged his shirt sleeves down his tattooed arms. A serpent flexed there, too.
Donna raises funds for nonprofit clients in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her stories have appeared in dozens of journals, including Natural Bridge, Hawaii Review, Meridian, Gargoyle, Broad River Review, Hurricane Review, Front Porch Journal, Beloit Fiction Journal, Storyglossia, Insolent Rudder, Turnrow, and Ginosko. She writes about the assumptions and unexpressed love that tangle families, lovers, and friends. A devotee of the long form, (4 novels patiently waiting to be discovered; even her short stories rarely come in under 15 pages), Donna has been trying her hand at flash fiction for about nine months, and she's rather liking the results.