"That fat slob is finally mowing the lawn," Benjamin said, loud enough for his wife to hear him over the monotonous whine of the lawnmower across the street. She swiped her feather duster once more across the dining table before turning around.
"I wish you wouldn't give him such a-"
"What?" Benjamin blurted, "Speak up, dear, you know I'm hard of hearing."
Selma absentmindedly tossed her duster onto the table, wincing when dust puffed up into the air and began to settle back onto its smooth cherry finish. "Oh, look what you made me do," she mumbled under her breath.
"What?" Benjamin repeated. "You're quieter than before. How'm I supposed to hear you when you peep peep like a baby chick?"
He withdrew his hand from the blinds and headed toward his corner of the den. He wasn't nearly as hard of hearing as he let on, but he found it a great way to draw people closer. It was a handy trick he used quite often before retiring, and now it was just an old habit that refused to die.
Selma left the dining room and shuffled over. "I know, dear, I know," she said, in response to the impatient look her husband leveled at her. She placed her hands on his cheeks and gave him a compensatory peck on his heavily pitted Roman nose. "I said, you shouldn't give him such a hard time. Jacob is doing the best he can, and that's all any of us can do."
Benjamin grumbled and sidled past her. "Eh, why shouldn't I, and how do you know?"
"Well," she said, sighing as she watched him lower his old bones into his lounge chair with a pained grunt, "Nancy says he's a godsend. Comes all the way across town to look in on her whenever he has a chance."
Benjamin laughed bluntly, grabbed the newspaper from the end table, and opened it to his favorite section. "Yeah, he's a real angel. Visits about as much as our own son. The man has kids old enough to do yard work. If he's too fat to do it more regularly than why doesn't he send them over to cut their grandma's lawn, huh? Chop down those three-foot-tall weeds while they're at it."
Selma gently settled onto the couch and looked crossly at her husband. "It's not really any of our business, is it? And shame on you for bad-mouthing your son. You know Seth hasn't been himself since-"
"Yeah, yeah," he said, cutting her short, "Seth and Sarah sitting in a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g. I warned ya both about that one. From the moment I set eyes on her, I knew she was nothin' but trouble. It took a while, but she eventually showed her true colors. Blows up a sixteen-year marriage for some guy she met on the internet. I didn't even know that was a thing. If you ask me-"
Selma cut him off, "Nobody's asking, dear." And with one smoldering glance, she stood up and walked out of the den and back to her feather duster. The old man, looking a bit cowed, turned his eyes to his paper without a single grunt or grumble. He knew when he was beat. Just then, the mouthwatering aroma of roasting pork caught his attention.
He inhaled the wonderful fragrance of garlic and rosemary wafting from the kitchen while he scanned the obits in search of any familiar names. "And that," he thought, fanning the delicious scent toward his nose, "is why she wins all the arguments."
Just then, a deafening scream cut through the neighborhood like an air raid siren, replacing the white noise of the neighbor's lawnmower. Benjamin, always a man of action, sat up and propelled himself to his feet. Dodging past the coffee table with an agility that belied his age, he made it to the window and drew up the blinds with a quick tug of the cord. He stood there, still as a statue, staring across the street until his wife's voice brought him back to reality.
"Benjie, what did you do?"
Benjamin turned and walked to the coffee table. He placed his foot on it and pushed it against the couch with a grunt. Reaching his hand out invitingly, he said, "They're playing our song, babe. Come dance with me."
"Oh, Benjie, you promised," Selma said, but the look on her face seemed more sympathetic than disapproving.
"I know, dear, but I've just been so damn bored. Tell ya what, dance with me until he passes out, and then I'll call 911."
Selma shrugged and tossed the feather duster over her shoulder. "Oh, I suppose a few spins around the den could be fun. He won't bleed out anytime soon, will he?"
Benjamin grinned and lied through his teeth, "Of course not, he'll be just fine."
Selma sashayed into the den and took her husband's hand. He drew her close, and they began to dance around the room while Jacob's horrific cries of anguish rang out through the neighborhood. "I can't remember the last time we did this."
Benjamin veered them away from the television. "You know," he said, "I can't either."
Suddenly, the screaming across the street stopped, and his wife spoke, her voice seeming as if coming from somewhere else in the house. "I'm sorry, dear. I can't quite hear you. What did you say?"
Benjamin blinked, and he was standing in front of the window, peering across the street at the middle-aged Jacob lazily pushing the lawnmower across his mother's front lawn. He let out a sigh and slumped his shoulders. "It's not important, dear. I was just daydreaming."
Selma quietly came up behind him and rested her hands on his hips. She rose onto the balls of her feet and peered over his shoulder. "You didn't tamper with the lawnmower, did you?" she asked jokingly.
Benjamin let out another deep sigh, and said, "Of course not, I've put that old life behind me. Besides, the fat slob may be failing at it, but at least he's trying to do right by his mother. If you can call the least amount of effort... oh, never mind."
Selma drew closer and rested her head between his shoulder blades. She hated seeing his vigor and zest for life slipping away more and more with each passing year. Sure, they weren't spring chickens anymore, and the time to retire comes to all who live long enough, but she hadn't expected such a steep decline in her Benjie's strength of will. She'd mentioned dozens of hobbies he could try out, but all of her suggestions were met with extra-large portions of snark and flat-out refusals.
"Golfing? I'll admit, it's not a bad ploy for getting a target in a relatively remote area, but it's such a boring sport."
"Seriously, honey, model airplanes? Ya know, I once made a Cessna drop out of the sky with the push of a button. Let me see now... it was a... a Skyhawk P, that's it. They're usually pretty dependable planes."
"Now you're just being ridiculous. Hmm, not a bad way to get close to somebody on the beach, though. Who would suspect the lonely guy with a metal detector?"
"Write my memoirs? Now you've gone and done it. You know damn well why I can't... well, I bet it'd be a best seller. Of course, I'd never live to see it on the shelves."
She knew all he really wanted to do was work. Since Benjamin retired, the more memorable jobs he'd regaled her with over the years started popping into her head at strangely fitting moments in her day to day life. For example, the time he staged a gas oven suicide came to mind earlier when she was prepping the pork loin.
It got her to thinking about their first year of marriage. He was away a lot back then and barely said a word about his work. She never had any reason to question his time away until she found what appeared to be lipstick on his shirt collar. The argument she assumed she'd be stepping into was immediately quashed when he sat on the end of the bed and said with a straight face, "Honey, that's not lipstick."
That night, he told her what he actually did for a living, and she believed every word of it. The trips away, the secrecy, the lack of work friends, and all the phone calls taken in another room suddenly made sense to her. The strange thing about it all was she didn't feel an ounce of fear or even revulsion for one single second. She actually felt closer to him at that moment than at any point in their courtship, wedding day, or even the first time they made love.
After that night, he was never sexier in her eyes than when he came home from an assignment. He would step into the house, and she could see how badly he wanted, no, needed to share every grisly detail with her. Once their son came along, keeping their hands off each other until he was put to bed became an exercise in restraint. They eventually started role playing some of the more intimate scenarios in the bedroom, and those were the nights that came to mind much later in their marriage whenever she spotted his bottle of blue pills in the medicine cabinet.
But now, so much of the passion that had carried them into old age had gone belly up. Her loving husband had turned into a grumpy old man who sat around complaining about everything and everyone. The once tireless man who had never met an obstacle he couldn't surmount had become his own roadblock.
Selma had been wracking her brain for so long trying to figure out how to bring back the Benjamin of old, but she had run out of ideas. That was until she recalled a quote he had often recited to those who offered him money to spare their lives.
"No amount of riches can satisfy a man who truly loves his work."
That was when she realized she'd been going about it all wrong. Her husband didn't need a hobby or something to do to kill time. He often told her his real job title was "problem solver." Well, if he needed a problem to solve, then she'd give him one. She figured it was time Benjamin went back to work.
"You know," she said, "I've been wondering about this guy our pesky daughter-in-law is shacked-up with."
The old man's face brightened. "And?" he inquired, straightening his back and turning to his wife.
"Well, what if he wasn't in the picture anymore? I mean, sure, it's a long shot, but she just might move back home if her options suddenly dried up. Think about it, she could be back in the house before Lucy and Pauline got back from summer camp."
The look of interest on Benjamin's face faltered for a moment. "I don't think a good ol' whiff of reality is gonna make that woman see sense. Seth has coddled her way too much for that. Besides, are you sure he even wants her back? She's an unfaithful-"
Selma cut him short with a light jab to his gut. "Well, shouldn't that decision be left to him? Think of what a nasty divorce would do to the children."
He decided not to mention snuffing out their daughter-in-law for the time being. Instead, he slipped his arms around her waist and said, "In that case, taking out the boyfriend would need to look like an accident."
Selma smiled and settled into his arms, resting her head upon his chest. He had a gleam in his eye she hadn't seen in a long time. "I know that look," she said. "You've already got a plan, haven't you?"
Benjamin chuckled. "I wonder if he mows his own lawn."
Written by Kolpik