I was in the middle of a busy day when the dog started barking. There was a noise at the door. When I peered out the second-floor window, a smile greeted me from below. I recognized the owner of the smile immediately as the guy who mows our lawn.
When I opened the front door, he was sitting on the next-door neighbor's steps. Gesturing wide at the overgrown grass, he said, "It's that time of year again."
"Yes, it is," I said. I was glad he was there, because my dad is visiting this weekend, and squeezing in time to mow the lawn, on top of cleaning and taking care of my normal activities, was looking less and less likely. I asked him if he had his gas mower, and he said he did. This was a relief, because the last time we'd had to plug his weed whacker into the porch light, which involved a stool and an adapter. I was already pressed for time to finish my afternoon assignment in time to get to a hair appointment.
I pointed out that the tulip was now done blooming, so he could mow straight over it. Two weeks ago, I'd asked him to mow around it. The tulip is a volunteer, as my dad would say: having popped up where no one had planted it. Every spring, we mowed around it.
"Want me to do the back, too?" he asked. And I told him that would be good. Then I went upstairs to try to get my assignment finished. As I worked, the sound of the motor floated in the open window, along with the occasional loud clank of an ill-placed stone. The dog eventually tired of barking, signed and lay down on the bathroom floor. The cat crouched at my feet, scared of the noise.
It grew quiet. After a short period of silence, I thought that maybe he had knocked again. I peered out the front window, and he was looking away from me. "James," I called. And then, when he didn't turn, I called his name again. "Did you knock?" He nodded yes.
I had recently replaced the batteries in our alarm, but people keep complaining that it doesn't work. Every time I try it, the alarm does. Maybe there's a certain way to press it. Maybe it's time to look for a new alarm.
As I handed him his money, he smiled and said, teasingly, "No cold water this time?"
Immediately, I knew I wasn't looking at James, the guy who mowed our lawn when we first moved in and, after having been away for a couple years, had come back two weeks ago and asked if we needed him. No, in fact, it was the guy who had been mowing our lawn ever since James left. It was the guy who I always gave a glass of cold water with the money, since he had asked me the first time he mowed.
"Just a minute," I said, and went inside to get a plastic cup full of cold water. I racked my mind for his name. It started with an "A," I was certain, but I couldn't come up with it.
Giving him the water, I apologized for calling him the wrong name. "I was just talking to somebody named James," I explained weakly. He sipped the water and told me he'd see me in two weeks.
When did I become this person, this person who pays for lawn work and can't remember the names of the men who have mowed her lawn? Almost as soon as I walked away from the door, his name popped into my head: Anthony.
Anthony, Anthony, I repeated quietly to myself. Next time, I vowed I'd get it right. Then again, next time, with my luck, it will probably be James.
When I'm distracted, I'm terrible with names.