Andrew had lately been too tired to go to the gym, and mowing his rented bungalow’s patchy lawn had become a nearly overwhelming feat of physical exertion. Luckily, he’d always had the ability to retreat deep into his own mind and put his body on auto-pilot, leaving his (withering) muscles to put his body through the motions.  

This is my life. This is my life. This is my life.

He turned 90 degrees left upon reaching the far corner of his unfenced patch of half-dead crabgrass and looked straight down the line that the new neighbor, Hector, had taken when mowing his own lawn a few days prior. Hector seemed to have annexed a yard-wide swath of Andrew’s turf.

Well, we can’t have that. I know how these things go. Pretty soon he’ll take half my lawn.

Andrew took a path that would not only reclaim his yard of turf but would also take a roughly equivalent strip of Hector’s grass. He prided himself on not taking shit from anyone.

He finished mowing in record time, maybe spurred on a little by the miniscule thrill he’d taken from his petty theft.

This tiny jolt of adrenaline soon wore off, however, leaving him to plod through the day’s work. He was in the midst of writing a web scraping utility for a secretive Chinese investment group. In fact, Andrew didn’t think about his lawn at all until mid-afternoon, when he looked up from his laptop and through the window of his home office to see Hector’s wife, Arianna, pushing a baby stroller and pulling along the couple’s recalcitrant little Shih Tzu. The curve of her ass was enticing even through the loose cloth of her sweatpants.

I want her.

The trajectory of this stray spark of lust brought back thoughts of the petty little dispute he was engaged in with Hector. Andrew slouched back into his work and burned through the next three hours.

The slight bother about the lawn’s boundaries seemed to have a half-life of a day or so. It last crossed Andrew’s mind in the following afternoon as he lusted again for Arianna while watching her take her daily walk. The slight sense of misgiving that he felt as he coveted Arianna that day—and through the week—hardly seemed to be worth articulating, even to himself.

Hector took the dog out on the weekend. Andrew watched and waited ‘til he’d slipped his squat, muscular bulk sidewise into his house, shutting the door sharply behind the lagging Shih Tzu. He got the sense that the yappy little rat-dog was very much Arianna’s.

It was near sundown by the time Andrew emerged for the Saturday mail. He routinely went three or four days without stepping foot in the world outside his run-down little house, but he’d been out each of the last three days in anticipation of his sizable bimonthly check from China.

Each day, he’d dared himself to go out when Arianna was walking her dog. He had even managed a muttered hello the previous afternoon.

This is my life. This is my life.

The check had finally arrived in a steel-gray envelope with no return address. The three previous had come from shell companies in places like Cheyenne, Wyoming and Carson City, Nevada.

“Seems legit,” Andrew muttered as he checked the numbers. He slid the check carefully back into its sketchy-ass envelope and shuffled up the driveway, freezing for only a beat as his heavy-lidded eyes registered an outrage that must have taken place sometime that morning, when he’d been asleep with industrial-strength ear plugs firmly in place. Hector had laid claim to a swath of land extending at least 15 feet into Andrew’s territory.

That fucking asshole. He thinks that he can try me like that and I’m too much of a pussy to do anything. Yeah, we’ll see about that. Fucking bitch.

***

The next Monday, with Hector at work, Andrew lowered the mower’s blades as far as they would go and passed within three feet of his neighbor’s house.

A creeping tide of nausea came over him as he mowed the rest of his lawn. An actual face-to-face confrontation now seemed inevitable. It probably wouldn’t get physical, although you never knew what would happen in a neighborhood like this. He was hardly able to work through that day and the next.

The doorbell finally rang at a quarter to nine on Tuesday. Andrew reluctantly rose from his desk and forced himself to stride briskly across the house. Hector rapped on the door just as he reached for the knob.

He seemed more impatient than angry. Something in his eyes told Andrew that there was no immediate physical threat.

“Can I help you?”

Hector shook his head slightly. “Come on, man. You know why I’m here.”

He nodded.

“Can I come in? We need to talk.”

“Sure,” shrugging a little. He stepped aside to let Hector in. Hector sized him up and finally stepped past into the foyer.

“You want coffee? I was just about to put on a fresh pot.”

“No, I’ve got to hit the sack soon. Early morning tomorrow.”

Andrew nodded and an uncomfortable silence expanded between the two men.

Finally, Hector coughed. “Anyway, you really need to put an end to this bullshit with the lawn.”

We.”

Hector exhaled angrily through flared nostrils and visibly strained to calm himself. Andrew stood behind the kitchen counter and watched him.

Hector cleared his throat. “Okay. Yeah, I guess it’s been both of us. But we need to cut this shit out because it’s stressing my wife.”

Andrew shrugged. “Okay. Yeah, let’s cut it out.” He moved toward Hector slowly with his hand extended. Dark eyes warily watched him approach. Andrew hadn’t realized how short the man was until he had to reach down to shake his hand. At this range, he could make out tiny twin sprays of acne pocks across both cheekbones.

“Glad we could get this resolved,” Hector said, still squeezing the blood out of Andrew’s hand.

“Yep.”

“Alright, man, have a good night.”

Hector turned and strode briskly through front door.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad,” Andrew muttered after the door closed.

He put the coffee on and took a seat at his desk.

***

Hector staked out his property—literally—at some point in the next several days. Andrew didn’t notice until he went outside Friday afternoon to check for an Amazon delivery. Upon closer inspection, Hector may have been slightly greedy when setting the little wooden stakes.

He reminded himself not to think the worst of people. Surely, Hector had acted in good faith.

Andrew was careful to respect the line of stakes when he mowed his lawn the following week. The incident had left him a little queasy, and the last thing that he wanted was a renewal of hostilities.

He was lost in his work for the next couple of weeks and whatever neighborly tension remained faded into the background of his life. Andrew did, however, make a point of watching Arianna every time she went out with baby and Shih Tzu in tow. She looked progressively more disheveled over those weeks ‘til a detached sort of concern ruined the guilty pleasure Andrew had taken from ogling a beautiful flesh-and-blood woman. He told himself that Arianna wasn’t his problem. She was probably just tired with the baby and everything.

***

Andrew looked up from his work one Monday afternoon to find Hector wrangling the stroller and the Shih Tzu both, the man’s lips writhing in what he could only imagine as a stream of colorful Spanish curses.

“Home on a Monday. Hmm,” Andrew said, and returned to his work.

But Hector went out in Arianna’s place the next day and the day after that. When he appeared with dog and baby on Thursday, Andrew decided that now was as good a time as any to get the mail.

He didn’t realize that he was rushing until he stumbled and nearly faceplanted on the oily concrete of his driveway. Hector pretended not to notice.

Maybe the stumble was fortuitous; Andrew got to his mailbox just as Hector was passing.

“How’s it going?” he asked, carefully choosing a tone that was friendly, but not overly familiar.

“Good, how are you?” Hector said without slowing.

“So you’re on dogwalking duty, huh? And baby duty.”

“Yeah, the wife’s not feeling too well.”

“Ah. Well, give her my best.”

“I will, man. Thanks,” Hector said as he passed. The Shih Tzu snapped at Andrew and nearly came away with a mouthful of ankle flesh.

“Cute dog.”

“Yeah, right.”

There was nothing in the mail but a coupon for a discounted carpet cleaning.

The following Monday, Andrew again found himself watching through his office window as Hector juggled the baby and the dog.

“God, I’m like an old woman,” he said, and kept watching. Hector was wearing flip-flops and at least two days worth of stubble. He stopped to let the dog shit in Andrew’s yard. The man looked so bad that Andrew felt sympathy rather than annoyance. Hector did have a lot of shit to deal with; wife, baby, dog. He turned to take the Shih Tzu farther up the road and Andrew realized that he was wearing a familiar soccer jersey.

Mail time.

He strode briskly out to the mailbox and pretended to check for mail, though he was pretty sure that the postman hadn’t yet passed through.

“How’s it going?” he asked when Hector drew level.

“What’s up,” Hector mumbled.

“I see you’re a Tottenham supporter. I’ll try not to hold that against you.”

Hector stopped in his tracks, his face lit up with a huge smile. “You’re a soccer guy?”

“Yeah, although I’m an Arsenal supporter, so I guess that makes us rivals.”

“Well, my whole family are fans of Tottenham and Club América. That was part of the family religion growing up. Fútbol and Catholicism.”

“Yeah, not so much in my family. Not the fútbol part.”

Andrew realized that he was actually enjoying this conversation with Hector. He couldn’t remember the last time that he’d enjoyed a conversation.

“So I guess you’re going to raise this little guy to be a Tottenham fan, huh?”

“Of course, bro.”

Andrew shook his head and smiled ruefully. “Just what the world needs. Another Tottenham supporter.”

Hector returned his smile. “Yeah, exactly.”

The baby screamed, once, and seemed to pause for a parental reaction. Hector shushed the baby and cooed something in Spanish. Andrew shut the lid of his mailbox.

“Well, I should probably get back to work,” he said. “Arianna feeling better?”

Hector looked away. “Yeah, she’s doing alright.”

“Good. Well, see you around.”

“Yeah. Seeya, man.”

Andrew slowly returned to his house with the water bill clutched in one hand.

“Fucking pathetic,” he mumbled as he shuffled back to his office. “Dining out on the drama of other people’s lives.”
He watched Hector turn the baby stroller around and start back to his own house. The dog decided to stop for a piss in the middle of the road.

***

Andrew spent much of the following afternoon out in the world, trying to fit a week’s worth of errands into a single day. He was in the midst of a self-enforced code sprint on Wednesday afternoon when he suddenly sat bolt upright in his chair. Arianna was walking down the road—alone—in a tight T-shirt and sprayed-on yoga pants. He felt his cock twitch completely independent of the thoughts he was having, which were of curiosity rather than lust. He was striding out of his office and through his front door by the time he realized what he was doing. By then, it was too late. Arianna saw him coming and stopped at the foot of his driveway.

Andrew tried to read her expression as he approached. She finally tilted her chin up and smiled at him.

“Uh, hi,” he said awkwardly.

“Hey.”

He had nearly managed to forget how terrified he was of female beauty.

“Uhh…I’m…uhh…waiting for a delivery.” He pulled his (dead) phone out of one pocket and gestured vaguely.

“Oh, okay.”

Her mascara-rimmed eyes were honey brown, with just the faintest emerald glimmer hiding in their depths.

“So, how are you? Hector told me that you were a little under the weather. Hope you’re feeling better.”

Her smile started to crack.

“Yeah, definitely. Just getting some fresh air. Just for a minute.”

“Right. Yeah. It’s nice out.”

“Yeah.”

“Are you okay?” she asked suddenly. “You seem a little…off.”

“Umm…yeah. I’m okay. Just tired, y’know.”

“Yeah, I’m tired, too,” she said, searching Andrew’s face for something. He nodded.

“I should get back. I’m sure the baby’s screaming his head off.” She started to turn back and stopped to look at Andrew. “I think we got some of your mail. Hector was supposed to drop it off this morning before he left for work. Why don’t you come and pick it up before I forget about it?”

“Um, yeah. Sure.”

He tried to avoid leering at Arianna’s perfect ass as he followed her back to the house she shared with Hector and their child.

“So, what’s your baby’s name?” Andrew asked as they turned up her driveway. Their procession of two felt a little ritualistic, like he was being led to his own sacrifice.

“Henry—well, Enrique, technically,” Arianna said flatly. “Hector named him.”

“Well, that’s a good strong name. Very manly.”

She laughed, and Andrew thought he heard a hint of bitterness leaking in around the edges. “It’s just weird to hear you say that Henry is manly when he’s, like, six months old.”

“Right,” he said, berating himself for being such a shitty conversationalist. He followed Arianna into her house and eased the door shut. Their place looked just like any other lower-middle-class suburban household in every aspect of furnishing and decoration save the art on the walls, which had a distinctly Hispanic flavor.

“Nice place,” he said automatically.

“Yeah, it’s alright,” Arianna said as she bent to remove her running shoes. Andrew had to force himself to look away, wincing as his cock throbbed once, twice, three times. The Shih Tzu was going crazy out on the back patio. The baby wailed in the living room area, his crib just visible behind a familiar island counter.

Ariana rubbed at her forehead like she had a migraine. “Yeah. Not a lot of peace and quiet, as you can hear.” She put a tiny feverish hand on the small of Andrew’s back and started to lead him toward the kitchen area.

This can’t be what I think it is, Andrew thought.

“You can take care of the baby if you want.”

“That’s alright. He’ll cry himself out.”

Cry himself out?

The misdelivered piece of mail turned out to be an AAA ad.

He reached for the envelope. “Well, I was thinking of signing up for a membership.”

“Were you?” Arianna said in a shaky whisper. “That’s good.” She put a trembling hand on his outstretched wrist. Andrew watched her slide the hand down and around to his palm, finally intertwining her fingers with his.

He looked up into her pleading eyes and opened his mouth to say something—

“Please,” Arianna said. Andrew saw his reflection in her twin pools of sadness. He wanted to jump in…

The baby wailed in the background.

“Sorry,” he whispered, and extricated his hand.

He grabbed the envelope and hurried back to the safety of his house, where he immediately took a seat behind his laptop, maybe trying to occupy his mind with work before the gravity of the situation sunk in.

Andrew sat with fingertips poised on greasy keys for what seemed like hours, replaying the scene in Arianna’s kitchen over and over again. Finally, he leaned back and shook his head.

“I should have fucked her.”