The Engineer came in from putting his bicycle away. It is a phenomenon of Spring in this house: my sweetheart gets out his bike and starts tooling over the landscape, rabbits erupt from the shrubbery, daffodils bloom, David the voluble gardener appears and begins to dig his three rows in my backyard, filling the compost bin with weeds and improving the soil with peat and lime.
“I had a lengthy conversation with David,” the Engineer said — is there any other kind? — while divesting his socks and shoes and scratching his shins in my office chair. “I would assume so,” I said. “About his lymphoma,” the Engineer added.
Shit. I was afraid of that.
David has sported a grungy beard in all the years I’ve known him, a dubious frame for his four-dimensional row of obliquely angled West Virginia teeth. When I spotted him in the yard for the first time a couple of weeks ago it was gone. Well, people sometimes go random. But when he took off his baseball cap to mop sweat and exhibited a shaven cranium I had a bad feeling.
To recap. David came into my life when I was married to my mentally addled, heartbreakingly childlike late and ex, who claimed he was willing to mow a lawn but clearly had no clue what he was doing and suggested he could go out with scissors and take care of the matter. David happened to drop a flyer in my doorway about that time, adorned with a crude line drawing of a man with a mower who appeared to be vomiting the words “I have a great lawn service.” I was struggling with pollen allergy vivid enough to give me barotitis, and did not need another blast of ragweed in the face, so I hired him. Apparently we are only a few months apart in age, but I didn’t come from a family of nine, or spend my shank years drunk and dysfunctional, or have to pay child support, and I’m not judging, I’m just saying: some people get born in a place that doesn’t have easy roads through life leading out of it. I’m sure he thinks I’m sort of rich because I own a house, which I’m not, but I am safer than he is, and that is fool luck.
Twenty some years on, he cuts my lawn, plants three rows of organic vegetables on my back lot and drones on to me whenever I unwisely give him the chance about the provenance of each variety of tomato, the purity of his organic gardening aids and the mercy the Lord showed him when the Lord took away the desire to drink. Mention has been made of occasions when he woke up on someone’s front porch with no memory of how he got there, and the like. He has the leathery complexion that goes with such adventures. There are worse ways to fuck up in life.
According to what he told the Engineer, anyway, he had this mass in his abdomen which was caught when it was already pretty large, and he was set up on a schedule of chemo treatments, of which he’s had seven, the eighth to come on May second. The mass has shrunk radically. David is sure the Lord wants him to live since the Lord saved him once already, so he has faith. More pertinently, he got on a waiting list years back for a free clinic sponsored by Johns Hopkins University Hospital (up the road a piece) which is covering his treatment.
“I’ve been kinda tryn to work up my nerve to tell Miz Sled,” he told the Engineer, as if there were something to be ashamed about. I mean does he think I will write him a ticket?
But it makes me strangely abashed too. I always hate starting a conversation with David because you never know when it will end. Now I have to pick a time when I can listen to everything he has to say about this, because it is a giant fucking deal and he could be months from death or be set to live another two or three decades, lymphoma is a very big menu, though he says that his is one associated with the Roundup that may have been sprayed on half or four fifths of the lawns he’s mowed for years. I know for a fact that the people who sold me my house “didn’t like the grass they planted” and “killed it with Roundup” before planting a different grass. I didn’t touch the goddam lawn with anything at all, ever, and it was seven years before David broke ground in my back yard and planted his first tomato. Other customers may not have been so purist.
The Lord wants him to live, though. He has garlic and onions already set in the turned earth, broccoli ready to dig in, I don’t know what the rest of the plantings are, but they are faith beyond anyone’s religion in another cycle of seasons and another year of life. In the end it may be all we have.