Tilman needed watching. And that’s what we were doing.
“This guy’s got it bad,” I said to Bob and Sam. We sat on my front porch in Adirondack chairs, beverages in hand. My house was the mid-point of our cul-de-sac—a superb lookout spot.
“How long you think he’s going to take mulching those flowerbeds?” asked Bob.
“If how long he took painting trim last week is any indication—he’ll be there a while,” I said.
Sam shook his bald head at me. “He was hanging laundry, too?
“Yup—yesterday. Whites. If Janice gets a whiff of this, my retirement days are over.”
Sam had the nerve to laugh. “Do you think you’ll have to resort to the Elephant Spiel?”
“Hey, keep that on the down-low, would-ya? Too many people hear about it, it becomes cliché, loses its punch.” A scan of my property. No Janice. I tossed my can in a flowerpot with the rest of the empties. “Boys—it’s time.” We exchanged salutes and off I went.
I should have talked to Tilman when he first retired a month ago. He’s a good guy, a man’s man—burly, good sense of humor. I honestly hadn’t thought there’d be a problem. His wife, Louise, quiet, demure, never struck me as the controlling type.
“Hey there, Tilman!” I called when I reached his driveway.
He lifted his chin. “Hiya, Brad.” Another shovelful of dark rich woodchips from a shiny red wheelbarrow dropped near the roses. The man washed his wheelbarrow. He was worse off than I’d thought.
I walked right up to him. “You sure have been busy.”
“Things I’ve been meaning to tackle for ages. Louise likes a neat-looking place.”
“I’m sure she does.” Where was a good segue when you needed one?
I looked down, skimming the bottom of my Top-Siders along the grass. There it was. “This lawn’s looking a little under-fertilized.” That got his attention. He leaned his shovel against the Japanese maple he’d recently planted (Janice was now hot to get one, too). Down he kneeled, plucking a finger-full of deep-green grass. “You can tell by the edges.” I said. “They’re hard.”
“But I’ve weeded and feeded twice this month. With premium stuff.”
“Makes you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, doesn’t it?”
“Louise likes soft grass, but there’s nothing else I can do.” He sat down among the blades he now considered stiff.
“And that’s how it is with us men, Tilman. We get used to working. First it’s thirty years for The Man. We retire. Then it’s thirty years for the Wo-man. We’re like elephants.” I let him ponder that statement, while I rocked back on my heels.
He didn’t disappoint. “What does that mean: we’re like elephants?”
“You know—majestic. And isn’t it interesting how circus trainers keep those great-big majestic pachyderms tethered with one miniscule spike? They certainly have the strength to break free, don’t you think?”
“Well, yeah.” Tilman removed his gloves and went to examining his calloused hands. “So—how do they do it—the trainers?” he finally asked.
Reeling them in should be harder than this.
“When the elephant’s young—real young—practically a baby, the trainer chains him to a tree trunk. When he tugs, he’s powerless—no match for the tree for sure. He learns he can only operate in circles within the confines of the chain. Once that lesson’s absorbed, the trainer can hold him with a spike and rope. The elephant’s been conditioned, broken.”
There’s not a man I’ve told it to who didn’t react to that last statement.
“A travesty . . . a real injustice,” said Tilman, getting up, leaving his gloves in the grass. “Sorry, Brad, but I got some things to take care of.”
“No problem, Buddy.”
I was back in my Adirondack, the other guys long gone when I spotted Tilman coming out of his garage and heading toward the wheelbarrow. He stopped to put on his gloves. What? I jumped out of my chair, down my steps and jogged across the street.
“Hey, Buddy—what’s up?”
“Just finishing before it gets dark.”
“Didn’t you talk to Louise?”
“She said if I was a majestic elephant, then she was a guinea hen—and could fly the coop anytime she wanted.
“Oh,” I said.
“Though she allowed as how it was time for us to get away. She’s booking something—right after she calls your Jani—”
Oh, for women’s love of cruelty!
My jig was up.
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