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April 25, 2010 by · No comments

Jason Williams

Photo: Mike Licht,

In the plastic cup-holder between Paul and his wife, the cell phone shudders awake. Abby flips aside the church bulletin and plucks the phone from the center console. The glowing, smudged screen reflects in her glasses. “Says it’s Chris. From work?”

God damn it, he thinks. Sunday morning. Eleven forty-five.

She asks, “Do you want me to take it?”


“No,” Paul growls. “Chris knows better than to talk work on Sunday.”

He clutches the steering wheel and scans the faces in the line of traffic, trying to wedge into in the weekly after-service traffic fiasco. But he can almost see her eyes roll when she says, “Maybe he just wants to say hi.”

He looks, and her face reminds him that his daughter’s doubting stare is inherited. The phone dangles in her fingers now, “CHRIS” gleaming–a blue box swelling and fading around the single, white word. An ellipsis hovers below the name, growing one period at a time. A pulse.

Abby brightens: “At the Gentech picnic, Chris’s wife told me they were looking for a church. I’ll just ask if she wants to swing by my Ladies Bible Circle–”

Too abruptly, Paul’s fingers enclose the phone and draw it from her hand. “It’ll keep,” he says. His thumb feels out the power button, and crushes it.


“You need to take Megan to her game on Monday,” Abby says, never looking up from her Sudoku book. She’s wearing the University of Kentucky sweatpants and Vanderbilt t-shirt she calls her “weekend regalia.” Paul stops scrolling through the bolded stack of unread text messages.

“Why? You busy tomorrow?” He is absently watching the Bengals lose badly. The middle linebacker, whose knee just collapsed repeatedly in slow motion, writhes in the close-up.

“I have a thesis review for Meredith,” his wife erases a few squares and blows them aside. “but, in any case Paul, you haven’t seen her play at all this year.”


He digs his fingernail into the “Delete” button. Technicolor waves swirl across the screen. Abby was right. At the mall yesterday, Megan twice mentioned the last time he watched her play. Even teased him about spilling Coke all over the bleachers when she stole third.

Abby licked her thumb, flicking the page to the next puzzle. “Not that I’m bitter, but when I take her and she slides home, she doesn’t pop up and scan the stands for my smile.”


The linebacker slams his fist against the turf.

“Let me check with Chris about our presentation this week,” Paul rises to his feet and glides through the kitchen toward the rear of his house. “Hey,” he stops in the doorway, “if there’s any way I can get away Monday, I’ll take her.”

He closes the sliding door behind him, slicing off Abby’s shouts: “Have Chris ask his wife about the Circle!” Paul’s finger slides over the screen, names scrolling.
Peering over the deck railing, Paul admits his might be the worst lawn in the neighborhood, but it really did not look half bad until the mushrooms took over. At first, he thought Megan left a softball in the yard, but he found it to be a bulbous, white mushroom. In his hand, its surface felt like wet skin. With all the rain this spring, they had swollen like tumors all over his crisp grass.


He eases the blue bar over “CHRISTOPHER HARRIS” and presses “Call.”

It turns out Chris was happy that Paul called, since Nunez told Chris he would need to see a business case with a justification for every project cost. Nail the presentation or Nunez would pull the plug. So, tomorrow breakfast at 6:30. And Bethany would definitely call Abby about the study group.

Paul sets the phone on the patio table. He glimpses a new clump of mushrooms growing in an arc below the swing set. He picks up the phone again, slides his finger up to CHRIS, and rests the blue bar around the name.

When her voice interrupts the ringing, Paul says, “No more.”

As he drops the phone into his pocket, he almost expects tinny screams to still warble from his thigh. He kneels over one of the mushrooms near the swings. His fingers slide down to the base, twist, and lift it upward. Bart Morehouse next door said they feed on thatch, sucking up the decay. A thick mat of dead clippings lay beneath the green blades, choking them. Paul needed a bagging mower, Bart said.

Paul scratches the spongy thatch with his fingers and draws out the yellowed, limp strands. Now, up close, he sees it is everywhere. Too much to yank out with his bare hands.

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