Mr. Willis Montgomery ate his breakfast slowly. It was Saturday. The end of the week had come. He had no more excuses. It was time to rake the yard.
Mr. Montgomery despised raking. He hated the crunch of the leaves beneath his feet. It was like listening to someone chew potato chips with his mouth open. He hated the false promise of the rake. It did not gather all the leaves; some always slipped through. He hated the fickle trees, the slow drip-drip of autumn, so that no matter when he cleared his lawn, he would have to do it again at least once more.
If he had his way, he’d buy a blower, one of those monstrous backpack ones, and make quick work of it. But he didn’t. He didn’t because of Mr. Norris Denton.
Mr. Norris Denton was his neighbor. The man smiled and hummed as he worked. He kept his grass at putting green perfection, trimmed his bushes weekly, swept his sidewalk daily, and even managed to clean his gutters four times a year. And as the leaves turned orange and red, he made it his habit to spend Sunday afternoon, rain or shine, methodically raking his yard until it gleamed like the newborn son of the Jolly Green Giant, verdant and unblemished.
And so, Mr. Montgomery spent Saturday showing his neighbor he could do the same.
He dug through the garage, hunting down the rake from where he had thrown it in disgust sometime late last November, when the trees had finally shed their last bit of clothing. Grasping the weathered wooden shaft, he felt the premonition of his aching back.
He trudged outside.
The leaves were gone. Only a few remained, like crumbs after a feast. He had envisioned an hour of work.
He looked to Mr. Denton’s yard. It was cleared as well, with just a smattering of gold and crimson. He was a day early! Mr. Montgomery marched over and pounded on the front door. Mr. Denton looked out. “Yes?”
“How dare you rake my yard! I am capable of taking care of it myself, thank you very much!”
Mr. Denton blinked and looked over at Mr. Montgomery’s yard. “It looks very nice.”
“No thanks to me!” Mr. Montgomery declared.
“Did you do my yard as well?” Mr. Denton asked. “That wasn’t necessary.”
“I did not! I’d never!”
“Then who did?”
“What do you mean, who did?” Mr. Montgomery demanded. “Don’t play the idiot!”
“Look at them,” Mr. Denton said, not really hearing his friend. “Looks like a wind rose up and cleared out all the leaves!”
Mr. Montgomery finally looked. All the houses around had clean yards, with a few dribbles of leaves trailing away. Peering down the sidewalk, he found where the trails seemed to converge. “We’ll find the scoundrel,” he said, pursuing with furrowed brow like an angered wizard, his rake clutched like a staff.
He came to the corner. This road was busier, open to sun and traffic. Three houses down, he saw a flurry of movement, a cyclone of red and yellow. On the sidewalk, two small rakes and an odd assortment of buckets and other containers lay discarded. A girl and a boy were throwing armfuls of leaves at each other, shouting and squealing. They dove into a pile in the middle of their tiny front lawn so big they could both burrow in, hidden completely from sight, and erupt out again like the spirits of volcanos and geysers.
Mr. Montgomery stared in perplexity. These thieves had stolen his leaves. Why had they stolen his leaves?
Mr. Denton was at his shoulder, grinning like an idiot. “Guess it wasn’t work for them, was it?”
“They must have had help. Accomplices. Backpack blowers.”
“Come on, Willis. Leave them be.” The kids were dancing in the pile. “Let’s hope they want a big snow fort this winter.”
Originally published at 4CountyMall on November 2, 2016.