cloudy sky | Nantucket, MA
Nantucket Essays

Imminent Front

by Robert P. Barsanti

The trucks are backing up on Old South Road: roofing trucks, plumbing trucks, landscapers with trailers, the ubiquitous UPS brown truck, and a truck with a wooden Chris Craft on its way down to Children’s Beach and the ramp. We all crept forward.

It wasn’t raining.

Since March, the skies have dripped water most days. One day comes wrapped in fog, the next in wind whipped sheets, the next in sprinkles. Then the dance repeats. This morning, the sun lurked behind racing billows of fog. In this space between the raindrops and the mosquitoes, I hoped to get out to Tom Nevers and mow the lawn for the guests. All of the spring rain has to go somewhere, and a healthy percentage had flowed into the twitchy growth of grass and weeds that passed for lawn. Their time was coming.

We all looked at the sky. The great grey lid of winter had thinned. We lived under the roof of a grey tent, just as we had in February, in December, and in November. With the imminence of spring and boat schedules and traffic, the season would arrive, ready or not. The sky was pregnant with change; it would be born.

Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer in the rest of the world. White shoes come out with the patio furniture and the kebab skewers. A signal is passed, then the women are wearing summer dresses, halter tops, and shorts. Out here, that signal gets lost in the fog, as Mayvember slips into Junuary. Perhaps summer might begin on the Fourth of July. Hard to tell. Nonetheless the season was imminent. It may be stuck behind a boat and a UPS truck, but it was coming.

I crept along behind J & M Landscape and passed the Fairgrounds intersection. The plywood had been pulled up, the road narrowed, and the traffic returned. Town Meeting had held off modernity and the third rotary in a half mile by a few votes. No doubt many, waiting at this intersection this July, will remember and imagine a future with more circular motion.

Eventually I headed east, the rain held off, and I pulled into the house on Sandpiper. The lawnmower sat upright in the bed of the pick-up, tied down with bungee cords and good wishes. Mowing lawns with the push mower had gone from an eccentric choice that could be rationalized with some nod towards frugality to a particularly odd practice. Any of the real landscapers could pop in here with some orbital thing and mow the yard in about twenty minutes and then move on. I have absolutely no excuse other than this was the way I had always mowed. As if technology and industry somehow didn’t count in this version of the future.

I dropped the rear gate, pulled out the two-by-fours, and pushed the mower into position. When I was younger and more foolish, I would put a foot on the rear wheel, spring up, and walk the mower down on the planks. But, in an excess of caution, I decided I didn’t want to harm the ancient back gate on the truck and wouldn’t put extra strain on it. So, I reached into the bed, grabbed the front of the mower and gently pulled on it. And my back scrunched itself up. I got the mower on the ground, then I lay on the grass next to it.

I felt each muscle on the right side contract. The one close to my spine tightened, and then the next three tightened, then a shooting pain shot down to my right knee, ankle, and big toe. I was on my back, in pain, with a car near me, the lawn mower with in feet, and my phone in the cab.

Above me, the sun dimmed and brightened behind the rolling fog. A sea gull circled very high up, and I hoped he didn’t notice me.

Slowly, I transformed from misfortune, to tragedy, to joke as the seagull circled high above. Then it was joined by another. I heard the laughter of my death at the Angler’s Club, at the Admiralty, even at Sankaty. Pecked to death by gulls then mocked over Bud Light.

And it started to sprinkle.

Shame tasks me. It stretched out my right leg until the cramp straightened and the pain eased. I rolled over and pushed my butt into the air. Each muscle in my back unwound, then wound back, then unwound again until I could rise on all fours. And then stand.

Then I mowed the yard. I ignored the pain, I pushed on through the contractions, until it all subsided into an ache that I could almost pretend wasn’t really there. I pushed the mower back up the two by fours at a run before my back gave out again. Then I walked the street.

Things won’t always be this good. Time is an arrow, pointing down. The young man has left; the young man could trap the inside linebacker, could walk thirty-six holes with two golf bags on each shoulder, and could carry load after load of cedar shingles up a thirty-foot ladder. When the going went weird, he went pro and left an old man twisted on the ground next to his pickup truck. The years twisted his back; next time, he may not get up before the gulls notice.

Things won’t always be this good. This house will be sold and someone else, with a modern mower, will patrol between the scrub oak. And there will be storms. And the stock market will either crash or soar higher and push us all off. We ignore change as if it were the weather. But change continues to seep inland, be it from realtors, bankers, or weathermen.

Before I took a chance at sitting in the car, I climbed up to the deck. Each step stretched the muscles a little bit more. Up top, I paced. The sun had finally emerged under the cloud deck and burned the island golden. The waves broke where the Navy Base once was, the gull circled, and the sun sank lower. Our day was ending.

Articles by Date from 2012