The man topped off the gas tank of his lawnmower and twisted on the fuel cap. The gasoline bubbled each of the four times he pressed the rubber primer. He pushed the mower across the driveway and set its wheels and tugged the rewind. It sighed and the engine sputtered and coughed but didn’t ignite. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of Pall Malls and lit one and breathed the smoke in and out. He coughed into his hand and scratched at his head through his backwards Red Sox hat. He put the cigarette between his middle and index fingers and leaned down and pulled the rewind hard again. The engine growled and then stopped. He tugged it harder, this time the engine turning over and roaring to life and he could hear the blade spinning and imagined it looked something like a helicopter. After cutting the front lawn, he moved to the back where he saw the boy kneeling on the ground, pointing what looked like a magnifying glass. The man released the bail, stopping the lawnmower, and walked over to the boy and bent his knees and put the cigarette stub between his lips, watching.
What are you doing? he asked the boy.
The boy didn’t look up from his glass. Trying to set this blade on fire, he said.
Is it working?
Why are you trying to set the lawn on fire?
Not the lawn, the boy said. Just this blade.
The boy looked up at the sun and moved his magnifying glass. The man could see the pinpoint of light on the green blade. Here we go, the boy said. Now it will work.
A thin wisp of smoke curled from the blade. Then came the spark, then the flame that burned the blade in a few seconds, leaving only a charred piece of black ash. The boy laughed. The man stood up, his knees cracking. He looked at a tree that was quivering in the wind, then back at the boy kneeling on the ground. The boy grabbed his magnifying glass and ran through the white fence, through the courtyard and into his house. The man pinched his cigarette and breathed out a puff of gray smoke. The father came out of the same door, a confused look on his face. The man rubbed his stubbled chin and walked over to the fence, putting his hands on a post and listening.
The father said he was sorry, that he didn’t know his son was in the man’s yard. The man just shook his head and told the father it wasn’t a big deal, that boys will be boys. The father said that if the boy came into his yard again, just tell him to go home. I’ll do that, said the man. The father nodded and walked back inside. The man scratched his nose with his dirt-caked fingernails and massaged the back of his shoulder. Then he glanced into his neighbor’s house and flicked the cigarette across the fence and walked back to his lawnmower.