[Read parts one, two and three, and four.]

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for Stephen Dixon.

He returned inside to tell his wife what had happened. He didn’t want to tell her, seeing as it would hurt her feelings and maybe devastate her to hear the truth, but he wouldn’t tell her unless she asked for it. Under no other circumstances. Maggie looked up when she heard the screen door slam behind him. “Henry, what have you done to your shirt? It’s torn, and there’s a rip in your pant leg, and why are you limping?” she asked. “Funny you should ask. Because you’ll never believe what just happened.” “No, probably not.” “Well, I’ll tell you, then. Though it breaks my heart to tell you this, because I know how much you’ll be hurt, but since you asked, a very beautiful young woman, a redhead who reminded me of this beauty I dated for a spell in college and who married a football player after I dumped her just pulled up in a new sports car. We got to talking and one thing led to another, as these things tend to happen, and we had relations. Maggie, what I’m saying is that we, that being this young beautiful goddess with the big breasts and I, Henry Petrich, got to know each other in the Biblical sense, if you get my meaning. And to think, none of it needed to happen if I’d only taken a nap.” “You expect me to believe you, Henry?” “Yes.” “You never listen, do you?” “Listen to what?” “Didn’t I just tell you not ten minutes ago that I couldn’t believe another word that came out of your mouth?” “You think I’m making all this up? If that’s the case, how did my foot get shot?” “You’re dreaming, Henry.” “What are you saying?” “I’m saying that you didn’t finish mowing the lawn, did you?” “No, not exactly.” “What do you mean, not exactly?” “I mean that mowing is not an exact science, my love. Were it only so, I could approach the lawn scientifically, which would be a most exhilarating challenge, I’m sure.” “In other words, no.” “Or in other words, yes.” “You didn’t even start, did you?” “Haven’t had a chance, I was too busy with other things, fornication and adultery and such, as I believe I only just mentioned.” “Well, now that you’re done, you better get to work,” she said. “Maggie, tell me this. You really think I’d tear a perfectly good shirt and shoot myself in the foot for no good reason?” “No. I don’t think you’d tear a perfectly good shirt, because you’re too cheap to buy a new one. That shirt already had a few holes, and it’s days were numbered,” she says. She frowned and sniffed the air. “What smells?” “That’s probably the sex musk you’re smelling,” he said. “No, it smells like trash or something. Really, Henry, rolling in trash? It never fails to impress me how low you will sink.” “Apparently you have forgotten the pungent smell of sex and are confusing it with other smells you deem foul and in that case, some reminding might be in order. In any case, I should probably shower — out of respect for you.” “You can shower after you mow the lawn. No point in wasting more time and water, right?” “All finished, Maggie,” said the small police officer, sitting up from under the sink. Missed him there, beneath the sink. Hadn’t seen him when he came in and didn’t realize the officer was still here. The small one had removed the shirt of his uniform and had been lying on his back in his undershirt, beneath the kitchen sink, tinkering with what Henry had already tinkered with last week or month, once trying to fix the leak, but had only made worse by tinkering. “Good as new,” the man said, sitting up from his work and handing Henry’s favorite wrench to his youngest, Sarah, sitting on the floor with the man. “Let’s give it a try, Sarah,” said the man, scooping up his daughter, and leaning her over the faucet so she could reach the knobs and test the water pressure. “It works!” she yelled. “Look, Daddy, Troy fixed the leak and the faucet doesn’t even drip anymore.” Troy? What sort of name was Troy? Sounded like a pansy name if he ever heard one. “I see, sweetheart. Neato, huh?” She didn’t answer, wasn’t paying any attention to him anymore, not since this Troy character had held out his arms to pick her up. He thought maybe he should take his girls into the other room now, play some games, sing songs, hide-and-go-seek. But Melissa, his eldest, wasn’t paying him any attention, either, seeing as she was sitting on the knee of the big blonde one, who was sitting at the table. She was feeding him cake, one bite for her, one bite for the big oaf. Eating off the same fork. Traitors. And his own wife, Maggie, love of his life and fire of his groins, leaning against this guy, who had his arm around her. “Best cake I’ve ever had,” he said, giving her bottom a squeeze. “Henry, Ed’s offered to work, or should I say, to man the grill tonight, so just mow the lawn, will you?” “Of course. But one thing,” he said. “What’s that?” “I love to fire up the Weber and barbecue with all our friends, those nearest and dearest to my heart.” “That’s not what you said earlier. You said you were sick and tired of feeding all these ingrates and lousy cheapskates who called you their friend when you were feeding them but not any other time like when you actually needed a good friend in a time of need or anytime at all, but just when you were supplying them with free beer, which wasn’t free for you and cost a pretty penny, too, you might add.” “Well, I’m saying it now, aren’t I? I love to fire up and man the grill, all by myself.” “Yes, but it’s still not necessary. The lawn will be fine, thank you.” “Listen to your wife, Henry,” said Troy, accepting a glass of fresh lemonade from Sarah and ruffling her hair, before drawing her to his hip as she hugged him. Henry couldn’t believe this scene. It was shameless. This is exactly what he feared; his worst fear had come true. His wife was going to run off with a cop and take their daughters with them. He should have voiced his concerns long ago, the first time she demanded he mow the lawn, and now it was too late. “Ed, would you take us to the park sometime?” asks Sarah. “Would you please take us to the park,” corrected Maggie. “Would you please take us to the park sometime, Ed?” said Sarah. “Sometime, my pretty Sarah? How about right now? Would now work for you two? I think we just have enough time before our guests arrive, if we shake a leg.” Melissa jumped up from the man’s lap, and the two girls started jumping up and down, clapping their hands and cheering. “Maggie, why don’t you come, too? We could take a stroll by the lake, watch the sun set. What do you say?” Maggie blushed, nodding, “Love to,” she said. “Music to my ears. Love to never sounds so lovely as when you say it,” he said, brushing his index finger against her cheek, squeezing her waist with his free hand. “Maggie, have I ever told you how pretty you are? It’s enough just to look at you, more than any man has a right to . . . Hey, what are you staring at, old boy? Was I talking to you?” Ed was speaking to him, apparently. “No, I don’t suppose you were. Your friend, maybe, and he wasn’t talking but earlier.” “Didn’t you hear what your wife said?” “Yes, I did. I have excellent hearing, twenty-twenty.” “Good. Then, run along now. You got plenty of work to do before the guests arrive.” They all left the room, running for shoes and keys and what all. He was alone in the kitchen. Well. He knew when he wasn’t wanted. He could take a hint. “You still here, you rat?” Ed asked, startled to find him there. “I’ve had it with you. Now get out! Get! Because if you don’t, I’ll shoot you dead and throw you right back in the trash,” the man shouted, stomping his foot, unsnapping his holster and reaching for his gun. He got out while the getting was good. Fled for his life. Ed locked the door behind him. He waited out front, hiding beneath the porch. An hour later, the barbecue got underway. He watched from his hole: Maggie’s laughing and Ed’s kissing her head; Troy’s twisting balloons into the shape of animals for Sarah and Melissa and all their little friends; their guests are eating, drinking, telling jokes. Day hadn’t turned out the way he had hoped, but things could be worse. Maybe there had been no letter home, no post-coital nap, and no sex with a beautiful redhead, but on the other hand, no daughter was run over, no wife was tortured, no adultery committed, no divorce filed, no indecency charged, and no lawn mowed. Looking at it that way, one might even say things had worked out for the best.