Mr. Frumbleton

Mr. Frumbleton lived alone in a single-floor house at the end of the road. The house, like him, was a relic of decades past. Its design and the interior decor were outdated. It lacked central air, and was therefore insufferably warm in the blistering summer temperatures of the modern climate. The outer layer of his home either needed to be repainted or given new siding entirely, but given his funds and his pattern of behavior, this was unlikely.

Those in his neighborhood who knew his name at all did not know his first name, and so knew him only as Mr. Frumbleton. This did not bother him. In fact, he preferred a certain amount of distance from other people, which is why he had never taken a wife nor striven to engage in romance of any sort. He had neglected his relationships with his siblings, and in fact had been disengaged from them long enough that he was not sure which of them, if any, remained alive.

The inside of Mr. Frumbleton’s home was dusty but otherwise well-kept, particularly as compared to the assumptions one might draw from the fact that he was an aged bachelor and from the condition of his yard and the exterior of his house. He was not the sort to leave dishes lying about. He did his laundry regularly, and so had no large stacks of it about his house, dirty or clean. He disposed of things readily and without care, and was not prone to hording like some lonely men of his age.

The outside of Mr. Frumbleton’s house told another story entirely, and led many in his neighborhood to assume that the inside of his home must be a disaster. The paint was chipped and fading, and mold grew on one side of the house. There were no gardens, only grass and, toward the back of the lot, trees. In the summer, the grass grew high, and Mr. Frumbleton was never seen to mow it. If anyone mowed it at all, it was one of his two neighbors, who took it upon themselves, with great frustration, when they couldn’t stand the sight of it any longer.

Mr. Frumbleton rarely paid these neighbors much mind. He did not thank them, and he frequently peeked out of his curtained front window and grumbled at them while they mowed, bothered by both the sound and the incursion of people into a space that was meant to be his alone. Still, though he would never do it himself, he did appreciate that his lawn, freshly mowed, looked better than when it had grown high and unkempt.

One Tuesday morning, Mr. Frumbleton awakes to a surprise. It has been over a month since he last stepped through his front door and out into the world. He avoids not just yardwork, but the outside in general, as long and as thoroughly as he can. He planned out his grocery lists and other necessary supplies with the exactness of a military supplier ensuring his unit had enough to last them through a campaign.

When he opens his door to head out toward his garage, he freezes, blinks, and adjusts his glasses. The phenomenon before him is not one that a misplacement of the lenses or a smudge upon them could have brought, yet he feels nevertheless that something must be deceiving his eyes, for never in his life has he seen anything quite like that which rises before him.

The grass has grown. This is an understatement, but it is also the most obvious, immediate observation for Mr. Frumbleton to make. He gazes at it, slack-jawed, for he has never seen grass grow so tall as this, and in such a straight, clean fashion. It has not gone to seed, for one thing, nor has it darkened in color.

The grass looks like fresh new shoots: bright green, with smooth shafts that drift back and forth in the wind. It grows thick and close together, giving Mr. Frumblton the impression that he is standing on the head of a young man with a head full of brilliantly green hair. Despite this, the morning sun passes through it, illuminating it all with a green-golden glow, as though the grass before him is a window of waving stained glass, and not a thick growth of living plants.

Mr. Frumbleton is not often one to take note of nature in a positive light. He prefers the dim, dusty confines of his home and the company of his television. This moment, though, he inhales, gasping at the beauty of the scene before him. The grass extends upward, blotting out the sky but for a few shocking hints of pure blue and the soft white of passing clouds. Even the aroma of the fresh green growth overwhelms him.

He takes a step out of the door, wishing to be closer to the rippling wall of grass that surrounds the first cement square of his sidewalk. This square is undisturbed by the incredible growth, though all around it the grass presses in as surely as a wall. He reaches out before him, wishing to know not only the texture of the grass, but whether or not he can part it easily with his hand. His awe mostly covers it, but deep within him is a fear that he won’t be able to pass through the grass to his car, and that he will be trapped here in his home.

The grass is soft to the touch, softer even that his favorite old cotton shirt, which has been worn by the years so that wearing it is like being clothed in a cloud. The grass is smooth and slick. It feels delightfully cool beneath the tough, wrinkled flesh of his outstretched hand. He looks at his knuckles, outstretched before him, and with the grass as a background, rather than his old, dusty home, he is suddenly disappointed in their mottled, knotty appearance. He feels he is not worthy of the beauty of this sight.

The sheet of grass before him parts easily, revealing the second square of his sidewalk. Mr. Frumbleton steps through, reaching out before himself once more. The grass again parts, revealing another section of the sidewalk. It has grown up between the sidewalk cracks in thin sheets which part like bedside curtains.

Mr. Frumbleton follows the sidewalk through the forest of grass. It reminds him of the bamboo forests he has seen on the television when watching shows about the culture of Japan. It fills the world around him so thoroughly that, though he now knows he can forge through the grass, he fears that he will become lost, should he stray from the sidewalk. So a plan develops in his mind: Follow the sidewalk until it curves right and meets the driveway, which should be clear of glass.

He pushes through one curtain of grass, then another. He is on the fifth square. He can’t recall how many squares comprise his sidewalk, for he has never thought to count them. He imagines it can’t be many. His front yard is quite small, and the sidewalk and the driveway are not long. Barely two cars can fit together end to end in his driveway without the furthest poking into the road. He must be nearing the right-angle turn toward the driveway. Any moment now, the next squre of the sidewalk will be to his side, and not in front of him.

My. Frumbleton continues on, but his concern grows alongside the fatigue in his legs. He is not accustomed to walking very far. He never has been, and in his old age, his fitness has only declined. He scorns the use of walker or cane, but now finds himself wishing he had something to lean on. He counted to ten, and then fifteen, and then twenty, and he is beginning to fear that he has either miscounted, or that his memory of his own sidewalk diverge drastically from reality, for it seems he has travelled much, much too far down the path.

Finally, he pauses to catch his breath. His thin legs tremble under his weight. Beads of sweat line his brow. The grass still surrounds him on every side, giving the impression that he has been enclosed in a small, glowing green box. Though it looks the same, he can no longer see it as lovely. It terrifies him, instead.

The driveway is only a few feet to the right. The thin curtains between the sidewalk squares are so easy to part that he imagines it will not be difficult to push aside the grass which grows between him and the driveway. It is all the same stuff: tall, green, and so slender and soft that it seems impossible for it to support its own weight at the height to which it has grown.

He tests his theory by turning to the side. The grass move aside with a light push from the back of his hand. When he pulls his hand back, the stems spring back into place, as though he never adjusted them at all. Taking a deep breath, Mr. Frumbleton parts the grass with both hands and steps into the waving sea of follicles.

The grass presses up against his face and his sides. Even here, in the depths of it, the sun’s light pierces and fills the green blades, giving everything an unearthly glow. The grass grows so close together that he cannot find footing between the stalks and must instead trample upon it. He marvels at the grass on which he stands, for though his feet press it down parallel to the earth, the rest of it strains upward still, and even that part which he flattens springs back upward immediately when he takes a new step.

When he has taken only five steps into the grass he knows he has made a mistake, and he wants nothing more than either to turn back to the sidewalk or to break through onto the other side, into the clear expanse that he imagines his driveway must still be. The grass presses so tightly against itself, and against him, that when he inhales through his mouth, blades of it try to make their way in, blocking the flow of his oxygen.

He is blind except for the glowing green and the occasional glimpse of his hands and feet as he makes his way. With every step comes the fear that he will lose his balance and fall down amongst the innumerable stalks of grass. With nothing to grasp onto to raise himself up, he wonders if he would ever stand again, after such a fall. He doubts it would be possible.

Mr. Frumbleton becomes unsure as to whether he has continued on a straight path. There are no landmarks by which to gauge his direction, and he has only his strides to measure the distance. He knows only for certain that he has travelled more than the few feet he supposed divided him and his driveway. He has walks for yards, or more. It feels as though what should have been only a few steps has turned into a journey of half an hour or more. Within the grass, the flow of time seems twisted into something other than that to which he is accustomed.

He cannot find the driveway. His mind feels as shaky and tired as his legs. He pauses again for breath. In doing so, he turns around. There is no path behind him, as there would be through a field of grass. He has left no bend stalks behind, and if the earth has taken impressions of his feet, he cannot perceive them through the thick growth. He is lost, and so very, very tired.

Mr. Frumbleton turns around. Even if he is inexact, he should be able to find the sidewalk if he travels even approximately in the direction from which he came. He needs only to travel in one direction, and he should meet either the sidewalk or, if his direction is completely wrong, the side of the house. Or the driveway, but he should have met that already.

Hours pass, or perhaps only minutes which are stretched by fatigue and the heath of the sun pouring through the grass. The length of the time doesn’t matter, for like weight steadily piled upon a person, it has become too much to bear. His knees give out. Not one or the other, but both at once. He falls forward. He thrusts his hands outward, hoping to catch himself before his face slams into the ground, but the grass makes it impossible for him to judge the distance, and he hits hard. He feels his right wrist snap from the impact, and his left elbow as well.

Mr. Frumbleton lays in the grass, groaning, until the green light and the drone of his own pain lull him into something like sleep.

One of his neighbors finds him there, face-down amongst the grass, when he comes to mow the lawn once more. By that time, Mr. Frumbleton is no longer moaning, and he’s not in pain, because he has gone far deeper than sleep, into a place where he won’t feel ever again.

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