The Groundskeeper—name Mr. Lenard Lentin—was found in the midst of the July heat by his estranged daughter, Mae Dean Wilde, neighbors said, “alive, afghan-covered, sitting up in the middle of his living room with nothing ‘cept his clothes: a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans.” The living room was 41 degrees; the lights had been turned off. The Groundskeeper’s hands were blue; he wasn’t dead, but the carpet he was sitting on seemed to be so.
Neighbors in Greenbrooke started calling Mae Dean a month back, after the Groundskeeper began using their garages, without permission, to store the junk he had procured from the garage sales he frequented each Saturday and Sunday. Each neighbor said lots of things about the Groundskeeper, as neighbors do.
“Began buying tools at first: shovels and rakes, clippers and trimmers. Then came measuring things: measuring tape, rulers, measuring cups, a pedometer, a T-square.”
“The Groundskeeper was constantly getting things ready without readying anything at all.”
“Bought all kinds of hangers, too, without anything to hang them on.”
“His mowers (he had at least seven) he kept in top condition, often spending more time with them than he did tending his own grass or his house or his second wife, Martha Minnie, which must have pissed her off awful.”
“One mower or another was always upended on the sidewalk. Later it’d turn up parked in one of our garages.”
The Groundskeeper used to layer the grass back and forth with a sequence of mowers—using different mowers for different parts of the lawn, overlapping sections, and then pulling out the old silent push mower for the final touches. He sculpted to perfection, lining the edges, trimming the bushes and pruning the trees. He snarled at errant footballs, whose misplaced bounces found their way onto lawns, turned up his nose at beer cans or paper scraps that blew in, got down on his knees like he was praying and picked them all up.
“Don’t get me started on the cursing he called the leaves.”
“For just a hair’s breadth, after he’d finished a job, the patch of grass was near perfect as it could be. There was no room in that moment for any kind of disappointment at all.”
Then, in early July, Martha Minnie died, and the verdant world he made of his life turned brown overnight. Neighborhood lawns soon followed and faded to yellow—strange curled and busted patches fell up in swirls, clover and dandelions grew like kudzu.
The neighbors rapped on his front and back door—tried to peek inside; doubted he was there but knew he was there; walked around his house and kicked up great moments of dust they later found would not shake away.
Some thought the Groundskeeper gave up when Martha Minnie died. Others whispered through their teeth the word ‘breakdown,’ but, most waited for the Groundskeeper to reappear, for the dead circles to give up their ghostly swirls, for the grass to snap back.
“We rummaged through our garages, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Instead we found shovels and rakes, measuring tools and empty hangers.”
“We searched through the bags of seed and empty water cans while our grass continued to brown and fall away all together.”
“We wished the Groundskeeper would tend to our lawns again.”
One night in July, neighbors thought they heard him walking around on their roofs, cleaning out their gutters so rain water wouldn’t pour off onto their patios and find its way into their basements or flood their garages. They heard the sounds of wet leaves hitting the ground like bombs. Then, Mae Dean found him huddled in the afghan Martha Minnie had made from patches of discarded yarn she had forever collected. The Groundskeeper sat in the middle of the carpet, which had turned to thatch.
In September, all but a few neighbors called the big lawn maintenance companies. They watched from their windows as men came in trucks and rode riding mowers and plugged in electric trimmers and stood around scratching their heads over brown spots. The men suggested turf, which came in large rolls that they spread out like green carpets.
“We heard the sounds of landscapers’ machinery—the shrill buzz of distant electric clippers and riding mowers but wished for the distant hum of a single lawn mower. And, during the late afternoons the silence was deafening when we realized the garage sale leavings—the measuring cups, the weedwhackers, the shovels, the rakes, the empty hangers, the water cans, the seed, and the seven lawn mowers, even the silent push mower—werefor us.”
J. BRADLEY MINNICK is a writer, public radio host and producer, and an Associate Professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Minnick has written, edited, and produced the one-minute spot “Facts About Fiction,” which celebrates influential authors and novelists with unique facts from their lives. These spots air weekly on UA Little Rock Public Radio and its affiliated stations. In 2014, Minnick began work on artsandlettersradio.org, a show celebrating modern humanities with a concentration on Arkansas cultural and intellectual work. He has produced over 100 episodes, and this work has been acknowledged by the 2016 national PRNDI 1st Place award for Long Documentary for “Sundays with TJ,” and a 2020 SPJ Arkansas Diamond Award for Long Documentary/Investigative Reporting for the two-part “They Liked My Phras’n: The Life and Music of Rose Marie McCoy. He has published numerous journal articles and fiction.