In #4, Asymptomatic

Steve Passey

She and her boy had moved into the fourth unit in a four-plex, after her mother had paid the damage deposit. The boy, her son, was very quiet, and bore an expression of reservation, as if he was deferring a decision until later. She told the landlord, Dave, that her son had asthma and that the symptoms were asymptomatic– probably brought on by stress.

What’s his name, Dave asked, looking at the boy.

Tyler, the mother answered. She too looked at the boy.

Wednesdays Dave mowed the lawns in the early evening. She had moved out to the little balcony off of the living room of #4 and sat on a lawn chair with a Ziploc bag and some rolling papers.

Do you partake, she said to Dave? It’s an indica/sativa blend. Fifty-fifty, but one-hundred percent hydroponic. Equal parts euphoria and coma. Good for whatever ails you.

I do, he said, and left the old gas mower to idle while he came over to take a few hits. They stood there passing the joint back and forth.

That’s excellent, he said.

Better than the stuff you guys had in ‘Nam right? She laughed.

He laughed too. I was born in 1967, he said. I don’t know anything about ‘Nam.

Just messin’ with you.

He finished the mowing, now less of a chore and more of a pleasure.

The next week he came around on Wednesday night to partake again mid-mowing. She looked at him, a man with white hair in a short ponytail, and a fanny-pack around his waist.

You sure you weren’t in ‘Nam, she asked? Were you a hippie?

He laughed it off.

You didn’t ask he said, but I’m an electrician. Worked for the oil company at the refinery for seven, almost eight years when they laid us all off. Hired us back as contractors – at a better wage if you can imagine that – but with no benefits and no pension. That’s where they saved on us. That’s where the shareholders got their margin. I knew I couldn’t be an electrician forever so I bought these four-plexes – this one and the one next one over. The rents are my healthcare. Someday I’ll sell ‘em. That is my retirement.

She nodded.

When he handed the joint back to her, that sublime fifty-fifty indica/sativa meld, he asked her, Are you sure this isn’t bad for Tyler and his asthma?

Not at all, she said. Obviously, I don’t let him smoke it and I don’t smoke it in front of him. Like I said before, his asthma is asymptomatic. If his daddy isn’t around, he breathes just fine.

Dave could hear the television set from inside her living room and hear Tyler laughing hard at something on the TV. He laughed a child’s laugh, high and pure, and it filled up the room and spilled out into the evening.

That bad, Dave asked?

He got physical if that’s what you mean, she said. But don’t you worry. We have a restraining order and we’ve moved twice now, even if he bothers to look.

I ain’t worried, Dave said. If it weren’t for bad men I wouldn’t have any good tenants. If you have a good man, and two incomes, you buy, not rent.

Dave thought that it was good of her mother to help, that it was a bad situation and that normally, there is lots of blame and no help. He told her as much and she nodded.

Mom has been good, she said. She understands. She’s been there before, with my daddy. It’s been a while, but it’s always there.

Dave went back to mowing. In the wake of the shared marijuana his footsteps felt light, and the mower sounded like the drone of bees, lazy and content.

In #2 in her building there were two Mormon missionaries, boys from Arizona fair-haired and fair-eyed, who said they had never met prior to being paired on their mission. They rode bicycles everywhere, riding down the street to proselytize in white shirts, grey pants and shiny black shoes, elastics keeping their cuffs from the bicycle chains, their ties flying over their shoulders in a breeze made of their own efforts. He thought they might be better off to partake than to go door to door like tinkers.

After he mowed he walked the mower to his truck. She was still on the deck, sitting in the setting sun. He warned her about the missionaries.

They’ve already been here, she said, with a wave of her hand. Twice.

From that little deck she could sit on a folding lawn chair and see in a line straight down through three or even four intersections. It struck Dave that she had the habit of someone looking for something coming a long way off. He thought she was not unlike people that read their horoscopes every day, or go to psychics. They seek some vantage point by which they might see a long ways off and thereby have some kind of certainty of action, some allowance for time.

The next Wednesday came and with it the mowing and the partaking.

Are Tyler and I your best tenants, she asked?

Well, he said, sure, but the bar is low. You know about the missionaries, and the guy in #3 weighs four hundred and fifty pounds or maybe even five hundred. He’s on some sort of disability payments. Never leaves the place. You see his car? He hasn’t moved it in two years. He called me up a few months back – he’d broken the upstairs toilet just by sitting on it. He’s mad. He wants – get this – he wants three months of free rent for the inconvenience and for the threat to his life from having a ‘sub-standard’ toilet in there. What inconvenience I say? Just use the bathroom downstairs until I get it replaced. He can’t get up/down the stairs, he says. Compared to him you’re a good tenant, if that’s what you are asking.

She laughed at that, a high and pure laugh, a lot like Tyler’s.

I promise Tyler and I won’t break the toilets, she said. Between the two of us we don’t weigh even half of four-fifty.

Worst of it is that he’ll die alone in there, Dave said, and it’ll be mid-month. It’ll be two weeks before I come looking for money and find him in there, all moldy and rotten on a broken toilet.

The weeks went by, mowing on Wednesdays, and with it the casual conversation entered into over the smallest of nature’s remedies grown from good earth and pure water under commercial lighting in some place not really that far away.

A day short of the end of her third month she came back from her job after picking up Tyler from care and found her front door open. In the kitchen a fifteen-inch hunting knife of the kind you can purchase for under twenty-dollars at any Wal-Mart had been driven into the freezer door, right through a copy of a restraining order. She called the police and then her mother and in two hours they had packed their vehicles and were gone. Tyler wheezed the whole time. He sounded like a grackle, a bird crying like a rusty gate hinge hanging in a slow, hot wind.

When Dave got there the police were waiting for him, to tell him what had happened. The missionaries were there too, back from their missionary conversations, with their ties still over their shoulders as they had been when they pedaled their bikes.

In the house there was an envelope on the kitchen table with “For Dave” on it in felt marker. Inside she had a letter written on graph paper. It was unsigned. 

Please don’t hold back my mom’s damage deposit, it said, it’s not her fault. I have left you sixty dollars for the freezer door with this letter. It’s all the cash I have.

The money was in twenty-dollar bills and Dave folded them into his wallet. On the way out to his truck to get his tools to try and repair the front door he stopped to talk to the missionaries, asking them if they wouldn’t mind knocking on the door of #3. If no one answers he said, come and get me. Back in #4 he walked out to the deck. She had forgotten to take the lawn chair she had sat on to blaze her proprietary blend of rapture and disengagement. He sat in the chair and looked down the street, straight through three or four intersections.


Steve Passey is from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the collections Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock and The Coachella Madrigals and many other things.

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