Below the Surface (continued)


Steven was snapped out of his trance by the sound of the lawn mower of the landscaping crew. He looked down out the bedroom window to see the familiar figure of Oscar and his two-man crew tending to the lawn and garden. Steven put on a t-shirt and jeans and made his way down to the kitchen. The floor creaked under him every step of the way, as it did every time he walked over it. He entered the kitchen and immediately turned on the coffeemaker. As the coffee brewed, he gazed out the window above the sink to watch Oscar. Oscar had been handling the landscaping here since Uncle Louis bought the place many years ago. Steven can always remember seeing Louis here, every Wednesday like clockwork, always smiling even when he was working hard in the hot sun. Oscar stilled looked the same as he had when Steven first saw him – stocky, well tanned, broad muscular shoulders and arms, with his trademark ball cap with the “Oscar’s Landscaping” logo on the front. He always had a look of determination t go with his smile, working hard even at the smallest tasks. Oscar always handled the garden himself, his area of expertise, while the other two men worked on the lawn. Steven had always assumed he had bigger crews for some of his bigger jobs and was surprised when he had found out from Oscar that he did everything with just this crew. “We work as hard as a team of twenty,”Oscar had told him proudly a few weeks back.

Steven poured himself a mug of coffee and sipped it lightly as he checked his e-mail for any responses to his resume or anything from Amber. There were neither. He hadn’t spoken to Amber since they had their break up fight and the dream he had last night bothered him enough to send her a quick note, just saying hello and asking if she was okay. He didn’t really expect her to respond, but he was hopeful. He leaned back in his desk chair and looked over at the basement door. He had been down there a few times since he had moved in to store some boxes or bring something up he had forgotten to unpack, but he never lingered down there for very long. it still gave him an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He pushed himself out of his desk chair and strode over to the door. he turned the old handle, feeling the looseness of it in his hand, almost feeling like it was ready to fall off. As he turned the handle and felt the latch move, a heavy rapping on the kitchen door startled him. He quickly released the handle and peered around the corner into the kitchen. It was one of Oscar’s crew. Steven thought maybe he had to use the bathroom or needed a quick drink of water. He opened the door to see the small man, bathed in sweat and his eyes looking a bit confused, and an odd smile on his face as he considered Steven. They stared at each other for an awkward moment before Steven prompted him.

“Do you need something?” Steven asked him, still studying the man’s unusual demeanor.

“Mister Oscar wants you,” he told Steven in broken English. Steven slipped into the black Crocs he kept by the back door and followed the man out across the lawn to the garden path. He watched as the man walked in front of him down the path, noticing that he walked at a strange gait, almost as if he was unsteady on his legs and with a slight limp. It seemed a little out of character to Steven and he kept watching the man. The man turned and looked back to make sure Steven was following and it almost seemed to Steven that the man back at Steven, almost grinning unnaturally, showing his crooked teeth. It startled Steven enough to think twice about following the man and he slowed a bit until he heard Oscar’s voice just up ahead on the path.

Oscar was barking orders in Spanish to the other worker, who was slowly backing away from where Oscar stood. Oscar turned to see Steven and walked towards him to greet him. Oscar reached out and shook Steven’s hand. It was rough, calloused and dirty, the signs of a man who had long worked hard. “How are you Steven?” Oscar asked him as he took a bandana from his pocket and wiped his brow, placing his cap back on his head when he was done.

“I’m good Oscar,” Steven said to him as he gazed around the garden. “How are you?”

“Not bad,” Oscar told him as he stretched his back left and then right. “Maybe getting too old to keep working this hard. I should just send my guys out and kick back and relax, and I do that more, but I like to come here. your Uncle Louie helped get my business going by giving me this job, so I feel like it’s the least I can do to keep taking care of the garden, you know? How is he by the way? I haven’t talked to him in months.”

“He’s doing well,” Steven told him, starting to feel the heat of being outside. “He and Aunt Linda are enjoying life, spending half the year in Florida and half here in New York so Uncle Louis can keep tabs on the dealerships. What’s going on here?” Steven prompted, hoping to move this along so he could hurry up and get out of the sun. Steven glanced over and saw the two workers standing in front of a part of the garden, talking in Spanish.

“You need to see this,” Oscar said as he led Steven over to where the workers were standing. Both men stopped talking when Oscar and Steven approached and they began step back and then moved further down the path.Oscar and Steven turned towards the garden where the sunflowers are, or at least where they were supposed to be. Many of the flowers lay broken and trampled to the ground, stalks ground into the soil, flowers and seeds laying spilled all over. There was also an area about three feet wide where the ground was completely cleared of everything, revealing just some very black earth and nothing more. The scorched area had some dead bugs around it – moths, grasshoppers, flies, lightning bugs and the like. To Steven it looked almost like a giant bug zapper had been placed there during the night, done its job, and then was taken away.

“What’s this?” Steven asked Oscar has he squatted down to examine the earth.

“I was hoping you could tell me,” Oscar said to him as he stood, lightly licking a few broken stalks as he looked on the area with a puzzled face.

“I have no idea,” Steven said to him as he looked over the area. “It looks almost like lightning struck here,” he told Oscar. Steven could see that some of the dead bugs looked charred. He looked over at Oscar hoping for some kind of reaction.

“I thought that too,” Oscar said as he squatted next to Steven. “Except there ain’t been any storms or lightning since I was here last week.” Oscar lightly  fingered the blackened soil, letting it sift through his fingers, leaving dark imprints on his fingertips, like ash. ‘This here is fresh, like it was just done yesterday or today.”

“Did you find it?” Steven asked him rather intensely, hoping for some detail.

“Nope, Hector came up on it,” Oscar said nodding towards the men down the path. “I asked him to dump some fill in the compost heap down the path there. It was taking him so long to do it that I went looking for him, figuring he was taking a break using his cell phone or something, and I saw him here, just staring at it. I sent him up to get you while I looked at it. Took him a minute or two to get his bearings; I had to yell a bit a few times to get him moving, almost like it spooked him somehow.”

Steven looked over at Hector and the other worker. Both were standing about twenty feet away and Steven had to squint a bit through the glare of the high sun to see them. The other worker was doing all the talking while Hector stared straight at him. Hector then suddenly turned his head to the left, staring right at Steven with wide, startled eyes, like he knew Steven was looking at him. Steven could swear he saw Hector grin that crooked smile at him while he looked at him. Steven was jarred and fell back from his spot right into Oscar.

One Response to “Below the Surface (continued)”

  1. 1 Read it Again Dad…You Should Read This Dad « The Office of Iguana Flats

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