A Well Manicured Lawn
Abraham sat behind his massive desk bored and ready to go home. The desk was well organized but had a high lip all around the edge, and the wood was splattered with dark brown stains. There were only three objects on it; a stapler he never used, a large leather-bound ledger and a small lamp that cast harsh, annoying shadows. The small room he sat in had only two doors — one in front of the desk and one behind. There were no windows. The footsteps behind the door in front of him were growing louder. They had been descending the staircase for over an hour, so even though he would have usually gone home a while ago, he waited for his customer.
Abraham moved the stapler to the left side of the ledger, frowned and then moved it back again. The footsteps were nearly at the door. He picked up the lamp to move it next to the stapler, but the bulb flickered, briefly plunging the whole room into darkness. He quickly put the lamp back down and looked at it with concern. The bulb stayed lit. The door in front of him finally opened, but the dim light in the staircase seemed to suck the light out of the room.
A short, middle-aged woman popped through and struggled to pull in a full sack nearly twice her size. She breathed heavily and wiped her brow as she dropped the sack to the floor.
"Close the door!" Abraham shouted.
Startled, she spun in a full circle as if looking for the door before she found the handle and closed it.
Abraham took a deep breath and exhaled, calming himself. He opened a drawer and pulled out a ready poured cup of water in a chipped mug. He placed it across the desk for her.
“Here you go,” He said cheerfully, motioning to it.
“Phew!” She exclaimed and threw back the water, drinking it in one gulp. “That… That’s a long trip.”
Abraham smiled and shrugged. “So let’s see what you’ve got.” He stood up from the chair and rubbed his hands together.
The woman hoisted the bag back over her shoulder and then tilted it over the desk. A stream of small fingers poured out forming a hill, the lip catching them before they tumbled to the floor.
“Brilliant! So let’s get to it…” Abraham said. He used his forearm to push back the mound of fingers from the ledger and opened it up. From across the desk, the woman held the empty sack open for him like a child wanting treats.
Abraham began inspecting the fingers with efficient speed. He was glad to be doing the work he loved.
He seemed to be tossing two out of every three back into the woman’s sack placing the good ones to the left edge of the desk.
“Too old... Too old... Rotten... Too old... Deformed…”
The woman looked dejectedly into the sack as it slowly filled back up. Abraham got more excited as he went marking neat little dashes in a column of the ledger for each finger he kept.
“Ha!” He exclaimed as if he had heard a hilarious joke, “This is a toe!” He held it up for her to see. “A TOE! Imagine!”
She didn't look up at him but kept her eyes on the sack as he tossed the toe in and continued. When he finished more than half of the pile of extremities was back in the sack, and the woman’s posture had deflated. Abraham saw this and paused as he made his final calculations in the ledger.
“Well… well, they aren’t all winners are they?”
The woman shuffled in place. “I suppose not.” She said without meeting his eye.
“Even at going rates, this is quite a haul.” He said trying to make her feel better. She didn’t move.
Abraham sighed, “OK. I’ll tell you what. This is a great haul. I'll give you an extra percentage point as long as you come to me first next time.”
The woman brightened up at these words. “Oh yes! Certainly! You got it!”
Abraham smiled and filled out the check at the bottom of the ledger page. He tore it out with a flourish, but a corner ripped off. He frowned and then hoped she didn't notice the minor infraction.
“Oh thank you, Abraham! Thank you! I’ll tell everyone about your generosity.”
Abraham frowned and said, “Well, maybe not everyone.” and then smiled.
The woman guffawed. “Of course… of course not EVERYONE.” She coughed and then opened the door to the stairwell, the lighter sack in tow.
She took a deep breath and then used to rail to start the long climb back home. He watched as she shut the door behind her and waited to hear it latch.
Abraham sighed, exhausted from the first full day's work he had in weeks. In front of him was a beautiful pile of baby fingers. Some older or longer or lighter than the others, but a beautiful pile of the best he had seen in over a year. He knew exactly where they would go.
He pulled out a large rucksack and began to gently scoop the fingers in. When it was filled he slung the sack over his shoulder and turned to the door behind him. This was the worst part of every work day. He placed a hand on the knob of the door and then twisted awkwardly back to the desk behind him. He stretched out his free arm and pulled the string on the desk lamp plunging the room into darkness. His breath suddenly quickened, and he opened the door as quickly as he could, struggling first with the knob and then the weight of the door itself.
As the door ground open the absolute darkness gave way to the slightly brighter light of the other stairwell. Abraham heard the gnashing of teeth behind him and the steps of who knew how many feet. He put both hands on the knob and leaned back with all his weight to pull the door shut. As it latched shut his hands slipped from the knob, and he nearly tumbled down the stairs behind him.
He caught his balance and made sure that the door was closed. He took the sack from off his shoulder and then sat on the top step and started to sob. After he collected himself, he began the long descent. There’s no way he’d make dinner, but perhaps he’d call in sick tomorrow. He knew this was why his business wasn’t the best, but the idea of an extra hour of sleep? An extra hour with his kids? It was about balance. He learned that from a wonderful book his wife made him read.
The descent took hours, and he saw the light at the end of the staircase far too long before he could walk through it. However, the closer he got, the lighter the sack felt.
The door at the bottom of the staircase glowed around the edges. He had often wished that he could have just left it open when he went to work, but also knew the danger of that. He turned the doorknob, paused with a deep breath, put a smile on his pained face and pulled it open with just a little embellishment.
“I’m home!” He shouted and quickly slammed the door shut behind him.
The brightness beyond the door was blinding after the hours in the stairwell. The small sun hung from the massive ceiling and was already starting to dim for the long night. He saw his two children playing off in the distance near the small house. They stopped and waved enthusiastically. Rebecca shouted something he couldn't hear and then they continued whatever chasing based game they were playing.
Abraham smiled, dropped the sack to his feet and sat down on the bench next to the door. He slowly unbuttoned his boots, pulled them off with a wince and placed them next to the bench.
His back cracked as he stretched and then picked the sack back up. The dry, cracked dirt he stood on slowly gave way to his lawn. His prized possession. A sea of tightly packed fingers. As he stepped on it, the fingers bent under his feet, but also cradled them and massaged them. After so many hours on the stairs, his feet were so sensitive that it tickled and he hopped slightly from one foot to the other before slowly settling down like someone adjusting to a cold pool of water.
He sighed deeply with pleasure and slung the heavy sack over his shoulder. There was a dead patch a hundred meters from the house that needed repair, and he hoped he could get it replaced before the sun went black.