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Green Green Grass


Many years later, as he faced the death penalty at the Lawton Chiles correctional facility in Fancy Pine, Florida, Robert M. Donaldio was to remember the clear and sunny afternoon when he and Edward P. Rafferty decided to kill the professor in Plant Hall.

They were sitting on the plush white seats of rechargeable Security Staff golf carts, two men on two devices parked each night in the cool dark of the parking garage, beyond long rows of empty spaces, all the college’s other and better paid employees having gone home for the day. It wasn’t easy to be surrounded by students and teachers. Neither golf cart had any room for storage, so Edward and Robert each had backpacks, in which they stored their plastic thermoses of cooling coffee, college-issued walkie talkies that ran out of battery power, official gold badges, sacks of lunch, breath mints, extra socks if it rained and were required to run through the wet grass to tackle a drunk coed who was assaulting some innocent girl, and — on this strange Wednesday on the last day of the winter break — a heavy silver handgun purchased by Robert for $450 from a thin black man behind the Rush and Go gas station on the 400th block of Kennedy Boulevard.

“Hey Bud,” Robert said to Edward, as he was universally known as Bud.

“Yeah, Ricky,” Edward said to Robert, as he was pretty much known only to Edward. The two men had been friendly since high school, when Robert moved to Tampa from New Jersey after his dad went to jail for giving bad checks to all the pizza distributors in the Tri-Country area. Robert, inheritor of so little of actual value from his dad, was particularly annoyed that he got the old man’s giant pizza hands. His mom tried to cheer him up, calling him sweetie pie.

For a moment, they sat quietly in the sun, Florida rays glinting on wet grass — threatening dry socks — and each had mustaches and windbreakers, which they would remove later today when it grew warmer, and again that night, when they were in the bathroom in Plant Hall.

“We should kill that bastard for this,” Robert said. Robert lived in an old trailer. His mom was dead.

“Nah,” Edward said. Edward had a small apartment by the railroad tracks. His elderly parents paid the modest rent.

Sitting in their carts, masters, in a way, of something you might call a domain, the two friends watched a car slowly crunch over the cobblestones in front of Vaughn Center — sadly, for them, it was what might be their last day on the job. There’d be a review when school was back in session. Why so dire? A professor caught them stealing wine from the writing program and — as nice as he was — it was this professor’s natural instinct to do the right thing and say a few words to the authorities about what had happened. He wasn’t a tall man, this director, but with he had a strength that was hard to measure, under all those checkered shirts and denim and European sneakers. Robert thought they could take him.

“You really wanna?” Edward said, squinting. “We probably could.”

“It is something we could do,” Robert said, working his hands together, as if there was dough.

That night, the carpet was thick and the men approached without a sound. The director thoughtfully tapped out a message on his phone. Was it a nice line of dialog, perhaps? Or a question about procuring more wine? There was an important reading upcoming — plain to see from the marquee on Kennedy — and writers like to drink, because they are writers.

So preoccupied by wine and writing was the director that he barely noticed Robert reaching out with his big pizza hands, ready to muffle cries and head to the swamp for some killing. But having spent too much time on the cart — rarely, it should be said, were Robert or Edward ever required to save a girl in distress — Robert fell and, spooked, the two would-be killers ran like old men toward the bowels of Plant Hall.

The handicapped stall was a preposterous contrivance, because it was reached via a set of steep stairs, guaranteeing no handicapped person would ever use this stall, so under flickering lights Robert and Edward could be assured of a modicum of privacy. Huffing and puffing, both took off their windbreakers, bent at the waist, and put hands on shiny, polyester-swaddled knees.

Then Robert had an idea.

“Give me the gun, Bud,” he said.

“You already have it, Ricky,” Edward said.

Annoyed, Robert swatted at Edward, allowing himself the kind of masculine slappiness he never would have in front of all those students, always watching them.

What emerged from the backpack was bigger than either of them remembered, glinting in the light of a bathroom stall, and as the automatic toilet flushed — a powerful flush, bigger than seemed possible — the friends jumped and water kicked up into their faces, and it occurred to Edward that this was not an ideal thing to have happened.

They stared at each other, gun in one of four hands. Edward’s mind, if it was capable, would have thought this: “I have a pet theory that there is always an ambient level of misery/suffering and joy/beauty in the world, but I always wish for a larger share of the sun to shine on my side of the grass.”

Robert lifted his paw — a slab of cold pizza come to life — and as he pointed the metal at his only friend, all the other man could say was the first thing that occurred to him.

“Bud, you silly bastard,” Edward said. And Robert worked the gun.


This piece was published by Journal of Microliterature. Read the original here