Matt Muilenburg teaches at the University of Dubuque. His creative nonfiction has been featured in Barrelhouse Online, Southern Humanities Review, Storm Cellar, Barren Magazine, Superstition Review, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. Matt is an associate editor of fiction for Southern Indiana Review and lives near the Field of Dreams movie site.
The caveman across the street, unfrozen after the long winter and come to life with the thaw that lured us outdoors for the first time in months, decided to cut his grass less than three days after the last of the snow melted. We, the superior, more intelligent homo sapiens, watched this homo erectus from afar, pausing our fun at the park that afternoon to parse out the details of what we were witnessing: he has hands, opposable thumbs, and two legs, he’s upright and mobile, and he appears to have some general understanding of how to use tools; he looks like us, but he seems, if we’re being honest—we the intelligent homo sapiens—pretty goddamn stupid.
We stood in a park soggy with the residue of winter, the snow melting out of town in just three days, burning through three months of accumulation like a wrestler cutting weight. The winter of forty-four inches disappeared so quickly that none of us had time to bust out our spring jackets, venturing to the park in parkas and puffers. We overheated shortly after our arrivals and tossed our winter coats on the wet grass, pretending we were warm enough in t-shirts and jeans.
And how wonderful it felt! The snow hadn’t started until after New Year’s, but the first storm dropped ten inches and residuals didn’t stop until mid-March. We’d been congested for nearly three months, both in our sinuses and in our houses, unable to unplug our noses, unable to unplug ourselves from the indoors. We were sick of being sick, sick of Netflix, of movie nights and game nights, of meats ungrilled. We were sick of seeing our breath, sick of wet socks and cold, wrinkly soles, sick of goopy noses and pockets stuffed with tissues that were like another layer of protection against the wicked elements. We were sick of hibernating, of huddling for warmth, of wearing sunglasses for the singular purpose of tempering the glare reflecting off the snow. And we were sick of the sounds of winter, of snow shovels skipping off concrete, of snow plows rumbling up and down our roads, of snow blowers clearing paths that no one used except for the mail carriers who dressed like yetis. Then, just three days after we’d shoveled six inches from our driveways, spring rushed in. Overjoyed, we groundhogged ourselves from our homes and scurried to the park.
There, we heard a sound coming from the caveman’s property, a nostalgic sound we couldn’t quite place. At first, we thought it was, in fact, just another snow blower. Perhaps the caveman was burning off the rest of its gas before sending it into storage for the year. But no—the sound was indeed a lawn mower, anachronistic no matter what the thermometer read. Our lawns hadn’t photosynthesized in months, buried beneath the drifts that had closed schools eleven times since January. The homo erectus’ lawn was as beige as the rest of them, groggy from hibernation, chilly and damp, still just stubble at its peak. We pointed at him, laughed, wondered aloud why he thought it necessary to cut a lawn that so obviously needed time to reawaken and adjust to higher temperatures. We called him moronic, fanatical, crazy.
We called him a homo erectus. A caveman.
And then we, the more intelligent species, went back to playing Frisbee—in frigid mud. We tossed footballs colder than hockey pucks and bumped our shins on jungle gyms, feeling the bruises only later when we finally warmed up next to our furnace vents. We skidded down slides glazed with snow melt, pushed our progeny on swings hanging from chains frozen with disuse, tried to get tan amidst a tepid fifty degrees. We did this to shed the longest winter that had ever existed and never considered, not once, that the man cutting his grass was simply doing the same.