His shoulders are ripe with sunburn, red as an apple. He delights in the grass and mud slipping between his toes. A bumblebee, its vibrating body far more black than yellow, alights on a small purple flower. The boy is careful to step over it. The school bus will be coming soon, but he stays outside, observing his lawn, taking deep breaths of the earth.
There are the blades of Kentucky bluegrass, Poa pratensis, the ideal lawn plant
,: although he is in Massachusetts, not Kentucky. He asked about that, last week at school when they began their plant unit, and the teacher said he should look it up at home. He did, in the encyclopedia that his father keeps on a dark wooden shelf. It said that the grass came from Europe, but not why it was called "Kentucky.”
There are the broadleaf plants that outnumber the bluegrass two to one, their flowering stalks shooting up like spikes on a wall. They’re called common plantains, Plantago major. They’re edible, taste like lettuce, but when his mother caught him eating one, she told him he’d be sick and made him spit it out.
There are the small purple flowers that the bees love so much, Glechoma hederacea. They have a variety of common names, according to the Internet – ground ivy, creeping charlie, catsfoot – but he has never heard anyone talk about them. Of all the plants, they seem to be the least troublesome. Perhaps because they are flowers, or because they are so impossible to get rid of. They’re bulbous and prickly, slightly painful to step on, but not as bad as the sow thistles. The tiny spines of the Sonchus oleraceus aren’t big enough to do any real damage, but in spring, before the soles of his feet are toughened, they still sting for hours.
Then there are the dandelions – swathes of white fluff and yellow bursts, Taraxacum officinale. Flowers, like the catsfoot, but his father tells him never to blow the seed heads lest they take over the lawn. He pulls one up, snaps it in two, sucks the sticky milk from the hollow stem, crunches it between his teeth. It’s more bitter than the broadleaf but smells the way the ground feels.
A screen door opens from the house behind him; a parent steps onto the wooden porch painted a shade of grey so light it's almost white. His mother is holding his small backpack and his shoes, which he knows he is supposed to wear when he goes outside. He takes them from her and runs to wait for the bus. As it drives, he gazes out the window at the bushes that border the road. Sharp, dark green leaves with small translucent red berries. The hydrangea bushes with white, purple, pink blooms that only come out after school is over. The hedgerows interspersed with silky orange flowers, their petals draping open to reveal the purple pistil. When the bus makes the final turn before they reach the school, he puts his shoes on, his toes objecting to the Velcro, the itchy polyester that stings worse than thistles.
After lunch, they make labels on stakes to put in the potted plants they’re growing on the windowsill. He asks the teacher how to spell hederacea but the teacher doesn’t know. He carefully writes all the names out as best he can remember and puts them in his backpack, excited to mark his plants like grown-ups do in gardens.
He takes his shoes off on the bus, remembers to bring them with him when he gets off this time. He runs across the grass. It’s wet, even though it’s sunny, and it doesn’t smell like rain and dandelions, cool and sweet. It smells like when his father cleans the bathtub. In the driveway is an unfamiliar red and white truck. LAWN CARE is emblazoned on the side. There is a man on his lawn carrying a small white barrel with a black hose coming. A fine spray shoots from the nozzle to the ground. It stops and starts in fits as the man walks among the unlabeled plants. The boy runs to the house, asks his mother what the man is doing to the lawn. She says he is making it pretty for summer.
Lex Kunzle is from New York CIty, though she currently resides in North Carolina with her partner. She works as a biochemical and cellular research scientist. The rest of her time is spent caring for her horses or training her three-legged cat to do tricks.