From my vantage point, it looked like he did it on purpose. When I emerged through the front door, which he clearly didn't expect and obviously didn't consider as even a remote possibility, I saw his act of willful destruction. In fact, I saw him before he saw me.
He huffed and puffed behind the self-propelled lawn mower, muttering about his mother, me, and how unfair she is, and how she ruined his afternoon plans of fighting with his sister. For the sake of drama and sympathy from the neighbors, he feigned a veritable wrestling match between him and the grass and the machine. Though he howled about unjust treatment, the mower motor drowned his vehement protest against hard work and helping out and contributing to the family. But the movement of his lips, the dramatic display of physical agony and the dark expression on his face told all that I could not hear him saying.
Beads of sweat rolled down his cheeks into the creases of his neck as he took his one-man traveling show from end-to-end of the lawn. Then I witnessed a transformation. His pace quickened as he put all his weight behind the tool of his task, forcing it to whine in angst as he challenged the limits of its chassis. His lips trembled and stymied their rhythm of complaint and curled into a diabolical grin as he set the scene in motion.
And I saw it all.
I saw the course he struck across the front walkway at the target location. I saw him hesitate only slightly, maybe thinking for a split second that this could really be a bad mistake. But in the heat of emotion, revenge feels too good to be a mistake.
I saw it all.
I saw the black-and-white-and-read-all-over disappear under the carriage of what had now become the implement of an 11 year-old's indiscriminate self-expression. I saw the confetti of newsprint sail skyward, enveloping the youth, internally reveling in his success. He watched in wonderment as the tiny pieces drifted on air currents, turning the event into his own personal ticker-tape parade.
I saw it all.
I saw the expression on his face when the lawn mower choked, sputtered, and died an abrupt but horrible death, pieces of paper still fluttering across the yard. I saw him examine his handiwork, looking in amazement at the enormous reach of his deed. The breeze rose and fell, redistributing the shreds.
I saw it all.
Silence, along with slivers of destruction, delicately fell on the front yard. I pulled the door behind me. The child flinched and redirected his eyes. He shuddered. I saw him see me. He looked from me to the scraps of reprisal and back again, trying to calculate how long I could have been standing there. For a sustained moment he weighed his options and considered his strategy. Poor thing, he didn't know I saw it all.
"I didn't know it was there," he stammered. "It's not my fault," he stuttered. "I couldn't help it," he side-stepped.
I gave a nod he couldn't interpret so he turned his body to face me, elbows bent, palms up, fingers splayed, shoulders forward. It was at the same time a posture pleading for mercy and a posture dallying in defiance.
I nodded again, dragging out the rare circumstance of being privy to the full story. Folding my arms to hold down the laughter, I said, "I guess you didn't like my column this week," which he clearly didn't expect and obviously didn't consider as even a remote possibility.
There was nothing else to say. I saw it all.
(Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer and author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson, GA. E-mail Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org.)