“You look like you’re jacking off,” mouths John, the thick fifteen-year-old who lives across the street.
I set my hand-sprayer down on the lawn and take one earbud out. “What?”
“You look like you’re jacking off,” he shouts, then demonstrates masturbating, his red, acne-plagued face pinching as he rolls his eyes back so he’s staring up at his Mountain Dew baseball cap.
I look at my manual-pump one-gallon sprayer, filled with water and the weed-killer concentrate I buy to save money.
“Dude, it’s August,” he shouts at me as an elderly couple from the neighborhood walks their dog between us. “That crabgrass has you by the nutsack and is annihilating your ass. There’s no point in even trying to kill it now. You should’ve laid out pre-emergent the weekend fucking Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came out, pal.”
I do the math. “That was fourteen years ago.”
“You’re probably better off just killing yourself. Dad says the homeowners’ association is doing their walkthrough next week and they’ll fine you so hard for those weeds they’ll ship your flat ass to a penal colony.” He slaps the side of the 600-gallon green tank on one of his father’s Weed Pro trucks in the driveway. “Maybe you can take out a loan and hire the big boys.”
I don’t sleep that night. Peeking through the blinds from my bedroom window, I look at John’s family’s lawn, tastefully illuminated by hidden solar lights. Neat, dark green, weed-free. Those Weed Pro chemicals work, but $250 a month is too much.
The truck holds 600 gallons of the cure. And it sits there in the driveway, unprotected.
At the office I get no work done. I’m researching how to pierce steel tanks, how to siphon liquids, how to mix a concoction the same weight as the Weed Pro chemicals to refill the tank without disturbing the truck’s sensor.
A notice from John’s mother on the neighborhood Facebook page: John’s birthday party is tomorrow. Thirty boys and girls from his school will attend, and now that he’s sixteen, John’s father will allow John to spray the Weed Pro chemicals himself for the first time, a baptism into the business.
Midnight strikes and I cross the street in shadow, the obnoxiously large tank shielding me from John’s family’s security cameras. My diamond-tipped tool punches two holes in the tank. One spills the pungent weed-killer into my empty barrel, while the other receives an equal-weighted intake of simple syrup. My barrel fills and I pull in another, and another, until the tank’s drained of the good stuff and refilled with sugar. I patch the holes on the tank and leave a bag — my birthday gift for John — in the driveway. I drag the barrels into my garage and close the door.
Dozens of BMWs and Teslas driven by John’s wealthy teenage friends clog the neighborhood streets in the afternoon. I watch from my bedroom window as the boys and girls gather around the Weed Pro tank to witness John’s father handing John the sprayer and inducting him into the family business. John grins, his doughy red face oozing sweat and sebum, and he pulls the trigger to spray the grass. He struts back and forth across the lawn, unknowingly coating it in my syrup while hamming it up with dance moves to a Bruno Mars song as his friends cheer him on. After a minute, John’s father sniffs the air, tells John to stop. John continues, insisting he’s a man now. But ants swarm his sneakers, and the party guests begin to notice, kids shrieking at the tens of thousands of ants sloshing across the lawn like black waves. Then it’s the flies and the bees and the hornets and wasps, buzzing clouds of furious insects attacking the partygoers, sending them ducking under cars.
John panics, failing to scrape the bugs off him, and I knock on my window. He looks up at me and I mouth, “By the door,” pointing down. He turns and finds my gift, a can of bug spray.
John sprays it, but nothing comes out because it’s empty. He sprays again as hornets sting the three most popular girls on the lips. John apologizes to them and begins shaking the can, hard, and I open the window.
“Hey,” I shout, and the group looks up at me. “He looks like he’s jacking off.”
They’re not sure what I’m talking about, and John’s too focused and scared to hear. He shakes the can again.
“Him. John. Right now. Look, it’s like he’s jacking off.”
The girls and boys turn and catch John in the act, pumping the can furiously at crotch-level. A pause, and then the three swollen girls snicker, igniting a thunderclap of laughter with the force of a head-on car crash, mad howling from John’s classmates, losing their minds cackling in John’s face so hysterically they forget they’re being eaten alive by insects.
“No,” John screams. “Stop.” But they keep laughing as the ants devour the syrup dripping down his legs and crawl up over his shorts until he falls back, cracking his head on the brick side of the house, and he collapses onto the driveway where the ants chew through his skin and flab and gristle, gnawing veins and muscle in search of that sweet syrup until the bugs have chomped John down to the bone and nothing but a skeleton and a Mountain Dew baseball cap remains.
The chemicals work and the HOA commends me on my weed-free lawn.