It was a big yard, and somebody had to mow it. 82° in the shade, and there wasn’t much of that to be had, but the grass still needed mowing.
Tilly was pleased with herself. All 7 acres in one day! Maurice said it couldn’t be done, but she did it. All week long he doubted her and it only egged her on. It was years later before she suspected that was his plan – to fire her up to do it by saying she couldn’t.
He was forever getting out of doing things one way or another. He thought he was so clever, but she was the real winner. He spent his whole life making others do everything for him and had never learned how to do anything for himself. Now he was a manager at a forgotten branch office of a small appliance outlet. Upper management had been fooled for years, thinking he did all the work.
When employee after employee quit, the house of cards tumbled down. They’d held it together for a very long time, but there was only so much they could take, watching him get the praise, the bonuses, the requests for motivational speeches. They couldn’t get why nobody else could see through his lies. Finally they left, one by one, and he was left by himself to run the shop. He didn’t even know how to run the cash register. It took the corporate office a week to suspect something was wrong. It took them a month to find an out-of-the-way office where he couldn’t do the company a lot of damage.
They couldn’t fire him, no, that wouldn’t do. Nobody really knew why. It wasn’t like he had tenure, not officially. This wasn’t a college after all. Plenty of half-rate incompetents had slid under the wire in that field. He was likable, in an odd kind of way. Perhaps that was how he could cajole everyone – employees, family, neighbors, into doing things for him.
He wasn’t pushy in an obvious kind of way. He just knew how to put a little pressure here and a little finesse there and before you knew it you’d agree to give up your one day off to work his shift. Somehow, at the time, you forgot you had plans you made weeks ago with friends you’d not seen since September. Somehow, it took several hours into your shift – his shift – to remember, and get angry and even a little resentful.
He was far away by then, and maybe that was part of his magic. The closer he was to you, the more you couldn’t resist, the more you couldn’t say no. Even 30-some-odd feet away at the other end of the building, his influence could still be felt. When he was at home he didn’t have the same power over them. But he sure had it over his wife.
Tilly made less than Maurice, always had. She was fine with that, because she had something he’d never have, something more than money. She had respect. She was respected by her coworkers and her family – people who had to be around her. Her friends didn’t just respect her – they adored her. They were drawn to her charm like a child is drawn to fireflies. They all did what she asked joyfully because she rarely asked – asked only when absolutely necessary, and even then she always said “You can say no”. They never did. Doing for her was like doing for a saint. You felt better after doing it, whatever the task.
Years later Tilly saw the picture of her standing on the front porch and laughed. If she’d only known just a few years later there’d be gas powered motors to speed things up. Just a few years later and there’d be tennis shoes, not loafers, for better grip. Just a few years later and she could have worn a T-shirt and shorts to do this chore, free to choose to wear a dress rather then it be the only option. All these advancements made her mowing accomplishment at the time all the more impressive because she did it without them.
She’d always thought that handicaps were advantages in disguise. They made you work harder, not take anything for granted. They handicapped the athletes who were stronger, didn’t they? Or was it horses? Something about making it a fair match. So being handicapped meant something good to her, meant that she secretly was better, stronger, more capable. Like she had secret powers and had to figure out what they were, hidden under that handicap. She always said that the more you focus on what you don’t have, the more you miss what you do.
Maurice was her handicap, so he was her blessing. Because of him she learned how not to treat others. He gave her so many examples of how not to act that she had a clear road in front of her showing her the way. It was like he’d gone through the test book of life and crossed out all the wrong answers, leaving her with all the right ones. It was an odd way of learning but it was learning nonetheless. It took her years to understand the gift that he given her by teaching her backwards.