“I can’t give you no cash, but if you wanna come work for the day, I’d be happy to pay you for that.” There was a certain Fife-iness, or Gilliganism to his gummy cadence.
It wasn’t what I had in mind, but it would do.
I jumped into his Dually and we headed out towards God knows where. Judging by the giant mound of sod overflowing the truck’s bed, I imagined the work would be long and grueling, and by the end of the day I’d be a lot dirtier than I was to begin with.
“Saul,” he said extending a thinly muscled arm with a grimey hand at the end of it.
I shook it.
He rolled a cigarette with one hand as he drove with the other. I couldn’t tell how old he was. A haggard thirty or a well-preserved fifty. Either would have been believable.
“Smoke?” He offered.
We had passed a couple of small towns and kept on going. I was getting a little nervous.
“You laid sod before?” he asked.
There was a dog in the back seat, a German Shepherd, that was missing one of its front legs.
Saul caught me staring.
“Daisy got cancer,” he said. “Ain’t none of us safe.”
A half hour later he pulled up to a giant house built on the edge of a pond. Saul jumped out of the truck and took off his shirt revealing a concave chest and a stomach that was muscular only due to its lack of any other type of tissue. His khaki shorts sagged heavily, and every couple of seconds he had to pull them up. He was shoeless and bald. I noticed his left foot was missing the big and second toes.
“Come on,” he said, heading for a giant patch of bare dirt extending from the pond to the deck of the house. There was a huge pile of sod already waiting for us.
We didn’t talk at all for the next six hours. Just laid one strip after another and watched that big brown patch slowly turn green, as the dog alternated between swimming, sleeping and harassing us.
When the yard was finally green, a man in a white sweater came down from the deck. I hadn’t noticed him once all day.
When the man got to Saul he stopped. Saul looked at him for a minute, but didn’t say anything. I thought maybe he was trying to catch his breath, but there was something in between them that wouldn’t let itself be addressed. Saul’s eyes stayed down towards his knees. The man’s posture was straight and unforgiving.
He handed Saul an envelope. Saul whistled. The Dog and I obeyed his call, hopping in the truck so the three of us could be on our way.
“Wanna swim?” he asked.
“Alright,” I said, even though I really just wanted my money, and to get out of Iowa.
I assumed he was heading to a lake, or a pool, or a creek, or a reservoir, but he pulled his truck straight onto the sidewalk next to a fountain on the University of Iowa’s campus. He slid on flippers and a snorkel and dove into what couldn’t have been more than two feet of water.
“Come on in,” he said through his snorkel and goggles, “The water’s real nice after a long day work’n.”
I took off my shoes, sat on the edge and rolled up my jeans for a foot bath.
“Don’t be a scaredy cat,” he said. “They know me ’round here.”
Daisy jumped into the fountain too.
Just then a cop car pulled up to the fountain, and my pulse shot into my throat.
Saul just waved a goofy wave from behind those big goggles.
“Howdy, Saul,” said the cops, “We didn’t see a thing.”
“Told ya,” said Saul.
Then one of the cops turned back to us. “You gotta keep that dog on a leash, though.”
“Can’t put a three legged dog on a leash,” said Saul. “It’ll choke her.”
The cops seemed to accept Saul’s difference of opinion.
He offered to make me dinner, and seeing as I still hadn’t been paid, I accepted.
He cooked seitan and beans on a fire outside of his cottage on the outskirts of Iowa City.
He drank tall cans of Old Style and began to slur.
“You see this here,” he said pointing at the missing toes.
“Fell asleep in a cornfield last December. They was black when I woke up.”
It was getting dark and the fire was smoldering.
Saul had gone inside for another beer and hadn’t come back.
I peeked past the door. There was no furniture in the apartment. Just a rug with a pillow and a sheet where Saul was curled up in a ball next to a syringe and a spoon.
I saw the envelope that the man had given him earlier that day laying on the floor and decided maybe it was best to pay myself and leave.
Inside there was a fifty dollar bill and a note.
Hope this gets you through the week
I left the fifty in the envelope and walked along the river back towards the city.