Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “Backyard Man” by Sean Madigan Hoen, selected by Rosie Parker and Rachel Mercer.
Gordon zipped closed the pup tent’s interior window and cranked the activator on the bug bomb he’d set atop his sleeping bag. A Total Release Fogger––the thing was good for poisoning an area of four hundred square feet. Covering his mouth, Gordon shimmied backwards through the tent’s oval door, sealing the final zipper around it. God have mercy, if that didn’t do the trick. The insects had come in droves after he’d gotten lazy about recapping the peanut butter and left out a half-eaten tin of potted meat. Earwigs, especially, gave him the sickies. He wasn’t about to scrape every last menace from the tent’s polyester until they were good and dead. There were skeeters and gnats and fruit flies in there, too, but not for long. Friday morning and the sun was rising. He stood shirtless in his backyard, next to the kids’ swing set. He’d been camping here all summer on account of Shannon putting him out and telling him not to set foot inside the house until he was ready to surrender his caffeine pills and make some changes.
Living outdoors wasn’t a bad rub. He had a battery-powered radio and a flashlight. After a long day working at the Faygo Cola warehouse he could cool himself off in the kids’ inflatable pool. Gordon would have holed up in the garage had the roof not collapsed that March. The whole thing needed to be torn down one of these days, but after twelve years of owning the property, what was the rush? There were worse looking spreads on the block, not that a guy should go measuring himself against the riff raff. Despite these lackluster times, Gordon was a proud man. Shannon knew he’d stick it out in the tent until the first frost, which was just the kind of tough love that kept him wild for her all these years.
He stepped into his boots and walked up to rap a knuckle on the kitchen window.
Shannon was inside washing dishes and made a dismal face until Gordon tugged on his ears and stuck out his tongue. Then he mouthed, “I love you.” She smiled–– her crooked dimple–– shaking a dishrag at him. Once the kids were off to school, she’d get started on her medical transcriptions, at which she was a work-from-home expert, out-earning Gordon by a tax bracket. He widened his palm, reaching up to tap the wedding ring against the window, and Shannon extended her sudsy fingertips, smudging them against the plate glass so that their hands nearly touched.
Gordon walked down the driveway to his Bronco, where he stashed most of his clothes and a canister of Adonis Body Spray, as well as the toothbrush he dragged under the spigot each morning. He might have crawled back into bed with his wife any night, but––beyond his caffeine jitters, the grinding of his teeth that kept Shannon awake–– there was an unspoken aspect to this standoff. What Shannon truly wanted was out of the neighborhood, and Gordon didn’t have it in him to put in extra hours at the Faygo warehouse. Even if money wasn’t the case, he saw no reason to scurry from town as so many had. While living in the backyard, he’d resolved to stand ground and see to it that the neighborhood remained an upright place.