I decided to make a list of everything I knew about the Jonathans.
The one in the cubicle to my left had glasses and a comb-over. The one in the house across the street was a bit younger, with smaller glasses and darker hair.
At least, that’s what I thought at first.
I was at home one afternoon, a Saturday, reading the newspaper. The Jonathan from work rang my doorbell. I was surprised when I saw who it was. In all these years, it was the first time we had seen each other without our neckties.
“Why are you here?” I said. Or I wanted to say. I could remember no pressing engagement.
Still, we had to work in close proximity. I didn’t want to make him angry or uncomfortable. So I said, “Why are you here?” in a more welcoming tone than I might have otherwise.
“Would you like me to mow your lawn?” he asked. A lawnmower was already at the bottom of my front steps, ready to go. Under the comb-over, he was sweating. “I was in the neighborhood.”
I walked just over the threshold and looked down the street in either direction. I’m not sure what I was looking for. A getaway car, perhaps?
To imagine where I was, draw two vertical, parallel lines on a piece of paper. The line on the right, the eastern line, should be blue, because it is the river. Use colored pencils if you have them available.
Further west is the line on the left, the road. The road leads from the center of this tiny town, where our office is situated, and runs directly north—parallel, as I stated earlier, to the river. (You may wish to draw a star or other marker at the bottom of the road, denoting the city center.)
Up to the north, about an inch above the city center and perpendicular to the main road, start drawing several lines, all parallel to each other. Think of a comb, laid on its side, with the teeth heading west. These are the numbered streets.
You should start at the bottom with 1st Street and proceed all the way up to 15th. I myself live at 1525 11th Street North. There are similarly numbered streets below the town that make up its southern end. (If you would like to indicate my house on the 11th Street that is north of town, please do so at this time.)
We should get back to this work Jonathan, though, the one who was standing on my porch. He lived somewhere south of the city; I was sure of it. He had the rumpled clothes and sad demeanor of someone who belonged on the bottom of a map.
“You want to mow my lawn?” I asked. This was not the most bizarre exchange we’d ever had, so I was less incredulous than you might expect.
“I thought you might have been sick,” he said. “I mean . . .” He stepped back and gestured at the neighbors’ lawns, lingering for what seemed like an inordinate amount of time with his arm in the direction of the across-the-street Jonathan.
Young Jonathan of the dark hair and small glasses just happened to be kneeling outside. If you knew him, you’d know that this was not an unlikely coincidence.
He had a trowel and a pair of hedge-clippers nearby, but at this particular moment, he was painstakingly rearranging the formation of his decorative stones using the fingertips of his gardening gloves.
Unlike my lawn, which had unruly patches of crabgrass, his lawn was a healthy, luxurious green, newly shorn and shining in the sunlight. I often woke, on Saturday mornings, to the sound of his mower.
“If it would make you happy,” I said to the work Jonathan, and went back inside the house. This was how I responded to many of his work requests as well, so he was not unused to my calm and agreeable demeanor.
“Obsessed with lawns,” I wrote on my list. I had drawn two columns, the one on the left for the first Jonathan (work Jonathan) and the one on the right for the newer version, who had moved in across the street only one year earlier. I added this comment on both sides of the vertical line separating these two columns.
You may have drawn your map of the town on a loose sheet of paper, and that is not a problem. You may continue to work using this method.
However, if you decide to make your own copy of my list about the Jonathans, etc., then it may be simpler to collect all of your materials in one place. If you don’t already have one, you might want to consider investing in a good notebook for this purpose.
So I added the comment about the lawns to my list, and I went back to the newspaper. As you can imagine, it was difficult to concentrate with the noise of the mower in the background. I finally had to get up and go into the back room to avoid the one Jonathan sweating back and forth past my picture window and the other arranging stones as though his life depended on it.
At work on Monday, the cubicle Jonathan came to speak to me. He didn’t mention the weekend. Had I finished my paperwork: that is what he wanted to talk about now.
Up close, as he was speaking, I couldn’t help noticing that his teeth protruded a bit from his upper lip, and it was difficult for him to close his mouth all the way. Is there a name for that? I felt certain that a dentist would have a strong, scientific-sounding term for it.
(In your notebook, perhaps you should make a list of words. Add “maxillary prognathism” as a starting point for your research.)
It was strange, though, about his teeth. I had never noticed this before.
When I got home, Jonathan (neighbor Jonathan) was dragging his trash bin out to the curb. The trash would not be collected for another 12.5 hours by my calculations, but darned if that man wasn’t on top of things.
“Howdy!” he said. (Howdy?) “Would you like me to bring out your trash?”
Now, I am not as young and virile as I once was. But I am somewhere between the two Jonathans in age, and I’ve kept reasonably fit, if I do say so myself. The bin is on wheels, for goodness’ sake!
“I thought there might be something wrong,” he added, seeming to understand that he might have committed a faux pas. “You know, since you stopped mowing your lawn.”
The lawn again!
I itched to write something down, but I’d already written “obsessed with lawns” in my notebook. That had seemed thorough enough at the time. Now it was just begging for an asterisk or two.
Something about this neighbor Jonathan seemed familiar. It was the teeth again. Things balanced out better on his face, but there was a faint similarity.
The more I looked around, the more everything seemed out of place.
“Whose car is that in your driveway?” I asked suspiciously.
Jonathan took a long time turning around and looking. He shrugged. “I have a new roommate.”
“If you say so.”
He seemed surprised by this. “Well, nice seeing you,” he said.
I watched him walk back to his yard. He paused over the flower beds, tucking stray leaves and petals back in order. When he went inside, the yard looked so perfect it might have been made out of plastic.
29 June. 8:03 a.m.
Leaving my house when I saw W.J. leaving the neighbor’s house across the street. (Is it possible that his hair is growing in a little bit? Can balding be reversed?)
Work Jonathan: Well, fancy meeting you here! (Awkward laugh.)
Me: Why would I be meeting you?
Jonathan: Wait, no. I didn’t . . . I just meant that we’ll probably be seeing a lot of each other now that I moved in with Jonathan.
Jonathan: We met when I was mowing your lawn.
Me: My lawn?
Jonathan: Maybe we should start carpooling.
All the way to work I replayed this scene in my mind.
The Jonathan from work met the gardening Jonathan and struck up a friendship, and now we are all neighbors. This explanation struck me as odd.
I sat in the parking lot until I saw the work Jonathan go inside the building. We were both early, so I could afford a few minutes to let him get settled and immersed in his paperwork. When I was sure enough time had elapsed, I could duck inside.
Oblivious as ever, Jonathan seemed unaware that I was avoiding him. Just before lunch, he popped his head into my cubicle.
“Would you like a sandwich from the deli? My treat.” He was smiling and I could see those teeth again.
Had he had them first, or the other Jonathan? I could no longer remember. They seemed to be morphing into the same person.
One of them wanted to buy me a sandwich. One of them wanted to take out his trash far too early. When I got home, they were both standing in the driveway across the street. They stood next to each other, watching as I got out of my car.
Hadn’t one of them been taller before? The work one had definitely slimmed down in some way. His little pot belly was almost gone. They both had the same glasses and a faint five-o’clock shadow. It had gotten to a point where I was having trouble telling them apart.
I had stopped at the store on the way home, and they penned me in as I was pulling a heavy bag out of the car.
They were bantering back and forth, and one said lightly, “You’re the only person who’s ever said that to me.” Their voices had even changed, both deeper and with a more pronounced Minnesota accent.
The one that I thought was work Jonathan didn’t have his sad look anymore. I decided to make a note of that when I got inside.
“Do you need any help?” the neighbor asked.
“I like to do things myself,” I said.
As if he hadn’t heard, he said, “We should have you over this weekend.”
“That’s a great idea,” his sidekick chimed in.
They both looked at me owlishly, their big eyes unblinking behind their glasses.
One of them was wearing a necktie that matched my own. “You’re practically a Jonathan,” he said, pointing, and the other one laughed.
Startled, I said, “I’m not a Jonathan!”
The laughing one sobered up right away. “Of course not,” he amended. He tipped his head to one side, considering. “It’s so strange, though,” he said. “You’ve always reminded me of someone I know.”
The other Jonathan nodded. They both studied me as though I were some kind of unusual botanical specimen.
“Well, I should get inside,” I said.
I shouldered past them and unlocked the front door of my house. I could hear their chitchat behind me, growing fainter as they walked back across the street.
When I was safely inside, I set down my bags and locked the door. I peeked through the curtains in my living room. They were still outside, just a couple of nondescript middle-aged men with dark hair and glasses, pulling on their gardening gloves and getting to work.
Leah Browning is the author of three nonfiction books for teens and pre-teens. Her fourth chapbook is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Browning’s fiction and poetry have recently appeared in Chagrin River Review, Fiction Southeast, Toad, 100 Word Story, and Gnarled Oak, with audio and video recordings in The Poetry Storehouse, and in a limited edition anthology on myth and magic from Sugared Water and Porkbelly Press. In addition to writing, Browning serves as editor of the Apple Valley Review.