Short Story – Rootball

Photo by Gigi on Unsplash

Root ball

The boss explained to Roger it was the pandemic.  His manager told him it was Artificial Intelligence.  

‘Buddy,’ Rick, his colleague, relished saying, ‘ You just don’t fit in with the company vision.’  

‘Vision for what?’ Wanted to know Roger even though it really didn’t matter as he was on his way out the door.

‘A vision, you imbecile, of making money off of paying clients.’  Rick the dick chuckled as he rubbed Roger’s face in it.

‘That was.’  Roger shook his head as his shoulders sagged, ‘Harsh.’

‘Yeah. Who cares?’  Rick stared into Roger with his legs astride as if he was on the podium having won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. 

‘So, you spineless piece of shit, how do you fit into their money making vision?’  Roger needed to know.

‘Me?  I just count the stuff as it comes in.  I transferred to accounting.  I don’t want to be in the field anymore.  I don’t want to be made obsolete.’

‘Like me.  Right’

‘You said it, not me.’

Leann, Roger’s wife, made her younger brother Ryan give Roger a job.  She has been working from home for almost a year and for 4 months of that Roger had been out of work and driving her crazy.  

‘It’s like I didn’t even know my own husband until I spent time with him.’  Confides Leann.

‘That doesn’t bode well.’   

‘It turns out the more time you spend with him the more Roger he becomes.’  Lets slip Leann.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’  Her mom needs to know.

Realizing she said that out loud Leann now has to reconcile it with reality.

 It’s not really a bad thing.’  She tells her mom by Zoom. 

‘Darling,  meaning what exactly?  That he gets all creepy and …?’  investigates her mom.

‘No, no no. Nothing like that.  It’s just that, after a while, he lands on the annoying side of bizarre.’  

‘How long is a while?’  Mom gets right to the point.

Leann sighs.  Looks into the Zoom version of her mother’s eyes, drops her eyes to her computer keyboard and returns to meet her mom’s eyes again.

‘Half an hour.’

When Leann and Roger married they had an understanding there weren’t going to be any children.  Leann would have been open to adopting if he was but Roger who didn’t want to spin the roulette wheel on someone else’s DNA.  Over time Leann saw what he meant first hand.  Twenty-nine going on thirty years old was not yet the prime age for a mid-life crisis.  Leann would need to find another excuse to assimilate Roger’s lack of traction with daily life.

~~~

Straight outta calculus Ryan jokes when asked about when he started his company.   In his final year of high school, 3 months before final exams, he slammed his textbooks closed, ignored his mother’s pleadings and walked out the door.  With his rusting pickup truck, his best friend Mark and the family electric lawn mower he started a landscaping company.

In his first summer landscaping, he and Mark, with a bout of the munchies, were waiting in McDonald’s drive-thru aching to scarf down a few Big Macs.  Back in the day you could drive high.  

‘The company needs a name bro!’  Says Mark in the wait between placing their order and the pick up window.

‘Why?’

‘To meet girls.’

‘What do you have in mind?’ An interested Ryan asks. 

‘Nothin’’

‘No shit!’

‘Except visions of Big Macs dancing in my head.’ Mark says grinning like an idiot. 

Ryan turned down the radio and leaned forward looking at the big McDonald’s logo: those famous Golden Arches; ‘Golden Branches …?’

What?

Golden Branches Landscaping bro!  Whaddaya think?

Dude …! 

I know right …?

Golden Branches Landscaping baby!

Ten years later, sitting in the driver seat of his warm white 4 x 4 pickup with the engine running, Ryan pulled at his scruffy beard as he mentally digested his odd brother-in-law. 

My Roger doesn’t need dope – he can go interplanetary under his own steam – thought Ryan

On a podcast Ryan had heard that if you want to work things out try talking to yourself.

My Roger …’  Ryan started, which self-startled him causing him to stall.  

‘Why the fuck is he My Roger?’  Ryan shook his head at himself. 

He gazed into his blue and white Toronto Maple Leafs hockey player bobblehead glued to the dashboard that subtly wiggled and jiggled to the purr of the diesel engine. 

Having slid into a pensive moment Mark startled Ryan by jumping into the passenger seat of the cab.

‘Dude we have to talk.  We are falling way behind on this fucking project.  Did you see the forecast?  We are getting more frost 3 days in a row.  We need to…’

‘I know genius!!  I know what we need.’    

‘Whoa!  Bro oo… What the …?  Let’s go for coffee. I’m buying.’

‘Fuck coffees.’

‘Ya know that small alien creature that crawled up your ass and took a shit must have been some ugly?’

‘Let’s go.  Let’s show these guys this isn’t a babysitting service.’ Ryan jumps out of the truck.

No one on the team knew Roger was the boss’s brother-in-law.  They just thought he was one of those flakes who finds work with them each season.  The flotsam of society. Men that know what they don’t want.  Guys who are connected to reality by gravity, government checks and little else.  They want to be paid cash daily,  they call everyone by a nickname after meeting them 5 minutes ago and you hardly ever see them eat.  One day they never show up again and their work boots will stay behind the back seat of the work truck until the end of the season and then get donated.  

Roger’s previous job as an insurance assessor was less than a year ago but felt like a lifetime away.  The money was steady and the questions were few, the rules were clear and the creativity was zero.  There should have been little chance for him to alienate himself yet they still found a way to push him out the door.  Roger wasn’t sad or surprised because he easily could have told you he wasn’t living and working in the here and now

In the bowels of spring are frigid February nights with minutes colder than hours. Roger needed to tell someone how, in the fathoms of darkness, cut loose by the leylines of sleep, he lay awake as sewer rats and hoary bats were gnawing at the sinews of his soul.  And then he would quickly submit a disclaimer to whoever would listen that while all this was achingly paralyzing there was, available, an undercurrent of light that was freeing.

Sleepless and alone in the basement pull-out bed with his blue eyes wide open he had a 3 am epiphany about what gave him satisfaction: Delivering results while doing work that congealed in him a real here and now feeling.  Unaware that he was picking at the earth under his fingernails he loved what he just learned he wanted.

Along a client’s side and front lawn they were planting a row of cedar trees.  As he plants and rakes, weeds and waters Roger is fascinated by the potential of that root ball that the trees come with from the nursery.   On his knees with his bare hands in the moist and fervent soil, Roger inhaled the poignant autumn air.  It was like he was being paid to do downward facing dog.  

Like roots drawing minerals into the plant – Roger spoke under his breath as he helped to guide Jose driving the Bobcat as it dropped one of the cedars gently inside the hole where it would be planted – parents draw minerals into their child’s life. 

Roger’s insight continued –  the challenge in the progression of a man is to mineralize his own life – with what he wants.

That is exactly what is happening to Roger.  Whether he knows it or not. 

To them Roger seemed to talk more with the trees then he did with them so the guys nicknamed him Rootball Roger.  They needed to pigeonhole him in order to accept him as one of their own.  They want to accept him as part of the tribal urge to work together.  Then there is what goes unmentioned, and poorly understood; the importance of accepting a guy so he doesn’t feel the loneliness of no tribe.  

‘Rootball.  Mrs Crowsworth always asks us to knock on her door just so she knows we are working around her place.’   Robbie, the lead hand, told Roger.  ‘Plus she likes meeting the rookies.’

The truth Robbie knew was Mrs Crowsworth hates when anyone knocks on her door.  She patented peering out from behind her living room curtain at the people working on her yard.  The guys pretended to be busy oiling the clipper and gassing up the leaf blowers in anticipation of the show.  Mrs. Crowsworth did not disappoint.  

‘Did your office not tell you to not bother me?!

‘I’ Stammered Roger taking a step back having rung the doorbell.

‘Are you new or dumb or both?!  I‘ve never seen you before.’

‘If no one can knock on your door how do you see them?’  Roger got suckered in.

‘How dare you?  I keep tabs on you people you know!  I am going to call Ryan and cancel your crazy company.’

‘Crazy…?’  It slipped out.  ‘What the hell?!  No, no please don’t call Ryan!’ Pleaded Roger.  ‘It won’t happen again, I promise.’

‘That’s what the last guy said.’  Scowled Mrs Crowsworth while sizing up Roger having sensed his sincerity.

Back at the work truck Robbie and Jose were almost pissing themselves with laughter.  They couldn’t have had a better victim to offer Mrs Crowsworth.

‘Hook, line and fuckin’ sinker baby!’ Howled Jose watching from the truck and high fiving Robbie.

When Roger left at 6:30 am each morning Leann sent him off with a hot coffee and what was once a lukewarm kiss was now an air kiss.  Once he was gone Leann breathed easier and could send off a few emails so her colleagues and clients would see she was working really early.   The plan was to work a few focused hours then live her life while Roger was at work.  Leann had found a great online yoga teacher that went at her speed.  Her friend Rita recommended a great online cooking show with a spontaneous cook who made dishes based on a Mediterranean diet.  She alternated days between yoga and cooking or watching travel videos.

Then around 4:30 pm he would open the back door, drop his backpack and say ‘Hey babe, how was your day?’ as he reached into the fridge for his first beer.  Leann would make sure she was back at her work desk with her headset on to ask, 

‘How’d it go today hun?’

‘Good, just working late with the west coast office.’  Leann would lie so they wouldn’t have to sit down to dinner across the table from each other.  Which made a lot of sense as they were no longer sleeping in the same bed.  Or the same room.  Nothing wrong with separate beds but these two were on different tectonic plates going in opposite directions.   

‘It just feels like I am losing money. Even though I know he paid the down payment.’  Leann confides in Rita.

‘Leann, honey.  We all know that was $30 thousand from his parents.’  Rita reminded them.  ‘And you have been basically bringing home the bacon for the last year while Roger does his pre mid-life crisis soul searching.’

Ya, I know.’

‘How’s that going?’

‘Well if his soul is in the basement then he may be on to something.’  Leann offered.

‘What – he moved down to the basement.  I knew you weren’t sleeping in the same bed but this is new.’

‘Ya.  He kind of lives down there.’

‘What the hell?!  How long has this been going on?’  

‘It’s been a few months.’

‘Leann?  Rita was lost for words which she didn’t like.  Have you talked to your mom?’

‘She knows but she doesn’t know the details.’

‘Do you know the details?  Wake the fuck you stupid woman!!  This is your life.  And for what it’s worth, it’s Roger’s life too.  He doesn’t have the capacity to give you what you want.  And you have the capacity for love, young lady.’

Except for when Ryan called asking him to help clean up a whole bunch of broken branches after that violent windstorm in the middle of December Roger hadn’t worked since the beginning of November.  Landscaping season leads to snow shovelling for guys with nothing better.  Roger’s weakening back can’t handle shovelling snow for a living.  It was now almost February and Roger could only think of having to contribute to the mortgage payments.  

‘If I didn’t have the mortgage pressure hanging over me then I would be hating thinking about being 30 and living in my own basement.’  Roger admits to Dean.  Dean and Roger were neighbours growing up.  They bumped into each other at Canadian Tire so Roger invited him out for a beer. 

‘So, how would you say Laura is dealing with your whole situation?’ Asked Dean, gradually embracing that he was being pulled into some guy’s uncomfortable marriage drama. 

‘Work or relationship?’ Deflected Roger not correcting Dean when he got his wife’s name right.

‘The whole enchilada.’  Frowned Dean as a way to distance himself from participation in Roger’s reality.

‘Well out of some sense of weird self respect I can’t make my wife have to put up with me while I am like this.’ 

Roger lifts his hands to then point his fingers back at himself.  ‘This. This is being lost.  But.’  He raises his index finger as he lowers his gaze. ‘The good news is I know I am lost.’

‘How does that make you feel?’  Dean asks having gone full-on therapist.

‘I don’t like it.’  

‘And I doubt your wife likes it either.’

‘She doesn’t.’ Admits Roger.

‘She doesn’t?!  Then leave.’  You moron Dean says with his eyebrows.’

‘What…?’

‘Leave.  Pack your bags.  Move out.’  

‘Hey man, what the hell.  I am looking for a little man to man compassion here.’

‘What you seek is compassion and what you need is a kick in the ass.’  Proclaimed Dean before  taking a long sip of his crisp second pint.

‘Shit and fuck!  Man you know I am just at the end of my no good Goddamn rope here!’

‘Dude, wake the fuck up!!’  Dean was sensing the best thing he could do for Roger was to rattle his cage.  ‘From what I am hearing you don’t have a relationship.  You’ve got a rental agreement.’  

‘No relationship is perfect.’  Justifies Roger.

‘Exactly.  That’s my point, numb nuts!!  Yours has crossed the line from, what I imagine was a living connection with your wife to a business deal where your client is actually disinterested in your services.’ 

‘Did you fucking rehearse this shit before you came here?’

‘Dude.  You invited me for a beer.   You know man talking with you, it is frustrating. Infuriating. You’re such a …’  Dean doesn’t complete his thought.

‘Say it’  Begs Roger.

‘Such …. I mean from 20 minutes of swilling beers with you all I can say is you feel like a lost cause of a man.’  Dean gives what Roger asked for.

‘A lost cause’ repeated Roger.  Both guys drank long from their pints.

‘How ya feeling now?’

‘Like I’m drowning.’

‘Good’

‘Good?!’

‘If you’re drowning then you swim straight to the surface, like a mad man.  You become the fucking solution.’

‘Fucking solution.’  Repeated Roger unconsciously. 

‘You.’  Dean aims the word as he tips his pint at Roger.

Roger downed the rest of his beer staring Dean in the eyes.

In a matter of days Roger pivoted.  He cashed in his RRSP, gave Leann 6 months of his part of the mortgage payment during which he said she could sell the house or buy him out.  He bought a 4×4 pickup like Ryan’s and got on Instagram promoting Trent Urban Farming.  Or as Roger liked to think of it by its initials: TUF

Pivot was one of those buzz words like unprecedented and quarantine that hogged the vocabulary of the Global Covid Republic 2020 +.  

Roger had pivoted out of insurance, paused in landscaping and set his sights on urban farming.  About which he knew nothing (except 3 months with Golden Branches Landscaping) but he really thought having a lawn with grass in front of your house was stupid.  Including his own suburban piece of paradise.

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