"I'll warn you right now - - Betsy Wallace has got a big mouth. That's probably why she's giving you the job. She wants to set you straight and she wants to blab to everyone."
She grabbed his juice glass, reaching for the pitcher.
"Did you go to your meeting last night?"
She slammed the glass back down in front of him, spilling some juice.
"Do you wanna go back?"
"And so you think you're just gonna do it by yourself? You're a fool Martin Lee! A fool."
"Why did you miss your meeting last night?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"I was with friends."
"Were you with Chad Wilson?"
He said nothing, staring at his toast.
"I know you were, boy. Why can't you learn child? Do you wanna go back?"
* * *
"I'm here to do your tree"
She looked him over.
"Marty Lee. Why you hardly look that different. Maybe fatter. Yes, definitely fatter. Come with me to the back yard. That's where the stump is. So how does it feel to be out?"
"Better? I figured you'd say 'incredible,' or 'the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me,' or something like that."
"And they must feed you well in there because you look so much fatter than before. You were always so skinny. But I guess that makes sense. Is the cooking good in there?"
"It's okay, ma'am."
"I suppose there are lots of people there who did what you done. I guess you all learned your lessons, didn't you."
"I guess so, ma'am."
"Here's the stump. Have you ever removed a palm stump before?"
He looked at it. It was maybe three feet across and a foot high.
"Well, it's different. The middle is pithy; you can't split it with an axe. And see down here, all these little straws?"
She pointed at the roots.
"There's thousands of them; those are the roots. You just have to cut them one at a time. Just keep digging and cutting and you'll get it. When it's been growing as long as this one, it's hard to get it out."
She looked up at him.
"Earl wants us to have a service remove it. But it costs too much. Plus, we'd have to rip out the fence to get the truck in here. Too much time and trouble. But we got to get it out; it ruins our backyard. Any questions?"
"Good. It's so nice to see a reformed, hardworking, young man. Here are your clippers and you can dig with those tools there. I put some lemonade on the table. Don't forget to drink; it's supposed to be 110 today."
"Will it take long?"
"Long? Why should that matter? It's just work. Work till it's done."
"I'm supposed to meet some friends later."
"Who are you meeting?"
"You're not getting mixed up with what you did before, are you?"
"Well, what time are you supposed to meet them?"
"I guess whatever time you get through will be later now won't it?"
"All right, get after it! Your later is growing later while we stand here blabbering."
Marty looked at his watch. He stopped and walked over to the table and poured a glass of lemonade. He fingered one of the roots still in his hand. Glancing back at the stump, he assessed his progress. Almost none.
He looked at the root again. What had she called them? Straws? He looked over the perfectly manicured backyard. A pool was the central point. Mirror-like, it called to him in the heat.
"What do you want Marty? You've only been working 45 minutes."
"There are too many ma'am."
"Too many? What do you mean? It's just takes work and time."
"There are too many. I'm sorry - - I need to go. My friends are waiting for me."