“I used to have a beautiful lawn,” Stanton said. “Fucking immaculate.”

We sat on the sun-bleached porch, Stanton in his rocking chair, bathrobe flopping out around the legs like some sort of goddamn wizard robe. His stained undershirt peeked up over the top near his neck where coarse, white hairs grew. He scratched his beard once before continuing.

“See that path?” he pointed out across the trampled grass. “Used to have a flower bed along there. Wife planted it twenty years ago. Goddamn kids would run by, kick it all to shit. I’d try to replant it but what’s the use? After another day or so, another herd of ‘em comes by and WHAM! knocks the whole fucking thing around. Might as well be running a goddamn daycare.

“That’s all the world is now,” he added. “One big fucking daycare center for those goddamn young’uns.”

“You mean actual children?” I asked. “Or do you mean the–”

“You know goddamn well what I mean,” he said, glaring at me from under bushy brows. “That’s the problem with this country, with the whole world. A bunch of children, all of you.”

“Literally,” I said and coughed. “Although, some of us didn’t choose this.”

I had lived next to Stanton for ten years or so. He was always a cranky bastard, yelling at people from his porch, scowling at us when we waved at him. He managed to warm up to us after a while, especially once Janet got sick. After Janet was gone, Stanton just got grouchier to everyone except me and my wife. Then Susie got sick as well.

Now it’s just us, the two bachelors, kicking it on the porch, watching the herds roll by.

“Bunch of petri dishes with feet,” he said. “I’ve said it from day one. Those fucking kids are nothing but little disease factories. Once one of them gets sick, they all do, then they pass that on to us. Then we get sick, only we’re fucking old, you know? Our bodies don’t cope with disease like they do.”

“Well, now it’s nothing but children,” I added with a chuckle.

We could hear the herd approaching from a distance, that aimless shuffling, the coughing and crying, like a parade of nightmares just wandering around the city, covered in snot and shit and dirt. They’d be here soon enough. Stanton was right about one thing, the young’uns were little disease factories all right. No doubt about it.

“Problem you see,” he said, pausing to spit over the arm of his chair, “is that back in the day, even before my time, people used to have some fucking respect for their elders. You showed some fucking respect when grampa walked into the room, or when gramma came to visit.”

At this point I just nodded. There was really no point in arguing with Stanton once he got on a roll.

“Then someone got it in their head that what people really wanted was to be young. They made those goddamn creams and those goddamn pants, even that fucking music is all about worshiping youth. ‘Baby’ this and ‘Baby’ that. And that’s how we got where we are now.”

“You think so?” I said, watching the sun slowly sink into the horizon.

“I fucking know so,” he said. “Why else do you think anyone would even consider making the De Leon virus? What’s the benefit? Just look at them!”

The parade had arrived.

We paused our conversation a moment to watch them crawl by, children, hundreds of them. At least they looked like children. They were certainly short, like an adult had somehow been compressed unevenly in some machine, arms and legs bunched up like soft dough. But those faces…

“And there they go,” said Stanton. “All over my fucking lawn. Look at that shit. They don’t give a goddamn rat’s ass about how much care Janet put into that yard. They just roll on through, tearing it up.”

A toddler with the face of a fifty-year-old man wobbled away from the crowd, his eyes old, and sad. You could see that they all knew they used to be something more, but just couldn’t remember what. They all looked confused, like Charlie from that book about the mouse, or maybe Lenny from that other book about the mouse.

“What was that one book?” I said as the toddler ambled onto the lawn, grabbing handfuls of grass and stuffing it into his mouth. “The one where the janitor gets all smart and then forgets everything?”

“Flowers for Algernon,” said Stanton, ignoring me to stand. “Hey! You little fucker!”

He shuffled over to the wall beside the chair, all the time yelling, “You get the fuck off my lawn, you hear! Just get! Get the fuck off! Shoo!”

But the middle-age toddler didn’t even listen.. None of them did, really. The De Leon virus pretty much makes you a functional infant. You could talk to them and they’d act like they used to be able to understand you, but then they’d just cry and cry, screwing up their little faces in the most grotesque way.

I sometimes wonder what it’s like, that eternal innocence. As I watched them roll and stumble by, their grimy naked bodies compressed like clay dolls, I thought that maybe I was the lucky one. Me and Stanton, two lucky guys.

“I fucking warned you!” yelled Stanton, turning the nozzle.

Sprinklers sprayed the toddler. He floundered, then ran squealing back to the herd.

And then there was Susie again, just like every night, waddling naked and dirty, a woman’s head on a toddler’s body. Her hair still had the barrette from that night.

When we hit forty, Susie asked me if I thought she was getting old. One of those De Leon treatment commercials was blaring on the TV. “Live forever or die trying!”

“We’re all getting old,” I had  said and laughed.

I really wish now, that I’d kept my damn mouth shut.

(c) Martin Kee 2011

12 responses to “Young’uns

  1. “They all looked confused, like Charlie from that book about the mouse, or maybe Lenny from that other book about the mouse.”

    Absolute golden line! What a terrific little story 🙂

  2. Dunno, pretty soon those two will be on the same level as the babies crawling his lawn . . . but at least they earned it. I’ll tell ya. These damn kids with their drugs for everything. Whippersnappers! Flowers for Algernon was a terrific book.

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