Chapter 57: The Backhoe

For Bob, things never felt quite right until the day that Sanford bit him.

It had been one of those weeks. Bob had been late to the office three times; R-section had returned an entire packet of his reports, with extensive revisions; he had spilled coffee and ink on himself in rapid succession, twice; and the soft-serve machine in the B-section cafeteria had been giving him fits.

Then, that Friday, Bob had come home, wearily. He went into his kitchen, pulled open the fridge with a defeated sigh and was reaching for an alcohol-enriched beverage when, through his window he saw Sanford steer a bright yellow backhoe onto his lawn.

This was — to say the least — a startling departure from the cordial, if disinterested, detente that had prevailed in the years since that unpleasant week when Sanford moved in.

Bob couldn’t believe it. He stood at the back window, his eyes gaping open, his jaw involuntarily dropped. Out in the orange glow of the twilight he could see Sanford, grinning maniacally in the black leather seat of an enormous, metallic, earth-rending dinosaur.

Sanford appeared to be having trouble maneuvering the machine to where he wanted it, and the backhoe’s tires carved long brown arcs of mud down what was already an unsightly clot of Bob’s crabgrass. Sanford wrenched the gear shift with great determination, and the machine lurched forward and backward, the tires churning up clumps of green and brown.

Bob was completely still while watching all of this; then something inside of him snapped. At the time, though he would have no memory of this later, Bob felt like he could hear the actual snapping.

He slammed his fridge shut, kicked open his back door and charged toward the backhoe in long angry strides. Sanford’s head jerked once, spasmodically, in Bob’s direction. Bob did not have time to check his forward momentum — he scarcely had time to change the determined expression on his face — when Sanford sprang from his seat, high in the air like cartoon animal.

Sanford’s eyes were shot bright red, and his mouth curled into an awful grin, and before Bob could say, “What the hairy balls do you think you are doing?” — before Bob had even formed the thought in his head — Sanford had Bob’s shoulders pinned to the ground and had clamped his mouth firmly to Bob’s collar bone.

Fear charged into Bob’s mind as quickly as he had departed his kitchen. It muscled aside all the self-righteous, sarcastic anger that had propelled him out of the house, it blotted out the building disappointments of the previous week, and left him a quivering, doughy slug of sharp, painful insecurity.

He made a terrified squeak, and then heard — no, he only felt it — Sanford’s teeth slicing through tendon and muscle, cracking bones. Sanford’s bulk pressed him into the earth. It seemed to Bob that the ground was starting to close over his head and envelop him in cold, lonely darkness.

But at that moment, when an ordinary person might begin to hallucinate delusions of an afterlife, a strange sensation began welling inside Bob. It was cooling, soothing and wonderful; it seemed to spread from his neck down, slowly at first but then in surging gouts like a cascade of spring water under his skin. It kept going, swirling and bubbling inside of him — or so it felt — rippling into his stomach and running down his legs and out to the tips of his fingers.

At length, he noticed that he was no longer looking up at the sky but at a kaleidoscope of soft colors. He heard music. He saw friendly, fuzzy creatures. He smelled beautiful things. And then it was all gone and he was standing on his lawn next to the quietly humming backhoe. Next to him was Sanford, his chin and neck and T-shirt soaked liberally in Bob’s blood.

Bob smiled. Sanford smiled back, more broadly and more lovingly than Bob could remember anyone ever having smiled at him, or at anyone, for that matter.

He inhaled deeply and looked back toward his house. The sun slanted down in soft orange light. Everything looked as pretty as an Easter basket.

Bob was about to step in that direction when he felt his shoulder move awkwardly. He looked down at his own blood-soaked shirt and realized that he could see on his collar bone the bottom of a serious wound. He casually touched his hand across the mouth-shaped hole Sanford had left — and felt sublime relief.

There was no pain, there was no bleeding. Where once his pimply neck had shimmered in pale, clammy whiteness there was a misplaced, crusted crimson epaulet. And Bob exhaled with satisfaction and contentment.

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