The Trouble With Tuttles

Kent Parker walked up the Tuttle's driveway and entered the garage, pulling the lawn mower out from the clutter in the back of the bay.

"What are you doing?"

The intruder looked up to see Mrs. Tuttle standing on the back sidewalk glaring at him with her hands folded across her chest. She was wearing khaki shorts and a white blouse tied at the bottom around her midsection. Her black hair hung straight along the sides of her head.

"My father says I should mow your lawn," Kent replied.

She glanced around the yard. "Yes, I suppose it is looking overgrown and scraggly," she sighed. "The trouble is that's my husband's job."

"Garden could use some weeding too," Kent observed.

"That was my husband's job too," she said unhappily.

"I can do it," Kent offered.

"You don't have to," Mrs. Tuttle told him. "That's too much trouble."

"I don't mind," Kent replied.

"Well then, I'm not going to argue with you," she said with a sigh as she turned and walked to the back door of the house.

Kent thought the attractive woman in her early forties looked tired and depressed and he wondered why Mr. Tuttle – Kent's former little league coach, ironically enough – wasn't around to do it himself.

The trouble was – it was none of his business.

Kent fired up the self-drive push lawn mower and he went to work on the lawn on the hot early August Saturday morning. Mowing lawns was normally a great zone-out chore but Kent found himself spending most of his time as he walked back and forth in rows cutting the grass thinking about Mrs. Tuttle and what was going on with her now that her husband was gone. Had there been trouble?

Mrs. Tuttle was nice to Kent over the years as a neighbor, a friend of his parents, and his little league coach's wife. Kent was almost twenty now and Mrs. Tuttle no longer over-tipped him for his paper delivery, or gave him extra Halloween candy, or brought over cookies at Christmas time, his birthday, or other special occasions, and Kent hadn't really seen much of her since she showed up with her husband and Kent's parents for his high school graduation ceremony two years earlier.

But now here he was mowing her lawn and when he finished that chore Kent went to work in the garden that had gone to shit in the weeks since Mr. Tuttle left.

Mr. Tuttle was good looking and he had a great job as some big cheese at Electroshield in Greenville but who wanted to live with a robotic drill sergeant all the time? That was the trouble with Coach Tuttle anyway – he was strict and demanding as a coach which sort of took the fun out of the games sometimes.

"The trouble with Coach Tuttle is that he takes himself too seriously," Kent remembered his dad saying one time.

Kent recalled the time when his team (Boone The Builder Bandits) won the little league championship game played at Beano Field in an upset win over the favored Duffy's Tavern Dragons and how unresponsive Mr. Tuttle was to all the excitement and celebration.

The coach stood in the dugout with his arms folded across his chest watching the kids go crazy without muttering a word. It struck Kent as a very strange and disappointing reaction to a moment they had been striving to achieve all season long. Coach Tuttle simply considered it as another box check mark, apparently.

"The trouble with Coach is that he doesn't know how to have fun," Kent remembered teammate Sammy Bergin saying at the time.

"I'm going to the store," Mrs. Tuttle announced as she came out of the house, having changed into a yellow summer dress and sandals.

"Okay," Kent replied from his perch in the vegetable garden where he was plucking away at the overgrown weeds and trying to straighten up some of the plants down-trotted by previous wind and rain.

There probably wasn't much of a point trying to save the vegetables if this was Mr. Tuttle's project but Kent felt compelled to try. Maybe his mother would be interested in some of the salvaged veggies.

This wasn't exactly the way Kent wanted to spend his Saturday afternoon. He worked hard at his summer job as a gopher with one of Boone The Builder's Construction crews and it wouldn't be long before he was back at nearby Green College for his junior year so he valued his free time but when his father suggested he bail out the troubled Mrs. Tuttle, Kent felt obligated to oblige.

Kent got along well with his folks and he appreciated his free room and board during his college studies so he went out of his way to try to accommodate them whenever he could - and if that meant mowing Mrs. Tuttle's lawn at his Dad's request, so be it.

The garden work was his idea because he wanted to help out Mrs. Tuttle during her tough troubled time.

Mrs. Tuttle returned from the grocery store with several bags of groceries. Kent sprang from the garden and he helped her lug the bags into the house. He had been inside the Tuttle house countless times over the years but this time it felt just a little bit different - almost as if Mr. Tuttle had died – even though he hadn't – and Kent wasn't quite sure what to say about Mrs. Tuttle's situation, so he said nothing at all.

"Thanks, Kent," Mrs. Tuttle said when he finished placing the bags on the kitchen counter.

Kent felt a little rude being in her house all dirty and sweaty but he would have felt worst if he hadn't helped Mrs. Tuttle with the groceries.

"Mrs Tuttle?" Kent asked with uncertainty.

"Yes, Kent?" She replied, busy putting the groceries away.

"What are you going to do with the vegetables in the garden?"

"I'll use them," she said. "But feel free to take anything you'd like, Kent," she added. "There's plenty."

"Do you think Mr. Tuttle will want any of it?" Kent asked awkwardly as he stood in the kitchen in his jean cut off shorts and a dirty sweaty tee shirt.

"Let's not trouble ourselves worrying about him," she replied.

"That's the trouble with him not being here," Kent realized.

"The trouble is when you've been married for twenty years shit happens," Mrs. Tuttle replied with a frown.

"Mrs. Tuttle saw the awkwardly uncomfortable look on her visitor's face.

"I'm sorry," she said apologetically. "Don't mind me. I'm just pissed off, that's all."

"It's okay," he said. "That's the trouble that happens when something like this happens."

"Would you like something to drink?" Mrs. Tuttle asked, having finished with the groceries.

"Lemonade?" He guessed, remembering her homemade lemonade of the past.

"There's beer in the frig if you'd rather," she said.

"Don't you need to see my ID?" Kent joked, suddenly feeling very mature and grown up, especially since Mrs. Tuttle actually just offered him a beer even though he was underage.

"Won't I get in trouble for that?" He teased.

"Not if you don't tell anybody," she replied lightly as she opened the refrigerator door and pulled out two cans of Budweiser. "There you are," Mrs. Tuttle said, handing Kent one of the beers.

"Thanks," he said.

"You're welcome," Mrs. Tuttle smiled, amused by the situation.

"What are you going to do?" Kent asked.

She shrugged. "What can I do?"

"Are you going to be okay?" He worried.

"Do I have a choice?"

"I guess not," Kent admitted.

"I appreciate you helping with the yard," Mrs. Tuttle said, leaning her backside against the kitchen counter and taking a long swig from the beer can.

"There's plenty to do in the garden and I should probably mow every week to make sure it looks good," Kent said.

"Do whatever you think is right," Mrs. Tuttle said.

"I don't want to be any trouble," Kent remarked.

"You're not the trouble," she replied.

Mrs. Tuttle didn't say anything else as they finished the beers and then Kent excused himself to return to the garden.

Mrs. Tuttle watched him go and it wasn't until he was out the door that she let out a sigh, knowing there could be trouble if she wasn't careful but she was so disgusted, resentful, and angry with her husband that she might be willing to throw caution into the wind if it might make her feel better.