When he arrived at her street, he slowed, hoping to catch a glimpse of the man in the backyard. A complete stranger had recently made an unwanted entrance into his mother’s life by claiming exactly 600 square feet of her property to in fact be his property. As it turns out, the man was not incorrect in making this claim. Chris knew that the man’s name was Aaron Brendt; he hadn’t read the stories in the newspaper and did not know what Aaron Brendt looked like, though he had created a version in his head on the ride: sun burnt face, pleated pants, patchy gray beard and a gut. From the southern side of the house, he watched as one, then two, then three dogs circled out to the perimeter of the yard. Phoebe was his favorite, and his mood brightened, if slightly, at the thought that she somehow already knew he was there.
Before he got out of the car, his mother spotted him and opened the front door.
“Chris?” she yelled out to the car. “You coming in?”
He could see that she was still wearing pajamas, even though it was now afternoon. He briefly considered pulling away, then got out of the car and went inside.
“See? He’ll just sit like that, for hours at a time.”
He looked out the kitchen sliding glass door to where she was pointing.
“He put up a hammock?” he asked, though he could plainly see that yes, this man was lying in a hammock in his mother’s backyard.
“Yeah, I told you about the hammock. He put that in over the weekend. The shit head.”
“Doesn’t he have a job?” he asked.
“I guess this is his job. Now can you make it your job to get him to leave?”
Chris waited, hoping that some last minute act of God would get him out of this situation. It wasn’t until this moment that he realized he had no idea what he was going to say to this person. In the eyes of the community, his mother’s new neighbor was clearly either an asshole or an insane person. But in the eyes of the law, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Unbeknownst to his parents when they bought their house, their property did not include the 600 square feet in question. They had naturally assumed it was theirs, and when an electric fenced was put in for their three dogs, it ran the circumference of the yard based on this assumption. Meaning, for the time being at least, the dogs and the man were cohabitating this space when the dogs were let outside—which, as of lately, was about 18 hours a day. His mother could sense that her new neighbor was not a dog person, as much as he pretended not to be bothered by their nearly constant presence.
When it became clear that no act of God was developing, Chris took a deep breath and walked out to the backyard.
The dog pack followed Chris at his ankles as he made his way to the far edge of the yard. If Aaron Brendt noticed him coming, he showed no sign of it. With his sunglasses on, there was no way to know if he was even awake.
The imagined version of the man had been mostly inaccurate; he was scrawny and beardless, though there was some developing sunburn.
“Hello,” Chris said.
“Afternoon,” Aaron replied, not moving.
“My name is Chris. My mother lives here… or in that house.”
“Look, I don’t really know what to say here. Is there any particular reason you have to do this?”
“My property,” Aaron grunted.
“Right, understood. It’s just that my mom is really upset by this whole thing, and I was wondering if maybe you could not come here anymore.”
Phoebe licked Chris’ hand, and he bent down to scratch her behind the ears. Seconds passed, maybe minutes. It was hot, and Chris had could feel himself starting to perspire. He cleared his throat.
“So, can you leave, then? Sir?”
“Why not? Why can’t you just leave? What is the point of this?”
“The point is I don’t have to explain to you why I won’t leave my own property. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some things I need to do.”
Aaron shifted to his side so that he faced away from Chris. At the kitchen window, Chris could sense his mother watching. He stood for a while longer, the dogs beginning to whine for his attention. He had made valiant efforts to stay out of this entirely, but his mother had finally worn him down. In truth, he felt bad for her, especially since his dad left. And he had been avoiding her. On the rare occasions that he did visit her, he would drag his friend Paul along. His mother’s self-pity and pessimism were too much for him to handle one-on-one, so he forced Paul to be the buffer, a human washer to more evenly distribute the anxiety. He was not proud of this. Helping with this problem, he had told himself that morning, was the least he could do.
Aaron Brendt had evidently fallen asleep. Chris imagined a hole opening up in the ground underneath Aaron Brendt, and then he imagined the man being swallowed into oblivion. When he was younger, he would imagine things like this sometimes. Mostly, though, he would imagine himself as an adult. He would imagine the striking qualities he’d have: something irresistible about his tone of voice; a look in the eye that would make impressions on people from across the room. He’d imagine, in less specific terms, his inevitable success in life, and all of the possible things he might become. Now, it was becoming increasingly difficult to imagine these alternate people he might someday transform into. Now, there was just what he was – and that’s who he was. Someone who either could, or could not, convince a stranger to disappear.