He worked one horn-like nail beneath the white latex and pulled, but only a small flake came off. It had been dry and the paint had adhered well to the concrete. “Used an outdoor latex this time,” the groundskeeper said. “Getting smarter. But didn’t get much done, did he? Just one SCRUMP this time. Usually it’s three or four.”
He took a step back, pulled back his shoulders and suddenly his throat filled with a thick gurgle. His head bobbed up and down and his throat worked like a vertical conveyor belt. His mouth moved and twitched and the cheeks started to blowfish. I knew what was coming and stepped back, feeling my gorge rise.
He shivered violently and then his mouth exploded in a gooey net of thick, brown spittle, landing square on the M of SCRUMP. It splattered, turning the white paint a translucent khaki and began its slow crawl to the ground. I could smell the wintergreen from ten feet away. “Kiss my ass, Scrump,” the groundskeeper said and laughed.
He started back to the Kubota, smiling and not looking at me. In his mind, I could see he had somehow won a victory, although I couldn’t see how. I took a few pictures with my iPhone and then turned to follow. Then I stopped when I saw what the groundskeeper’s feet fell on.
I said, “Hey, uh, you should probably look down.”
The groundskeeper did. There, in letters at least five feet high, SCRUMP covered the concrete ground, surrounded by a halo of white. His hands coiled into tight fists at his sides and his body shook.
The groundskeeper’s curses mashed into one long string of blasphemy. The f-word was used in every class of English words. I think he was somehow even able to use it as an article.
He kicked and scratched at spat on the white paint. The paint hadn’t stuck too well to the uneven surface and after a few minutes his attack had cleared half of SCRUMP, leaving only the SCRU- visible.
But the groundskeeper was no longer young and his flushed face and heaving breath got the better of him. He stopped, clenching his fists, his head sagging down. He slowly made his way to the Kubota and then plopped in, cradling his hands over the steering wheel and then hiding his head there.
Before joining him, I turned quickly to snap one picture of the remaining letters on the ground, coughing when the shutter whirred. If the groundskeeper heard me take the picture, it might confirm what we both knew already.