Tom had spent half the morning standing out behind the garage practicing his apology. He was confident in his words (short, plain, avoiding shrill bird sounds) and most of the delivery (dry and cakey like the dust he knew they rolled their meats in), but the ending still troubled him.
Instinct told him to offer the audience a chance to tug on his beard. See that it was real. But there were too many of them. And he didn't want to insult them further by insisting they wash their hands in front of him or use a sleeve to touch him. Similar concerns ruled out the offer of leg hugs.
Tom wanted them to know he meant it. That he really was sorry about the mess. That he wasn't saying all this just to get back into community college. Yes he wanted the tambourine back, but he really wanted their trust.
He knelt next to the downspout. After a moment, he began to whisper,
Grass god, king of all that is green, make my actions pure, make them correct. Lead me back to the kingdom of men. I honor your ubiquity. Show me, in my wretchedness, what I must do.
The dandelions molted and the clover belched. But the grass was silent.
The next day, Tom apologized to each member of the choir, to the cafeteria waitstaff, to the gentlemen who hold the ice, and, finally, to Mr. Kmetz's daughter, Argyle.
He finished speaking before the group. “I, Tom Hentington, former governor of Iowa, intend to regain your trust. Words can only take us so far. Therefore, starting today, I vow to endure periodic bouts of morbid obesity — cripling, walking-assistance-required obesity — at your request. Fill out these forms and circle a date.”
Golf pencils and ditto sheets were passed through the crowd.
Tom sat down at a picnic table. He picked up a fork and began eating a block of cucumber lard.