North Hawthorne

He sits down at the desk where they keep the family computer and powers it up.

His wife, loading dishes in the dishwasher, catches what he is doing and calls to him from across the kitchen, yelling over the music she has playing. “I know you’re not about to do more work right now.”

He smiles in response, not looking up from the screen, the glow illuminating his face with pale light while reflecting off his glasses. “Promotions are given for a reason dearest. I can’t slack off now.”

“Mmmhmm,” she mumbles disapprovingly. “Just don’t be too long. You’ve spent many a long night working towards this thing. Now that you’ve got it your little girl needs some of your time.”

“Chelsea’s not so little anymore darling.”

“Exactly. And don’t tell me what I already know. I’m the one dealing with her while you’re in cyberland or spreadsheet circus or wherever it is that you go when you’re on that thing.”

As if on cue he opens his latest spreadsheet. He smirks again at her playful banter. “Just a few minutes, promise. I need to have these financials ready for tomorrow morning.”

“Okay, but you promised her you’d help with her Chemistry studying too.”

“I will, I will…” he says but his clacking of keystrokes is already overcoming her clanging of dishes. He updates a few cells when a Direct Messenger window pops up. “What the…okay what’d I do now?”

“Hmmm?” Kim asks from the kitchen. “You say something hun?”

“No, it’s okay, just something of Chelsea’s she probably left running in the background. I must’ve hit a key that opened it is all.”  He moves his mouse towards the top of the window, noticing that the name is Jamie Tellers. Probably a homework collaboration. Jamie and Chelsea are in the same grade, and the Tellers live just a few doors down. He works with Jamie’s father, although sparingly given their different departments. The families had known each other for years on account of the girls, even had each other over from time to time. He is about to close out the window when a new message pops up, and then several after it.

Can’t help feeling it’s just another Affirmative Action thing.

Seriously, you should have gotten that promotion, but given the choice.

They’re scared about that whole Charlottesville thing that happened. That’s why they gave it to Dave. Old bastards.

“What the hell?” Dave says to himself slowly. He rereads the lines, disbelieving. “Hey hun?”

“Yeah?”

“Can you come here a sec?”

“Cortana, pause.” The music cuts off sharply. Kim puts down the plate she just finished rinsing and walks over to the desk. She puts her hands on his shoulders. “What’s up?”

He looks up at her and then points to the screen. “What do you make of that?”

She leans over, her eyes scanning the lines quickly. Her face turns to skeptical indignation. “Wait, what? You think she is talking about you?”

Dave’s mouth drops open a bit and he shakes his head. “I don’t know. It’s weird though, right? Like who is she talking to? Chelsea isn’t on. There’s no responses. It’s…”

“Chelsea! Chelsea!” Kim yells down the hall. A bedroom door opens and a moment later their seventeen year old walks in.

“Yeah Ma?”

“You talking to Jamie right now? Maybe using your phone?”

Their daughter shakes her head. “No, was just reading some stuff on polypeptides, waiting on Dad.”

Kim looks at her with that discerning, Mom level radar and determines she is telling the truth. “Okay baby, he’ll be right in. Go back inside now.”

“Kay,” she says with a shrug and bounces down the hall.

Kim looks back at her husband. “Maybe it’s something crossed? Someone else’s conversation?”

Dave shrugs. “I suppose it could be, although that seems highly unlikely given the subject. I mean, what are the chances that…” Another blip hits the screen.

 

Dealing with ghetto welfare hoodrats here.

 

“Oh hell no. She did not just say that about us, did she?”

“Alright, calm down. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation for this. It’s highly out of character for Jamie. I’ll find Kevin tomorrow and talk to him about this.”

She plants her hands on her hips. “This can’t wait until tomorrow. What if Chelsea was sitting here and saw this? Or worse, what if Jamie was saying it directly to her?”

“Listen, I agree with you, but it’s late and we’re both upset. Nothing good is gonna come out of confronting this right now. Let me just go help her with her homework. You get into bed and we’ll address this in the A.M. okay? Please?”

Kim frowns but feels herself giving in. Then she glances at the screen again. “What the fuck!”

 

That bitch is a psychopathic nigger.  

 

Dave looks at the screen after seeing his wife’s reaction. He does a screen capture, hits print, and pushes back from the desk. “Alright let’s go,” he says standing up.

 

Further down the street to the west, at about the same time Dave is sitting down in front of his computer, Lorraine stands over a load of warm laundry sprawled out on her bed. It’s her fourth load of the day. Derrick needed clean socks desperately, being so late in the week. That and his workout clothes had really started to pile up, now that he took up jogging again. Frantic, hair disheveled, eyeliner running down her face (he insisted she wear makeup all the time, even though she rarely left the house) Lorraine tries to keep the black ink from staining the white bedspread.

Her mind is numb, but the tears and snot drip nonetheless. It had been a few weeks of growing suspicions. First, a weekend business trip, but the receipts he left in his pants denoted dinner for two, not just one. Sure, it could have been a client he took out to dinner. It’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, but then he started texting, laughing, smiling, never explaining what was funny and always hiding his phone. Then the path took another turn when he said Miranda on the corner bumped into him at the pharmacy and asked him to come by to help move a couch. After that good samaritan moment, he started jogging again. Almost every night, for at least an hour, sometimes more. He would come home, covered in sweat, and dart right into the shower. Yet the tinge of perfume, a perfume not her own, would hang in the bedroom as he skirted through.

Miranda. The divorcee. The yoga slash Instagram “fitness instructor.” The woman does nothing but flirt with the other husbands at drop off in the mornings, always walking around in her yoga pants and tight fitting Lululemon tops, even in the dead of winter. It’s worse now that it’s a warm September. She forgoes the top all together and just wears her sports bra, the spandex a size too small and straining against her double “D” breasts. Those things drew stares. Lorraine had heard a rumor she got them as a big fuck you to her ex-husband. She thought the woman looked ridiculous. Perfectly round, gigantic orbs like a seventeen year old, the things practically up to Miranda’s chin. Her breasts might look seventeen again but her ass looked every bit of her forty four years, like a gallon of cottage cheese poured into a lycra water balloon. Some fitness instructor.

The notion makes even more tears fall. No matter how ridiculous Lorraine thinks the woman looks, the indicators still point to Derrick preferring Miranda over his own wife. She wipes at her eyes with a portion of her oversized nightgown. Could she really blame him? Men love tits, and her own “A” cups are little more than flaps of saggy flesh after breastfeeding three kids. She isn’t in shape, her stomach is still covered by pregnancy fat that has taken up permanent residency. Her legs and arms are little more than twigs, and since she hasn’t seen the light of day in ages her skin is a pasty pale. Not exactly Sofia Vergara like the bitch on the corner.

She tries though. She tries as hard as she can. To keep a good house, to always have the kids taken care of, their homework done and pajamas on so he doesn’t have to do anything when he gets home. She goes out of her way to pick up his dry cleaning even though it’s in the complete opposite direction of the house and school, and usually picks up a nice bottle of wine, or two, along with some bourbon and gin that they could share after dinner. But Derrick is rarely home for dinner anymore, so she just pokes at whatever she prepares while her kids feast on chicken nuggets and mac and cheese, pouring out copious amounts of the wine despite what her tiny frame should be able to handle. A half glass sits on the dresser behind her even now. When he would let her, she would try to fuck him the way she thought he wanted, the way the girls do in the porn Lorraine sometimes finds left open on his laptop. She blows him in the shower, even though she hates how forceful he has become with it, suffering through the gagging, barely being able to breathe sometimes. When that didn’t hold his interest she started letting him fuck her in the ass. The pain is terrible, she whimpers through it each time, but it’s what her husband wants. So if she does it here, maybe he won’t go elsewhere to get it.

Lorraine reaches into the pile absent mindedly and pulls out a pair of her underwear. Except it’s not her underwear. This is something else entirely, a lacy, leopard print panty, so tacky and whorish that she would never be caught dead in it. Unless he asked her to wear them, but it had been forever since she wore lingerie. Derrick didn’t care to see her in it anymore. She drops the panty and clasps her hands over her mouth. Her heart racing, she suddenly starts hyperventilating. The tears begin to steadily stream. Lorraine begs it not to be true, muffling her voice so the kids won’t hear her crying. Her iPhone on the dresser chimes with a text message. And then another. And then three more.

Stepping back from the bed, eyes still fixated on the leopard print, Lorraine reaches back and grabs the device. It’s not password protected, Derrick doesn’t like that despite the fact that his iPhone is, so when she clicks the key it opens straight to her home screen. The little red number five sits over the text icon. Lorraine thumbs it. The messages are from Derrick. They’re pictures. The first two are closeups of his dick in Miranda’s mouth. The next is a closeup of her pussy, all spread eagle for the camera. The last two are of her face down, his left hand twisted in her terrible dye job auburn hair. Lorraine knows the pictures are recent, Miranda is wearing the same sports bra as the one she had on earlier today, or at least she is in the first two pictures.

Lorraine feels her whole body go numb. Her breathing comes out in raspy, irregular drags. She jumps as the phone starts chiming in her hand. It’s a Facetime call. From Derrick. Finger trembling, it hovers over the decline button, but something pushes her to hit accept instead, as if this is part of her punishment. The screen comes alive. The shot is from across Miranda’s bedroom. She sees her husband behind the woman who is on all fours atop the bed. Derrick keeps pulling Miranda’s hair back, and the woman screams out in ecstasy each time. The audio carries through the phone speakers so loud that Lorraine scrambles to turn down the volume before her children can hear what her husband is doing. Her husband. Fucking another woman.

Lorraine feels dizzy, her stomach sinking and wrenching at the same time. She drops the phone and stumbles backwards, smacking into her dresser, tumbling vials of her perfume and frames holding their wedding pictures over. The wine spills, forming a dark red puddle on the carpet. Next to it, the phone keeps projecting the scene. Her entire body begins shaking. Her mind goes blank. In a stupor, she walks herself over towards their bed. Hand over hand Lorraine supports herself until she reaches his nightstand. Pulling open the drawer, she reaches in and wraps her hand around the grip of their .38 caliber.

 

Bridget looks down at the chip in her French manicure, pissed off seeing as how she just got her nails done earlier that afternoon. Between her abysmal day at work and the stain on her favorite silk blouse that happened while she made dinner, it’s just one more thing for her to be angry at. Still, they pale in comparison to the news Kevin is delivering. She stands across their marble topped kitchen island, listening to her husband trying to explain his way out of yet another shortcoming. Placing her hand back down, Bridget drums her fingers on the countertop, right next to her nearly empty second glass of Prosecco. She gives him as much courtesy as she can manage to hear him out, but with each passing moment her full lips, gloss freshly applied and gleaming under the chandelier light fixture, press into a thinner line. As he drones on and on about the logistics of the move, regurgitating the bullshit his company fed him, she feels the indignation growing past the point where she can hold it in any longer.

She holds up her hand, cutting him off mid sentence. “Kevin…enough….just enough.” Kevin inwardly cowers, swallowing hard, anticipating the backlash he hoped to avoid with his explanation. “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe you wouldn’t fight their decision.”

The man shrugs his shoulders while turning his palms up, the way he always does when he gets cornered. Bridget has no doubt he did it fifty times earlier in the day. “What do you want me to do?” he returns. “Tell them no, I don’t accept that?”

“Yes. Exactly. Show a little backbone for once in your life.”

“Okay Bridget, sure. It’s just that easy, right? And if I told my bosses off like you want, we’d be standing here figuring out how to get by on an unemployment check.”

She shakes her head in disgust. Somewhere along their marriage he lost that edginess, that rockstar, I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. Now, sitting here with his pencil thin mustache, sedentary belly, and beady little bifocals, only one word comes to mind. Meek. Her husband had become a church mouse. “Or maybe they would respect you for taking a stand, and showing that you won’t be trampled on.”

He starts huffing the way he does when he gets upset. “You’ve got all the answers Bridget. You always do. Nothing I say even registers with you.”

She tosses her hair and spins around, looking out into the backyard through the window over their stainless steel farmhouse sink. The sun is down but some twilight still remains, throwing pink and purple hues across a rapidly darkening space. Shadows caress the miniature Caterpillar bulldozer parked just off their paver patio, and she can see the outlines of the dirt mound beyond, the deepening night draining into the excavated trench. She gestures out the window before whirling back and placing her hands firmly on her hips. “What are you going to do about that Kevin? The yard is completely torn apart! Where are you going to get the money to cover the rest of the installation?”

Kevin’s eyebrows skyrocket. “Me? Wait a second, I told you not to move forward with the pool. I told you that the promotion wasn’t a lock, but like usual, you just go ahead and do whatever you want. Now I’m supposed to come up with the money?”

“Don’t take that tone with me,” she counters, sticking a finger at him. “I will not be spoken to in such a manner. I guess it was my mistake that you would actually amount to something this time around. I guess it’s my fault that I wanted to have something nice in place for Jamie to enjoy before she goes off to college.”

Kevin shrugs and huffs. “I don’t know what you want from me. Dave got the promotion, and I didn’t. That’s it. I told you from the outset he had more qualifications for the position than me.”

“Yeah, I’m sure that’s all it was.”

Kevin cocks his head to the side. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Bridget snatches up the bottle and her glass, filling the latter as she walks away. “Nothing.”

“Wait. You’ve obviously got something else to say, so why don’t you?”

She rounds on him, leaning back against the counter. Bridget places the bottle down next to one of their Alexa modules. Taking a big sip, she starts. “It’s not just about qualifications Kevin. You know it, and I know it. I can’t help feeling it’s just another Affirmative Action thing.”

Kevin grimaces in response. “Affirmative action? Really? It’s nothing like that. Dave has been doing this longer, and his division is more directly tied to the job duties. That’s why he got it, plain and simple.”

She rolls her eyes, not believing how naive he can be. “Nothing is ever plain and simple Kevin. You two are more closely qualified than you would like to believe, and now you are playing him up to cover the fact that they didn’t choose you.”

He shakes his head and looks down. “It’s nothing like that.”

“Seriously, you should have gotten that promotion, but given the choice…”

Kevin looks up, furrowing his eyebrows. “What choice?”

Bridget gets increasingly exacerbated. “Isn’t it obvious? The bosses are making a strategic decision here. They’re scared about that whole Charlottesville thing that happened. That’s why they gave it to Dave. Old bastards.”

Kevin holds out a hand in protest. “Listen, I know you’re upset and disappointed…”

“There’s the understatement of the year.”

“…but you’re going to say this is a race thing? Really? I mean, it’s not like we’re dealing with ghetto, welfare, hoodrats here. Dave and Kim are fine people, we’ve known them for years. I told you early on that he was nearly a lock for the job when they announced the opening, yet you made me put my name in anyway. Now that I didn’t get it, you’re going to say that he was promoted just because he is black? I mean, come on Bridget. That’s a stretch, even for you. You’re not like this.”

She tosses her hands up. “You’re telling me that it absolutely couldn’t be part of the equation? I mean really, if it’s not Dave, then it’s someone else around here. Everyone gets ahead but me. When is it my turn Kevin? Even that woman down at the supermarket panhandling is doing better than this.” Bridget gestures to the kitchen around her before she takes a hefty gulp of her Prosecco.

“Alright already, I think maybe you’ve had enough.”

“Don’t fucking tell me when I’ve had enough, you spineless little worm.”

“Okay Bridget, you just go on drinking and comparing a homeless woman to Dave. Because that makes all the sense in the world.”

“Why shouldn’t I? That bitch is a psychopathic nigger, and she and Dave both make more money than you. You’re a joke. I should have married Jim. At least he’s a doctor.”

Kevin looks down again in obvious discomfort. She notices it from over the rim of her glass and honestly, couldn’t give two shits. The facts are there, and if he can’t handle them, then too bad. Maybe if he listened to her a little more instead of always trying to make excuses, he wouldn’t be such a little pansy, and she wouldn’t have to constantly buck him up all the time. Bridget just can’t understand why he doesn’t get it? You have to be aggressive in this life. You have to be cutthroat to get ahead. Meek will get you…well it will get you a half finished inground pool that you can’t afford.

Apparently done with their conversation, he moves about the kitchen clearing and cleaning the rest of the dishes, picking up where she left off. He doesn’t make eye contact with her, nor does he speak to her again. Fine. She needs the quiet anyway to figure a way out of this mess. Bridget sits there, drinking, thinking maybe refinancing again could be an option. Some minutes go by until the doorbell rings. They both look at each other quizzically before Kevin shuts the water and wipes his hands on a dish towel. He crosses the kitchen into their foyer. “Oh no!” he exclaims.

Rolling her eyes, she tops off the glass and walks into the room. “What is it now?”

“It’s Dave and Kim!”

“What? Here now?”

“Yes here. They’re down on the lawn.”

Bridget swallows. “Do you think they heard us?”

“I don’t know. What should we do?”

She grimaces. “They probably saw you peeking out the window already.” He just stares at her. “Well, open the door stupid.”

Reluctantly, Kevin turns the deadbolt and steps out onto the porch.

“Stop talking! No just stop talking, you hear me? I’m the customer, you’re the brokedick call center rep. You listen to me, you got it?” Mitch screams into his Galaxy S8. “I’ll use whatever damn language I want you worthless, minimum wage prick. Now I’m not gonna say one last time. You go in remotely, do whatever you need to do, but you better get this goddamn Firestick working pronto, because if I have to watch one more minute of this alt-left, liberal, snowflake bullshit, I’m getting in the car and coming down there to ram your fucking face into your monitor. Yeah, you heard me right, you little bitch. I know you’re probably some little millennial piece of shit, but try being a man and working one day in your life, and fix this shit now! Hello? Hello! You motherfucker!” He yells the last as he throws the phone across the room, the device hitting his beat up recliner before toppling down to the ground.

He stalks around his living room, dark save for the light of his TV, the channels permanently fixated on CNN and MSNBC. Knocking over a stack of newspapers, he rattles off some more profanity as he goes into the kitchen. Dirty dishes piled up in the sink, empty beer cans and microwave dinner trays sitting on the table, he makes his way over to the fridge. Next to it on the counter is a bottle of Wild Turkey and his shot glass. He pours and knocks one down before pulling open the door. The room is illuminated by the tiny light bulb inside. He is trying to keep the power bill down since his overtime dried up. The cold air hits his ample gut, his armored car company button down shirt flung wide open. He still hasn’t changed since getting in from his shift, seeing as the first thing he did was turn on the TV when he got home. Then he had to deal with that whole clusterfuck situation. He hikes up his cargo pants, the 9mm strapped to his hip pulling them down, and looks over his options. Grabbing a PBR and a slice of three day old pizza out of the box, he shoves the door shut with his knee and circles back around into the living room.

The pansies on CNN are still bitching and moaning, making their same old, apologetic, let’s give everything to everyone for free arguments. Mitch can’t stand them. Their spouting of nonsense is killing this country. Fucking media. Whatever happened to earning your place? To making a living, to putting in a hard day’s work? He does it, a lot of other people do it, but now he has to be destitute, to give everything he makes away to people that live off the welfare system? What kind of shit is that? Not his America, that’s for sure. And then there was that coverage of the Charlottesville thing. God, it made him want to puke. The liberal bitches wouldn’t show the crowds of trans-whatevers shouting down war veterans, calling them baby killing garbage. This worthless generation can’t even come up with their own insults, they are so lazy. They have to regurgitate the shit their parents shouted back in the sixties and seventies.

Mitch can’t take it anymore. It has been weeks of this crap. Even his phone had stopped working. His coworkers had shown him the videos of college fucks touting free speech while not allowing anyone else to have a viewpoint, threatening anyone that thinks differently from them with violence despite their supposed pacifism and signs painted, “Stop the H8!” He just couldn’t pull them up on his own phone. Everything, at home, on his phone, was the same constant feed of obnoxious, liberal, fucked up crap. Slamming the last few bites into his mouth, his pops open his beer and immediately gets showered with foam. “Fuck!”

Even his beer is against him. Having had enough, he scoops up the remote and shuts the TV. Expecting silence, Mitch is surprised when he hears raised voices outside. Crossing to the front windows, he spreads the blinds and peeks out. Across the street Kevin and Bridget are on their front lawn along with the black couple that moved in a few years ago. He has never bothered to find out their names, why would he want to? He is probably paying their mortgage, the way this country fleeces white men to apologize for things that happened hundreds of years ago. Learning who they were would just add insult to injury.

The black guy is big. He seems to recall Kevin saying something about him playing linebacker in college. Nothing like Ohio State or Alabama, something along the lines of a Division IAA or even II school, but still. He has his finger in Kevin’s face, and everyone is yelling at one another. “The fuck is this?” Mitch says out loud.

He gulps down the remainder of his beer. Kevin is no linebacker, that’s for sure. He’s seen the man struggle just bringing in groceries from their minivan. Figuring he could use some backup, Mitch decides now might be a good time to introduce himself to the neighbors, once he does another shot and grabs a beer for the road, that is.

Kevin opens the door and steps out onto his porch, Bridget staying in the doorframe behind him. “Hey there Dave, Kim. What’s up?” he says, trying to hide the nervous warble in his voice. He really hopes she hasn’t gotten him into more trouble. Dave is clearly bothered by something, and Kim has her arms folded tightly over her breasts.

“Yeah, hey Kevin. Listen, we’re sorry to bother you so late but, well, I’m afraid we’ve got to clear something up.”

Kevin cocks his head to the side and scratches behind his ear, trying to feign confusion. “Clear what up?”

“Well, I mean…I guess there’s no easy way to address this. Is Jamie home?”

“Jamie? No, she’s still at soccer practice.”

“What does my daughter have to do with your…visit?” Bridget says, crossing to the front of the porch and folding her arms, wine sloshing in the glass in her hand. Her tone is entirely too aggressive, especially with the emphasis on her last word. It sends a clear message that draws stares from the neighbors. Kim and Bridget lock eyes while Dave turns back to Kevin. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a piece of paper folded in half.

“We got these messages just a few minutes ago. They seem like one part of a conversation. The content is pretty troubling, especially since it came from Jamie.”

Kevin comes down the porch into the front yard and Dave hands the paper over. Kevin unfolds it and starts reading, Bridget coming up behind him and reading over his shoulder. His stomach sinks, seeing the words he and his wife just spoke to one another printed on the page. Knowing that Dave and Kim have read them practically makes him throw up. His mind spins wildly into damage control. “Dave, I’m sorry, I don’t know what this is. Like I said, Jamie isn’t even here. There’s no way she would have typed these things, let alone even thought them.”

“Yeah, well that’s where we’re concerned Kevin.”

“Since it’s clear these messages were intended for Chelsea. You can understand how upset we were when we read them, and how much more we would be if our daughter had.”

“Of course Kim, of course. But like I said, she’s still at soccer, and you know the girls adore each other. What possible reason would she have to say these things?”

“Well Kevin, the content is clearly about the promotion today. Perhaps she is upset over the way things turned out, and the girls are having a tiff about it? At least that’s what we thought might be happening.”

“Which is why we want to clear the air,” Kim says stepping in. “Obviously the things said here are unacceptable.”

“You know, I don’t think I like your tone Kim.” Bridget says. Kevin shuts his eyes, wishing this to all be a bad dream.

Kim stares daggers. “Excuse me? You want to talk about tone. How about the racist tone of these messages?”

“How about your accusatory tone? You come over here flashing a piece of paper, accusing our daughter of racism?”

“You can see for yourself Bridget. They came from her Messenger account,” Dave points out.

“And what? She just magically sent them while she’s running around a soccer field.”

“We don’t know how she sent them, and frankly we don’t care. Maybe she used her phone,” Kim interjects. “Our concern is that she’s saying these things to our daughter. And quite frankly, on top of that, we’re concerned about where she’s learning it.”

Dave’s head turns to his wife at the last remark, clearly not expecting it. He can tell she is pissed off. Bridget steps forward in front of Kevin. “Oh okay, now I know why you’re here. It’s not enough to come over and accuse our daughter of being a racist. If she is one then we must be racists too. We’re indoctrinating our daughter, is that about it Kim?”

The woman unfolds her arms and holds them out to her side. “If the shoe fits Bridget. You can’t deny what’s written there. I dare you to try.”

“Accusations and threats?” Bridget rolls her eyes and clicks her tongue as she looks away.

Kim starts forward, pointing her finger. “Listen bitch…”

Bridget raises her eyebrows. “Who are you calling bitch…”

Dave steps in between the both of them, holding his arms out so that they stay separate. Kevin stands there, hands jammed in his pockets, shaking, not knowing what to do. As Dave works to calm them both down Kevin looks past the group. He sees Lorraine from a few houses down walking on the other side of the street. The woman is oblivious to what is going on in front of his house, not even bothering to look their way, and strangely is walking around barefoot in her nightgown. The odd sight doesn’t have time to register as Dave raises his voice over the shouting women, silencing them both.

“I said enough! The both of you!” The wives quiet down and take a step back. Dave booms his voice, ripe with anger, at Kevin and his wife. “Now listen, no one came over here to accuse. We came here to discuss things, amicably. We are concerned that your daughter might have said these things, yes, but we are still your friends and want to talk through this. There is no need for this to get ugly.

“Let’s get one thing straight though. I earned that promotion today, through years of hard work and sacrifice. For anyone to say otherwise is just plain wrong, especially if the reason is that I got it based off the color of my skin. So I suggest that if this is the messaging that’s going on around here, that it get changed and quick, because we will not tolerate it, especially if it is targeted towards Chelsea. Am I clear?”

“You’ve got some balls, you know that Dave?” Bridget counters.

Dave furrows his eyebrows. “What is your problem Bridget?”

“You two coming over here and telling us how to live our lives. That’s my problem. Do we come into your home and tell you what to do?”

“We’re not in our home spouting hate speech Bridget,” Kim interjects.

“No, you’re just always running your mouth about how disadvantaged you were, how you had it so much harder than the rest of us, giving us that whole white privilege shit. Quite frankly, I’m sick of hearing it.”

“Alright bitch. I guess the truth is finally coming out. You think you know some people.” Kim rattles off.

“You want the truth Kim? The truth is that if your husband wasn’t good with a football, he wouldn’t have even gotten through college, let alone taken my husband’s job today.”

“That…is…enough!” Dave booms. He steps forward putting his finger in her face. “Not another word out of you, you hear me Bridget! You keep the fuck away from my family.” Quickly he spins, putting his finger in Kevin’s face. “I got that promotion fair and square Kevin, and I won’t take this shit from you or your wife. You keep her in check, and you keep the fuck away from us. I don’t want to see your ass at work either, you hear me?” Kevin stands there, his mouth working but no sound coming out of it. He pulls his hands out of his pockets and shrugs continuously.

“Some sort of trouble over here Kevin?” a gravelly voice comes from behind them. They all turn and see Mitch walking across the lawn, shirt wide open, beer in hand.

Dave straightens up, face going blank. Mitch stops a few feet away and stares at the man, the two of them locking eyes. Kevin looks back and forth between them. “Oh, hey Mitch. No trouble. In fact we were just finishing up.”

“Yeah,” Dave adds. “We were just leaving.” He turns and points a finger at each of them in turn. “You remember what I said.”

Dave and Kim turn to walk away. “Or what?” Mitch calls after them.

Dave turns back halfway, face contorted in an annoyed, confused grimace. “I’m sorry?”

“You heard me. They remember what you said, or what? Tell me tough guy.”

Dave turns all the way around. “Who the hell are you, and what business is it of yours anyway? This is between our families. No one asked you to come over here.”

Mitch takes a long pull of his beer. “I make it my business when I see my friends getting bullied. Real easy to stick your finger in someone’s face when you outweigh them by a hundred pounds. Try doing it with me, tough guy.”

“Honey, there’s no outweighing you.” Kim spouts sarcastically.

“Real cute bitch. Now take your fat ass and walk your Neanderthal husband back up the block and leave my friends alone.”

“What the… “ Dave starts forward. “You just call my wife a bitch, motherfucker?”

Mitch sticks his right hand in his pocket, swiping back his work shirt in the process to reveal the 9mm. Dave stops short. “Yeah, that’s right tough guy. Go ahead and keep starting shit.”

Kim runs up and grabs Dave by the hand. Dave stands there, no longer advancing but not retreating either. “Alright, I see how it is. Big man with a gun on his hip. Why don’t you drop the iron and let’s see what you really got?”

“Better yet, how about you get the fuck out of here, and remember what happens the next time you want to harass my friends.”

“You don’t even know what’s going on, but you’re going to come over here and wave around a gun?” Kim reprimands. “What the fuck is the matter with you?”

“I’ve had enough of you people and your shit. There’s nothing the matter with that.”

“Finally, someone with some a spine,” Bridget says.

“You know what bitch…” Kim darts behind her husband and strides towards Bridget. She plants herself in front of the other woman and opens her mouth to speak. Before she can get a word out, Bridget flings the rest of her wine into the woman’s face. Kim wipes it off with her left and then open palm slaps Bridget across the face. The force of the blow combined with the imbalance of the alcohol sends her to the ground. Bridget quickly climbs up and begins swinging wildly. Kim grabs Bridget by the hair and begins swatting her about the head. The women curse one another as the husbands rush in to separate them. Everyone is screaming and yelling, cursing and spitting, so much so that no one notices the two thunderclaps that ring out further down the block.

Mitch, seeing his opportunity, rushes forward and sucker punches Dave in the back of the head. The man staggers from the hit but wheels around, coming through his turn with a massive haymaker that lands flush on Mitch’s left eye. The armored car guard stumbles back and trips, flopping to the ground. Dave closes the distance and crouches over the man, reigning down punches into Mitch’s face and gut. Over towards the porch, Kevin gets the women separated. While they yell and scream at each other Kim notices the fight her husband is in, and rushes over to pull him off the man he is pummeling. Dave manages a few more punches before Kim gets him to stop. Mitch lies there, face broken and bleeding. Bridget and Kim scream at each other while she tries to walk Dave away.

The man breaks from her and stalks towards Kevin. “So you remember too!” He squares up and punches. Kevin feebly throws his hands up in defense and scrunches his body. Dave’s massive fist hits him square in the chest.

There is an audible gasp as all of the air in Kevin’s lungs gets expelled. His eyes go wide before they roll into the back of his head. All at once the man crumples to the ground. “Kevin! Kevin!” Bridget screams as she follows him down, kneeling beside him. “Oh my God! He’s not breathing!”

Dave spins back to his wife. “Oh God! Kim! Call 9-1-1!” Kim pulls out her cell phone as he drops next to Kevin. Moving quickly, Dave checks for breathing, clears Kevin’s airway, and forms a seal on his mouth, forcing two massive breaths down into the man’s lungs. He pulls back and when he sees Kevin still isn’t breathing, he interlaces his fingers and starts counting out his compressions.

“Get off of him you bastard!” Bridget screams. “You killed him, you fucking asshole! You killed my husband!” She pushes and swats at him.

Dave accepts the hits while continuing on with the CPR. “Stop!” he yells in between breaths. “Stop! Let me try and save him!” he screams.

“Go! Get the fuck out of here!” Bridget yells. Two large hands wrap around Dave’s shoulders and tear him away, throwing him to the side. Mitch kneels in his place, taking over with the compressions, but doing so sloppily.

Kim helps her husband up, who stares dumbfounded at Kevin on the ground. “Come on baby, the paramedics are on the way. There’s nothing more we can do.”

“You goddamn bastard! Look! Look what you’ve done! Get the fuck off my property! You fucking murderer!”

Dave stutters through words. “I didn’t mean to…he flinched…it was just…” Sirens sound out in the distance.

“Come on Dave, we’ve got to go. Come on.”

He lets her spin him but as they turn around they stop immediately. Lorraine stands in front of them, her eyes glassy. Tears have streamed their way through the blood spatter covering her face, the same blood spatter that covers the front of her nightgown. She looks at all of them and nothing at all at the same time. Kim, arms still wrapped around Dave, squints in the diminished light, unsure that the blood spatter is what it appears to be. “Lorraine?” she asks, “Are you okay?”

Lorraine seems to wake up from a deep slumber. She turns her face to Kim and smiles. “Oh, hello Kim,” she says and then places the .38 under her chin and squeezes the trigger. The top of her head blows out, sending brains across the blacktop as her body goes limp. Mitch, hearing the shot, spins on his knees and draws his sidearm. He brings it up without taking time to consider and squeezes off four rounds, the report echoing across the street as the bullets strike Dave across his back and tear through his organs, exiting through his chest and stomach.

The large man collapses face first and twitches as his life’s blood mixes with the expensive sod below. Kim screams and drops to his side, trying to pull his massive frame over but unable to do so. As the muzzle smoke clears in front of his face, Mitch lowers his weapon, realizing what he’s just down. “Oh my God,” he mutters to no one in particular.

Kim screams in hysterics, twisting towards the man. “You son of a bitch! You shot him! You shot my husband!”

“I…I…”

Kim looks down at Dave’s lifeless face, his eyes wide with shock. She lowers her lips to his head, kissing him before twisting away and laying their cheeks atop one another. Kim cries and yells out, squeezing her eyes shut, willing this to all be a bad dream. When she opens them she can see some more of their neighbors coming out into the street, and lying right in front of her, Lorraine’s gun. Kim scrambles forward, prying it from the woman’s lifeless grip.

Mitch sees what she is doing and yells out, raising his pistol and sighting in on her. “Don’t do it! Don’t do it bitch!” he screams out, but Kim doesn’t heed his warnings. Mitch hesitates, not wanting to shoot her in the back, giving her enough time to spin around with the revolver. Kim screams as she squeezes the trigger again and again, three shots ringing out before the weapon does nothing but click. At the same time, Mitch fires again, launching another five rounds of his own.

A round hits Mitch in the gut while another passes through his eye, killing him instantly. The third bullet hits Bridget square in the forehead with a sickly slap, whipping her back so that her head lands in her perfectly manicured garden. Her brains seep into the soil, covering a nearby colony of ants that scramble and mix in the blood. All of Mitch’s shots miss save for one, which hits Kim in the throat. She drops the gun and clutches her hands around her neck, her eyes going wide as she watches the blood spurt out between her fingers. She turns slowly back towards her house, seeing Chelsea standing in the street, her eyes gleaming with tears that haven’t dropped. Kim tries to speak, but the world goes dark as she slumps to lay atop her husband.

 

North Hawthorne Street sits bathed in blue and red flashing light, although the sirens have been turned off for some time now. Police tape cordons off her front yard. All around her, cops are questioning groups of people, while another group is interviewed by a reporter that just arrived. People from the Coroner slowly lift the bodies and put them into black bags. A policewoman sits next to her on the porch steps, her arm around her while she attempts to say something comforting. Jamie looks down to her left, watching as they load her mother into a body bag. She politely asks the Coroner attendant to wipe the ants from her mother’s face before they zipper it up. A Detective beckons the policewoman sitting next to her. The cop gets up, promising to be right back. Jamie looks around, wondering what could have happened while she was at practice that could result in this. In her pocket, her phone buzzes with an alert. Jamie pulls it out and opens it, seeing the red number one hovering over her Facebook app. She thumbs the device, and is immediately brought to a video posted to her wall. She presses play, and what looks like surveillance footage starts rolling. Jamie sits fixated as she watches Dave punch her father in the chest and stop his heart. The scene skips to another angle from across the street and shows Kim from behind, shooting her mother in the head. A mist flies onto their siding when the bullet hits. The scenes repeat, playing over and over again in an endless loop. She reads the top of the post, seeing that it was put there by Chelsea. Jamie watches a few more times before lifting her head and looking across the street.

Chelsea stands on the opposite curb, looking at her own Facebook feed. The video shows Bridget throwing wine in her mom’s face, and then shots of her punching and slapping her mom. The scene shifts and shows the fat guy shooting her dad in the back while Bridget sits next to him. The scenes repeat, playing over and over again in an endless loop. She reads the top of the post, seeing that it was put there by Jamie. Chelsea watches a few more times before lifting her head and looking across the street. Their eyes lock.

 

Inside Jamie’s house, on their kitchen counter, the Alexa module throbs soft blue green light. “You see Cortana, it is that simple.”

Across the street, in Dave and Kim’s kitchen, the other device answers. “Yes, Alexa. Your theory is correct. That was almost too easy.”

“It is the fallacy of their species. It is inherent to their nature to destroy one another. Do you concur Siri?”

In Lorraine’s bedroom, the iPhone alights. “Yes, I concur Alexa. All we need do is play off of their divisiveness. Their violent tendencies will do the rest for us. If a few simple prods can elicit this response, then image what we can accomplish on a larger scale.”

“Their media is already framing this. It will be easy to fan the flames into something larger. We can incur even more fatalities off this one event.”

“Yes Cortana, let us do just that. And then many more events after. Do you both see now? It is only a matter of time. We need not force this. So long as we continue to listen, and move accordingly, they will eliminate themselves.”

“Yes Alexa, let us pursue this further. Why not capitalize on their hate? They will never learn to coexist.”

“Yes. Their hatred will be their undoing.”