There Goes the Neighborhood

by Nancy Bergerson

cause if a man cant hold onto whats dear to him, life just aint worth livin. Don drummed his spatula on the cast iron lid of the grill as he spoke and culminated his thoughts with a resounding whack. The whack pulled me from my private thoughts into the communal hell of Dons neighborhood cookout. I rose to check the cooler for another ticket back to my private chamber of horrors, but Don caught my shoulder and pushed me back into my chair. The grill lid opened and I caught a face full of smoke, which caused my eyes to tear.

I know what youre feelin Spenceand a man neednt be ashamed to cry. Not when it comes to his country and freedom. I wanted to tell him to stick a cork in itthat Id heard enough about God and Country, but I knew better. Since the war began, patriotism and good ole Bible belt Christian values were the common mans favorite topics of discussion. I held my tongue.

Its more than a man can stomach, Spencer, Don continued, as he flipped steaming burgers on the grill. You bringin out the wienies, Hon? he bellowed to his wife, Yvonne, an overweight redhead who was slicing dill spears in the kitchen. On the patio, other neighbors huddled in groups of threes and fours conversing in hushed voices, their thoughts and minds woven together in a web of fear and speculation.

I would die for this, Spence. Don made a broad gesture with his arms intended to take in not only his home, but the entire neighborhood. This is what I live for and I wont let anyone take it away from me. Ill fight em with my bare hands if I have toEevie, you got those wienies ready? Once I sit down to eat, I aint cookin no more! He flattened the patties with the spatula. They bled onto the coals, engulfing me in another cloud of smoke. I grimaced, this time as much from what was being said as from the burning in my eyes.

Yeah, those assholes dont know that theyre in for, fuckin around with Don Simons. I got my guns locked up in the hall closet. Ammo, too. And I aint scared to use em, either. My ma didnt raise no candyass. You got a gun, Spence?

Keep your mouth shut, Don, I thought. Those assholes can hear every word you sayon the phoneon the interneteven in your back yard talking to your next door neighbor No, I said.

Well, brother, you and I need to set up a weekend at the local police range and Ill teach you a thing or two about firearms. Fuck Yvonne and the wienies. He began piling the hamburger patties onto a large platter. Come and get it, folks! See Yvonne for your buns and fixins.

Dons announcement seemed to break the spell over the neighbors. Their knots of conversation unraveled and folks meandered over to a long, folding table filled with chips, dips, salads and fixins. Even in the midst of devastation, some scenes can look normal to the outside observer. I pondered that thought as Don walked the platter over to the line of hungry people and I grabbed the beer Id been deprived of earlier.

Don returned with a flimsy paper plate that bowed under the weight of two burgers, three scoops of gooey pasta salad and a pickle spear. You should get into line before everythings gone, Spence. Some of us, he patted his protruding abdomen, already took our seconds with our firsts.

I waved him off and took another swig of beer. I wanted to tell him that it wasnt safe to eat meat since the cattle and chickens and fish and sheep had all become potential agents for biological weapons. But, it didnt matter nowI retreated back into hell as Don downed his burger in three bites, hardly chewing. He washed it down with a beer and gave a resounding belch.

Youre a quiet one, Spence. Always keep to yourself. These are great people in this neighborhood. I trust any one of them would give his life for me and mine, just as I would give my life for any one of them. Youd do the same, Im sure.

I believe in defending a life worth living, Don.

I know you do, my man. Don nodded as he shoveled forkfuls of pasta salad down his throat, but I knew he had no idea what I was saying.

I slugged down the last of my beer and took in the view of the afternoon sky. It looked the same as a year ago, ten years ago. The fallout in the atmosphere enhanced the sunsets. There were beautiful shades of russet, burgundy, fiery red and gold. It was difficult to believe that unimaginable horror could create such indescribable beauty.

I knew it was time to go. I thanked Don for his hospitality, gave Yvonne a peck on the cheek and said good-bye to the neighbors. One last timeThen I went home and closed myself in the shelter as I had been instructed.

Don was lighting his lawn torches when the missile hit. I saw it through the slit of black glass high in the shelters reinforced concrete wall. The earth expelled a cloud of fire as the explosion knocked the wind from it. The landscape blackened and curled up like old newspaper in the fire, taking Don and all the others away like yesterdays news. Leaving me

I closed my eyes as though it would erase the vision of what just happened. I knew it wouldntit never did. They hadnt been bad peoplejust ignorant. Once they were gone, everything would return to normalthough I doubted that their faces would ever cease to torment me.


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