by Fiona J Mackintosh

At first you don’t pay much attention, just glancing at the headlines on the tram. It doesn’t have a lot to do with you. The streets are clean, the shops are full, there’s money in your pocket. You take your children to the park on Sunday afternoons to listen to the band. Your life is good, you don’t ask why.  

Sometimes the shattered glass and chalk marks on the walls make you feel uneasy, but you hurry home to hang your hat, the children milling round your legs, a juicy chicken waiting in the pot.  

One night you hear cars braking in the silent street, boots on the stairs, a sharp rap on the door across the landing. You stand beside your own closed door to listen, fingering the safety chain, the children shushed, the baby at your wife’s breast to stop her from whimpering. You hear a scuffling, dragging sound, then footsteps clatter down the stairs and engines rev away.

You’d always said to each his own, but now you have to wonder. They weren’t too friendly when you’d see them on the stairs, eyes lowered, a mumbled word in passing. The man’s long beard, the woman’s headscarf tight around her face, the spicy smells that lingered in the building. Perhaps there is a need for rounding up and keeping track. There’s your children’s safety to consider after all. Where there’s smoke, there must be fire, you say, and draw the bolts across your door.

Fiona J. Mackintosh is a British-American writer whose fiction has been widely published in both countries and has been listed for the Bristol Short Story Prize, the Galley Beggar Short Story Prize, and the Exeter Story Prize. She received an Individual Artist’s Award from the Maryland State Arts Council in 2016.