by Robert Pope

He was a human being. On his head he had a face with two eyes, a nose, and a mouth. He had as many arms and legs as normally apportioned to a human being. He wore clothes. A white, short-sleeved shirt with a repeating blue figure in the fabric. Buttons, collar. Gray pants, or, as he liked to call them, slacks. Dark socks, white tennis shoes because on weekends he could wear or do any damned thing he pleased. Right now, he pleased to look out the kitchen window, holding back the curtain so he could watch the neighbor’s children playing precariously close to his yard. Their yard looked like a wasteland beside his own, uniformly green, evenly mowed. They always appeared to him a band of gypsies, and one of the kids a girl, for God’s sake.

He went to church regularly, sitting in his same spot halfway down center aisle, on the right as he faced the altar. He chose an aisle seat because, A, he could easily see if anything of note happened up there, and B, for quick escapes. His Dad and Mom had always gone to church; when they died, he kept going. Before she left, his wife had said he needed a lesson in empathy this church was obviously not giving him. How about a little empathy for me and my parents? he had shouted. That’s when she packed a bag and left, with no sign of where she had gone.

His parents lived with them at the time. They lived in the house before she left and after she left. It had not completely dawned on him they did not still live in his house. They had been no trouble, though he would have hated to have only one. They entertained each other. Told each other stories both knew so well either could tell it without tonal difference. But something dismal happened, an illness of several months: him, then her. All without a noticeable change in his life, except for the anger. He was always on the verge of yelling Fuck, but never did, because if he let it out, it would multiply into many flying fucks buzzing his ears so he would have to sweep them away with his hands.

The tiny blue figure in his shirt were fleur-de-lis, but if you told him he would stare at you in a certain way: pugnacious, disgusted. Every morning, when he saw himself in the mirror as he shaved, he had a thought he might like to grow a mustache, but hell if he had time to waste trimming the damn thing. Thinking: What a simple goddamned thing to say.  Clearly, he did not like many people, if any, now that his parents had died. He particularly did not like his next-door neighbor and his dustmop wife or their spawn. The little bastards were digging a hole so close to his own yard it set off an erosion alert in his brain. He would not live next door to these animals with a cavern between their two yards. Then, another brat ran out of their house with a pitcher of water in her hand. He literally gasped when she poured it in the hole while the others watched as if a miracle transpired before them.

He particularly did not like his next-door neighbor and his dustmop wife or their spawn.

He threw open the door and lunged directly into the afternoon, bellowing at the children who looked up as if they found him mildly interesting. It irked him that they did not register the meaning of his words. They found no purchase in their minds, all their mouths hanging open to the same degree. It seemed a gathering of evil fairies, demons attempting and failing to imitate human children. To make matters worse, the father of this gaggle ran toward him from the house, his wife behind, wearing the dark headscarf and pregnant again—about the fourth month, when, in their cockamamie religion, the soul enters the body, if God wills it, as they always said.

Her dark dress hung over her belly like a curtain. The male had no shoes, his toes spread sickeningly wide. He wore the black jeans, from which the feet and ankles emerged, and a plain white t-shirt that bore evidence of spaghetti sauce or blood. He came with his enormous brown eyes and balled fists, screaming bloody murder.

This sudden manifestation of the parents startled him. His mind naturally tended toward exaggeration of the flaws in others. Jesus Christ, he shouted, do you people really need so many goddamned children? At this, the father stopped in his tracks, considering, not for the first time, his neighbor’s mental state, recalling that his wife called her neighbor Someone-to-be-avoided. Now, he held up the index finger of his right hand, ordering the husband to wait right where he was. He ran back into his own house, taking the stairs two at a time, emerging in a bedroom he once shared with his wife. The thought made him sad as he rooted in a drawer for his pistol and the box of bullets nestled beside it.

He loaded as quickly as he could for fear his neighbor would disappear, with his kids and wife, by the time he got back. He fumbled the box, dropped bullets on the floor, but got the thing loaded and dashed out where his neighbor obediently waited for him. He lifted the pistol straight out from the shoulder, pointed it into the neighbor’s face, and pulled the trigger. Then, he turned the barrel on the wife, whose face now betrayed fear and confusion. He pulled the trigger, a shot rang out, but he completely missed his target because the brats leaped on him like fleas.  

The sound of glass breaking distracted him enough that one of the brats, wearing only a pair of baggy shorts, no shirt, his head covered in a mass of dreadlocks, wrested the pistol from his grasp, aimed it at his head, and pulled the trigger. He felt a powerful concussive force, the world exploded in white, and, following that, came a silence so deep he wasn’t even there to hear it. After an indeterminate interval, he heard singing, the whistling of wind. He was colder than he had ever been, but, in another moment, he felt both warm and confined. He moved by shifting the space in which he found himself. He heard swishing, the beating of a heart. Where he was, he did not know, but he felt no discomfort. When he got out—he would get out one day—he would look around and see where he had ended up. Until then, he would make his objections known as much and as loudly as possible.

Robert Pope has published a novel, Jack’s Universe, as well as a collection of stories, Private Acts. He has also published many stories and personal essays in journals, including The Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Fiction International, and anthologies, including Pushcart Prize and Dark Lane Anthology.