THEY CAME IN WITH GUNS and tactical vests and smoke bombs. Shouting about Valhalla or uhuru or liftoach pandemonium. It became too hard to make out the words above the shelling and spray.
It was morning and the weather had just turned. That first cold snap hung the air but the sun still shone like it was midsummer. The heavens were azure as some of us exhaled our last breaths, sending puffs of clouds into that perfect sky.
They wanted all that blue to themselves. They didn’t think it was something that could be shared.
Chicken or Fish
YOU FEEL LIKE YOU NEED to do something about what you’ve been seeing on the news so you pull up the Google spreadsheet your friend posted about and you look for the closest restaurant on the list that is still likely to have decent parking and you convince your partner to come with you because this is something we are all complicit in and must show our support for and so you drive to the part of town you’ve never been to before and park next to the craftsman home that has seen better days and has a foreclosure sticker on the window and a deflated tire on the lawn and broken syringes on the sidewalk and you hide all the loose change in the glove compartment because you don’t want to take a chance and you make sure you lock the car twice—once when you get out and once more with your key fob when you’re at the corner—but ultimately decide to have your partner just wait in the car because who are you kidding and so you round the corner where you pass the men on the city bench who seem like they’ve been waiting for the bus for a hundred years with their withered hands wrapped around 40 oz. bottles wrapped inside anonymous paper bags and you feel their eyes on your skin and your hair and your purse and as you walk away you hear one of them say “they all been coming in since yesterday” and suddenly you feel really self conscious about your choice to wear your sweatshirt that says “BEYONCÉ WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY” but here you are opening the door and finding yourself immediately disoriented because there is no discernible system for placing your order and it’s your first time here and you don’t know what a “chitterling” is but everyone else seems to and all you can do is shout from behind the counter over the din that you would like two catfish specials please and pardon sir I didn’t hear you could you please repeat that and as you’re mid-order a cop walks in with a baton straining in her belt loops and all eyes are on her as she cuts to the front of the line and asks for the hush puppies you thought they were out of and when the cashier asks if she would like to add an extra side of fries she says “yes because I’m a pig OINK OINK” and laughs like a maniac and the way she stares at everyone right in the eye as she does this tells you that she is daring anyone, even you, to say anything right now in this moment while the televisions mounted to the wall show the cities burning and the people choking on tear gas and the sheriffs calling for law and order and the mothers crying for their babies long grown and long gone and all you can really do is check your order number again and silence your phone that keeps buzzing with your partner asking what’s going on and maybe start to ruminate on what has kept you so insulated for so long from the plight and the grief and the suffering of others until, like an incantation, you hear your name and you see the prize and you grab the white plastic bag by its handles and you leave an enormous tip before hurrying back to your car going the other way to avoid the men at the bus stop and you know when you buckle yourself back into the driver’s seat that no matter how good the food tastes that you’ll never be back and next time you’re just going to go to the NBA player’s chain chicken restaurant because it’s technically Black owned and you’ve read the rave reviews and you can order online and it’s much closer to your house anyway.
Meanwhile in North Florida
DEENIE REFUSES TO DISCUSS POLITICS. She finds it unprofessional in a work setting and unbecoming in all others. She has instituted the same rules with her children, and believes this to have indirectly saved many a Thanksgiving dinner these past few years.
And boy does she go all out for Thanksgiving. She rolls out this enormous crystal punch bowl that was her grimma’s grimma’s and fills it to the brim with cranberry juice, ginger ale, and a dash of cinnamon for a kick. She has those runners that go on top of table cloths and the decorative plates that go under the actual plates and the acorn napkin rings and personalized place settings shaped like tiny cornucopias.
A mild concussion in her youth took her sense of smell so she has never had a deft hand for cooking, but she knows where to find the best dishes at the local Publix. Her favorite being the glazed baby carrots that come ready made but that she finishes off anyway on the stove in some boiling water for at least two hours because you never know what kind of parasites can get in through the packaging.
Deenie chuckles to herself whenever she’s in the Publix parking lot remembering back when this whole area used to be farmland. When she rode horses and wrestled catfish and played softball and steered motorboats along the Intracoastal. When she dated one of the lesser members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, a fact she never fails to bring up to her children whenever they make fun of her for being out of touch or not having real hobbies or saying once more what she thinks about a woman’s place in a marriage.
Deenie loves the quietude of the holiday season. Quieter now that her Rob passed away four years ago from a coronary blockage. He was a good man. She prays on him and on her children and their spouses, imploring God to watch over them because they all moved to big coastal cities where constantly she hears about all the “unrest.” She prays on a lot of things.
The last time we spoke to Deenie it did not go well.
We told her we’re never calling her again after this and she’s never going to see her unborn grandchildren.
We told her her glazed carrots taste like shit and we’re not coming home for Thanksgiving or any Thanksgiving ever again, ever.
We shouted into our phones over and over, did you vote for him, Mom?
And every time she said she’s not discussing it or she doesn’t need to tell us or it’s none of our business or it’s not proper.
So we hung up on her and left her with her punch bowl and her glazed carrots and her deadened sense of smell not keen enough to catch the smoke that would silently fill the kitchen and cause her to hack and spit and choke on her precious fear of God.
Stephanie Yu lives in Los Angeles with her partner Nate. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in carte blanche, Eclectica, Gingerbread House, and the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. You can find her on Twitter @stfu_stephanie where she watches the world burn.