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Blackout.

The lines were down, draped across trees like Christmas garlands or trailing down the road like dark little stripes. Lorraine drove carefully under trees that sagged onto each other or leaned across the road and rested against each other. They swung down their branches like broken arms.

It was strangely ominous and beautiful, like some kind of tropical forest with tropical vines. Luckily, dead vines; if they could start the electricity up again she would be dead, driving over the lines as she was.

She finally broke out of the darkest area to where the road met the highway. A green pickup lay across the road, with orange cones in front of it and behind it. A man in a khaki shirt and chinos leaned against the truck and raised his hand as she approached.

She stopped and rolled down her window.

"What do you think you're doing?" he asked. "That road's closed." And, indeed, when she looked past his car, she could see a sawhorse with Road Closed painted on it.

"I live there." She waved her arm vaguely, back to the trees. "I'm going for water and batteries and candles."

"I could give you a ticket," he said. "Do you see the sign?" He jerked his head at it.

She stopped herself from pointing out that the sign was ahead of her, not behind her. She smiled in a small way, ruefully. "Can I just get supplies and come back? I'm sure it will be fixed soon."

He considered it. "If you go out, you can't come back. Road's closed. Too dangerous. Anything can happen." He grinned slowly. "There's downed wires."

"They're all dead," she said sharply. So much for tactics. "Because we don't have electricity. That's why the batteries, candles, and water."

"They could go on again. You don't know; I don't know. So for your own good..." He gently placed his hand on his hip, as if he had a gun. There was no holster.

But the action itself annoyed her. The arrogance. Her road, her house, not his. And the wires were broken, for God's sake. Either he was an idiot or he thought she was.

"Look," she began again, this time smiling. "I'm already almost technically out anyway, right? If you moved that sawhorse seven feet--"

"Why would I do that, ma'am?"

"--because those seven feet have no downed wires or trees on them--well, the point is you don't want me to go back, do you? Back through the very dangerous territory I just came through?" If she could just move forward a little, she could get out and get her groceries and go home through the back road, the long way. No one lived on that stretch, at least there'd be no wires.

She glanced up to see him watching her think.

"Other way's closed, too. Washed out. A deputy's guarding it. Tell you what I'll do," he said. "If you live back there, I'll let you go back. If you don't, I'll let you go through." He opened his car door and sat down. "Which is it?" he asked. He closed the car door, started the ignition, and turned his head to her.

She hated his superiority, and made her decision. The whole thing was stupid and she felt like getting out. There was no danger; there was only this ridiculous man.

"You're right, officer. It's best if I take your advice and go." She nodded pleasantly. He started his car and backed up. "Have a nice day," she called out, waving her hand in a friendly way. He would expect hostility; being nice would trip him up, she hoped. He pulled his car back to block the road once she was past him.

On the drive into town, everything was normal. They had lights; only a few trees lay at odd angles where they were pushed off the road.

There were plenty of supplies in the gas station mini-mart. She bought all the gallons of water, all the candles, she bought bread and cold cuts and milk and ice. Cereal, batteries, pretzels and beer. She got to checkout and handed over her credit card.

"Going camping?" the clerk asked, adding it all up. She was just out of her youth, dressed neutrally, faint lines around her eyes, which glanced up and then back to the register.

Lorraine laughed dutifully. "Power's out. The storm, you know. Five houses, back in the forest. I'm getting for all of us."

"Storm? Oh you mean last night? I heard there were some problems." She frowned as if something were wrong, but the card went through and she handed it back to Lorraine. "Have a nice day," she said finally, handing the bags over.

Lorraine glanced back to the store window as she loaded the car. The clerk had a phone up to her ear and her eyes were holding hard on Lorraine, and for a moment she felt a chill. Then the clerk looked away and Lorraine took off, taking the long way home.

No one was watching the back road where it crossed their road, where the deputy was supposed to be. Ha, she thought, relaxing. The sheriff's man or whatever he was, must have been having a bad day, and he just needed to muscle someone.

She wanted to muscle someone too. Muscle them and say, "Have a nice day."

There were no houses going this way, just downed trees. A longer route, a less dangerous route--though the other way was hardly dangerous. The lines were dead. They were down. They wouldn't become live all by themselves.

Halfway down the long way home, where the road passed a dead trail, she saw a white van with a satellite dish on it. It caused her to frown, to slow down and then speed up.

And then she pulled around a curve, and she was home. A road off to the right led to four houses (the third was hers); it continued up a small hill to one more house.

Lorraine pulled into her drive, beeping a few times. Some of the water she'd gotten was for her neighbors. When no one came immediately, she grabbed some supplies and headed to her nearest neighbor, Peggy.

She told about the sheriff's man and then about the store clerk as Peggy went through her vegetable bin, picking out the ones that still looked good. Making a stew or a soup, very creative and efficient, as usual. Lorraine usually opted for potato chips and beer and let the veggies rot.

"Well, it's odd," Peggy said, peeling. And she saved the peels! Beyond

belief, Lorraine thought, feeling slutty. I will save the earth after the lights come on, she swore.

"Am I paranoid?" Lorraine asked. "I mean, the blocked road, the clerk's stare."

"You're paranoid," Peggy said comfortingly. "And no surprise. They're blocking the road and giving you looks."

Lorraine grinned.

John had bought the house for Lorraine three years earlier, when she was thinking of leaving him. She had been slightly embarrassed, threatening to leave a married man--as if there was something to "leave"--and in the discussions that followed, leaving him changed into leaving the city, and he bought a small house way out, past suburbia. She had said, arbitrarily, that she wanted trees.

For the first few months, she merely smiled at her neighbor's questions and said John had to travel a lot, but then she just said one day, matter-of-factly, that John lived with his wife.

There had been an oddly satisfying silence after that. Respect for complicated situations, she told herself, even as she knew it wasn't.

Still, she lived there and she had no intention of lying about herself, at least not yet. They would have to take things as they were. It was even a mark of her respect for them, this honesty.

They had been skittish for a while after that. They waved at her, waved at John when he came to visit, but they also stood and stared sometimes, thinking it over, she could tell. Let them think. Probably did them good.

Then it was no longer new to them and they adjusted.

Early in the first year, John had been around for a party that Mike and Vivian gave. It was there that their neighbor who lived up the hill, Bob Whistle, pointed at John and said, "I looked it up. That's your house." His head twisted back and forth. "Matter of public record."

"Yes," John said gravely. "She's my house sitter."

"So you pay her?" Bob Whistle said, his eyebrows shooting up.

Peggy nodded. "I have a cousin who house-sits for a living. Pays well." Lorraine had a good feeling about Peggy.

Did Lorraine care what Bob Whistle thought? She did not. She was secure in her moral principles; she did nothing she disapproved of and consequently approved of what she did. She had not destroyed John's marriage and she would never lay an ultimatum about it at his feet. She was not that way. And the house was a perfectly fine investment.

The four other houses of their community settled down--or at least three of them did. Bob Whistle did not.

The four houses along the lower road looked out for each other casually and neighbors wandered back and forth to each other's decks. The trees hid Bob Whistle's house, most of the time, but as they all knew from having visited him, he had vantage points and could see them. So it was no surprise that he often sauntered down to join their informal parties or get-togethers, even when it was just one neighbor talking to another.

It was quickly obvious that Bob Whistle had it in for her. A year earlier, for instance, she had just come back from the library with her one true addiction, detective fiction, and saw her neighbors sitting in the yard of the first house. June and Joy lived there, mother and daughter, in their seventies and forties, respectively. There was, for a while, a question of whether Joy was a lesbian--a rumor begun by Bob Whistle, who had tried, unsuccessfully, to date her.

Lorraine stopped her car and sauntered over. The group raised their faces expectantly to her. They were seated, except for Bob Whistle, his thumbs hooked into the waist of his jeans. He always looked physically uncomfortable--as if he couldn't find a place for his hands--so he held things or put his hands to some task.

"I was just telling a story about you," Bob Whistle said, picking up a beer bottle. "You got into a fight at the supermarket yesterday, didn't you?"

Lorraine told herself to be careful. She shrugged slightly. "A fight?" she asked. "I just questioned the bill. The cashier charged me twice."

"For what," Bob Whistle asked, grinning in delight.

She paused. She shouldn't have, it got everyone's attention. "Tampons," she said finally, at which the men laughed, their eyes dancing one to the other. There was Peggy's husband, Ed, and Bob Whistle, and Vivian's husband, Mike.

"Is it that time already?" Bob Whistle said.

"Who said it was for me?" she countered. Peggy and Vivian laughed, to back her up. "And it wasn't a fight, anyway. You would know that if you were there."

"I was in the other aisle. You called him a liar."

"I said he made a mistake. He took off the second charge."

"He's the mayor's nephew. They've got their eye on you," he said. And said it again. "They've got their eye on you."

But she had a feeling the eyes on her were his. And they were narrowed, most of the time.

Occasionally, when she passed him on the road (their little road, Deer Road) and he was looking away, his legs spread, his face to the side, with that grin of his--times when she thought of turning her car, hitting the gas, and letting him have it.

Troublemaker. The thought that he was watching her made her hands shake.

But why was she thinking about Bob Whistle? She took some more water from the car and brought it in.

She called John, just to commiserate, but he didn't answer. When she left him a message she always pretended to be his cell phone carrier offering an upgrade. That way, if his wife ever checked his phone, there wouldn't be a problem. She had coded her own number so that it always came out as UNKNOWN.

That was the irritating part. She sometimes wanted someone to talk to, and he was usually unavailable. She made a gesture, half-shrug, half-shooing. He was out in his bright world; she was here in the dark.

She had everything she needed, so she stayed home the next day and made no attempt to go back to the highway. She saw Bob Whistle's car heading out; she couldn't tell if he turned left or right at the end of their road.

It was a while before he came back.

She heard a car door slam, and voices calling out, Bob Whistle's among them.

She went for a slow walk over to the neighbor's.

They were all there, listening as Bob Whistle gestured. He had a beer in one hand and he stepped in and out of the irregular circle of listeners.

The conversation stopped; they looked at her. Bob Whistle wriggled a little, smirking.

"What?" she asked, looking around at their faces, which were guarded, watchful.

"Did you ever threaten to blow up the road?" Bob Whistle was gleeful.

She laughed, expecting everyone to laugh, but they didn't.

"That's crazy," she said. "Who would say such a thing in this day and age? Blow up a road? What for?"

"Someone said you said it. That's what I heard." Bob Whistle did a little skip sideways.

"No."

"It's why we're blocked off."

"No. This is ridiculous." She looked around at the rest of them, seeing interested faces, noncommittal expressions. It was enormously frustrating; why wasn't anyone laughing at this?

"They're narrowing it down."

"I would never." Did they seriously think it possible?

"Are you sure they said she wanted to blow up the road?" Peggy asked slowly. "It does seem like a strange threat. What did the road ever do wrong?" She held her arm out stiffly, her palm up, as if feeling for rain. "It would make more sense to blow up a person, wouldn't it?"

"I think Bob Whistle has something against me," Lorraine said heatedly. She couldn't believe she had to defend herself! "In fact, why would any of you believe anything he has to say? Didn't he claim he saw a bobcat at his bird feeder?"

"Damn straight I did," he said. "I took a photo."

"It was a picture of my cat, Bob," Joy said. "You know, the one that got run over."

"No, it wasn't," Bob Whistle said sullenly. "I just don't take good pictures."

"I bet I know," Peggy said. "I think I've got it. Lorraine probably said she'd like to kill Bob Whistle. Who among us wouldn't like to kill Bob Whistle?" She grinned and winked at Bob Whistle, who was alert and motionless until he lifted his beer and drank.

Good for Peggy, but she'd lost her taste for a chat with the neighbors. What was wrong with them? Why were they always talking about her?

Luckily they didn't know about Joy's cat. She had hit it one night a few months after moving in. It wasn't her fault; the cat had shot out across the road in the dark. Lorraine's heart had sunk when she heard a short cat scream and felt a thud.

She got out her flashlight and left her beams on. The cat was under the wheel; she had to back up to reach it.

She put her hand under its head and lifted, but the head lolled back. The eyes were open. She shone her flashlight into them and the pupils didn't change. She watched the chest and it didn't move. She liked cats. She liked animals. She picked it up and its head lolled to the side.

She knew whose cat it was, but Bob Whistle had already started saying things about her, and she didn't feel she would do well if she admitted killing Joy's cat. She picked the cat up and carried it down to the beginning of their road. She laid it right in the middle, where headlights would see it.

It was turning into dusk, that long slow sliding of the light that was always her favorite time of day. She wished John were here to back her up. Since when did she need him, though, to back her up?

Damned if she was staying home. Going to a bar would be terrific, having a few drinks where she could be someone else for a while.

It made her crazy, having people talk about her, speculate about her, make her the brunt of their jokes.

All that talk was ridiculous; it was some willfulness on Bob Whistle's part, some ploy of his to get back at her. He was always trying to needle her.

She went to the left, hoping the back way was still unguarded at the far end. She passed that white truck with the huge dish--what was it still doing there?--and crawled around the remains of fallen limbs. Some branches sat straight up as their broken ends impaled themselves into a patch of mud. She was careful to note if there was anything she'd need to avoid on the way back, in the dark.

Why was everything irritating her so much? The sheriff's man, the store clerk, Bob Whistle, and now this stupidity about exploding the road--it was undeserved. Some of it was a bad joke, probably: but why was she the brunt of a bad joke? What was behind it?

The good thing about the back road, although it was longer, was that it crossed the state line. She could be in Pennsylvania in half an hour, and there were two bars she knew about. Actually, she'd fallen from grace in the one bar, so the other was in order. It was darker, too; although she craved the light now that there was no electricity, she wanted to be anonymous, and that meant dark wood, dark lighting, a few drinks; some time to forget what was going on and pretend she could do anything. Much as she thought she loved her life, she still wanted to believe she could do anything.

Which, when she was feeling pressed against the wall, meant feeling she could get away with anything.

The Broken Door had a wooden bar, old stools with ripped seats, a jukebox lost in the 80s, and burgers and pizza and fries for bar food, all of it originally frozen.

The lights were low, an unfamiliar song playing. There was a couple at the bar, no one at the booths. She sat at the bar, ordered a rum and coke, leaned back, looked around for a few minutes, then took out the book she'd just gotten from the library.

When she finished her first drink, she looked up and then around. "Can I see a menu?" she asked the bartender.

"You reading at a bar?" a man who'd sat down next to her asked.

She looked down at her book and then over to him. "Well, yes."

"Kinda squirrelly," he said neutrally. "Never seen that."

"Never seen that," she repeated. "Well, isn't it better than staring into the air?"

He took a sip of his beer. "What's wrong with staring into the air? How else would you think? And what's wrong with thinking?"

He wasn't as dumb as he looked.

"I think while I read," she said. She closed her book and stroked the cover lightly, once.

"No," he said. "One or the other."

She studied him: teeth not so great, clean hair, well shaved, clothes not from Wal-Mart at least. Looked okay; sounded okay. She gave him a mental nod.

And took up her book again.

He gave her a minute. "I guess you're not much for thinking on your own."

Fighting words. She grinned, sipped, and turned to him. "Then tell me what it is you're thinking about so I can judge if I want to join in."

He looked down slightly and smiled to himself. His right hand gently stroked his beer. His fingers were long and thick, his nails clean. She could picture those fingers having a little trouble with the buttons of her shirt, how she might have to help him with them. Or not. Her own hands might be busy with his hair, which was thick and short enough to bounce back when you ran your hand over it, a plush nap.

"I'm thinking about going for a ride," he said. "Windows down, no music, just the sound of the wind and the trees. Then stopping to hear this owl that I can't get rid of. It hoots every night not far from my back steps."

"You tried to get rid of it?" she asked.

"I raise bunnies."

It was so odd to hear him say "bunnies" and not "rabbits." It held her mind for a moment, trying to decide what kind of man he was.

He was watching her. "I said bunnies," he repeated. "For pets. Not for meat."

"Have you tried their meat?" she asked.

His eyes got a little distant, then they came back. "Yeah, I did," he said flatly.

They sat in silence for a few more minutes. Then she said, "That ride you were talking about? Do you have an extra seat?"

That seemed to make them all right together. He nodded, gulped down the rest of his beer, set the bottle with a modest thwack back on the counter, and got up. She followed him to the door, when she scooted ahead to open the door and hold it for him. This was a little joke with her; he took it well, just grinning and nodding a thanks while she held it. He would do all right.

His name was Clay. Like the earth. He had little surprises--lots of machinery, but also books. A bag full of beer bottles in the pantry, but also brown rice. She couldn't put all of it together and she didn't ask, either; it would be more fun to figure it out for herself.

She stayed till morning, taking a long shower, eating some sort of pop-tart thingie with terrific coffee.

"Will I see you again?" he asked as he drove her back to her car.

"If you kill a bunny for me," she said, getting his gaze for a moment, and he let her go.

She drove back across the border, past the sign marking the line Pennsylvania/New Jersey, spitting out the window and trying to judge which state she'd hit.

It was still early; not quite 9 o'clock. Would they have blocked the back road by now? She slowed down as she approached the turn, but there was no one there.

It looked like a few more trees had been moved out of the way. She saw a raccoon staring at her from its perch on the side of a tree. There was road kill farther on, and a crow moved irritably away to let her drive past.

Clay had been fun, but not for the long run. And John had still not called back.

The trees held their arms up, letting the sun through in patches. The bushes and tall weeds and wildflowers, sparse because of all the trees, were paused alongside the road, as if they'd frozen for her. She imagined them bending as she drove past, then standing up again, looking around, deciding whether to go or stay. That was how she felt about it--that all around her, these plants pushed up with determination, chose to live, chose to die, were hit hard in disappointment when the weather turned and winter came. They all breathed, too; on quiet nights there was a vast round of a buzzing sound--John said it was tinnitus--she could hear clearly, the sound of everything on earth breathing. She loved it.

Sometimes she felt like she was part of a great moving pack of animals and plants, that she was in a migration of sorts, going somewhere coded in her DNA, on the road because there was a life-sustaining reason for it, whether she knew it or not. That's why she had to break free every so often; to feel the irresistible urges again. Her chin was up; she was feeling free.

She slowed down because that white van was still there, its great big ear pitched to the east, or what she thought was east; what she thought was probably their small arrangement of houses. What else was there to aim towards?

It irritated her; what was it doing there? She pulled over.

A man stuck his head around the back, saw her, and darted back behind.

"Bob Whistle!" she shouted. "I saw you!"

"Oh, is that you?" he asked, coming around the side, clearly trying to be nonchalant. "Didn't know who would be along this road. Never know--might be the sheriff." He winked. "Looking for you, of course."

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

He grinned at her. "What are you doing here?"

"Checking out the truck," she said, exasperated.

"Me too," he said. "Just checking it out."

They looked at each other for a long time. Lorraine saw his car, parked around the other side of the truck. So he had driven by, as she had. She couldn't see anything else to do. So she moved on.

"You're back already?" Peggy said, coming out to Lorraine's car, wiping her hands on her thighs.

"I was in Pennsylvania. Visited a friend to take a shower and ended up staying the night. Can't you tell? I smell good as new."

"The electricity's back," Peggy said. "Came on last night. You could have stayed and had a shower."

"It's on?" she asked, looking around. Something like this should be obvious, and yes, she could see a light in Peggy's window. She felt a kind of disappointment. The lights had gone out and they had gone on again with no reference to her. It felt sad; she couldn't say why, exactly: she normally preferred electricity.

Peggy was still studying her. "What?" Lorraine asked.

"Bob Whistle said you were in jail."

She exploded. "What? What the shit is going on with him? Why doesn't he tell stories about the rest of you? This is ridiculous."

"You know that's just the way he is. No one pays attention to him."

"Then why does everyone repeat what he says?"

Peggy raised her eyebrows. "Because it's funny," she said.

Funny! Someday she would have it out with Bob Whistle. Since there was electricity, though, the first order was to use it--see what had survived in the fridge, wash those things she had rinsed in the dark, restore the place to its common self.

Turning on the lights, hearing the refrigerator hum--it was all ordinary and flat. What a strange thought: electricity was a godsend, a given. Or did it make the world recede, make nothing stand out? Did all that light hide too much of the dark?

And she thought about Bob Whistle off and on. She watched until she saw Joy and June outside a few hours later, then she walked over casually. "What a relief!" she said brightly, at which the women agreed. "I'm glad I ran into you, actually. Joy, Bob Whistle was coming after you for a while, wasn't he?"

Joy got a little cautious. "We had a beer once."

Lorraine nodded. "You have any trouble with him?"

The caution surfaced again. Lorraine wondered who had actually lost interest first.

"I think he ran over my cat," Joy blurted.

"Oh, Joy," her mother said. "That cat was always on the road."

"I see," Lorraine said. "Well, he's always bad-mouthing me and I think it's just because I wouldn't have a beer."

A look of comprehension spread across Joy's face. "Of course," she said. "He says all sorts of things about you."

"In fact," Lorraine said, "I'm worried that he's got something to do with that white truck down the road--you've seen it?"

They nodded.

"It's pointed towards us."

"I thought it was some kind of news truck," Joy said. "Maybe broken down."

"It's like a great big phone," Lorraine said. "It can send, it can receive. Philosophically, they're the same. I think it's listening to us."

"Why would it listen to us?" June's voice was lowered.

"Bob Whistle keeps saying things about me. I'm a spy, I'm in jail--I think they're monitoring us because of him."

"He'd do that," Joy said. "He goes after people. My phone used to ring in the middle of the night."

"Could have been anyone," her mother said.

"Just thought I'd get your opinion on him," Lorraine said, thinking this was easy, much easier than she could have guessed. She should have done it sooner.

If the electricity was on, then obviously the road was open. She drove out, seeing a few utility crews cleaning up along the road. So. The fix was on.

And, indeed, trees had been cut and removed to the side of the road. The wires were up again--or new wires, of course.

She drove slowly onto this restored version, a clear road with no vegetation to spoil it. It wasn't as good as the storm-tossed road, she found. Nothing forbidden.

It was the forbidden, then, that appealed to her? Did she really want to have someone at the end of the road telling her she couldn't come out, telling her she belonged back in the dark?

She slowed down. Right before the road met the highway, there was a local tree service truck and a sheriff's car. They were off to the side, not blocking the road, but she slowed down anyway and rolled down her window.

"Hi," she said. "Good to see the road's not closed anymore."

The two men looked at each other.

"It was never closed," the sheriff said. "Not by us. Some guy did it on his own."

The tree guy laughed. "We got here and he had orange cones up and stuff. We stopped, looked around, called the sheriff, and kicked them all down."

"We got him," the sheriff said. He had a slow smile. "Impersonating an officer. Makes him feel important, I guess."

She felt a slight blush start creeping up her throat. She hadn't thought to call and check with the sheriff's office. "Was that his truck down the road, too?"

The sheriff was interested. "What truck?"

"White, with a satellite dish on it. It's a few miles past us, back in the forest."

The sheriff grinned. "That would be the pot truck. I guess it's back in service."

"Bob Whistle?" the tree guy asked, smiling as well. "So this is Bob Whistle's road? That guy who closed it was in school with Bob Whistle." His grin got bigger.

The sheriff was leaning into his car, picking up the radio. She could hear him calling for another car, and he had a level of satisfaction that Lorraine hoped she would achieve some day.

"He's my neighbor," she said and made herself frown. "I don't want to get him in trouble." Of course she did; but she was playing the part of an innocent neighbor, the one part Bob Whistle had never assigned her.

The sheriff put his radio down. "Got a car going to the other end, checking out what's in it. Bob Whistle got off easy the last time with that pot truck of his. He swore he was going into a new line of work. I guess we'll see if that's true."

"People came to his pot truck?" Lorraine asked.

"That's the satellite dish. He's got a short-wave setup, changes his station when he has to and sends his new station out on text, I guess. Kind of advanced for these parts." He raised his eyebrows to the tree guy. "This'll be fun."

"Bob Whistle can play stupid better than anyone I've ever met," the tree guy agreed. "You can watch him and marvel."

She drove back slowly. She wanted to see it. She almost felt some sympathy rising, but she fought it down. There was no way Bob Whistle could get out unless he hightailed it through the woods, and she didn't think he would.

It was quiet enough when she got home. She parked and stayed outside, busying herself with yard work.

The cars came up the road silently, three of them, tucked close to each other like elephants walking. Not even their flashing lights were going. They went past the four houses and up Bob Whistle's hill. She stood there, her eyes staring up though all she could see were trees. She heard the doors slam. She didn't hear voices.

It was close to an hour before the cars came down again, this time with their lights on. By then she had told Peggy, and Joy and June, and Mike. They stood in front of their houses, just watching.

Bob Whistle was in the middle car, in the back seat, hunched forward, maybe because his hands were behind him.

He glared at her. Really? Did he blame her for this? She fought hard to keep from laughing, it would be bad taste--but what a lot of fun! Bob Whistle, off to jail!

She went over to her neighbors, who were huddling together once the cars were gone. "Is anyone surprised?" she asked. "Did anyone think it would be me?"

"Don't be hard on him," Peggy said. Her cell phone started ringing, and she began to walk away, fumbling for it in her pocket.

"He's just making a living," Mike said. "It's hard out here, you know. Not much for a man like Bob Whistle to do." His eyes held her steadily for a moment, then he stretched a little and said good night.

She got the feeling that they didn't approve of the arrest. Which was a strange thing to feel, after all, but she turned quietly and went back home. They weren't on her side right now. She understood it. Bob Whistle was one of them. One of us, she immediately corrected. Her cell phone had a message from John, but she erased it without even listening. That was over; she knew it. She was sure he knew it too. It was better if she just let it rest for a while, before deciding what her next step would be.

It might be interesting to stay here now that she had a better picture of how it worked. It was like a play, really, as if they were invested in believing everyone else's lines, just for the fun of it. They were fine with Bob Whistle because he was amusing and it didn't matter if he was a little illegal on the side. And what had she been? Not funny, certainly. Maybe even disapproving.

She felt immense satisfaction in beating Bob Whistle at his own game, and she had a sudden flash of how it all worked. The stories were an awful lot like scenery, like turns in the road. They were views of an outside world, a kind of sampling of what other lives were out there. It wasn't mockery or lies; it was an opening of options. They traded possibilities back and forth. They made things up because they understood how much was hidden.

She would ask Peggy tomorrow where they would have taken Bob Whistle. She had a mind to bail him out. It would be interesting to hear the story he'd make out of that.
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Author:Heuler, Karen
Publication:Confrontation
Article Type:Short story
Date:Mar 22, 2018
Words:5981
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