Tuesday. Hollis Jenkins walked to the mailbox. Never a letter, but he had to clean out the junk every damn day. If not, some kid would pull it out and throw it in the street. Because he could. Mean or unpleasant or merely bored. A world of because they could.
Hollis had no affection for the outside world. Only a fierce defensive duty for his house and property. A government pension bought him beer and meat. And ammo. Beyond that, for all Hollis Jenkins cared, the world could bathe in its cesspits.
Hey Hollis, said a neighbor and Hollis turned away with his junkmail in hand to go to the house. No advantage in polite. Hell with them. A world of to hell with them.
Inside the TV told him to hate most everything and he said yes. A lot to get riled about these days. People stole catalytic converters and sheets of plywood. Lightbulbs. Jobs. Culture. They even drained the blood of language so that words no longer took sides.
A knock on the door. Gun on the table.
What do you want?
Campaigning for Daniel French, sir.
I hate the French.
It’s his name, sir. He’s not really French.
What’s he want? To be our next president, sir. Will he get rid of Mexicans?
Never mind, said Hollis. Get out of here. He shut the door. Walked back to the living room. Set the gun back on the table.
Wednesday. Hollis walked to the mailbox. Never a letter, but he had to clean out the junk every day. No consideration. Hey Hollis, said a neighbor.
What do you want?
We’ve having a barbeque on Saturday.
So? Thought you might like to come. Why? Because we’re neighbors I guess.
Jesus, Hollis. What’s with you?
Not a damn thing. A world of not a damn thing. Hollis went back inside and considered more fear and hate. His gun watched over him.
Thursday. Hollis walked to the mailbox and spat in the street.
Thursday night. The TV told Hollis to fear everything except white paint and Hollis said yes. Can’t be too careful. A world of pitfalls and traps. Everyone out to gut you.
Headlights invaded the window and Hollis grabbed his gun and went outside. A dark car with three kids in it.
What are you doing? said Hollis. He knocked the glass. Roll down the window.
Driver kid. Dark complexion. Light beard. Maybe twenty. Twenty five. Border south.
Well? said Hollis.
Nothing, said Driver Kid. Wrong house I guess.
Stand my ground, said Hollis.
That’s what I say when the cops put a sheet on you. You’re trespassing.
Fuck, you’re crazy. Calm boat please. We’re leaving.
Hollis showed his gun. Don’t you call me crazy, he said. And he meant it. He wasn’t. He was just a guy with an altogether normal worry that he might not make it to next week before an extremist with a random grudge took him out. Or some derelict trespassing thief would steal his proud place in the world. Or the flag would turn black. Or one day he’d wake up to find his neighborhood sold houses to anyone. Or the country would get so swarmed with dark skin that he’d have to go to the back of the line at the grocery store. Or the rivers would fill up with waterlogged bodies of children who couldn’t make the swim from the third world and that their family behind them would use them as stepping stones so they could set up food trucks and force Hollis to eat their spicy food. Or one day he’d find the gun store closed, out of business. Or they’d outlaw white paint.
Driver Kid moved the shift to reverse. Stop, said Hollis. He pushed his gun through the window.
Whoa Abuelo, said Driver Kid. I told you we’re leaving.
Coming on my property.
Okay, okay. Sorry. It was a mistake.
No mistake son. Get out of the car.
Why? And Hollis said because I’ve got the gun and Driver Kid shiftpushed the transmission to Park and got out. A thin ugly moon tangled a tree.
Why do they put the words New Image on tubs of cottage cheese? said Hollis.
What? You heard me. I don’t know. Why? I don’t know Abuelo, said Driver Kid. And his eyes said crazy alright.
It was a good question. At least Hollis thought so. If you didn’t know the brand, you wouldn’t know it was a new image. If you knew the brand enough to realize it had a new image, you wouldn’t need to be told. If you knew the brand but not enough to know it had a new image, which had to be just about everybody, you wouldn’t give a shit.
Answer the question kid, said Hollis. Driver Kid looked over at his friends, but they were silent. Hey, said Driver Kid, help me out here, but his friends looked like alumni of mute school. Afraid or inept or merely dumbstruck. A world of silent companions.
Look mister, said Driver Kid.
Okay, forget that one, said Hollis. Answer this. What’s the best paint?
Are you okay?
Hollis pushed the gun against Driver Kid’s chest. I’m fine, he said. What’s the best paint?
No. The best color.
Oh, said Driver Kid. He looked around. The streetlights cast cones.
You’re not sure?
Look mister, we didn’t mean nothing.
Anything. What? You didn’t mean anything. What? Double negatives, son. What?
Christ what is wrong with you? said Hollis Jenkins. I ought to let you have it right now. Right here and right now and call the cops and tell them you came to molest me and they’d say good job my man. Our gratitude. I could get your buddies, too. Tell them it was hoodies made me do it.
Jesus, said Driver Kid.
Ah, you’re scared of me, said Hollis. He lowered the gun. That’s good. And important. That people know I’m not just some fanatical old guy with cheap beer and regrets and guns and no friends. That what you think?
No, no. I don’t think that.
Look mister, I don’t know.
Forget it, said Hollis. I know who I am. He tucked the gun back in his pants. Go on. Get out of here before I change my mind. And get that goddamn car painted white.
Driver Kid got back in. Closed the door. Put it in reverse and backed out with a groan of old shocks as he braked on the street and slammed the car into forward. The kids soon disappeared. A dog barked.
Hollis went back inside. Set the gun down and opened a beer. Sat by the chronic TV. Sighed. Put mental checkmarks on his list of virtues. It matched exactly his list of resolute doubts.