Late in the afternoon on that autumn election day, he beat both sides of Ganado Street carrying a plastic laundry basket full of slightly vinegar-smelling apricots. The whole block was perfumed by the fermenting apricot trees in front of Muslowski’s house.
There were sixteen ranch house lots on Ganado, a short and straight street deep in the platted layers of a post-World War II subdivision. All the houses were built as similar asbestos-sided, picture-windowed models. Across decades homeowners had liberated their houses from the tyrannies of uniformity, gradually weaving expressions through exterior paint, garage extensions, and budget renovations. Still most of the houses looked neither old nor new, fancy nor shabby. The yards were neither big nor small. Amenities were slow traffic, finished basements, and basic privacy.
“I must find neighbors to divide these apricots before they all rot, Mr. Moralez,” Muslowski said with a smile. “Would you like some for no price?”
Moralez, still wearing workday grease on his coveralls and in his black crewcut, was repairing his pickup truck engine in the last hour of November sunlight. Looking up, he saw Muslowski in the driveway and exhaled in a way he might if about to commute to a second job. The two crewcuts were identical in length but opposite in pigment. They could have been comic book adversaries.
“Negative,” Moralez said. He rubbed his oil-stained hands through a rag. “My wife took in a supply of your apricots last year. They got me and my kids sick with the chorros.”
Muslowski set the basket on the curb and sought ingress. “I hope you and Mrs. Moralez vote for President today. Ugnė and I say U.S.A. election day is a great privilege.”
Moralez could not avoid noticing that Muslowski’s shirt was bearing a small-scale American flag made of ribbon and trussed on fishing line to a silver stickpin staff. The words 1st Time Vote had been hand-embroidered on the flag within the miniature fly of red and white stripes.
“Aa, you are looking upon my baby flag, Mr. Moralez? Ugnė home manufactured it for me. Today is the first time she and I are legal to vote U.S.A. citizens. I closed Valdy’s Hobbies today because I say to me—voting day is more sacred even than Christmas.”
A few years earlier Muslowski had been laid off from Pueblo Fuel & Iron and risked his family savings to open Waldy’s Hobby Shop in a strip mall on Abriendo Avenue. Whenever a newcomer entered his bright, fluorescent shop he loved to recount, “People tell me, Valdemar, open a business that is economy proof. You know what is economy proof, Madam? Train toys and airplane models. Men on layoff and nothing to do would rather die from starving than die from boredom.” Always satisfied after a new opportunity to present this home manufactured proverb, Muslowski would wave his arm like a ringmaster toward the center of his shop.
Back on Ganado Street in the dwindling daylight, Muslowski told Moralez, “We elect Bob Dole The First today. Dole is a war hero. I listen close when he points his inkpen at the television. Tell me, Mr. Moralez, is it rude to ask people for which President they voted?”
Moralez flicked his own earlobe with a torque wrench. “Affirmative. It’s rude, and I voted for Clinton again.”
Muslowski’s head shook like he had been rattled by a loud noise. “Clinton The Second?
Pueblo Post-Standard says Clinton is a war dodger. He reminds me much of Lithuanian politicians. Look serious in public, play chase with the housekeepers in private.”
Moralez twiddled the wrench. “Well, patrón, that’s who I voted for ‘cause that’s who I felt like, and Clinton’s going to win again today. So you might as well try dropping your apricot bombs on the next house.”
“Still, I do not understand. You are a strong citizen, Moralez, who furls Glory Old from the side of his house.” Muslowski re-hoisted his apricot basket. “I must inform you, Mr. Moralez, as was on my citizenship test, it is against flag’s law how you leave yours flaunting all night in the darkness.”
“Stand down, Polack! I’m an Eagle Scout and U.S. Marine. My duty is to inform you that it’s against flag code to adorn oneself with an American flag like that ribbon you’re wearing. And you’re never authorized to write shit over her stripes!”
“I’m Lithuanian. Polack is an insult to Lithu…”
“I’ll alert you to something else, Muslowski.” Moralez aimed his wrench in the direction of Muslowski’s house. “That American flag you’ve been displaying off the front of your house all these years has gold fringe. Gold fringed flags are military use restricted, mierdoso!”
RF Brown is a fiction writer and freelance editor residing in mighty Rhode Island. An alumnx of Hampshire College, he has also worked as a salesman of laser pens, telephone wire, life insurance, cocktails, and dreams. His short stories have appeared in Sucker, Spitball, and Aethlon Journal of Sports Literature. Current projects include a musical novel about Broadway and a collection of sports stories written through the lens of semiotics. RF recommends Let America Vote.