A few weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks Muslowski was expounding while on another neighbor’s shaky front porch. “I did not vote for Bush The Younger because he was told go to war and he went to a party instead.” The neighbor, Darlene, listened behind the screen door of the house with peeling paint and weeds for a lawn. “My vote was for the Libertarian.” Muslowski spoke loud above a child’s tantrum somewhere inside Darlene’s house. “I believe in ‘Keep your hands off my small business, Big Government.’ The same belief of Ronald Reagan The First and Second.” Muslowski did not know Darlene’s last name, or if she was married to the Black man named Darriel, who stayed home taking care of Darlene’s two Caucasian-looking daughters. “But in this time,” Muslowski instructed, “Bush The Younger is taking us to battle against the terrorists, and we all must act as soldiers too.”
Darlene opened her screen and stepped barefoot on the wooden porch as smoke and the scent of syrup escaped around her. In the same hand she held a burning cigarette, she accepted Muslowski’s gift of a five-foot American flag rolled around a dowel and sleeved in cellophane. Darlene herself was rolled in a hip-hugging outfit, each piece of which was a different order of animal stripe print.
“Hell yes I’ll put up the flag,” Darlene trumpeted. “And I’ll stick a flag pole up Saddam Bin Laden’s ass if he comes over here again. How much you charging?”
“There is no price, Darling. I and Mr. Moralez purchased one flag for each house on Ganado Street. Also, a six-foot telescopic stick and mounting bracket for here at 3846. All wholesale to me as Valdy’s Hobbies. Moralez pays me half.”
“That Mexican dude up the street who calls you La Boca?”
“I do not know that,” Muslowski said. “Since the 11th of September he calls me Got Your Six.”
Darlene gave a look that she did not understand the slang any better than Muslowski. She gave her new rolled flag an inspection. “Can’t drill holes in the house. Landlady’s a bitch.” She took a drag from her cigarette while contemplating her options. “I could hang it off a tree branch.”
“There is one thing another—Ms. Bullock, 3849. She has told me she will not hang the free U.S.A. flag. I wonder if she even reads that our country is in battle! Ten a.m. Saturday morning I am leading every householder to march with their flag on Ms. Bullock’s curb. We will ask if she with us or with the tyrants.”
“Saturday? Hell yes! I’m with us.”
Saturday arrived and Muslowski was out of his house at a dewy seven a.m. pacing Bullock’s curb. He had constructed a wearable sandwich sign with two large flats of poster board and some nylon cord. On his chest the sign read Proud of My Troops, on his back Proud of My Flag. Also near Bullock’s curb his six-foot flag was blazing, its stand perpendicular in a repurposed three-pound coffee can Muslowski had filled with sand. Whenever a car hummed by, Muslowski would place his right hand over a spot on the sandwich board under which his heart pumped.
One of his eyes pledged allegiance to the flag while the other watched for a reaction from the driver. As the morning hours passed and the sun dissipated the clouds, neighbors walked out of their houses to join Muslowski in his elliptical procession. Lockhardt, a petite woman, came waving her new flag like a two-handed scimitar. A pale veteran named Schwimby came regimented in his garrison cap and Korean War flight jacket. Moralez fell in too, dressed in gray Marine Reserve camouflage that, by that year, mimicked the hair in his crewcut. He carried a satin banner reading United We Stand.
“Aa, Mr. Moralez,” Muslowski said, restraining an urge to squeeze his neighbor’s shoulder, “together we will cultivate everyone to respect our U.S.A. flag.”
“I readied up for buying each house a flag, patrón, but I don’t have visual on complying a civilian to put one up. So let’s make this thing a turn ‘n burn, get our point out, then everybody vamonos.”
Other neighbors were no clearer what they were trying to accomplish, but in that terrible time just after September 11th, sacrificing a Saturday to rally on behalf of the flag felt like rescuing their country in distress. They were angry, and cheerful, and they chanted together Raise the flag!, U.S.A!, and Fly our flag or move to Iraq!
Past noon Darlene tizzied down her front steps shoving her two girls toward the neighborhood picket. She wore a one-piece bodysuit patterned with the stars and stripes of the American flag. Her preschoolers were each armed with crayon drawings of the American flag on construction paper. Darriel, eventually lagged along too. She had to goad Darriel into joining the march. He never took his hands out of his sweatshirt pockets. Darlene got bored with the chanting almost immediately and taught everybody to sing a song called Proud To Be An American. They also sang God Bless America and America The Beautiful in boisterous unison, but with a lot of friendly disagreement about the correct words.
At least one representative from each household on Ganado attended the march, if just to investigate the clamor. Even Ugnė made an appearance outside and clapped her hands to the chants. She was a number of years younger than Waldemar, but she modeled old-fashioned beauty with her hair pinned high in a dignified bun. Despite the warmth of the day, she wore a highwaist wool coat that cast her frame into a bell. She stood in heels on the inch of her property line. Neighbors encouraged her to join nearer the rally but she declined, saying in soft, broken English, “Saturday the one day I baking.”
The one resident nobody saw was Bullock. Doubt circulated whether she was home at all, and Muslowski did not want his march torpedoed. He proffered to go knock on Bullock’s door, but Moralez cautioned him.
“Encroaching her property might be considered trespass, patrón. If she’s in possession of a firearm, she’d be within her rights in Colorado to use it.”
Then Lockhardt’s teenage son, who happened to be a yell-leader at Pueblo Central High, ran home and returned with a megaphone. Muslowski called the boy “the village hero” and pointed the megaphone horn at Bullock’s house.
“Dear, Ms. Bullock,” Muslowski called in reverberating broadcast, “we are your fellow householders and confederates. We ask you come out from the house to accept our gift of a
U.S.A. flag and mounting stick. Make our street in complete honor of the brave country. In Lithuania you would be forced to fly the flag. Today your allies offer you a noble choice.”
Nothing happened. Baker said she saw a van the same color as Bullock’s driving down the alley earlier. Stein said he remembered Bullock mentioning a vacation she took each year someplace where everybody lived in a treehouse. When marchers began to drift toward home, Ugnė took action. She went into her house and returned with an apricot fruitbread baked just that morning. In her custom, Ugnė walked the length of her driveway, turned left onto the street and held the covered fruitbread before her, politely marshaling the crowd aside with the sound bow of her bell-shaped coat. At the intersection of the common curb and Bullock’s front path, Ugnė danced along the curve of natural flagstones leading to Bullock’s doorbell. The door opened and Ugnė was ushered inside by a silhouette with the trace of a long hair braid like Bullock’s. A few minutes later the door opened again and Ugnė exited the house, her hands free of the fruitbread.
Making it back to the curb, Ugnė stood like an official spokesperson. Waldemar offered her use of the megaphone, but she waived it away.
“I speak to Ms. Bullock,” Ugnė said. “I ask her why she not care to join us in flag flying. All did you know she is Quaker?”
Darlene rushed the details. “What in Hell’s Quaker?”
“I ask too. Is her religion of no war, no blood. Flag to her is…” Ugnė struggled to recall an English idiom, “Jewish eating piglet.” The crowd got what Ugnė meant, but not Waldemar.
“No!” Waldemar grabbed onto his coffee-can pillar for gird. “In the U.S.A. we have religious freedom, yes, that is amendment number one. But we march outside today in battle for something else!”
“What is else?” Ugnė asked her husband. Her eyes retreated home.
Muslowski did not have an answer. He fired another round of megaphone at Bullock’s. “We gift you one more chance to make our street entirely loyal!” But the crowd was returning home. Eventually, Muslowski returned the megaphone.
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.