When Trump campaigned for President in 2016, Muslowski announced he would not vote for him.
He told Moralez, “This election I will vote for a man named De La Fuente! On the internet he says each vote is priceless.”
Moralez was in his garage winterizing his seasonal lawn tools while Muslowski stood in the archway talking and talking. “Listen, patrón,” Moralez interrupted, “why don’t you just roll up your flaps and get to your real objective for being over here.”
“Because Ugnė and I invite you to a driveway party tomorrow, Sunday. Please bring donation articles of forsaken children’s clothing,” Muslowski said, “for the little Eritreans.”
A civil feud was taking place on Ganado Street after the neighborhood learned Bullock had taken in a large refugee family recently emigrated from the East African country Eretria. Some neighbors wanted to halt Bullock from using her house as a shelter. One anonymous protestor expressed themself by spraypainting graffiti on Bullock’s picture window that read Terrorist Hotel. In another incident Bullock was pulling the van from her gravel driveway, transporting members of the Eritrean family to Front Range Mall, when an inebriated Darlene strode up to Bullock’s open car window and called her a traitor. Most in the neighborhood had never heard of Eretria or the gruesome civil war there. But they had heard Bullock’s refugee family was Muslim, which was as good in some ears as hearing terrorist.
There was one person who defended Bullock and her immigrant guests. On a Saturday evening Muslowski walked door-to-door personally inviting each household to come meet the Eritrean family at a party to be hosted the next day around his flag garden.
Moralez stepped one boot out of his garage and reconnoitered the street, as if to surveil Eritrean children already gathering a throng. “Listen, I’m not one of these anti-immigrant tontos who think every Middle Eastern plainclothes is a terrorist, but I served a tour in Khandahar and there’s no way to tell who isn’t one.”
“No, Mr. Moralez. I introduce myself to these people and I now know they are not killer Islamics. They are exiles looking to escape cruelty, just as I and my family were rescued from the Catholics by my cousin Sofija and Bush The First. Today I am a wealthy man and I let poor Eritrean children play street-bandy on my concrete.”
Moralez returned to his garage organizing duties. “There are places for them to go other than my street in America.”
“What if you said this about my family many years ago when everyone thought all Lithuanians were communist? We would not be fine friends today. Please come to meet the new household. Remember the clothes for children. And remember the food is lucky-pot.” Muslowski marched on to the next house.
Sunday afternoon Bullock helped Muslowski carry a wooden picnic table out front to the flag garden. Bullock, the Muslowskis, and the Eritrean family adults had a grand day discussing the weather and hobbies in their varied masteries of English. The immigrant children, wearing oversized t-shirts that read Waldy’s Hobbies Women’s Softball, laughed and bandied a rubber ball around the driveway with hooked sticks Muslowski had made himself. Ugnė placed a linen on the picnic table, set out potato pudding, cepelinai dumplings, and sakotis cake, and worried her food would not be enough if guests did not come with their own lucky-pots. But no one else came to the party. Even when Muslowski moved his home stereo speakers into the open front windows and blasted music of famous Lithuanian marching bands no one else came.
Across the street, in view of the party, Darlene smoked cigarettes and sunbathed her mustard-colored body while stretched across a webbed lawn chaise. Staked beside her was an old house-for-rent sign with a scrap of cardboard taped over that read Anti-Invasion!
The Presidential campaign of Trump unnerved Muslowski. A week before the election he was out on Ganado flagging down neighbors in their cars and warning them not to be fooled.
“Mrs. Lockhardt,” he begged one, “please do not vote for this tyrant Trump. He is like rich men in Lithuania who inherit wealth from their father, then go about pretending their riches mean they know everything about working hard. Maybe you do not like Lady Clinton The Third, but, tune in to me, Trump knows nothing. ” Despite Muslowski’s effort to persuade everyone he encountered to vote different, Trump became Trump The First.
The morning after the election, residents of Ganado Street left their houses for their jobs at places like Pueblo Fuel & Iron and the Colorado Penitentiary and were confronted by Muslowski’s monstrous twenty-foot long and forty-foot high flag—hanging upside down.
Darlene tread up Muslowski’s front steps and rang the doorbell several quick times. “What in Hell’s that?” she croaked and thrust her righteous finger at the upside down Flagzilla.
“A reverse-up U.S.A. flag is the symbol for the nation is in distress, Darling. Tell all the street who voted Trump I will fly the flag stars on the bottom and stripes across the top until this bandit is no longer our President.”
“My kids aint gonna be looking at traitor shit out the kitchen window everyday for eight years.” Her voice was hoarse but tough. “Flip your flag back around right, or we’ll find a way to make you, Lithuanian.”
Muslowski and his jumbo flag did not flip. Irate neighbors contacted the Sheriff’s office, Pueblo City Hall, the TV news stations, and anybody else considered an authority to force Muslowski to fly the big flag right-side up.
The next Sunday afternoon visiting cars occupied all the curb space on both sides of Ganado. Outraged legionnaires and stalwarts from other patriotic-minded groups blocked the street and mobbed around the flag garden with homemade signs. For hours the group chanted slogans. Moralez was out in the horde carrying a sign that read Fly Your White Flag Upside Down! Darlene broadcast her fury through a megaphone borrowed from the Lockhardts. She forced Darriel to stand in the street too, although he looked reluctant to be an African-American holding a sign that said Red, White, And Blue Lives Matter!
Later Pueblo’s newest mayor arrived. She climbed onto the platform of a flatbed truck, loaned by Brudershaft Bros Landscape and Concreter, and stood with local weatherman Happy Raines. Happy wore a black POW/MIA graphic necktie and appeared uncharacteristically solemn before the local TV news cameras. The mayor, for whom Muslowski had voted, because she resembled a favorite teacher from his childhood, called for the Pueblo City Council to immediately institute an ordinance regarding decent display of the American flag. She also claimed, as the shifting shadow of Muslowski’s flag eclipsed her face, that once the ordinance was in place she would order the Boy Scouts to rehang the stars and stripes on proper bearing and swear them powers to arrest Muslowski.
Then, in a moment when the cheering of the mass quieted, people could hear singing. The voices were few and not tuneful, but they were loud and the anthem familiar. The protesting crowd turned its attention from the local celebrities on the flatbed to a middle-aged couple standing in the flag garden. Mister and missus Muslowski were side by side nether their towering flag, their hands over their hearts, and singing The Star-Spangled Banner.
America’s Presidential election that year had been divisive, and Pueblo City Council took its time debating a new flag ordinance. In the meantime Waldy’s Hobbies was boycotted and vandalized and Muslowski received death threat emails from across the country. Ugnė was cursed out by fellow shoppers at Front Range Mall. Cousin Sofija got intimidating phone calls from strangers warning she would be deported back to Lithuania if she did not renounce her disloyal relatives. One of Muslowski’s daughters up north at state college was harassed by drunken boys beneath her dormitory window. Risks to his body and his business Muslowski could brave, but not hostiles terrorizing his loved ones. After two weeks of the flag upside down, residents of Ganado woke up to see it flying, still too big, but upside-up and patriotically correct.
Springtime returned to Ganado Street. Trump The First was still the President. Bullock was on her rusty knees in the backyard soil. Two Eritrean-American teenagers hoed furrows for seedlings. Muslowski was, once again, spreading elbows over the common fence.
“Then we were forced to fly the Soviet-Lithuanian flag,” he palavered, while Bullock did her best to look buried in her task. “I think the U.S.A. is maybe not so different today. In Lithuania tyrants say you must have this religion or must have no religion. In Colorado, U.S.A. they make me fly the flag as they say. But, I tell you Ms. Bullock, nowhere can anyone dictate one’s personal truth.”
Bullock creaked upright. She could not resist asking Muslowski, “Why don’t you just take the darn flagpole down?”
“Aa, because the enormous flag outside now belongs to them, Ms. Bullock.”
“Them who tyrant how to love your free county. What the U.S.A. flag means to me, that which is important, I fly high inside my soul.”
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.