“Why not? Mom is. When’s she going to be happy again?”
“Will she be a racist forever?” said Maverick.
“And is that a bad thing?”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Spencer said. “After you graduate from college. Okay? Here’s the bus.”
The boys shambled toward the street and their father saw them off.
In the kitchen, their mother sat at the table, squeezing a Dr. Oz mug with both hands, studying its emptiness with frazzled eyes. Her husband took a seat across from her and finished his can of Monster Energy drink.
“They’re worried about you, Karynne. So am I.”
Mrs. Broadside batted away a sympathetic hand. She hadn’t come to bed the night before and her frayed hair was now shorter on one side, jagged and uneven. On this Spencer opted not to comment. Neither did he mention that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her without makeup. Karynne had never gone without it before, not even on her days off. The day her father passed she’d made a point to put her face on before the family went to see him in his bed at St. Frank’s.
“I know it feels like it, but this isn’t the end of the world,” Spencer said. “We’ll get through this. We always do. Remember that time the power went out in the middle of Entourage? How it seemed like the walls were crumbling around us? And then, two minutes later—click!—it came right back on and we hadn’t missed a thing.”
“But we did,” Karynne said softly, without looking up. “We missed the part where they played catch with the prosthetic penis.”
“Which we went back and streamed later—”
“It wasn’t the same!” Mrs. Broadside slammed her hands down on the table. “It wasn’t the same. Anyway, this is nothing like Entourage. My world really is ending now, and this time, the power’s out for good. I’m finished, Spencer. Done. It’s all over for me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Nothing is over. Our whole lives are still ahead of us. We’ve just run into a temporary setback.”
“It’s not temporary, and we’re not running into anything,” Karynne said. “It’s not you who’s on the news every night. It’s not you who’s never going to find a job again. Your face isn’t the punchline to every other joke on late-night. And you most certainly haven’t become a hashtag on Twitter.”
“Those things are happening to me, and nobody realizes how hurtful it is—to be blacklisted, mocked, loathed like some repulsive creature or the guy behind the fast-food counter. What I really want to know is, when did it become a crime to keep your neighborhood safe?” She ran her hands through the short side of her hair until it stood up on her head, giving her the air of an impoverished cockatiel. “That’s all I was thinking about that day. About our own home, about our own kids. Sure, I could’ve done things a little differently. I’m willing to admit that. To begin with, I could’ve been kinder to that family by saying ‘please’ when I asked for the disclosure form. But just because I didn’t doesn’t mean it’s illegal.”
Her husband cocked an eyebrow. “Nobody’s arrested you, Karynne. You’re not in jail.”
“That’s not the point!”
“Then what is the point?”
“The point is that the people on the Internet couldn’t give a segregated shit about how this has affected me. It’s like—it’s like my life doesn’t matter to them.”
“So what?” Spencer said. “Your life matters to me.”
Karynne tightened her death grip around the cup. The white void within returned her gaze, absorbed her weariness, reflected it back in a way that she felt, for just a moment, as though she were looking at herself in a compact mirror.
“That’s not enough,” she said, meeting his eyes for the first time in days. The words hung above her head like clouds over Chernobyl.
Spencer frowned, shifted back in his chair. “What do you mean, it’s not enough? When have I ever not been enough? When have the boys ever not been enough?”
His wife searched the mug for answers, found none.
“Look, Karynne,” Spencer said. “I get that things seem hopeless. I can hardly imagine what you’re feeling right now. The closest I can relate is when my team bit it in the fantasy league a few years back. The guys at work wouldn’t let it go for months.” He hung his head in disgrace, then met her eyes once more. “I wouldn’t’ve gotten through it if it hadn’t been for you. Now all I want to do is help you through this, but I don’t even know where to begin.”
He could start by not comparing what she was going through to his DraftKings debacle.
“It wasn’t DraftKings,” Spencer said. “It was RobberBarons. What I’m trying to say is, I can’t help if you won’t let me. You have no idea how much it hurts to see you like this, but what hurts even more is to hear you say I’m not enough.”
Karynne raised the cup and, as if she’d forgotten it was empty, took a drink of the void inside. “What do you want me to say, Spencer? I’m just being honest.”
“See, that’s the thing. I’m not sure you are.”
She brought the mug down on the table like a gavel, with a muffled whump. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The 9-1-1 call, for example. It was all over the news. I must’ve listened to it thirty times. You were clear to dispatch that you said ‘please’ to that man. But just a minute ago you said you didn’t. If you’re not being honest about that—I’m sorry, but I have to wonder what else you haven’t told—”
He narrowly avoided the Dr. Oz mug, which hurtled past him and crashed into a wooden wall hanging that read, in bright, cursive lettering, Live, Laugh, Love.
“You think I’m keeping something from you?” she said, tiny red rivers flowing across the whites of her eyes to the irises’ blue seas. “That I haven’t just torn my heart out and laid it bare for you to taste, like a rack of lamb?”
“That’s not what I meant,” Spencer said from under the table. “Can we just take a step back here and talk about this like adults? I’m sorry if I—”
“No need to apologize. You’re right, after all. I have been keeping something from you.”
“Yes,” Karynne said.
Spencer sprung from his cover and opened his arms. “Well, that was easy enough. Please, tell me. This is a judgment-free zone. What is it you want to say?”
Mrs. Broadside stomped over the designer floor tiles all the way to the counter, where she ripped the Keurig machine from the wall and launched it at the table, leaving a crescent-shaped gash in its varnished mahogany.
“Honey, please, isn’t this just a little over-the-top?”
“I thought this was a judgment-free zone!”
She kicked open and disemboweled the refrigerator, hurling the guts at her husband, who had knocked the table over and transformed it into a makeshift rampart. She disgorged a primal howl as she thrashed the juicer they’d bought on their last IKEA trip. Then she flailed the blender with a ladle, flogged the toaster with a spatula, and felled the succulents with a bread knife.
“Jesus, Karynne! Calm down. Think a minute. Is this what you want the boys to come home to?”
“Why not? They’d finally see their mother for who she really is!”
Karynne broke four wineglasses over the burner grates, three more over the microwave. She then went for the cupboard, ransacked the dinnerware until she found their commemorative Margaritaville plates—a five-piece collector’s edition, their fifth-anniversary present from her father—and flung them, one by one, like frisbees into the antique cherry china cabinet.
Then all was quiet.
Spencer poked his head over the table’s edge to find his wife on her knees, covering her face with her blood-smeared hands, weeping softly over the juicer’s remnants. He rose and moved toward her like a safarist to a tiger. When he reached her, holding out his arm in a gesture of truce, she seized it and pulled him down to her, where she locked him in a suffocating embrace.
“I’m sorry, Spencer,” she said between tear-choked gasps. “I know how much you loved those plates. I’ll ask Dad where he got them and we’ll order new ones.”
Spencer struggled to breathe himself. “We’ll deal with it later. It’s more important we get this mess cleaned up. But first I want to ask you something.”
Mrs. Broadside released him to better wipe her eyes.
He sat back and took her hands in his. “You said the kids would come home and see you for who you really are. What did you mean by that?”
Karynne stared at the Dr. Oz mug turned on its side on the floor, its gaping void beckoning her—to where or to what, she couldn’t be sure. “That’s just it, Spencer. I don’t know. Those people online have called me Karen so much I’m forgetting who I am.”
“Impossible.” Spencer tilted her chin up with two fingers. “It would defy the laws of physics for you to forget ‘Karynne, emphasis on the -rynne.’”
No, she said. Those people weren’t just calling her Karen. They were calling her a racist. Like everyone else who’d suffered her predicament, her first reaction was to deny it. Who would willingly adopt that label, admit to being such a terrible human being?
“Well,” Spencer said.
“And then I thought about it some more, which was really hard. It’s so much easier to pretend these things just don’t exist. To forget about them and go on with your day, post pictures of your lattés and casually call the police on that barbecue at the park.” Her cheeks glistened with fresh tears. “But I haven’t had that luxury lately. I can’t go to the park for fear that I will call the police on that barbecue. Shoot me dead in my tracks if I ever go viral again. All this time alone has forced me to ask some tough questions of myself.”
Mrs. Broadside brushed down the short side of her hair. “Such as, after what I did, after all this talk about me being a racist—is there any truth to it?”
This made Spencer laugh for the first time in several days. “That’s crazy, Karynne. Really? You? A racist? You’re kidding, right?”
Her hair shot straight back up. “Do I look like I’m kidding?”
Spencer guessed not.
“If so many people are saying it, it can’t be entirely false, can it? I just figured that if I were racist, I would’ve been the first person to know. And yet I didn’t. How many times have you heard me tell people there’s not a single racist bone in my body?”
Spencer had heard that pretty much every morning after a Bacardi night.
“Exactly,” Karynne said. “What if I’ve been wrong all these years? What if there’s something down deep inside me, something I wasn’t even aware of, which finally came to the surface the other day? And if there is, is there anything I can do about it?”
Josh Cook is an MFA candidate at Lindenwood University. In 2009, he earned an MA from Indiana University with a thesis on Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. His fiction has appeared in journals including Across the Margin, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, Idle Ink, and Sage Cigarettes. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and two dogs. Josh recommends the Kheprw Institute.