The crowd checked their phones as they waited. They posted status updates, tagged their friends, beamed at the reactions to the selfies that they took. They set up events on Facebook Live for audiences that would rival those of the local TV networks. WHAT, WIND, and WANK had themselves dispatched only their best reporters to the Broadsides’ front lawn. Iron-coiffed and dour-browed, these journalists now broke into regularly scheduled programming. Only an hour before, via TikTok, Karynne had announced that she was finally ready to make her first public remarks since the incident.
The Paxes had surprised Karynne by accepting her invitation to appear jointly. They, in turn, were a little less surprised that she had yet to emerge from the house. For now, the family answered questions, told the networks why they came—so that healing could take place.
“I spoke to Mrs. Broadside on the phone,” said Herbert Pax to WANK. “She sounded genuine. Remorseful. This wouldn’t be happening otherwise. So yes, I’m optimistic. I think some real good can come from this terrible event. But I have to wonder what’s keeping her. Let’s hope she didn’t get cold feet.”
At that moment, the garage door hummed open and out came Mrs. Broadside and her family. She was pasty as a wraith. She was seated in a wheelchair. Her oldest son, Axel, pushed her clumsily, veering left and right, at one point missing their silver SUV by a needle’s breadth. He punctuated their slow progress down the drive with periodic bursts of speed. Twice he pressed the breaks, which would’ve sent his mother careening to the asphalt had she not been belted in. At last, they reached the grass. Axel maneuvered her behind the wooden podium the family had rented for the purpose. But when Karynne realized she couldn’t see over the lectern—and thus couldn’t be seen herself—she had him wheel her in front of it.
“There’s fifty bucks we’ll never see again,” said Mrs. Broadside.
She would have kicked the podium if she could have. But she couldn’t, and it was for the same reason she didn’t have cold feet. She had no feet at all, or legs, below the knees. Swaddled in Kling roll, the stumps of her thighs jutted from her seat like disjointed flagpoles. Resting on them were several sheets of laser film imprinted with X-ray images of her bones.
Her younger son, Maverick, reached for Spencer’s hand—and then remembered that his father had none. They, too, had been amputated, not long after the couple had attended the antiracist workshop. Instead, he tugged at the Imagine Dragons T-shirt Spencer was wearing, the one he’d bought when the band had come to town last spring.
Mrs. Broadside gestured for the Paxes, who then approached in a state of wary compassion. Karynne shook hands with Herbert, Marcus gave Axel a hug, and after a few moments of indecisive shimmying, Renae and Spencer shared an ungainly elbow bump.
At Karynne’s request, Axel retrieved the microphone from the lectern for her.
She scanned the crowd and thanked everyone for coming, especially the Paxes. She couldn’t speak to their pain, but these last few weeks had forced her to recognize her role in causing it. It wasn’t being the butt of national ridicule that led her to this new awareness, though it didn’t help when Jimmy Fallon—Jimmy Fallon, who she loved so much!—riffed on “Birthday Party Bethenny” to QuestLove’s great delight. No, it was the antiracist workshop that gave her fresh perspective, showed her how she looked through other people’s eyes. It let her see how she’d end up if she didn’t make a dramatic change of course.
“I could take the easy way out and say I didn’t have a racist bone in my body,” said Mrs. Broadside, “but that wouldn’t be the truth.” She held the X-rays up for the cameras, waved them around like semaphore pennants. “The truth is that I didn’t have just one racist bone. I had several.”
Gasps sounded. Phones flickered. Some of them caught the single tear that slid down Karynne’s face until she wiped it away.
She went on: “But I’m happy to report, as you can plainly see, that these bones are no longer a part of me.”
Some in the crowd wept tears of relief. Others burst into raucous applause. A few of them snapped photos of themselves with the Broadsides in the background, and then they uploaded them to their Instagram feeds under the hashtag #BadtotheBones.
The reporter from WHAT had a question. His name was Thomas Jefferson, and he was black. His reporting on the death of a prisoner in police custody had been picked up by national media outlets last year. He wanted to know what had happened to Spencer’s hands.
“About that,” Spencer said. “The day after Karynne was diagnosed, I went back to Dr. Peacock, who found Odium generis ossa—that’s the clinical term for racist bones—above my wrists. Honestly, I wasn’t as surprised as I could’ve been. It certainly helped to explain the blackface.”
“Blackface?” said Thomas Jefferson and Mr. Pax.
“It was long ago, in college,” said Mrs. Broadside. She wagged her hand around the empty space below his wrist.
“But I’m better now,” Spencer said. “Word of honor—we are better now.”
“There haven’t been any adverse effects so far,” Karynne said, “but there’s a long road of recovery ahead of us. We’ve got a lot of adjusting to do. As you’re probably aware, I was an avid runner. I’ll have to accept the fact that I’ve taken my last jog around the neighborhood. It hurts even more to admit that it was during it that this tragedy happened.” She nodded sympathetically at the Paxes. “As for Spencer, his days of tooling around in the garage are a thing of the past.”
Yes, the Broadsides’ future would be full of uncertainty. But if there was one thing they were sure of—and which they hoped everyone else would be, too—it was that they were prepared to meet it head-on. The sacrifices they’d already made were only the beginning. Spencer and Karynne planned to do everything in their power to raise awareness and battle the cancer of racist bones that had afflicted them and their country for far, far too long.
Herbert Pax thought this was a great idea. “My family’s still recovering ourselves from the pain of that afternoon. It doesn’t just magically disappear. But today I can say that we’re filled with hope. When I spoke with Mrs. Broadside on the phone, we talked about the steps she can take to move our community forward—by supporting black-owned businesses, for example, or donating to the local BLM chapter.”
Karynne lurched back with a start. Her brow puckered. Writhing in her wheelchair, she looked to Spencer for help. “Yes, we did talk about that, but Spencer and I haven’t yet decided what we plan to do. I mean, when it comes to Black Lives Matter, let’s just say we have our doubts—”
“You said you’d do whatever it takes,” said Thomas Jefferson. “Would that not include engaging Black Lives Matter?”
“I think we might have differing opinions on the meaning of whatever it takes.”
“In that case, then, what would you be willing to do?”
“Well, I—we—I don’t—there are lots of things under consideration.”
“Such as? Will you attend more workshops? Read more books by black authors? Volunteer? Will you call out racist actions when you see them taking place?”
Karynne had bit her lip to bleeding. She glared at the reporter as she racked her brain for a response.
Herbert Pax shook his head at the ground.
“Would you be willing,” said Thomas Jefferson, “to join a protest for black li—”
“I will not!” Karynne said. She threw the microphone to the ground and rolled forward, smashing it to pieces. “And shame on you for asking. I’m still reeling from a serious procedure. Where do you get off harassing me like this?”
“I’m not harassing you, Mrs. Broadside. It’s my job to ask questions. If nothing else, I’m giving you ideas for actions you could take—”
“Really?” Karynne twirled her knees around in circles in the air. “I just got my legs hacked off, dammit. Isn’t that enough to show I’m serious about this? But a protest! Did you hear that, Spencer? We’ll have to join a roving band of thugs and bomb an auto shop before we’re accepted by these people—”
“Hey, everybody,” said the reporter from WANK. “Twitter says another Karen’s at the grocery down the street. A little black boy hopped on an out-of-order penny pony, so she called the cops.”
“The UbiquiMart about a mile from here.”
“Last one there’s a rotten egg!” said the WIND reporter, and with that the crowd, including the Paxes, was gone, leaving Thomas Jefferson and the Broadsides alone.
After a big family hug, Axel said, “Can we go to Dave & Buster’s now?”
“What for?” his father said.
“To celebrate that you’re not racist anymore.”
Mrs. Broadside nodded her agreement.
“Dave & Buster’s it is, then.” Spencer raised his handless arms. “I guess driving with these will be a whole different challenge, but we’ve been just through worse.” He made a motion toward the WHAT correspondent, who looked set to ask another round of thorny questions. “Though we should probably do something about him, first.”
“I know,” Karynne said. She wrenched her phone from her pocket, pressed a few buttons, and held it to her ear. “Hello? Hello? Yes, my name is Karynne Broadside—emphasis on the -rynne—and I have an emergency.”
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.