White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
Lydia Ship
Lydia Ship’s short fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in American Short Fiction, Hobart, Night Train, Staccato, PANK, Pindeldyboz, Quick Fiction, and Requited Journal. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and Contributing Editor at The Chattahoochee Review You can visit her website here.

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Neighborhood Watch

Lydia Ship


Too early that mid-summer Monday morning, we opened our blinds on a white-veiled world, as if snow had fallen during the night. Dingy flakes flecked our windowpanes. We crossed our yards and brushed the crumbling chalky film from the tops of our mailboxes or garbage cans, not enough to make us wash our windshields, but enough for us to wonder who in our neighborhood had gotten home at 3 A.M. from the Urbinger’s party and then burned a pile of leaves. Or had someone’s house caught fire? We hadn’t heard fire trucks—but after the Urbinger’s, we wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had torched something.

Monday nights, Mi Mexico for the fajita special, but at work there was talk of a merger, a buyout, more branches closing, so that evening, we favored the Monday specials at the grocery store instead, forty extra bucks for our savings. On our street, the trees, roofs, the cars, the lawns—everything looked duller. The black mailboxes and shutters were

where we saw it most clearly: a thin film of dust. We hoped for rain. That night, the kids complained about the chicken, doing their job. But maybe it bothered us more because our headaches still persisted from the Urbinger’s party. What in the world made us drink so much, and on a Sunday night?

The next day—the next week—the next month at work, our piles of paper dwindled down to a few loose sheets. We took a pay cut, another. A few furlough days every other week. Every week, someone else fired. At home, we cut memberships, cut services, clipped coupons for everything else. We cut cable and watched the kids’ heads explode. No more Mexican, no more dinners out, period. Movies at home. Some spouses got together and learned how to cut hair. Some of the bills ran late. On top of that, we had to deal with the damn blow-over from a nearby plant, leaving smudged gray bits, like recycled paper, all over our properties. We’d had enough, but who had time to really investigate?

Another year, another Urbinger party, and this time, it was BYO-Everything. John Urbinger, louder

than usual, then quiet, told Ted Nix he’d lost his job the week before and, with his wife out of work six months, mumbled that he didn’t know how they’d make it. When the Urbingers weren’t looking, we emptied our wallets into their coffee canister. We got home sometime pre-dawn and threw up in the bathroom if we made it that far. Hadn’t had that much to drink since college. We didn’t want to see the light of Monday.

The next morning, that nuclear bright winter morning, it snowed our rotting brains. At least, walking out to our cars, we thought so. Then we took off our sunglasses and saw that the inch-high blanket was still gray in the sun. We stooped to touch it and smoky powder smeared our fingers. Horrified, we gaped at each other in our yards, and then from the cul-de-sac came a tornado howl and muffled thud. The Urbinger’s house, a white, two-story colonial, had turned storm-cloud gray in the corner and collapsed to the side in a fat cloud. We dropped our briefcases and bags and ran to help. But the Urbingers, their children, and their Boston Terrier were already on the lawn, staring in wonder at the plumes which now stretched above their

heads like filthy trees of gauze. Grace Urbinger, our consummate hostess, who could sway the mood of our group with the shade of her lipstick, wept.

We took a furlough day, those of us who still had jobs. We would find that scumbag plant or whatever the hell was polluting our neighborhood. A business park was nearby—could that place be burning coal?

In a caravan, we drove out ten miles, the opposite direction we usually went, to the part of town with nothing in it but the business park. None of us worked there. None of us had been. We skirted the boundaries of its emerald hills and bright, unreal flowers—so this was the place where all the landscaping work had gone—but nothing seemed to be putting off smoke. Maybe the offender was farther in; maybe the smoke billowed at only a certain time of day. Ted’s little car in the lead slowed and its blinker came on, and we all pulled into the park after it.

We drove for a mile or so, through oddly scenic man-made waves of bright green hills and transplanted weeping willows, not a building in sight. Where were the businesses in this business park?

More and more trees and winding bends obscured the view. We came upon the first building in a kind of stupor, unable to believe what we were seeing. Ted pulled over, but only because the McElroys right behind him hadn’t been paying attention and had bumped into the curb. We were all rubber-necking. No other way of putting it—the first building, tucked into an emerald hill and well off the main road, looked from a distance to be made of gold.

In the sun, the building threw off a blindingly bright glare. What kind of artistic crap was this? Incredibly, Ted put his blinker on again. He was always meddling a little too much, but again, we followed him as he nosed toward the building. A conspicuous plaque by the side of the road stopped him. We pulled over in a picnic area with a few benches near a small pond. We parked and got out to have a look. The plaque, sitting atop gray tubing that rose about four feet off the ground, featured golden cursive cut into black marble. No kidding: it said the building was literally plated in gold.

Dean Harrlen vomited and several people indicated they weren’t far behind, our stomachs

turning from the excitement and the Urbinger’s party. We agreed to drive through the rest of the park and then call the police about the ash.

Two more miles into the park and we were ready to give up, thinking we’d seen the one and only building. Then, just like the first building, we went through several lanes of trees, around a few bends, and smack! Before us stood five other buildings, all golden, searing our eyeballs. Everything seemed too bright this morning, anyway, and we almost crashed into each other trying to turn around, our vision spotting. Who constructed buildings made of gold these days? We knew all the contractors in town; we knew all the builders, all the architects, the realtors, the plumbing and power and zoning and advertising and restaurant and school and postal people, and one of them, at least, would’ve mentioned this. About that time our cell phones started ringing. Something was wrong with our houses.

We took a different route home and came in the back way to our street, where we found several houses slumped to the side and the air so thick with gray webby gusts, we had to turn on our windshield

wipers and slow. Then the air grew darker, as if a volcano nearby had erupted in cinders. We abandoned our cars and ran down the street trailing gritty dust in our wake, unable to see the Urbinger’s at all anymore in the smashing chaos of rumbling collapse around us. Through our yards we rushed and fell beside the walls of our houses, where we found the bottoms and siding transforming to ash. In the falling flaky gusts, we appeared to each other as if our images were being erased, and we held hands, forming cradles towards the firm ground.









Copyright© Lydia Ship. White Whale Review, issue 2.3


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