Now that her husband, Earl Osterhaus, was gone out to his monthly meeting with the thirty or so other men who made up the local Anti-Goodness Neighborhood League, or A.G.N.L., an international neighbourhood watch organization that everyone referred to as the “ANGELs,” Theresa could finally get out of the suburbs and into the city. She had two full hours, in and out. Two precious sets of sixty minutes, enough time to get her stuff together and slip out, see Mickey for a quick sec, then slide back in and have the kettle on and ready for when Earl got back home. Earl sure loved his Earl Grey tea.
Just in case anyone was watching Theresa waited ten full minutes putting the dishes away and cleaning the counter tops. Good wife behaviour. Besides, Earl probably had the bitch next store following her every move or for that matter he could even have old man Pierce on the ANGELs’s payroll taking snapshots of her and Science knows who else with his telephoto lens. When she thought it was safe she walked calmly to the front porch where she checked her make-up in the mirror, tucked her purse up under her arm and headed out into the starlight night.
Outside, with the porch light beaming down on her, Theresa felt vulnerable to her neighbours’s prying eyes. She almost gave up on the whole ordeal; Mickey could wait another couple of months. Earl would head out again. But it couldn’t wait. Too much planning and carefully laid hints and suggestions were enacted now and she felt swept along with the linguistic loops she had spun. She glanced to the left, up over the row of hedges and azaleas and down the street. Everything seemed fine, a typical moonlit night in the ‘burbs. She gave the door knob a few quick jerks, glanced to the right and everything appeared normal there too, then gave the handle a final tug. Perfect. The door was unlocked.
Theresa darkened at the thought. She headed down the interlocking brick pathway to her new navy blue Dodge Torrento her hands digging around in her purse for the keys. If they can take away our locks then. But she couldn’t finish the thought; the keys rattling just beyond her searching fingertips. But we got used to it,she sighed then recovered with a quick, whip thin smile coated in strawberry flavoured lip gloss. Minnie Mason. Resident bitch sitting in her living room, smiling and waving. It made Theresa think of an autopsy, the way everything dangled and sagged in the TVs soft blue glow, and how Minnie’s new WAV TrackLight bathed her and the rest of the living room in a tantric uterus of warmth and protection; how the new track lights paintedthe glass walls in an undulating ocean of blues and yellows and reds and greens, all digital and dancing, to relax and rejuvenate the hard working soul. Theresa oozed at the memory of the WAV TrackLight 3000’s new TV ad. Retailing for six grand at any Wal-Mart store where they offer the amazing “this month only” deal to meet and beat any prices on the market, all you have to do is bring the advertisement to the manager of the media section and he will take care of all your needs, a sweet, sweet deal for a sweet, sweet machine which just now hit off of the shiny new glass coffee table that sat at eye level with Minnie’s skinny knees.
She shoved the keys in the ignition and cast a last glance at Minnie in order to read her face. But there was nothing there. There never was. Theresa hated Minnie’s high strung ways, her jitterbug footsteps and slightly hobnobbed roll, and her tightly wound jet black curls; her high pitched voice like a blend of pharmaceuticals, coffee, cigarettes, colas, Snickers bars. Shrill things. And she was willing to use it—that awful squeaky voice—and call the ANGELs at the slightest provocation, a word, for some reason, which Minnie always pronounced in a poorly affected southern drawl. Prov-o-ca-shun. But try as she might, she had to admit, Minnie’s new furniture really did bring the room together. She heaved a sigh and waved back. It was perfect. She had to admit it: the living room was perfect.
Like Earl just fifteen minutes before her, she rolled the car out of the driveway but unlike Earl just fifteen minutes ago, she headed in the opposite direction angling her car through the rows upon rows of glass cookie-cutter houses with basketball nets hanging off of the garage roofs, chalk hopscotch boards drawn into the street, rusty hockey nets and tricycles abandoned on the manicured front lawns, towards the city.
She shot a look in the rear view mirror and at the glass houses all around her hoping that no one was taking too much note of her late night sojourn. People were watching. “But that’s just the point, isn’t it?” she mumbled aloud. “To police ourselves.” She reached down and adjusted the radio and kept it on KEYP fm. Bowie was on.
She drifted through the streets never going more that a lawful 50/mph. She felt as though a finger were pointing at her back, maybe Eve Driscoll’s or Jay Manzione and she knew without doubt, that the finger bone was connected to the arm bone and the arm bone was connected to the shoulder bone, on up to the headbone and it was from there, she knew, that the questions and comments would follow.
Her alibi was tight, though. Elba and Ezra were easy to fool and besides that they were trustworthy anyway, if you told them the moon had a hollow center and was in fact already a NASA outpost then they would believe it and tell everyone just what you told them; at least she hoped. Mickey. Mickey could mess anything up, but he was scared too shitless to do anything anyway. Mickey knew Earl would kill him if he found out about this and, she reasoned, there was a pretty good chance Mickey would kill her for putting him in this situation in the first place. Mickey didn’t like surprises, who did, but what could she do? There was no way of contacting him. Not unless she took risks. The Torrento drifted through the rows of glass houses, Minnie behind the wheel, hereyes glazed over by the houses’s shimmer and twinkle and the electronic colorspray of the WAVs her thoughts drifting back to when she was just thirteen years old when the New Laws Era began. Thirteen. A little girl. She shifted in her seat. Remembering the first night the laws went into effect, how she tried to hide between her bunk bed and desk and couldn’t help but look out the walls of her room and feel ashamed. All those people in their homes looking at her, looking at each other, looking over their shoulders and cowering in the corners. So many changes. The doors unlocked. The curfew. The watch organizations. The murders. The gangs. Even the edict forbidding the throwing of stones. Stuff like that.
With the glass walls came safety. They argued. The old walls with their gyproc and nails and layers of paint and musty old wall paper, all that they argued, chopped our world into tiny bits so that we only digested reality one little box at a time. It limited our minds, they told us. Made us think in tiny boxes. It was madness after all to cut things up into tiny pieces. We label mass murders “schizophrenic” or “psychopathic” for doing the same thing to the bodies of their innocent victims and then we fry’em in the chair. Walls, they said, they put the very same cuts as the psychopath in his victim as a wall does into the space around us, put cuts into our minds, cuts in the way we think and organize socially. Walls made a mad place. And schizophrenics of us all.
But glass walls would end all of that. Blow the roof right off’er. Open’er wide up. They had the tests to prove it. Something she saw on CNN but was too young to understand. Something about the behaviour of mice, then rats, then pigs, then something else and how their behaviour imporoved. Or something like that.
They promised us everything would be different. And it is.
Everything would be better, they said. Well, better, as they proved, is a very shaky thing.
To be truthful though, there were many nights when she and Earl sat around the kitchen table discussing Bobbie Evans’s habit of going up to the sock drawer in the master bedroom whenever his wife, Doreen, was out. It was a source of mystery and communication, two elements central to a good relationship and she wondered if Law One was introduced in ordered to actually strengthen domestic bonds. How many hours did they spend having a bottle of wine and discussing the fact that Abraham Edmonds liked to actually do his taxes in his underwear?
But what do they say about me?
She coasted down the street careful to drive not too fast, not too slow. Fifty. Nothing suspicious. Stay just right of the yellow line and you’ll be fine, she reminded herself, just follow the plan. And she heard her self explaining to Earl earlier in the day, in her chirpy sing-songy voice that she was going to prepare a rigatoni and get at her scrap book, editing and designing pages about her paperweight collection.
Yes, she could see them and they could see her. But that was the point, right?
Theresa rolled up to the electropulsed gate. From her purse she pulled out Elba’s District Time Card or DTC and smiled at the memory of her children calling it the Destiny card, and she slid it into the slot. There was no time now for her to worry about Penny and Reil. She took back the card and thanked Science for small favours. Elba would loose time on her card, but Theresa had promised to make it up to her with a soup and salad at Prestos and Elba was delighted with that. The gates swung open. Theresa nudged the Torrento out to the curb then hit the gas hoping to make up for the time she lost crawling through the suburbs.
The night sky was a spreadsheet of astronomical calculations and Theresa couldn’t help but think of chance and calculus and how good her chances really where. Well, so far, so good. There was Minnie, of course, Minnie and her god-damned TrackStar 3000. Theresa had to hope that she would keep silent.
No, questions and comments would follow and she made a mental note to stop by Minnie’s when she got back home.