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Upstairs, Downstairs



It happens every time I call my parents. Mom is watching TV in the den upstairs; Dad has skittered off downstairs to his Man Cave. When my call comes in, they always pick up their respective cordless phones simultaneously. At this point some parents would say, “I’ll hang up and let you talk to Mom,” or “I’ll pick back up after you’ve talked to Dad,” but no. They both stay on, one upstairs and one down. “All George needs down there,” Mom sighs, “is a half-bath and a hot plate, and I’d not see him again til Gabriel’s trumpet calls us to glory. Your dad’d float up and maybe we’d say two words to each other at the top step before flying off.”

To make matters worse they watch the news, which scares them to death. The first item they announce to me is the horrific global Report o’ the Day.

“Natalie,” Mom warns, “You know we’re not long for this world. The Arabs and ISIS is attacking. It’s the end times.”

“I don’t believe ISIS is after anybody in Bruce County, Tennessee.”

“You don’t never know,” Dad mumbles. “Hal went down to the post office other day and told Bobby they was a Arab-looking man in there handling mail behind the counter. We got to thinking about when they started that anthrax mess some years back.”

“We’re betting Bruce County’s going to have a bad anthrax problem before too long,” Mom says. “Hal wants to warn somebody about it but you know Kitty the postmistress had to take a rest at Shady Stone for bad nerves, so – ”

“So ain’t nobody to tell,” Dad interrupts. Then, as always, the subject is changed and I’m out of the conversation altogether.

“George, did you call the yard men?” Mom asks. “I’m looking out here at the front. All that mulch just laying around, it’s a eyesore.”

“I told you, Mildred, I ain’t heard nothing definite. Except Junior did call the other day, said they might have to put it off a week or two.”

“Put it off! I wanted to get that done today. When were you going to tell me about this?”

I try to ease back in. “Well, I hope y’all are enjoying this spring weather.”

“Junior and them got lots of jobs around here, Mildred.”

“You could have mentioned it. Here I was about to put makeup on and change into my good top, when you knew all the time they wasn’t coming.”

As I grit my teeth and listen to my parents interact for the first time that day (by phone in the same house), I wonder: how bad could anthrax be? Better that fate than being Raptured and spending eternity listening to such bickering. Maybe I’ll seduce the Arab working at the P.O., convert to Islam, get him to write me a love letter with anthrax enclosed, rub it all over myself.

Gabriel won’t even have to waste a precious trumpet blast on my lost soul.

This story was written by Ellen J. Perry, a Literature and Humanities instructor at A-B Tech College and UNC-Asheville. Her academic interests include 17th- and 18th-century British life and literature, Restoration drama, and Southern/ Appalachian culture. Ellen's short story "Milk, Bread, Soft Drinks" was awarded First Place in Fiction by the Bacopa Literary Review and published in their print journal (October 2015). Additional works of original fiction have appeared in Steel Toe Review, Deep South Magazine, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and Gravel among others. Ellen enjoys traveling to the beach, dancing, reading, and playing with her stylish cat, Ms. Coco Chanel. For more information please visit Ellen's website at www.ellenjperry.com.
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