‘Contained and Orderly Lives’ – An Excerpt

Before Edward could chew his first bit of lasagna, Kathy Cannon’s voice, via portable microphone, shattered whatever serenity his dining room afforded him. Testing. Can everyone hear me? Should I turn it up? Raise your hands in the back if you can hear me.

“What is that?” he coughed, reaching for a glass of ice water, the bubbling mozzarella scalding the roof of his mouth.

“That’s our neighbor,” Mary-Elaine said, a gamine grin crossing her face.

“What is she doing?”

Her smile held, she took a bite and looked away from him. “She ain’t running a bingo game.”

I want to welcome everyone to the inaugural meeting of NO HATE, and give yourselves a round of applause for being on time.

Rising over the staccato of palms slapping were incoherent howls— Whoo-hoo— the guttural release of blind pride. Edward said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Going around now is a sign-in sheet. Please include a phone number where you can be reached during the day. Also, make sure you get a copy of the flow chart we’ve provided. It explains parliamentary procedure, which is how these meetings will be conducted. And once again, thank you for taking an interest in Neighbors Organized! Homeowners Against Terrorist Exploits.

“I didn’t just hear that,” he said.

“Is something the matter?” she asked, knowing full well what the matter was.

He was on his feet, knocking over his chair as he stood, racing into the kitchen, to the window above the sink, trying to see over the row of fir separating his property from the Cannon’s. “The food’s getting cold,” Mary-Elaine called after him. He saw nothing through the trees and went out to the back deck.

Kathy’s voice was louder outside. Based on the murmuring coming from the Cannon’s backyard, it seemed that she wasn’t talking in a vacuum.

I’ve got a question, Kathy, someone called out and she roared over the microphone, I hate to be a stickler about the rules but if anyone wants my attention, he should say, ‘Excuse me, Madam Chairwoman’.

Excuse me, Madam Chairwoman.

The chair recognizes Derrick Wishnow. Derrick you have the floor. If anyone doesn’t understand what I’m doing, please refer to the flow chart.

I thought we were calling ourselves, Neighbors Organized! Homeowners Against Terrorism in Evengate. But I keep hearing you say ‘Terrorist Exploits.’

Another voice called out, I thought it was Terrorism in Evengate too.

Mr. Wishnow has the floor. Please don’t interrupt, Kathy cried.

I don’t mind, Derrick said, anybody can speak. I just want to know what our name is.

Does this mean you’re yielding the floor?

Sure, whatever.

The chair has the floor.

Had Edward not known better, he might have assumed it was an elaborate prank. But who was being duped here? He was hot with the embarrassment of belonging to the same citizenry as them, hotter with ridicule, and he ran back inside. “You’ve got to hear this.”

Mary-Elaine shook her head and pointed at her plate with her fork. “I’m eating.” He lurched over the table and grabbed her by the wrist, lifting her from her seat. “Okay, okay, I’m coming,” she said, extricating her wrist from his damp grip. She took her glass and the pitcher of ice water with lime slices floating on top and followed him outside. They leaned against the deck railing, next to each other. He helped himself to her glass and then refilled it.

Mr. Wishnow’s brought up a good point. I know there’s been some debate over what to call our organization, Kathy began, and I’ve decided that we shouldn’t limit our membership to just our town. I’m sure many people throughout the county will be interested, and so, not to sound exclusive, Homeowners Against Terrorist Exploits was chosen. Of course, this is open to a resolution, if it is so desired.

More murmuring floated over the wall of trees as the members debated, for some time, if they could even carry a resolution. Since it was the first meeting they didn’t know how many members NO HATE had on its roll and, therefore, they had no way of determining if they had a quorum. Edward looked at Mary-Elaine. Unable to keep acting as though it were just another evening on Elkwood Terrace, her face was full of playful disbelief, laughing silently with her eyes, amused as she was by the proceedings. At one point, when Paul Cannon explained to one confused man that a quorum wasn’t a large pit with a lot of rocks in it, Edward lost control.

“For fuck’s sake,” he said and started laughing. As if contagious, Mary-Elaine started laughing as well.

I believe it would be prudent to table the motion at this time, Kathy said.

“You better thank me. We could be there now,” said Mary-Elaine.

All those in favor say “Yea.”

“She asked?”

“I told her I had to talk to you about it first.”

“Great. Now she’ll think it’s my fault we’re not against terrorism in Evengate, or terrorist exploits, or whatever it is they finally decide they’re against.”

Pardon me, Madam Chairwoman, but is it true that we’ll need NO HATE T-shirts because I know a place that will do it for a great price.

Kathy shouted, almost frantic, I don’t think a discussion about T-shirts is germane to the motion.

Mary-Elaine rolled her eyes. “What’s the matter with her?”

“She’s insane.”

The meeting had quieted and Kathy’s amplified voice alone pealed out over the gathering dusk. I know it isn’t easy. It’s going to take a lot of hard work. I know once everyone gets the hang of parliamentary procedure, these meetings will go much smoother. Before we adjourn tonight, I again want to commend each of you for taking your civic duty seriously. Not everyone is as responsible as you. That’s a shame. Hopefully, one day, it will be a crime. So be proud of yourself.

He took a long sip from the pitcher, brought it down on the railing, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He stared at the wall of trees, not saying anything but shaking his head. In the ensuing silence, he realized he was just laughing with Mary-Elaine. He couldn’t remember when such laughter came so naturally. He was no longer shaking his head over the reality of NO HATE’s existence, but in astonishment that he and his wife had been able to come together to condemn it. “Let’s say I sabotaged one of these meetings.” he said, gauging if she felt the same way.

“Why don’t you assassinate her? Bring an end to the revolution before it starts.”

“I’ll buy a bb gun tomorrow,” he said.

“I was kidding.”

If anyone wants to earn brownie points with Madam Chairwoman, you can to help me and Paul stack the folding chairs. Otherwise, we’ll see you at the next meeting.

“Did you hear that? Brownie points with Madam Chairwoman,” he pleaded.

“She’ll press charges.”

“I’ll take my chances with a jury.”

“There are better ways we can get her.”

And he relented because she said we. As if they were in cahoots. It meant he wasn’t wrong to think that they were laughing together. “Suggestions?” he said.

In the evening light her face looked soft as fresh laundry. She said, “Water balloons?”

He imagined them working together, Mary-Elaine at the kitchen sink filling the balloons, tossing them to him, and then he would pivot and launch them over the trees. Some might burst on him and they’d laugh about that too. Maybe he’d stand on the roof and rain down on the meeting like a vengeful god hurling lightning bolts at heretics. “I can live with that.”

They moved back inside to finish dinner. The sauce and cheese had congealed on the plates, the Pyrex dish had cooled. “You want me to reheat this?” he said.

“I’ll eat it the way it is.”

They sat back down. “I can’t imagine what goes on in Kathy’s head,” he said.

“She told me that some people have a hard time doing the right thing.”

“We should piss in those balloons.”

“Bleach,” she said around a mouthful.

“You’re a devious woman,” he said, entertained by the thought of lobbing Clorox filled balloons over the trees and the screams of NO HATE members as they crashed down on them.

Aaron Jacobs’ writing includes the novel, Contained and Orderly Lives, and the screenplay for the short film, Foul, which is scheduled to shoot in early 2011. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. This is his first published piece.

Photo Source: The Hurst Review

3 thoughts on “‘Contained and Orderly Lives’ – An Excerpt”

  1. The novel is currently unpublished, but under consideration. When the author secures a book contract or we obtain further information, we'll be glad to share it with you. Thank you for your interest.

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