A Letter to the Gubamint
Darryl was already agitated when Karrie insisted on digging into him some more.
“You think they care? You’re wastin’ your time!”
Over the years, Darryl had figured out that holding his tongue and letting his wife air out her feelings was the quickest way to resolution, but by God, she never made it easy.
“Instead of fiddlin’ ‘round with that, maybe you ought to help me put this diaper on,” she continued.
His pencil poked through the paper several times, leaving tiny holes in his anxious words.
“If they do anything, they’ll send some men in some suits and sunglasses down here and haul you away. And then how am I s’posed to take care of Kenny?” His wife laughed without taking a breath. “Not that much would change eitherways.”
The lead finally snapped off the end of the pencil and Darryl slapped it down on the tiny table extending from the wall of their imitation Airstream trailer.
“Dang it, woman! Don’t you think someone with some special firepower ought to know about this? I ain’t got enough ammo to take ‘em all on myself. And ‘sides, they’re probably invincible to the kind of bullets they sell at Walmart.”
“They ain’t gonna believe you,” Karrie replied. She stood a whole three feet from him, hovering over a pot of boiling water, emptying a blue box of macaroni and cheese with one hand and holding Kenny in the other. The boy was squirming and yelping as his feet dangled inches from the hot steam.
“Ha!” he erupted. “Shows what you know. Who do you think knows about ‘em if it ain’t the gubamint?”
Finally, she shut her lips. Darryl yanked off his green-and-yellow trucker hat, grabbed the back of his neck and twisted his head around to release some tension. He stood and proceeded to pull open every drawer in the place, all three of them, rummaging through while tossing aside expired coupons and Karrie’s unread issues of The Enquirer.
He slammed the last drawer back into its place. The knob came flying off and bounced onto the floor. “Ain’t we got more than one dang pencil in this place?”
“You want to write that letter so gawt-dang bad, go and get one from the scary neighbors,” she said. “I’m busy puttin’ food on the table and takin’ care of our son.”
Darryl didn’t want to say he was becoming one of those gore-phobes–people that shut themselves up and didn’t come outside for nothing but what they had to–but he was starting to dread any potential run-ins with the residents of Coconut Groves Mobile Home Park.
If he had to guess, it all started a couple of weeks ago. Wilmer down towards the entrance was the first one Darryl had noticed. Usually hiding in his trailer most days, Wilmer worked nights at Shooter’s, a pool hall down the interstate a few miles, but he had since become a regular social moth, full of ‘Good morning’s and ‘How are you today’s. Darryl swore Wilmer even said something in French once or twice, but since Darryl didn’t speak French, he could only say it sounded like French.
By yesterday evening, it seemed almost every other neighbor had taken on airs like they’d hit the lottery. But there was more to it than that and Darryl couldn’t quite put a finger on it other than to come to the most logical conclusion–the Grays had come (aliens, to the layman) and they were either controlling the people’s minds or had swapped bodies with them completely. Darryl had watched enough episodes of Ancient Aliens to be convinced such a thing was not outside the realm of possibility.
He slammed the trailer door shut and was accosted by his nearest neighbor.
“Good morning, Darryl. Marvelous and sublime weather we are having, is it not? Though they say a cold front is moving in, which is a mass of cold air on the edge of a low-pressure system.”
As Darryl cleared his front yard in a few steps, the only acknowledgment he gave Little Jim was a squint and a wide berth. The man was five-three and had to be clocking in at around two-fifty, wearing the same stained t-shirt he’d gotten for free at a raffle at Pete’s Cars six years ago. There was no telling if the problem was catching, so Darryl held his breath until he made it to the front office and checked in with Debbie.
“Hey Deb,” he said, resting his arms on the counter overlooking her desk. Darryl wondered how she could find anything through piles of sun-faded Beanie Babies. “You got a pencil?”
Her chair squeaked as she stood to meet him. She was wearing a tight tank top that showed off her freckled chest and shoulders and her acid-wash shorts seemed like they were cutting off circulation to her dimpled thighs on down.
“I’m sure I have one or two around here for you, Darryl.” Behind her glasses, her hazel eyes glowed like those of a man on a diet standing outside Rod’s Donut Shop.
“Okay, great,” Darryl said. “I been trying to finish this dang letter.”
“Oh?” she asked, completely ignoring his request. “Whatcha doin’? Writin’ a love letter?”
“No, nothin’ like that,” he said with all seriousness. “Important stuff. Gubamint stuff.”
Debbie raised her eyebrows. “Ooh. Not only are you a handsome man, but you got some intrigue to ya’. That wife of yours better be appreciatin’ you.”
“Hey, you noticed anything funny ‘round here?” Daryl asked.
“There ain’t a day goes by that I don’t notice something funny at Coconut Groves.”
“Well, yeah, but I mean somethin’ different. Like people actin’…different?”
Debbie’s remained motionless.
“Anyway, don’t matter,” Darryl said. “I’m gonna see it gets taken care of. So you got a pencil or what?”
She gave him a disappointed look. “Yeah, sure, hold on.”
Debbie turned around and leaned down to pull open a drawer in the cabinet behind her.
“Gotta be one in here somewhere,” she said, looking over her shoulder at Darryl while her butt swayed in the air like one of them baboons Darryl had seen on TV the other night.
He was growing impatient. He wanted to get the letter in before the mail lady came, and was about to walk down to Perly’s Drug Store and just spend some scratch on a new pencil before Debbie finally shut the drawer and handed him a #2 with an eraser on the end that looked like a watermelon.
He was already out the door as she was saying something about calling her anytime he needed help with something, anything at all, be it business or personal, but especially personal because she was certain she could take care of his needs.
Gravel ground beneath Darryl’s flip-flops as he headed back to his trailer, but he stopped halfway and decided he’d have a better chance of getting the letter done on a picnic bench in the common area. After five minutes of writing and swatting at mosquitoes, he had the thing finished and sealed in an envelope. Hoping to avoid Debbie, he went the long way around the back of the front office to the mailboxes on the side. Before he slipped it in the outbox, he confirmed he’d gotten the address right:
To the folks dealing with the Grays, Pentagon, Washington.
He was smiling as he walked the hundred yards back home until he was accosted by a skin-and-bones woman with a drooling mutt in tow.
“Darryl, how are you? Is that a new pair of pants? You are looking quite urbane. One might even say, debonair.”
Oh no, he thought, not you too, Jolene.
He picked up the pace.
Darryl and Karrie had spent a couple days back in the routine when, one afternoon, a set of rapid knocks set the whole trailer to rattling.
Kenny stirred in his crib.
Karrie looked at Darryl and he looked back at her. Darryl grabbed the remote and turned the volume down on Family Feud.
He spread a section of vinyl mini-blinds beside his chair and spied a man and a woman, both wearing matching dark suits and sunglasses. Two points for Karrie, but Darryl was confident the gubamint wasn’t going to take him away. Hell, he was going to be a hero. Images of getting some sort of medal from the President himself flashed through his mind, though he couldn’t quite remember who the President was this year, so the face was just a blur.
Darryl was surprised the feds had responded so quickly, but he had a feeling gubamint mail moved faster than people mail, especially when it came to matters of national security.
The door squealed on its rusty hinges as Darryl pushed it open.
“Mr. Shamesworth?” the woman asked. She took off her sunglasses, revealing a pair of eyes bluer than the sky. The man beside her had barely moved, probably due to the fact that he had a gallon of gel holding down his hair. It looked like the kind of mop you’d see on a plastic doll. In his right hand was a leather briefcase.
“The one and only,” Darryl replied. “I knew it. I knew you’d come and do somethin’ about this.” He spoke the words to them but gave a self-satisfied look to Karrie.
The woman squinted and smiled, then looked her partner. The man simply shrugged. “We’re here to help,” she said. “My name is Candace and this is William. We’ve come to talk to you about a few things that your neighbors are involved in. May we come in and discuss?”
“Of course!” Darryl said. The two visitors stepped inside the trailer while Darryl gave his wife a big wink. She remained seated and eyed Candace and William with suspicion as they said their hellos.
“You’ll have to ‘scuse the mess,” Darryl said, suddenly embarrassed at the state of the trailer. He swept away little Kenny’s dried Oatie Os that had fallen across the dining table. “Please, have a seat.” Darryl extended his hand toward the booth around the table.
The man and the woman squeezed themselves in, both looking as uncomfortable as a pair of rabbits at a bloodhound convention.
Daryl plopped down across from them and launched into the speech that had been running over and over in his mind since he’d dropped the letter off in the mail.
“Ms. Candace. Mr. William. Now, I’m not sure where you want to start, but I been trying to figure out if there’s some sort of pattern here, some–”
“Mr. Shamesworth,” she interrupted. “Mrs. Shamesworth,” she followed with a nod in Karrie’s direction. “How do you feel about your current situation at Coconut Groves?”
Karrie began to speak, “Well, it had been just fine until my husband–”
“Oh, is this a test?” Darryl interrupted. “Ha! Of course, of course. Yup, you gotta make sure we’re free and clear. I’ll tell you right now, we’s still us. I try to stay away from the neighbors and I told Karrie she oughta’ do the same until ya’ll can get down here and assess the situation.”
William finally removed his own sunglasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“I’m sure you’ve seen quite a change in your neighbors, right?” he asked.
“Right!” Darryl replied.
“Would you say that they’ve come across more…educated?” Candace asked.
“Oh, definitely. It’s like they got these fancy brains all of a sudden. Take Odelia, for instance–the gal in space 13-C. I was trying to get to work the other morning and she comes flying at me, waving her arms as if she were in trouble. I asked what it was and she starts babbling at me about how she was going to have a little shindig that night to watch Comet 45P cross Aquila and Hercules and she’d love for the Missus and me to come.”
Candace and William smiled at each other.
Darryl continued, “I mean, I knew right then that somethin’ was up because only a week prior, she’d been complainin’ to Karrie that the light outside her trailer was broken and how was she s’posed to shoot the raccoons that get in her garbage if she couldn’t see ‘em. Ain’t never made a single mention in her life about no comets.”
“That’s great,” William said. “Fantastic!”
Darryl wasn’t sure what he said that made the man so happy, but he was beginning to feel confident that he was on the right track and something would be done.
“So what are ya’ll gonna do ‘bout this?” he asked. “If you can let me know before ya’ll drop a bomb or bring in the tanks, I’d ‘ppreciate it. I can hitch this trailer right up and park at Island Oasis up the street.”
William and Candace threw each other another confused look.
Finally, William undid the latches on his briefcase and opened it up.
“I think you’re going to like what we have to offer you. And best of all, it’s free.”
Darryl looked at Karrie.
“Well, I didn’t s’pect to pay nothin’ that you ain’t already got through my taxes.”
“That’s right,” Candace said, turning the briefcase around so everyone could see what was inside. “The good people of Horsetail County have already paid for these educational CDs.”
Except for the sound of cars zooming by on the nearby interstate and Kenny’s light snoring, the trailer was silent.
“Educational CDs?” Darryl looked like he’d just been invited to dinner with the pope. “What’s that got to do–”
“You get your pick,” Candace continued “though most of the neighbors have gotten to the good stuff already. Our apologies, but Horsetail didn’t get that much taxpayer money.” She pulled out a few DVD jewel cases and shuffled through them. “What do you think? Latin 101? Biology? Shakespeare’s King Lear? And don’t worry if you don’t have a CD player, the county can provide one on a payment plan.”
“I don’t understand,” Darryl said. “How’s this going to help us deal with the Grays?”
“The Grays?” Candace asked. “I don’t think we’ve met them yet. We’ve met the Turgensons, the Madgetts,–”
“Oh yeah, they got all the ones on Beethoven’s Sonatas,” William chimed in.
Darryl jumped to his feet, slamming his knees into the bottom of the table. He tried to hide the sting.
“What’s the big idea, here? I write ya’ll a letter to help with the Grays and you bring educational CDs?”
“Mr. Shamesworth,” Candace replied. “I’m not sure what you think we’re here for, and we haven’t been informed of any correspondence from you, but we work for Horsetail County. We’re a part of an educational outreach program for the ‘underprivileged,’” she said, flexing her index fingers in the air. “We feel the lack of easily available educational resources is a barrier to improving one’s livelihood and career trajectory.”
More painful silence, broken up only by a giggle from Karrie.
“I see,” Darryl said. “Ya’ll are from the gubamint though, right?”
“Well, yes, technically,” William replied.
Darryl was silent now as he stared at the two of them and then looked to his wife. Smug airs were written all over face, but he held back any comments.
“We’ll take the Shakespeare one!” he shouted, waking up little Kenny. Karrie jumped up to attend to him.
“Are you sure that’s the one you want?” Candace asked.
“Yep. Absolutely. I think that will do us just fine,” Darryl replied with as big of a smile as possible.
William smiled back. “Shakespeare it is! Now do you need the CD play–”
“Nope, we got one.”
“Darryl, we don’t–” Karrie said while bouncing Kenny on her shoulder.
“Yeah,” Darryl interrupted. “we are ay-okay. Much appreciated.”
William placed a jewel case on the table and closed the briefcase. They shook hands with both Darryl and Karrie, then left the trailer.
After a few minutes, when Kenny was lulled back to bed, Darryl slipped on his pair of sandals and walked toward the door.
“Where you goin’?” Karrie asked.
“Headin’ down to Perly’s to buy us a pencil and get the name of the President.”
Karrie shot him a look of confusion. “What for?” she asked.
“He needs to know just how deep the Grays have gotten into the system.”