Here's What's Happening in Your Neck of the Woods
a short story by Michelle Caffrey
About the Author
Michelle Caffrey worked in the computer software industry for thirty years, until she and her husband quit their jobs, sold their home and bought a 1906 Dutch barge, Imagine, on which they travelled the waterways of France for 10 years before settling in Florida. In addition to short stories, she has published a memoir about her travels, two novels, and Bring Jade Home, a book about the true story of a dog lost in Yellowstone and the people who searched for her (Faircountry Press, 2018).
You go out on a late summer morning at a commercial break to throw trash in containers closer to the cul-de-sac, containers that your husband built to be raccoon-proof and to keep the yard looking neat. Out of sight, two men slip out from the woods behind your house, the beautiful oak woods, the main reason the two of you bought this house. You stop to admire the play of sunlight on the chrysanthemums and then return through the back door. Hands grab; you’re surprised; there’s a smell of cigarette smoke and sweat, a look at tattoos, a sense of disaster.
The two men take turns raping you while the TV shows the latest in back-to-school fashions from kindergarten to college. Upstairs your husband, a cop on the night beat, is asleep, clock radio softly playing music, his loaded weapon on the nightstand, easily within reach. He doesn’t hear a thing.
When they have taken what they wanted — your purse, and in it the wallet with its credit cards, cash and the keys to your car — you press the button to close the garage as they drive away in your SUV. Shaking, you walk up the white-carpeted stairs holding the dark-stained oak railing with white knuckles, looking for comfort and dreading the guilt you will find.
Later, you identify them from a lineup, focusing on the tattoos and find out they have long criminal records ranging from rape, armed robbery, and attempted murder. Much later, during the dull agony of the trial, you learn they had been released early from the same prison where they’d met.
“Because,” says the woman lawyer representing you, “the prisons are full.”
As you look at the two of them one day at the trial, they stare back with dead eyes and you realize that if they ever find you alone again they will not stop at rape.
Your husband retires from the force, and you both move three-quarters of a continent away, trading oak trees for saguaro cacti. You develop a case of shingles that the new doctor blames on stress; your husband loses forty pounds and takes a part-time job as a security guard at the new super discount store on the edge of town. You hate the store, not just because of its confusing vastness, but because of the smells: old hotdogs, stale popcorn, cloyingly sweet fragrances, the chemical smell of sizing holding the cheap clothes together, fecund fertilizer, and above all, the odor of plastic. This is the smell of America and you despise what it has become. When you complain, he says he likes the extra income; you know he needs the job to be kept away from you and of all that you remind him.
Every weekday morning, after he’s gone to work and all of the security alarms are set, you watch your morning news show, the same one you’ve been watching for twenty years. The cast of characters has changed but the women remain young and the anchorman is perpetually a handsome one, but there have only been two weathermen. You’ve read once that the weatherman is supposed to provide the folksiness and warmth to the morning team, thus appealing to broader demographics. This newer one is an African-American whom you suspect prefers jazz and a good Merlot to Country Western and beer, but he’s been well coached. This morning he’s energetically describing a hurricane about to deliver a one-two punch and smash into the southeast coast of the country. He looks into the camera and says, “Now here’s what’s happening in your neck of the woods.”
The local weatherman comes on, Hispanic, without a trace of an accent, and tells you what you already know, what you’ve known all along: there are no hurricanes here this far from an ocean, but there is a possibility of severe thunderstorms with dangerous lightning late this afternoon and evening. Lightning kills more people than either hurricanes or tornadoes combined, and despite the old wives’ tale, lightning can certainly strike twice.
“Here’s What’s Happening in Your Neck of the Woods” Copyright ©2001 by Michelle Caffrey.
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this story may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations for the purposes of critical reviews or articles. Educators who wish to print or photocopy in part or whole this story for classroom use, or publishers who wish to include this story in an anthology should send inquiries by email to the author.