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  Table of contents Issue Seventeen UNRULY OBJECTS



ella’s daily five a.m. bark didn’t disturb Chris Bliss that morning. Ugly thoughts had woken him at an ugly hour. He was a person perennially plagued by the world’s blemishes, and for two days, in the spaces between red lights and green lights, elevator conversations and nighttime sitcoms, her treachery had been the sole story on the ticker tape of his mind. In bed the dark ruminations were even more inescapable. No distractions, no fresh air to remind him of life’s absurd theater, just him and the labyrinth of his consciousness.

Oblivious to her husband’s psychic descent, Cheryl Bliss rose heavily, padded downstairs in ratty house slippers, clipped on the leash, and stood in the front yard scowling in pajama pants pocked with little red hearts, breathing white puffs into the dark. Bella’s bark could be heard all over the neighborhood - the honorary rooster of Feary Lane, whether you liked it or not - as if to say “I’m here! I exist!” Every morning the dog agonized over the perfect spot to defecate like it was a 24-sided Rubik’s Cube, running in circles and eventually settling on the lucky patch. Then Cheryl shuffled back into the warm that smelled like last night’s fried fish, and went upstairs to deal with the kid. Buttons were snapped and lunches were packed, and Chris Bliss didn’t rise from his drool-stained pillow until he was sure they were gone, which could always be discerned by the yells emanating from the front door stoop.

“Get in the car!” Cheryl shouted into still, chilly air.

The boy didn’t listen. He never listened, not until she got really mad.

“I’m not gonna ask you again! Get in the car!”

The boy sang nonsensically and drew smiley faces on the window grime with his finger.


She screamed it this time, her voice deep and gravelly. Receiving no response, she threw her purse on the ground next to the driver’s side door and ran toward him. He darted away as she grasped for his left elbow, his brisk, taunting laughs converting her anger to fury.

“GET IN THE CAR!” she screamed again, opening the door for him. “GET IN THE CAR!”

He hopped up onto the seat. She strapped the seat belt across his lap and slammed the door shut.

Chris, still listening to the exchange, rolled his eyes and rubbed his face with his hands. He felt no pity for the wife, who had, in a fit of spite just the night before, blurted that his bloated, clammy skin “looked like a body rotting in water.” But the question of whether his own progeny, spitting image, might be a simpleton brought a tightness to his bowels. And the neighbors could hear the whole thing, he knew they could. Knew it by the way their curtains fluttered ever so slightly, eyes averted when he saw them at the supermarket. Cheryl knew it too, he mused. This was a show she put on, a chance for everyone to bear witness to her complete dominance over another Earthly creature. Even the boy, in some unformed part of his mind, knew he was playing a role. That they were on display, the stars of their own reality.

But, back to the issue at hand. Chris Bliss took a lukewarm shower and thought about what was to be done. Sadie. He was still working through the ‘disbelief’ stage of grief (at least he was pretty sure that was one of the stages). Didn’t she know how important she’d been to him? Even if he only saw her through a dingy bedroom window, he’d looked for her every morning, convinced it brought him luck. Some days they left their houses at the same time, each getting into their separate cars in tandem, neither having any inkling of what was going through the other’s head but assuming they did. He couldn’t help but soften at the thought of her, even now. Her plain, but regal face that always looked very serious. Her long-fingered hands that he liked to imagine against piano keys – soft skin on resin. She wore long skirts that dragged the ground and carried a weathered brown leather camera case. Sadie had only been living next door for about six months, but he knew – don’t ask him how he knew, he just did - that she understood him in a way that no one else did. Over time that understanding had begun to bolster him, define him. It was her silence that told him this, her silence that embraced his, tacitly approving of his way of being. Where his wife filled the air with sound, Sadie sliced through it. Next to her, Cheryl Bliss’s manners, which he’d hitherto found endearingly and positively female, suddenly registered as coarse and vulgar, and he was newly born into the picture of a life that made him more himself than he’d ever been.

This made the betrayal even more disturbing to him, and he alternately puzzled and seethed over it. He definitely hadn’t seen it coming. That fateful morning he hadn’t seen any sign of her, not even through the windows. He’d sighed coffee breath and slid his travel mug into the black plastic cup holder that conformed exactly to its base. A grey Midwestern sky hovered over him forebodingly as he drove the suburban highway, a commute he’d made so many times that most days he arrived to his workplace having forgotten the whole thing entirely. He parked in his usual spot near the lamppost, careful not to graze his bumper against its concrete base. Dropped his keys on the laminate in his cubicle and turned on his computer.

His screen name was CharlieChaps, and this was the fault of his parents. They’d named him Christopher Bliss, and it had not occurred to them at the time that everyone would call him Chris, endowing him with a rhyming first and last. He hadn’t been able to escape this embarrassment in the analog version of his life, and he could still dig up the taunts and limericks of eleven-year-olds in not-so-recent memory. But online, he could be anyone. CharlieChaps was not only a bid to rid himself of his stupid birth name, but, by association, to clue the world in to the fact that he was a secret genius, in possession of a boundless inner depth they neither had nor could understand. CharlieChaps was his armor against a dog-eat-dog world.

But Sadie had been different. She was different, like him. It had been easy enough to find her social media accounts, and he had gotten into the habit of checking them a few times a day. She mostly posted things about books, but also seemed to have a peculiar interest in Victorian death portraits, which Chris Bliss found oddly arousing. However, on the morning in question, there had been no books or portraits, just seven words. Seven words that would change his life forever:

“I think my neighbors might be lunatics,” she said.

He jolted back in his chair when he saw it, as if the words had leapt through the screen and throat-punched him. She might have been talking about different neighbors, it was true. But, no, he was certain this was about him. Chris Bliss felt the betrayal all the way to his core. You think you know somebody, he thought to himself. You trust them, submit to them. There’s something terrifying about living one’s life in such close proximity to complete strangers. They could be anyone.

All morning, instead of working, he browsed the internet hoping to alleviate his craving for social justice. First he typed “what to do about hateful neighbors. ” Then “punishment for betrayal.” Chris Bliss believed in the virtue of reciprocity without even fully understanding it. It made sense to him in the way gravity made sense, he didn’t need to know the particulars. Every relationship, every interaction, was an investment. Give and take, these were just the rules. If a person only took though, or worse, returned his generosity with ridicule, it was only fair that he take something too. Because taking without giving back was cheating. And cheaters should pay.

In truth, the thing he ached to do was to wrap his fingers around Sadie’s neck and squeeze, perhaps kissing her lips as the last breaths fled from them. To lick the arrogance and the fear right off her tongue. He imagined the warmth of her blood, the cheery white of bone smiling under her skin. Just for fun – or maybe curiosity – he searched “how to dispose of a dead body.” And then “chain saw rental” and “how to mix cement.” He wondered what the world would be like if there were no consequences for murdering your neighbor. If we were each countries unto ourselves, every other person we met wholly subject to our will. Of course, the world wasn’t like that, he reminded himself, and so in response to Sadie’s slander he eventually settled for a strongly-worded digital note.

“Your neighbors are good people,” he typed, “and you’re nothing but a dirty, foul-mouthed whore.”

He clicked “send” and felt much better. Some level of justice had been delivered, and he considered himself terribly generous for abandoning his more passionate impulses. He managed to go back to work and forget all about it.

When he got home that evening the house was empty of wife and kid, who would be at baseball practice for at least another half hour. Bella vibrated giddily as Chris bent down to clip her leash to the metal D-ring, careful not to snag a clump of wiry fur. They set out toward the cemetery down the street. It was an excellent place for dog-walking, with its weedy hills and abundant reading material. Their route was based on a series of favorite headstones, whose epitaphs immortalized their inhabitants in a way that appealed directly to Chris’s innermost hunger. On the left, under Thomas Coombs, 1947-1999: “He will never be forgotten.” Up ahead and around the corner, etched into the pink granite of John Richardson, 1899-1983: “Here lies one written in the histories.”

Soon the sky opened and rain fell in great clear curtains, slapping the concrete underfoot and pinging the green metal lid of a nearby trash can. They stood under a tree for a while, Bella pawing and scratching curiously at the street where the water ran in thin, glistening sheets toward the creek. She didn’t know it was water; to her it looked like the ground was melting. When she started to bark at it, Chris yanked on her leash, using his other hand to shield his forehead from the cold drops that dripped between pine needles.

“Stupid dog,” he said, and wondered how his life had come to this.

Soon the air began to dry, at least enough that they could head for home. Chris looked at his watch; Cheryl and Nathan would be back by now. He’d just reached his favorite stone – “I was somebody” – in front of which Bella opted to squat and deliver a thin stream of amber, when a woman materialized from behind a mausoleum carrying a sprig of artificial carnations.

“Hey, do you think you could take her somewhere else to do that?” the woman said.

Chris paused to turn around, then turned back. “Me?” he asked.

“Yes, you. Your dog. It’s pretty gross.” She had conservative helmet-hair and double-wide hips, and the kind of saccharine tone that implied such innocence that it was impossible to argue without seeming belligerent.

He looked at the ground for a moment. “She’s just peeing,” he said.

“It’s pretty gross.”

Her repetition, something about the way her mouth formed the words, filled him with inexplicable rage. He muttered a “whatever” under his breath and walked on, feeling a revived sense of camaraderie with the dog who’d, in the space of seconds, rhetorically shifted back to the side of the fence that separated him from everyone else.

When he walked in the door, Cheryl was stirring a packet of powdered cheese into a glob of cooked macaroni.

“Where have you been?” she asked accusingly.

“Cemetery,” he said, checking to make sure Nathan was parked in his usual spot in front of the living room television. “You won’t believe what happened. Some crazy bitch yelled at me when Bella peed on the grass.”

“She yelled at you?”

“Yeah. She told me to take the dog somewhere else, like she owned the fucking place.”

Cheryl contorted her face into a supportively hateful expression, which, given her rather homely features, looked less menacing and more like a mug shot. They were at their best like this, united against a common enemy. He wanted to tell her about Sadie too, about her betrayal, and feel the validation of pure commiseration. But it would raise too many questions.

Just then Nathan ran through the kitchen and out the back door, Bella quick on his heels. Chris barely had time to shout “don’t let the dog –“ before she’d already escaped into the yard and taken off full speed down the street.

“God dammit!” Chris shouted. “Nathan, get back in the goddamned house!”

Cheryl took the mac and cheese off the stove and ran outside. Nathan stood by obliviously, mock-fighting two action figures, one in each hand. The dog was gone.

“Nathan, get in the house!” Cheryl yelled. She plodded behind Chris through the wet grass of the neighbor’s yard and noted the impending dusk. “Should I get a flashlight?”

Chris didn’t respond.

They walked from house to identical house, peering under bushes and behind sheds. But after a full circuit of the neighborhood, they ended up back at their own house again, having seen no sign of the escapee. Nathan was still standing in the same place on the sidewalk, playing with the same two action figures.

“She’s over there,” he said, gesturing with a shoulder.

Across the yard, Sadie stood with a squirming Bella in her arms. “I think this young lady belongs to you,” she said.

Chris stood dumbly for a moment, unsure of what to do.

“Well, GO GET HER!” Cheryl finally shouted at his back.

His features turned congenial and neighborly. “Thanks,” he shouted in Sadie’s direction, “she really gave us a fright.”

“No problem,” she replied.

He ambled over and extended his arms, and welcomed her back.




A graduate of Indiana University, Brittany Terwilliger grew up in the Midwest and has served time as a newspaper columnist, a corn detasseler, and an event planner. Her fiction has appeared in New Pop Lit. At present, Brittany is finishing her first novel and living with a schnauzer/beagle mix who goes by the name of Charlie. Find her on Twitter @Brttnyblm.

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