The changing world made increasingly less sense to Butch. His Caucasian complexion had become more of a liability. He recognized that not so long ago its display would all but guarantee him what the kids were calling “privilege.” Having the upper hand in society had been something that the 56 year old enjoyed. As a straight, White, Christian male, he believed himself to be a living representation of everything correct with the the country. In his opinion, after all, straight, White, Christian males tamed the natives, built the railroads and industry, won the wars and kept the Communists at bay. He felt that all the sacrifices he, and the others like him made, were being uprooted for the queers and coloreds who, in his opinion, hadn’t done anything but profaned the American dream. Butch didn’t hate the gays or the transmissionsexuals or whatever they were calling themselves today, he wanted them to stay in their lane. Be gay or queer or transfaggy on their own time, in their own homes. The pastors told him that their lifestyle became an affront to everything normal. Even his neighbors were “married” men. Butch felt obligated to yell at them on his drive past their house. He felt doing so became his duty to remind them of their shameful ways.
Butch couldn’t do many things that he once did without being “corrected.” His sense of freedom felt ripped away through the new social catalogue. Women would talk back to him. Some even wanted to work on the construction jobs alongside men. His landlady was a Black who expected rent when due. Butch assumed she wanted the money to buy sneakers or crack. He couldn’t even drop the “n-word” without her getting offended. He hated that he needed to refer to the word as the “n-word.” Times felt better when he could call a minority their proper description without it being turned into some big deal.
His view of life came to a head when a Black had become elected president. FaulksNews agreed with his feelings that this could never be acceptable in a civilized world. He couldn’t have ever imagined being alive to witness one of them having all the power. The news broadcasters subtly reminded him that once one took power it would only be a matter of time that they would come for his guns. Butch made sure he had spent his life savings on guns, ammo and accessories before the feds would inevitably raid his home. He watched plenty of television news to be better informed about how he should feel. He suffered another loss when the Black won re-election against a deeply religious man who cared about America and should have taken back the country from the Communist Muslim. A young woman once asked Butch why he hated the Black president.
“Because once one of them gets in, then it’s all over. They are going to be running everything and, us, real Americans, are going to be rounded up and shipped off to the ghettos in cattle cars. But, not me. I’ll fight my way to freedom. From my cold, dead fingers.” He smiled and winked at her.
He assumed she would have agreed with him since they were both White. Butch remembered the look of abhorrent confusion on the young woman’s face. He immediately assumed she had to be one of those lesbian, Communist sympathizers the late night news always talked about. The fact that one of those had been in his town scared Butch very much. He made sure to tell his work buddies so they would be aware and keep their daughters safe.
The current normal created a reality that Butch struggled to navigate. He wholeheartedly believed that all this new technology and social changes wasn’t necessary. From his perspective backwards, if a person wanted to talk to someone, he went home and called them on a landline. If he wanted a coffee, the local restaurant would charge him twenty-five cents for a cup of black coffee. Today, five bucks paid for a skinny, mocha, Commie coffee to get points for a free cup. No one deserved free coffee unless you were a cop on duty.
Butch McMasters considered himself to be a real, patriotic American. He spoke English, he paid his taxes and he hated all things foreign or as he called them, “socialist.” He worked in the construction field with mostly like minded coworkers, though a few of the others were around because of some past, liberal program to give minorities a chance. Butch saw any government program as another step towards the “socialist agenda.” In his heart, he felt lost that he couldn’t exactly tell anyone what constituted a “socialist agenda”and he felt thankful no one asked. There became a lot he believed in that he couldn’t exactly explain the details about. Coming back to FaulksNews every night reassured the validity of his hollow perspective.
He wore his blood red MAGA hat as often as possible, regardless of the scorn from those “liberal snowflakes.” Butch didn’t consider himself a racist. He once helped a disabled Black lady when her newspaper fell on the ground. He bypassed the part of his memory where he thought that less Blacks meant more jobs for real Americans. Plus he gave himself credit for working alongside a Black a few weeks back. A nice enough fellow, named Clarence who worked hard on the construction site. Butch felt shocked to find that Clarence didn’t listen to gangsta rap out of his truck. He felt confident that this could simply be for show. FaulksNews had told him in code that Black people were responsible for most of the crime in his neighborhood. Butch even signed up for one of the home security systems that had run an ad between BREAKING NEWS issues.
The day moved along like most when his internal world became turned topsy-turvy. He watched a White cop kneel on the neck of a handcuffed Black man on tv. Butch watched as the man took his last breaths. His first thoughts were that the criminal obviously deserved what had been coming to him. If he hadn’t done anything wrong, he wouldn’t have been in the situation. His second thought registered, at least it’s one less of them to rob me. His last thought centered about how all the Blacks were going to riot like they always do. Butch decided to watch something else until the issue passed and FaulksNews could help him process what occurred. The images of the man on the ground with the cop’s knee suffocating him stuck in his thoughts like a visual splinter in the bottom of his mental foot.
At work the next day, most of the break time conversation centered on how the cop would likely to get railroaded for doing his job. Butch agreed with them. In his heart a seed of empathy took life and began sprouting. Butch found himself having a hard time wrapping his head around the images of that Black man pinned to the ground. Somewhere inside of him a dusty shelf of humanity began to become illuminated from the shadows. The FaulksNews pundits spun their narrative that justified the officer in killing a violent drug user in their custody. Butch didn’t see any violence or any use of “the drugs.” He only saw a man begging for his life, for his mother.
This reminded Butch of feelings. Feelings were what the Communist Left wanted men to feel. Butch lived his life by the male creed. Men can only have feelings during war, sports or if a child or dog dies. Anything else is a sign that the guy is a sissy-mary. Every day Butch struggled not to feel heartbroken. He overheard someone speaking as he waited in the bank line.
“Only a deeply racist, fascist cop would kill a restrained Black man in broad daylight and expect that to be considered acceptable. They’re not even working to hide their abuses anymore. How is this right? How is this ok in a free America? What happened to due process? He was a loving father and a son and an American.”
When he had time alone, Butch tried to shoot holes in this dialogue. No one had proven that the cop had any racist past. Just because he looked White didn’t make him racist and, anyways, cops couldn’t be racist, that just wasn’t possible. He danced around the fascist label. Butch wasn’t sure what being a fascist meant, though he assumed it wasn’t as bad as being a communist. George Flinn or whatever his name was had been restrained though. This became something that Butch couldn’t ignore. Choking a restrained person, regardless of their crime felt to be excessive. The fact that he had questioned the officer’s actions went flat against his belief that cop’s lives mattered. He “backed the blue” and fully believed that any “police abuse” had been simply code for crooks who didn’t like consequences. Deep down he felt what happened wasn’t right. What happened wasn’t part of a free America. The officer never allowed George his due process. The softer feelings began to tug at his heart like tentacles going up the side of a large, red MAGA ocean liner.
One night, Butch dreamed that he had been the one pinned down on the hot asphalt with his hands cuffed behind his back. In his dream he could see Black officers laughing at him. He struggled to breathe as the Black officer over him told him to shut his “cracker mouth” and to stop complaining. Butch watched as other White people cried and begged the cop to let up. Butch cried out for his mother as his breath stopped. He immediately shot up in bed, savoring every breath inwards. The mental wall had broken. He began to cry uncontrollably, all the time wondering why no one would help him.
Butch left his MAGA hat at home before going work at the construction site of some community center in the city. Weeks ago, his work friend told him that the place would be for the Blacks to organize on how to commit crimes. Butch easily agreed with this assessment at the time. Now he wondered how a building with a library, computer lab and rooms for mental health services could equate to higher crime. Butch found himself less active in the lunchtime discussion of how the current president should have gotten more funding for the wall that would keep the rapists and murderers away.
“Those queer and vegan Communists in Congress. They’re what’s keeping America from being great again. Now we have more women, atheists, Blacks and gays in Congress. It’s time to bring the government back to the ‘right kind of people.’”
Everyone agreed with him. Butch nodded his approval without his customary commentary.
Butch left the work site after a long, satisfying day of construction. He noticed Clarence sitting in his truck enjoying a large bottle of water.
“Helluva day, huh?” Butch offered with considerable distance and a stiff smile.
“Like my dad used to say, a hard working man is a happy man.”
“Oh, did your dad work construction too?” Butch appeared shocked by this revelation.
“He was in the Army Corps of Engineers for 25 years. Honorably discharged at the rank of Sergeant Major.” Clarence added with pride.
“Did you serve?”
“I served three years in artillery and decided that I was happier swinging hammers than marching in formation.”
Butch offered a genuine smile.
Clarence returned the effort.
“Well, you go on and have yourself a nice day.” Butch tipped his hypothetical hat.
“You too, sir. You too.” Clarence returned the imaginary tip.
His ride home became filled with trying to understand how a hardworking man from a hardworking family could be a threat to him. Butch took the extraordinary measure of imagining Clarence over to watch a football game one day. He imagined them watching together. Then Butch imagined himself unintentionally saying the wrong thing and Clarence being offended and storming off. He saw a group of imaginary protesters yelling at him. He saw himself being on a news program as the “local racist says racist things.” Butch erased the whole idea from his mind. Damn people need to know their lanes and stay in them, he grumbled to himself as he pulled into his driveway.
Butch wasn’t able to shake the positive interaction he had with Clarence as he made himself ready for bed. A glimmering feeling of shame began to creep along the floor of his conscious at all the ways he had been rude or disregarding of a seemingly nice guy. In the dark of his plain bedroom, his mother’s voice registered from his childhood. Butch, you treat everyone like you would want to be treated. Ain’t enough time in life to be mean to someone trying to do their best.
Butch dreamed again of being under the knee of an officer again. This time a White cop and began berating him for being Black.
“All of you are goddamn criminals. No one needs a jury to see what’s plain as day.”
“Please, I can’t breath.”
“Save your breath for someone who cares.”
“I… can’t.. breathe.”
He sat up in bed sweating in a panic. His heart began beating faster than he could recall. He had never felt so undignified and powerless in his life. He got up for a glass of water and turned on the television. FaulksNews had been running a documentary about the rise of “urban people” moving to the suburbs.
“Your nice safe, neighborhoods will soon be inundated with undesirables. People who will be selling drugs on your corners to your kids all because the Communist Left wants us to hold hands with felons and gang members. And the worst part… you let it happen. You didn’t vote in the people who will protect you, your families… your way of life. It’s up to you to make this country great again.”
Butch changed the channel. He was too tired, too startled to deal with this narrative right now. He took a seat on the porch for fresh air. The sun rose up to announce a new day. Butch continued to sit on his porch as he had done all night to marinate in a new perspective. He smiled at the sunlight. He smiled at hope for himself. Butch had spent that time thinking about everything he believed and why he believed it. His answers came in an empty milk carton. Large, hollow and should be put out on the corner.
Butch met with his foreman the next morning. He explained that he would prefer to be transferred to another work site. His boss acknowledged Butch’s years of hard work and explained he would make something happen with a little time. His friends wanted to know why he was leaving the site. Butch explained that he needed a change of scenery. The group registered their confusion. His best friend told him that they would support whatever he needed because “we need to protect our own.” Butch smiled politely, knowing that they would never give up their racism without their own awakening.
Butch saw Clarence in his truck having his, usual, after work water bottle.
“Hey, would you, I mean, maybe you might consider coming over to watch the game on Sunday. I hear, um, it’s going to be a good game.”
“Football? No, sorry, Butch, it’s never really been my thing.” Clarence registered honest regret at declining the invitation.
Butch looked at him with a sense of confusion that he couldn’t easily hide. Clarence read the reaction and offered his own invitation.
“You know, I hear that there’s going to be a good fight Saturday night though. I would be happy to have you over for some steaks, drinks and entertainment.”
The thought of going to the ghetto scared Butch more than most scenarios in his mind. The prepubescent faith in humanity offered him another path.
“Where abouts do you live?”
“Not too far from you actually. I’ve been a couple cars behind you on many days. I think you live near my fishing buddies, Rick and Larry, up on Lakeview.”
Butch felt overwhelmed with information that he couldn’t have even thought to be true.
“Yeah, I live on Lakeview. Rick and Larry must be the fa-” Butch caught his words. “On Lakeview, that’s right.”
“Awesome. The fight is at 9 pm. If you come over around 7:30 we can eat and play some pool before the main event. I’m at 349 Lakeview.”
Butch perked up at the idea of playing pool. This was enough to put his fears in a box and heave the box under a train.
“I look forward to that, Clarence. I will bring some popcorn, if you peo-. If you like that.”
“I sure would.”
“See you then.” Butch smiled with a renewed reassurance.
“See you then.” Clarence returned the smile.
Butch walked away hoping for the best. He knew that the world remained a scary reality that he didn’t have a map to navigate. He hoped that Clarence would have enough patience to guide him another couple steps ahead and that would be enough for the moment. Butch arrived home full of hope. For the first time in too long of a time, he didn’t feel angry or scared. The world seemed less against him and simply different. Different is ok if I let it be ok, he thought to himself. Butch looked at his red MAGA hat one last time. No, I don’t want to be this person anymore. He walked the hat outside to his garbage can and dropped it into the stink. His neighbor, Rick, watched the event with surprise. Butch saw Rick. He raised a hand to wave.
“Hi, neighbor.” Butch offered an earnest smile.
Rick returned the courtesy. Butch smiled. Everything is going to be alright. He went back inside to watch sports.
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Hi John, I have been assigned your story from the critique circle. I hope you don't mind any hints. Well, I guess you won't mind because I couldn't find any errors in grammar or spelling or flow, except one before going work at - going to work Very nicely written. There was a lot of description and the old saw is - show don't tell. That said, I don't know how you could have got your point across with less. John
Thank you kindly : )
Very well done showing this man's evolution. Gripping storytelling, excellent dialogue. Visceral and authentic thought processes.
Thank you very much.