By Sara Mortimer-Boyd
Identical houses emerged in great numbers to encircle this secluded desert wilderness. Patty had nothing to do, so on the Saturday morning before voting day, she took her teenage daughter to a street filled with unlocked houses waiting on display.
Bright red flags flapped in the wind. A sign that promised luxury moved back and forth, threatening to fly up into the air. Sunset Landing.
They stepped through the entryway, under the high ceiling, walking small beside the high walls. They moved their sneakered feet quietly into a spacious bedroom and slid open the mirrored closet door, into a dream of a storage space with multiple shelves and a built-in shoe rack. Patty tried not to look at herself in the mirror.
“Are we supposed to be here by ourselves?” asked her daughter.
Patty noticed little round foam pieces on the closet wall, put there to protect it from the crashing door. The details of it all. The foam, so bright and new, like pearls.
She led her daughter up the spiral staircase, into a master bedroom bigger than all of their rooms combined. A man walked out of the walk-in closet at the far right of the room, tall and smelling like he had just taken a shower. “Hello, young ladies.” He stopped in front of them, eyed the daughter and then Patty. She studied his clean face and hands, crisp jeans and shiny shoes. His blue eyes rested upon the slight hole in her five-dollar Kmart shoes, which caused her to wiggle her toe and turn her foot away. “Well, are you going to buy it?” he asked the daughter. “I’m the one selling it, you know.”
“We’d need to see the closet first,” Patty said, moving past him.
They both knew they were forever settled in the run-down house on the outskirts of Coyote Springs. Patty and her husband had greying hair, and the living room carpet bubbled up in places. Fred dreamed of a more remote life in the mountains, but Patty wanted to spring up out of the desert floor and swing on a hammock, drink lemonade from a translucent blue glass, the kind that sat on the dining room table in the model home at Sunset Landing.
“Who wants to wave at their neighbors from the kitchen window?” Fred asked her that evening.
“I do,” she pleaded.
He didn’t understand the appeal of this neighborhood with freshly planted trees: From the backyard, you could hear the hum of freeway traffic, but you could see, from this higher elevation, that Coyote Springs was a beautiful silent movie. The land expanded into shadows and glittering golds where off-road motorcycles sparkled through then disappeared into the hills. Far north, a military plane took off and darted away from a test run. Large pastel boxes, the new shopping mall, rose from the western corner of town. The humming freeway could have been the sound of a projector illuminating a scene of constant, excited movement.
But voting day came, so she forgot about the tour and the unlived dreams, her empty bank account and aging daughter who walked home alone from school to watch MTV behind her back. Her anticipated one-day-a-year job outside the home had arrived when she got to renew herself in a coffee-scented church banquet hall among strangers who punched in their votes with pleasant, arrogant expressions, like the man who exited the walk-in closet of her dream home. But they were not like that man. They didn’t need what he had. No, they just needed that punched card and the silent expectation of a proudly worn sticker. Patty loved sliding the ruler up and down, crossing off names of neighbors and strangers, knowing the grave secrets of their party affiliations.
This voting day was different. Change was happening, you could see it on TV. Fred said he had lost faith in the party’s leading experts, so last night, Patty followed him to his nightstand where he stored a few conservative pamphlets, along with a large archive of cassette recordings from his favorite right-wing radio show from the 80’s. They listened to a tape of two men talking while lying in bed. Patty fell asleep before it ended, missing the part where the guest explained how the conspiracy actually worked: how the leftists invented smog in order to create the EPA to control people’s minds.
She pondered the issue during this late night at the polls. There was a quiet tension in the room as she packed up the ballots and said goodbye to the old ladies who made her feel clear-headed and young. She sprinted to her car awake and ready to learn the results. She would begin aerobics tomorrow, change her shoes, iron her blouse. Maybe visit that closet again.
She returned to a dark house with one tiny light glowing faintly from the kitchen window. Entered the cold living room, not hearing the sound of her own feet on the creaking floor as voices of solemn men blasted from Fred’s portable radio, declaring that good was coming to an end. Fred ignored her. The waft of hard-boiled egg reminded her that this was the one day in the year when he must make his own supper. Her daughter had not returned home; she must have taken advantage of her absence on this special day.
Patty walked into her and Fred’s freezing bedroom and turned on the harsh overhead light that revealed a horrific scene.
The Sunset Landing windows came to mind: large and modern, free from the black widow webs and eggs that frequented the corners of theirs. This window, difficult to raise and lower, had been left open, and a fluffy black widow egg had hatched, transforming the room into a world of translucent baby spiders that traveled slowly through the air like snowflakes.
Flying, flying everywhere, there must have been thousands of them. Flying at her face, in her hair, crawling on the clock, behind the framed paintings of potted flowers. She screamed, fled backward into the hallway, and shook the demon babies out of her hair. She ran circles in the living room and stripped off her wrinkled blouse. But then she noticed the back of Fred’s head in the kitchen, his neck muscles moving as he chomped eggs and toast. He didn’t seem to hear or see her, feel the warmth of her body as it traveled through the house.
“Fred! Our bedroom is filled with baby Black Widows!” she cried.
He cleared his phlegmy throat and swallowed. “They come in through the garage?”
“You would know!”
He was quiet for a good minute as she slapped at her body.
When the slapping stopped, a man’s voice pronounced that Americans really could not make up their own minds. Fred was lost to her. So she found the courage that she always knew was there. She walked back into that room, tightened her core, and lifted item after item, dropping each one through the door of the enclosed garage. It was tiring work, the garage smelled of mildew, but she had been electrified by her day at the polls. Warm young blood rushed through her limbs.
She realized in the process that baby black widows don’t bite. But that was not the point. They caught the light of the room and glowed. Fred would happily take her to the mountains, she thought. Ignore her in another old house with small windows.
She walked past him, naked, to turn on the shower in the bathroom at the end of the hall while thinking of that man who came from the closet. He’d kill every last black widow with his flawless hands, behold her nakedness, arrange a loan for the sum of two hundred fifty thousand.
But she didn’t make it that far. She stopped to the sound of Fred’s hand smacking the Off button on the radio, the stomping of his feet as he hurried toward the television. He turned it on to a screen of numbers in red and blue. Fred sat down on the torn carpet, and she did too. She touched his cold hand and held it as he closed his eyes and swallowed his last bite of egg.
Bill Clinton won.
About the Author
Sara Mortimer-Boyd grew up in Palmdale, California. She studied literature and creative writing at UCLA and Loyola Marymount University. She teaches in Los Angeles and is working on a book of stories about living in the California desert.