Everyone could see that Craig had a legitimate reason to complain. He had a reason, and all of his neighbors certainly had one, too. Craig’s family, especially, had fallen upon notoriously hard times.
When the letter came, it was no different for them than for anyone else. Move now, or be rezoned. The city would progress regardless. A generous offer in today’s market, but declining it would do no good. This neighborhood would be redeveloped. The center of commerce was shifting.
Craig wasn’t sure what that meant—that the center of commerce was shifting—so he asked around among the others. His wife, frying bread, said that it meant the shopping district was moving here from downtown, but his neighbors all interpreted it according to their own metaphors. Johnson, a hardware merchant, said that consumers were placing orders more and more online, so that wealthy people no longer minded where they lived. Mercier, on the other hand, spoke from the perspective of a dentist, and claimed that people were willing to drive further, to keep their appointments away from the rush of the city. It was when he spoke to his most respected neighbor, though, that Craig knew they would need to take action.
Brunel, a retired lawyer, told Craig that he and his neighbors were no longer spending enough to be considered the center of commerce.
This outrage set Craig on a crusade around the district, draping his three complaining children with placards, and crossing their patchy lawn to knock on door after door. At first, he was met with an apathy that he could not understand. What was a home to these people? Could nobody else see that spending money was only one factor in a well-rounded life? Didn’t their own stories matter more? With only Craig chasing justice from his city, while his kids trailed behind him chasing monsters on their cellphones, he knew that he would need to modify his approach. He would need to force real change.
Change came on the day he told a story to Mrs. Peters, the retired widow living in the only two-story on his block. He watched his daughter waging a war using her thumbs, and recounted the time, at age four, that she had insisted Craig build his chicken coop to give their beloved birds further to roam. So moved was Mrs. Peters, by this loving tale from her own neighborhood, that she joined Craig’s cause that very day. The others around them had more difficulty ignoring their respected matron—now struggling with the weight of her own placard—but Craig could see that they would need to be similarly moved in order to back him. He would need to tell them more touching stories.
It was only a formality that he had to make those stories up.
He told Johnson a story of his son, who had supposedly insisted upon personally collecting a hammer Craig needed from the store, only to be followed discreetly in the family car. He told Mercier about a made-up holiday evening, when the fireworks had burned with so much more spectacle around and between the tall buildings of the city. And he told Brunel about the fictitious time that his wife had so badly wanted a family vacation that Craig had quietly drawn on a second mortgage to finance it.
It didn’t matter that these were all deceptions; Brunel was so stirred, that he agreed to represent the neighbors in a class-action suit. In Craig’s mind, he had won.
Of course, the victory required some formalities: a hearing, which would never transpire, and a ruling, which a judge would never take the trouble to give. The city, with all of their tax-fed wealth, were too quick to respond with doubled offers, and Craig’s neighbors too quick to forget how moved they had been by his anecdotes about a family so much like his own. They began to vanish in dozens, to spend their profits elsewhere.
Only Craig insisted on keeping his home, and one house was not enough to trouble the city. And so, today—with his children moved out and his wife quietly resenting his most ambitious crusade—Craig wanders his patchy lawn tending to his daughter’s chickens, in the shadows of the cafés and condominiums that surround him. He is, as that letter had threatened he would be, right in the center of commerce.
And his neighbors have a legitimate reason to complain.
Filed under: Flash Fiction, Guest Post, Writing
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