+Photography © Chad Parenteau
We Know What You Did
The first call came in the middle of the night. Tricia woke to her iPhone downstairs blasting her ringtone: the thumping refrain of Carrie Underwood’s “If I Didn’t Love You.”
She threw on a robe to answer before it woke her 16-year-old Deanna in the bedroom next to hers. In the hall she paused to listen, nothing from Deanna, then hurried down the carpeted stairs. It had to be bad news, a car accident or death. A streetlight was flooding in the living room window. On the kitchen counter, plugged in to recharge, her phone was shivering with the beat. It sounded so loud in the dark house. Tricia just stared at it a few moments, afraid to answer.
She picked it up and said,” Hello, who is this?”
“We know what you did,” rasped a woman’s voice. The line clicked off.
Tricia let the phone clatter to the floor, like it was too hot to hold.
Over oatmeal the next morning, Tricia didn’t say a word to Deanna. Why worry her? She was bent over her trig textbook splayed out on the table, her blue glasses pushed up on her nose, cramming for a quiz. But after Tricia dropped her off at Dixon High, on the way to her job at Citizens Bank, she turned the call over in her mind as she sipped her latte. An unhappy customer? Some new girlfriend of her ex, who was three states away? And she had absolutely no idea what it was she’d done. Her sins were mostly ones of omission, like failing to volunteer for a potluck at St. Pat’s, with an occasional venial white lie to a coworker. But mortal? No.
Two nights later, as Tricia struggled to sleep, she heard an engine being gunned outside. She looked down through the lace curtains; a big white pickup with its brights on drove slowly down the block, swiveled a U-turn, and came back past her house, then pivoted in the cul-de-sac to cruise by again. Scared, she grabbed her cell from the bedside table and dialed 911.
“Call Center. What’s the problem?”
“There’s a pickup truck driving back and forth in front of my house.”
“Can you get the license plate?”
Tricia leaned closer. She could see her frown and arched eyebrows reflected in the glass. Her face looked older to her. “It’s too dark.”
“I’ll radio for a ride-by. What’s the address?”
Tricia told her then waited, picking at the cuticle on her left thumb. In a few minutes she heard a siren’s wail and saw blue-and-red flashes hitting treetops a few blocks away. The pickup flicked off its brights and sped away, passing right by the police. She thought she saw a pale hand wave Hi from the cop car.
In a week, the hangups and texts had overwhelmed her cell, and she had to shut it down and get a burner. The messages were vague threats about whatever it was she had done—she knew what it was, don’t deny it—and how things were going to get ugly real fast. Her phone number and address were posted on Twitter. A parade of pickups became a nightly spectacle, the row of bluish high beams like a line to get into a fairground.
She sent Deanna to stay with her mother, and Tricia spent her nights on the sofa now, all the doors locked, a baseball bat on the floor beside her. She barely slept. She could hear the growl of engines on the street outside, and once in a while the kitchen door rattled when someone shook it. She’d cut the wire to the front doorbell. The drapes were all drawn, but she could hear what sounded like wedding rings click against the glass when they put their palms on the windows to try and see in.
Tucked up in a ball, half-delirious from lack of sleep, Tricia imagined she could sense the breathing of the stalkers surrounding her house like that of a giant beast, its tail curled around the garden, wings flapping against the rear porch.
The police were useless. They told her they couldn’t do anything until an actual crime was committed or someone was caught trespassing. They did send a patrol by every few hours, but the intruders always vanished into the dark. She felt helpless, alone; she tried to spare her mom and Deanna. She still didn’t know what the source of all the outrage was. And her neighbors let her know how upset they were at the nightly disturbances, and couldn’t she do something about it. It was unacceptable, they insisted.
She took vacation time at work. The last day she’d dropped by Citizens to pick up her check, she’d gotten a frantic call from Deanna, who’d stopped by home after school to grab some homework. She’d heard a noise from the kitchen and found a strange man in a windbreaker drinking orange juice straight from a half-gallon carton, the fridge door wide open. She’d let loose a wail, and the man had dropped the carton and fled out the back door, orange juice pooling like blood on the tiles.
Then the daily protests started on her front lawn. There were chants led by a megaphone—We Know What You Did, Surrender Now, You Reap What You Have Sowed—the slogans scrawled with red markers on signs they waved in the air. The word TRAITOR had been spray painted on the garage door. When she peeked out, she could see the murderous expression in their faces, their mouths clenched, eyes gleaming. They looked like enraged moms and dads at a school board meeting, some with toddlers slung on their hips. Behind them, local TV vans clogged the street, their satellite dishes poking up into the air.
She sat clutching the bat on the sofa facing the front door, determined to stand her ground. Traitor? she wondered. To who or what? For skipping donations at St Pat’s after its financial scandal, for signing a petition against the high school’s banned book policy? Because she’d helped check in voters at the VFW in the last recount? She felt her stomach harden into a stubborn knot.
Finally came the breaking point. It was after dinner time, almost dark, and she’d finished off the last Lean Cuisine in the freezer. There was a new sound, a loud pounding against the walls of the house, making it shake like a strong wind. She stood up, eyes wide. The noise was accompanied by an unearthly, guttural growl that rose up into the night air as one primal utterance.
Tricia ran to grab the baseball bat as a rock crashed through the living room window, scattering shards on the rug. Hands reached through the drapes and yanked them down. She could make out a shadowy mob on the lawn, advancing in lockstep, mouths grimacing, arms stuck out straight in front of them. On the drive her Honda Civic exploded, casting a hellish glow that caught their bright red caps.
Tricia backed into the corner by the large-screen TV. The flames outside were reflected in its glossy black surface. Innumerable fists began hammering on the front door, its hinges twisting, starting to give. She was bent over, panting, her fingers white from gripping the bat’s handle, ready to do battle, combat-style.
Gary Duehr has taught creative writing for institutions including Boston University, Lesley University, and Tufts University. His MFA is from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. In 2001 he received an NEA Fellowship, and he has also received grants and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the LEF Foundation, and the Rockefeller FoundationJournals in which his writing has appeared include Agni, American Literary Review, Chiron Review, Cottonwood, Hawaii Review, Hotel Amerika, Iowa Review, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review. His books include Winter Light (Four Way Books) and Where Everyone Is Going To (St. Andrews College Press).
Chad Parenteau is Associate Editor of Oddball Magazine.