The News in My Back Yard by Don Bartlett

Don Bartlett is a retired PA in Franklin County. Pleased to discover actual enjoyment in composing sentences while writing a thesis, he attributes some facility with written expression to years of dictating office notes lucid and terse enough for a medical document, and to spending five years in a writing group with Ruth Flohr. 

The News in My Back Yard

The car dealership where I work is laying off some of us. We’ll find out tomorrow. Now I sit in my backyard, the air full of that summer smell from the lawn I just mowed. A beer sweats in my hand, cool wetness running over my fingers, but the pleasure of drinking it is flat. Our big maple rustles in the breeze that rises when a huge cloud covers the sun. I guess I like to think, here in my chaise lounge from Home Depot, that we live the American Dream. My daughter is accepted to a college. But I feel a dark hollow in my gut when I think we were already thinking of borrowing to pay for it. I guess she’ll have classes online. Kevin does well enough in school and likes varsity basketball. So, he will be applying next year.

So many have lost their jobs, so many have died! I feel my breathing get faster and fear worming into my brain. I’m fifty-three and I’m really scared. If I don’t get paid by the dealership, where else can I get income? Businesses are firing, not hiring. We could lose the car, then the house. There’s only five years left on the mortgage. Did we pay for twenty-five years, only to lose our house now? The extra money from the government is great, but will hardly help at all. Who knows if Heather will be able to continue to bring in money from her real estate job? Even if she does, it’s not enough. There’s hardly any retirement savings. If the house, car and everything are gone, the next thing, I know, is the breakup of the family. Say what you want about “for better or worse”; when you get poor that kind of loyalty gets fragile and there’s fighting.

There’s chaos in the streets and a snake sitting where a president should be. Half the nation thinks he’s the messiah, but his idol is every criminal dictator in the world.

I don’t expect to get any sleep tonight. My sales record at the dealership is fine, but I’m not in control. Hell, even if I don’t get laid off tomorrow, the whole dealership could go down the drain before long. People don’t want to take out a car loan now.

I get up and walk into the kitchen where Heather is on the phone talking in her chipper real estate voice. She catches my eye and smiles, pretty in her summer dress. I love her, and don’t want to let her down. I know it’s not my fault if I get laid off, but it will feel like it is.

I pick up the paper from the counter. It’s full of virus statistics, Senator this, White House that; the economy and employment in a plunge. Nothing about how the bottom is falling right out of the world for thousands like me.