Did I Mention the Fires? by Teddy Engs

When the protests erupted grandma started calling. She’d ask why on earth I lived in Portland, where all she ever saw were videos of shrieking people and things on fire.

“It’s all contained on this one block,” I told her, which was partially true. “The neighborhood where I live is just like your neighborhood.” This wasn’t true. There were two homeless encampments on my street, and on any given night you could expect to find someone mentally breaking in the middle of four-lane Lombard.

“Well that’s good,” she said.

Whenever she asked about my job, I’d lie. I was a caregiver, and the idea of admitting to her that I spent all of my time with some other lonely granny was too much to bear.

“I’m an accountant,” I said.

“You are?”

Sometimes dad, an actual accountant, would call to complain about work. Other times mom would call to complain about dad.

“Your father bought a Nintendo Switch.”

“That’s fun.”

“What the hell’s he gonna do with a Nintendo Switch?”

Denise, the woman I took care of, watched the news twelve hours a day. The morning after a protest I’d look for myself amongst the chaos footage while the anchors said things like: Portland is the place young people go to die.

Weekends, I played keyboard in a band nobody liked.

Denise’s youngest called, but I’d been trained on what to say.

“Scooty? Sorry, I’m not familiar with a Scooty.”

“I’m her daughter—please, I need to talk to my mom.”

“It looks like she’s napping, Scooty. Can I have her call you back?”

A woman on Tinder invited me to a protest. When she picked me up she handed me a gas mask and a barbecuing mitt.

Grandma texted, Are you watching this?

I used the mitt to huck a live tear gas grenade at a federal agent.

“Look, I need her social security number, it’s for her taxes.”

“She’s napping, Scooty.”

I’d misheard: the anchor said young people go to Portland to retire, not die. But those words were synonyms. I wondered if this was one of those pernicious ways corporations kept people in the workforce.

Dad retired.

Mom was horrified.

“He skips meals, he hardly sleeps…”

“For Nintendo Switch?”

Denise peed.

I wasn’t on TV.

Grandma wanted to know what the sides even were anymore.

“Someone was murdered,” I said.

“This feels like something else.”

We opened for a band people liked, and though there was a crowd, it was clear who they were here for. When I walked off stage I stood next to the woman with the barbecuing mitts, awaiting her appraisal.

“I couldn’t hear you,” she said. 

“Yeah,” I nodded. “Me neither.”

TEDDY ENGS — Teddy is a writer and musician living in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Swamp Pink, Split Lip, and Best Microfiction 2023. Find him of Twitter @WardoEngs.

Art by AUDRA KERR BROWN — Audra is a writer, photographer, and creator of The Flashtronauts! YouTube channel. Follow her on Twitter: @audrakerrbrown.