Surveillance by Quinn Rennerfeldt

The day Denis started being followed is a raised mark on his mind. A keloid scar. He was on the roof of a split-level home, perspiration tracing tracks down the back of his neck. He had a small Bluetooth speaker balanced precariously on the seam where the shingles met, blasting a grainy version of “Flagpole Sitta”as he screwed another stanchion into the roof rafter. He’d found his way to solar panel installation by accident, but Denis liked this role; perched above the scuttle of life, hands busy, mind a murmur. And he got to pick whatever he wanted to listen to. Classic rock, alternative, history podcasts. Silence. Just the sound of sprinklers gurgling to life ever few hours, or sometimes he’d hear fucking or fighting, or fucking and fighting, through an open window down the street. Lunchtime interactions that people assumed would go unwitnessed, with their neighbors at work, their kids at school. Sometimes he’d exchange knowing looks with the postal workers, delivery drivers. He didn’t intentionally listen, but he didn’t ignore the ruckus, either. These sounds were like flavors he’d never tried, cardamom or cayenne, foreign in his ears, exciting and a little off-putting. He still got the job done, but he worked a little slower on those days.

That day though, it had been unusually quiet. No breeze. It had recently rained, and the lawns nearby exhaled a hot fog. Denis was slippery with sweat, and had to move carefully to avoid falling and breaking his neck. Normally he would’ve tuned out the traffic below; it was a cul-de-sac road, with little activity. But underneath Harvey Danger fading into an ad for Mancini’s Mattresses, Denis caught a whiff of motor, the whine of brakes slowing a large, interminable object. The yellow was impossible to ignore. A school bus rattled to a stop right below the house he was working on. The driver let the engine putter even as it was parked.

A minute passed. Two. Finally, the door hinged like an elbow, and out stepped the driver. He looked akin to Denis himself, but older, with a gut. He leaned against the hide of the bus, lit a cigarette, and grabbed his phone, swiping. Denis got back to the shingles, about to reach for a rail to fasten, but something in the corner of his vision pricked. He angled himself slightly to incorporate the rest of the bus driver into his periphery. And there, quick as a blink, he saw it; the cell phone raised, camera pointed in Denis’ direction, held just long enough to get a clear picture. A chime, and then the driver quickly stubbed out his butt, braced his hands on each side of the door frame, and jumped over the stairs back into the bus. Motor still alive, the driver made his getaway, pulling the door shut as he slowed to take the right out of the neighborhood. And with him, a photo of Denis, at work, hunched like a gargoyle guarding the house beneath. But Denis felt less like stone than liquid, trembling at the edge of a full cup. A quivering deer marked by the sights of a rifle. Blind to its hunter, but smelling threat on the wind.

QUINN RENNERFELDT — Quinn is a queer poet, parent, and partner earning her MFA at SFSU. Their work can be found in Cleaver, SAND, elsewhere, Salamander, and is forthcoming in A Velvet Giant. Her chapbook Sea Glass Catastrophe was released in 2020, and her chapbook demigoddess semilustrous will be published by dancing girl press in Fall 2023. They are the Editor-in-Chief of Fourteen Hills.

Art by MICHAEL TODD COHEN — Michael’s work appears in Columbia Journal, Pithead Chapel, JMWW Journal and HAD, among others, and has been included in Best Micro Fictions, the Connecticut Literary Anthology, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives with a poet-husband and two illiterate chihuahuas, by a rusty lighthouse, in New England. For more: