This graveyard has two sections. One is unnamed and contains large aboveground structures. The other is labeled “For slaves and free blacks”—it has no large sarcophagi. The stones are so old there that any inscribed words have been worn away.
There is a wall between the sections—a substantial wall, climbable, but not easily. But the wall serves no purpose—there is an open gate in the middle. And who is it supposed to keep separate? The souls of the blacks from the souls of the whites? Those are the only ectoplasmic entities that might be drifting around.
I sit on a bench in the slaves and free blacks section. There is a tarnished plaque behind me, cemented into the wall. The plaque has a date in the 1800s. Otherwise, the text is unreadable. Maybe it once said this is the segregated section. But I’m sitting here, as are my wife and daughter, and we do not feel separate. But the wall still stands. It is whitewashed and strong.
A plumeria tree is nearby; it has grown into the wall. At night, I’m sure, the souls of the whites and those of the slaves float around the yard and savor the fragrance of the flowers. But we won’t know who the souls belong to, because the words have been worn away.
I wonder who is packing heat in my office. There’s a man who says he worked in law enforcement before he got his present job. He might have a handgun in a shoulder holster, under his jacket. It might be a small gun, a Glock 9-millimeter semiautomatic. However, he speaks in a levelheaded way. I don’t expect him to go crazy. Not that he likes me or considers me his friend. But I’m not looking for his affection. I just don’t want him to shoot me.
There are no assault rifles in sight. But one might be hidden in a filing cabinet or in an empty room. The guy who plays guitar might be concealing an AK-47 in his instrument case, arriving early so no one else sees the rifle when he takes it out and hides it away. He’s ready to start a war, if a war needs to be fought. I can tell he’s serious, because he wears sunglasses. We can’t see the expression in his eyes.
Other people might be carrying darts. Admittedly, darts aren’t much of a weapon, but watch out if one is flying toward your eye! They are easy to conceal, much easier than a spear, although a spear would be more effective. You could throw a spear or use it as a jabbing weapon, but where would you store it—in a broom closet? Does our office even have a broom closet? I don’t know. In any case, anyone could be carrying a handful of darts in a backpack or a purse.
The ultimate weapon, however, would be an improvised explosive device. An IED could be concealed in a cardboard box, and all it would need is a command from a cell phone to detonate. The bomber could walk out to the street, push a few buttons, and watch the building explode. I have no cell phone, so I can’t be the bomber. I can’t even look up data on the Internet or send a text message when I’m not planning mass destruction. But almost anyone else in the office would be able to set off a bomb.
Then there’s the old bait and switch. Someone might make an innocent-sounding offer, like “Would you like to borrow a butter knife?” and then, when you approach, take out a switchblade and lunge at you with it. You would have a hard choice then: either to take out your own switchblade, or to disarm the attacker with your bare hands. Are you ready to do either of those things? Knife fighting is not included in workplace training. It is not in the employee handbook.
Of course, there are the scissors. Everyone has a pair. They might not be very lethal, but I once got mugged by a woman wielding a pair of scissors. Well, I wasn’t actually mugged. My pocket was picked, and when I grabbed the perp, she pulled scissors on me. She claimed an accomplice had the wallet. I didn’t get my wallet back, but I didn’t get stabbed, either. I let her go. I didn’t want to be stabbed by someone who was scissor-happy. And I wouldn’t want that to happen now. I make sure all of the drawers holding scissors are closed when I walk by.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the books Guess and Check, Violent Outbursts, Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. Haywire won the Members’ Choice award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.