I moved into the house on Ginger Lane in the fall. The trees in the neighborhood were turning shades of orange and brown and falling onto the grass and the street. There were ten houses and I was on the corner. My father, who had lived in the neighborhood for thirty years, had died and left me the house. I had been living in Chicago and could scarcely afford the rent in the city so I decided not to sell the house and live a suburban life in a small town in Illinois. Anytown, America.
One day, I was unloading groceries from my new SUV (a perfect car for a woman in the suburbs) when a truck pulled up next to my driveway.
“You’re new?” The man in the driver’s seat was dressed in a gray uniform. His hair was gray with a buzz cut. His face looked vaguely young. He didn’t have many wrinkles but I guessed he was probably middle aged. The badge on his uniform stated – ILLINOIS STATE PENITENTIARY.
“Yeah. How did you know?” I asked.
“I live a couple of doors down. My name is Carl. I was friends with your old man. I’m sorry he died.”
“Thanks.” I smiled.
“Hey, why don’t you come to dinner on Friday? A sort of welcome to the neighborhood thing. My wife does a good casserole.”
“Sure.” It would have been strange if I said no.
On Friday, I dressed in jeans and a blazer. Casual but neat. I rang the doorbell and Carl answered. He led me to the living room and his wife, polite and demure, served beer in glasses.
“Your Dad was Austrian,” he said firmly.
“Yes. Born and raised. I was born here. Grew up in Chicago. My Dad moved to this neighborhood when I went to college.”
“What do you do?” he asked.
“I’m a writer. Freelance. I used to write for a magazine and a national newspaper. What do you do?”
He shrugged. “Prison guard. I make sure the beaners and the niggers don’t beat each other up.”
I choked slightly on my beer. Did he just say beaners and niggers?
“You’re Dad was a hero.”
I was confused. “Why would you say that?”
“He worked at Auschwitz. Hey, you want to see something?”
My Dad worked at Auschwitz? No. He worked at a car factory. I started feeling increasing alarm. Carl took my hand led me down the hall. He opened a door.
“This is my den,” he declared. There was a giant flag with a swastika. On the walls were black and white photos of Nazis. There were also two gun racks full of guns. I backed away and then bumped into his wife.
“Welcome to the neighborhood,” she said with a lovely smile. She grasped my hand. “Dinner is ready.”
I ran. Out the house, down the street, and into my new home. I locked the door and then loaded bullets into one of my Dad’s guns. I sat on my stairs. Afraid. Welcome to Anytown, America.