Volume 31, Number 2

Ain’t None of My Business

Adam Matson

Rusty Peppercorn watched in dismay as the last Cheeto in the bag slipped from his greasy fingers and tumbled down the slope of his belly to the floor. It came to rest on the grimy brown carpet, below which his sockless, gout-swollen feet elevated in a position of repose. Shiny and nuclear orange, the Cheeto towered over a crumby landscape of foot-squashed edibles at the base of Rusty’s recliner, like a righteous cheesy Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men!”

Rusty searched for the Cheeto, but it lay beyond the horizon of his stomach. Sighing, he wiped his orange-stained fingers on his tee shirt and took a swig from his two-liter bottle of Coke. The soda was flat and warm, but sweet, and it did the job of washing down the Cheetos. Rusty capped off the buzz by lighting a Camel, sucking deep, shooting the smoke out through his nostrils.

The television remote lay atop an igneous strata of pizza boxes and plastic plates with half-finished pizza slices molding on them. Rusty wedged his Camel into the corner of his mouth and grabbed the remote, directing it at his flatscreen like the finger of God. “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”

Prolonged unemployment had taught Rusty that there was plenty of enjoyable afternoon programming on TV. He flipped the channels lazily, his arm aching from the weight of being suspending in the Channel Surfing Position. Rarely did he watch an entire episode of a given show. Instead he preferred to watch several shows at the same time in two or three-minute bursts. That way he could cover a broader spectrum of programming. He passed Extreme Pickerel Fishing, Coffee Connoisseurs, a game show called Name That Bodily Function, Extreme Pickerel Fishing: Alaska (ESPN9) and settled on Tool Shed Tyrants, a reality show where four tool shed owners scavenged local yard sales for deals on used tools, while insulting each other. Rusty had seen this episode before. It was a good one.

A door slammed somewhere outside and Rusty craned his double-chins to see if his wife had arrived home from Costco. Then he heard the angry growl of his neighbor, Darrell, followed by the sharp shriek of Darrell’s wife, Leanne.

Rusty smoked the last of his cigarette, dropped the butt into his empty Coke bottle and changed the channel, first to a commercial for Eggo waffles, then to Blood Spatters, a true-crime show where murders were recreated based on the patterns of blood trails left by the victim.

The front door creaked open. Rusty’s wife, Darlene, wedged herself into the house, carrying two enormous Costco sacks.

“They was out of Lucky Charms, so I got Cocoa Puffs,” Darlene huffed, sounding like she had walked all the way home.

“I’m out of Coke,” Rusty said.

Darlene dropped the grocery bags on the floor and stared at the television, watching a rope of blood shoot across the screen. “That’s nasty,” she said.

Rusty changed the channel to some unknown program where a dog was chasing a pig in a birthday hat and both of them stood (or sat, in his case) perfectly still and chuckled at it for a moment.

“I’m gonna make a snack,” Darlene said, sifting through the groceries on the floor.

The sound of breaking glass interrupted their appreciation of the dog and pig show.

“Darrell and Leanne are at it again,” Rusty said.

“Leanne ain’t returned my Miley Cyrus DVD.”

“Now might be the wrong time to ask about it.”

“I’m gonna make a snack,” Darlene repeated. “See if The Girls are on.”

By which she meant the afternoon talk show where four women with different hairstyles debated the issues of the day. Rusty flipped to Lifetime and found The Girls talking over each other about either Gluten-free mineral water or a recent celebrity wedding. Rusty couldn’t follow the birdshot logic of the conversation, so he flipped over to Pregnant Little People and laughed under his breath as a pregnant teenaged midget waddled into her high school with a textbook under one arm and a Hello Kitty pillow under the other.

Darlene returned a moment later carrying a KFC bucket filled with what she called Darlene’s Delight, a snack-mix of Peanut M&Ms, Cheetos, marshmallows and Cocoa Puffs. She set the bucket on the coffee table atop the tower of pizza boxes and slumped into her own recliner, twisting the cap of a fresh, warm, two-liter of Mountain Dew.

“What’s this?” Darlene asked.

“Pregnant midgets.”

“I saw a midget at Costco just now.”

“Was she pregnant?”

“It was a he.”

Outside they heard Leanne’s piercing scream: “DON’T YOU FUCKING COME NEAR ME!”

“Can’t wait till the national divorce rate catches up with them,” Rusty said.

“Half the time she asks for it,” Darlene said.

Rusty dug his sweaty paw into the bucket of Darlene’s Delight. The fresh Cheeto buzz ticked his heart rate up to a low simmer. Darlene gaped at the television, shoveling the snack mix into her mouth. Rusty grew bored watching the pregnant midget trying to ascend the stairs to her OBGYN’s office and changed the channel to one of his favorite afternoon delights, Car Wars, an animated serial parody of the Star Wars movies where all of the characters were talking cars.

“Aw, shit, I lost an M&M,” Darlene said, groping into the fleshy recesses of her halter top. “Got it—nope, that’s my nipple.”

“Keep digging,” Rusty said.

“It was a green one,” Darlene said. “They’re the best.”

She found the missing chocolate and wagged her arm at Rusty. He passed her the remote. She grazed through the channels with bovine indifference, eventually settling on a cooking show called Fruits and Nuts, where gay and bisexual chefs competed against clinical schizophrenics to see who could construct the best cake, as determined by a panel of celebrity judges, such as Stephen Tyler.

“This one’s weird,” Darlene observed, squinting at the television. She washed down a mouthful of chocolate and marshmallows with a splash of Mountain Dew, then lit a Camel. She changed the channel to a program called Going Native, where an affluent family from Beverly Hills traded homes for a week with a family of Native Americans from a South Dakota reservation.

“I, like, can’t wait to try pemmican,” said the Beverly Hills wife, strutting into a dilapidated Native American general store wearing UGGs.

“If you had an Indian name, what would it be?” Rusty asked his wife.

“I dunno,” Darlene said. “Like Runs-With-the-Wind, something like that?”

“More like Sits-Like-a-Rock.”

“We need some air conditioning.”

Darlene was about to change the channel again when a fresh round of blood-curdling screams erupted from outside. The final wail trailed off in a sickening liquid gurgle. Rusty and Darlene stared at each other.

“Maybe we should do something about that one,” Darlene said.

“Ain’t none of our business,” Rusty asserted.

“What does the Bible say about lovin’ your neighbors?”

“Jesus never lived next door to Darrell and Leanne. I don’t want no trouble from those yo-yo’s. Remember last year, when I complained about their dog shittin’ everywhere? Soon after, my mower stopped working, and I know Darrell’s the one done it.”

“That why you ain’t cut the grass?”


Darlene lit another Camel off her old one. Together they smoked and chugged soda and watched the rest of Going Native. Rusty slipped into a mild food coma half-way through the bucket of Darlene’s Delight, awakening later to the sound of either a lawn mower or a chainsaw.

“The hell’s going on now?” he murmured.

“What?” Darlene asked. She had been checking Facebook on her phone for the past half hour.

“They chopping down trees next door?”

“I don’t know.”

“Check out the window.”

Darlene turned and stared at the window a few feet away. The blinds were drawn. She reached toward them with a chubby hand. “Can’t see,” she concluded.

Rusty took a few swigs of Coke to wake himself up and resumed channel surfing. Darlene laughed to herself at her friends’ various Facebook posts. Together she and Rusty continued to excavate handfuls of snacks from the KFC bucket, until the Delight, much to their dismay, was gone.

“I’ll make cheeseburgers in a little bit,” Darlene said.

She stared at her phone. Rusty turned the volume on the television up to drown out the irritating blare of approaching sirens. Darlene looked up momentarily as the sirens reached a crescendo.

“Jesus,” she said. “Rusty, look.”

Flashing red and blue lights flickered on their ceiling through the blinds. Outside they could hear the sounds of men and women moving around, shouting, doors opening and closing. There was a loud bang, like a gunshot, and more shouting.

“Rusty, check the news, see what’s going on,” Darlene said.

Rusty flipped to the news station and found a breaking news report where police cruisers and an ambulance surrounded a darkened suburban home.

“Dang, that looks like our neighborhood,” he said.

They leaned forward and stared at the television. A centerfold-esque news reporter was practicing her best Deeply Concerned face as she addressed the camera. “Earlier this afternoon twenty-nine-year-old Darrell Evans allegedly beat his wife, Leanne Evans, to death during a violent marital dispute. Sources inform us that Mr. Evans then proceeded to dismember his wife’s body with a chainsaw, but was interrupted in the act by police, whereupon he took his own life….”

“Christ almighty!” Rusty gasped. “Won’t get your Miley Cyrus DVD back now.”

“That’s our house!” Darlene cried, pointing at the television, where the reporter was approaching the front door of their house.

A moment later there was a knock.

“What do we do?” Darlene asked.

Struck by a spontaneous and unprecedented sense of duty, Rusty wiped his fingers clean of cheese and chocolate, smearing his hands across the La-Z-Boy. He grasped the greasy lever beside his chair and wrenched it upright, heaving himself up to a standing position. He teetered momentarily on his gout-ravaged feet, then strode across the crumb-speckled carpet to open the front door.

Bright lights shone in Rusty’s face as the news reporter thrust a microphone at him. “Sir, any comment on the tragic events that took place next door this afternoon?”

Rusty took a deep breath. The fresh evening air tasted foreign to him. He stared out at the flashing lights and idling police cars. Paramedics carted a sheet-covered corpse out the Evans’ front door.

“Well,” Rusty said. He’d never been on television before. “My wife and I, we did hear some noises and whatnot. But we just, like, thought it was the one of their regular fights. Not like a specially bad one, like what it was.”

“Baby, you’re on TV!” Darlene cried from a few feet away. She leaned forward and pointed her cellphone at the flatscreen. “I’m gonna post this on Facebook.”

“Darrell and Leanne was always at each other’s throats,” Rusty elaborated for the benefit of the news channel’s viewing audience.

“Were you the ones who called 9-1-1, sir?” the news reporter asked.

Rusty stared down at his bare feet. He picked at a piece of M&M stuck in his teeth. “Well, no,” he muttered.

“Sir, how could you listen to a person being brutally murdered—your own next-door neighbor—and not call for help?”

Rusty’s lip quivered as he stared into the dark lens of the camera.

“Rusty, smile, I’m filming you on TV,” Darlene called.

Rusty cleared his throat and mustered a righteous grin. “We’re not the meddling kind,” he said. “The Bible says: ‘The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be Silent.’”

Down the street a woman screamed as police hauled bloody plastic trash bags out of the Evans’ house. The news reporter and her cameraman raced over to get a juicy reaction quote.

Rusty closed the door and ambled back to his La-Z-Boy. His heart was racing, and he felt light-headed. It was exciting knowing he had been on television, speaking with authority on some matter of concern. For all the hours he had spent watching other people, wondering what made them material for the spotlight, now all those people would be watching him.

“I just posted you on Facebook,” Darlene said. “Faylene Tucker and Brent Cruise already liked it.”

By the time Rusty settled into his chair, swallowed a few refreshing mouthfuls of Coke, and lit a fresh cigarette, his heart rate had returned to normal, and the news had moved on to something else. Rusty picked the remote off the stack of pizza boxes and changed the channel, hoping for a little resolution on the matter of the young pregnant midget with the Hello Kitty pillow. But Pregnant Little People was over.