Finalist in KPFT’s Fall Writing Contest (2019)
Leading out from the bar is a maze of raised laminate tabletops and booths, with the leather cracked and torn, smoothed/faded etc. They huddle together in the farthest dimly-lit corner, waiting on Peace and Justice to arrive. As a matter of policy, the pub never hosts private parties. Instead, they had to arrive hours early and compete with patrons for the necessary number of seats. But, even now, they refuse to break position. To do so would compromise the perfect “SURPRISE!” moment, when they cue a chorus of party horns and spring out from behind bar booths.
Everyone is so tense with anticipation they leap out at the slightest sound and end up tossing fistfuls of confetti at strangers. Sometimes the strangers ask if they can join the party.
“Peace and Justice?” one man asks with eyes rekindled, “the four-time Grammy-nominated artist?”
“That’s Post Malone,” snarls The Event Organizer, “This party’s for Peace and Justice.” The man’s entire body seems to sag after hearing that.
“I mean, I’ve heard they’re pretty okay. Can you waive my entrance fee?” The Event Organizer shakes her head and extends a hand.
“Even though I’m already in the pub?” he asks.
She shrugs and says “How many people will be able to say they attended Peace and Justice’s official welcome-home-party?” then raises both eyebrows, as if her point’s been proven, but he saunters off, resigned to drag himself onto the next peace-less injustice.
“…you even get a party hat!” she calls, but he doesn’t so much as turn around.
Maybe if they had T-shirts or something, he thinks.
The Event Organizer, in her designer pantsuit, with that huge billboard smile, turns around and directs everyone back into place. In that high but stern tone, she says they (Peace and Justice) will be here any minute.
Ankles waver, sore from crouching in wait for this long. So far there have been four false flags. This has failed to even slightly diminish the partygoers’ enthusiasm.
I can already see the looks on their faces, they think with smiles aglow.
Collectively, they consider the possibilities that will bloom before them once Peace and Justice arrive. Perhaps they wouldn’t have to say a silent prayer whenever happening upon the police. Retirement with healthcare benefits, clean water, who knows?
I could live, thinks Gretta, a partygoer, do the things I’ve always wanted to. We all could. With Peace and Justice here, anything could happen. Anything is possible.
Pub patrons not participating in the festivities look at them there, beneath a “WELCOME HOME” banner slung across dusty rafters, crouching and smiling in wait, and can’t help but shake their heads. They think them fools. Naïve fools.
They down the rest of their after-work beers and step around the group, party hats and all, to make a beeline for the shitter. Scattered across the rotted floorboards: multicolored confetti, shaped like small champagne bottles, dull from being walked on so often.
On the way there, Peace and Justice shift uncomfortably atop the stained seats of their Uber. The driver is a young man with suspenders attaching smoke grey slacks to a white collared shirt. In the mirror, from over his small circular glasses, he squints at them.
“You sure your names don’t have some kind of allegorical meaning?” he asks.
“None at all,” says Peace.
“We swear it,” says Justice. The driver nods, but is clearly unconvinced.
They’ve been gone so long. The sun’s harsh glare against skyscrapers owned by Big Oil© and The Banks™ is completely alien. In fact, now that they think about it, neither of them can recall any of these buildings being here before they left.
It was all large expanses of green, they think, with wild horses galloping over the hills, across the rivers. Lovely. Just lovely—or perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps it was always like this.
Being just slightly younger than their cousin, Time, Peace and Justice often have difficulty remembering the specifics of any particular person/place/thing. It all gets muddled together.
But, looking at the entangled structures of concrete and steel that block out the sky, the people inside them shuffling about without really going anywhere, we can’t help but feel as if there is something more. Underneath it all.
“The whole thing just really feels like an allegory to me,” mumbles the Uber driver.
“How many times do I have to tell you?” cries Peace. “This is no allegory! I am Peace!”
“I’m not even sure if mere personification constitutes allegory,” Justice thinks aloud, “metaphor, perhaps, but not allegory.”
“Justice,” huffs Peace.
“Right. Um—look: this is Peace, I’m Justice.”
“Alright, alright.” The driver leaves one hand on the wheel, but puts the other up in defeat. “Just don’t give me a bad review, man. One more of those and I’ll have to find another job. Can’t have less than three if I want to make rent.” Silence blossoms for a moment, until Justice leans over.
“Peace,” whispers Justice, “why did we agree to come here again? I was so happy deep in the Amazon. There were no exploited workers, yet we had all we needed. Whereas, here-” Justice glances towards the front seat. Peace shakes its head and lets a laugh ring out. It’s the most peaceful sound the driver has ever heard.
“Because, Justice, they really want to see us. They’ve poked and invited us so many times on Facebook. Plus, I figured they seem organized and conscious enough to bring us about.” They lurch forward from a sudden stop, but are yanked back by seatbelts. After a quick glare at the driver, Justice goes on.
“But those buildings, and—three jobs?!”
“Oh, Justice, I’m sure they’ve by now realized their-” Peace takes a moment, choosing the next word carefully, “asymmetrical ways.” Justice nods and looks out the window. By now, the buildings and their harsh glares are dots in the rearview.
Under the accusation-filled glares the crowd flings her way, The Event Organizer begins to sweat through the hot pink of her designer pantsuit. They’ll want refunds if something doesn’t happen soon, something big. Some have completely abandoned position and now sit at the bar with everyone else, regarding their old comrades with contempt.
Crouched in front of the crowd (what’s left of it), who themselves are all crouched behind booths, The Event Organizer dons a weak smile and (again) says they (Peace and Justice) will be here any minute.
She has no way of knowing this, as neither Peace nor Justice have a phone to call and confirm, but this white lie was supposed to serve as extremely comforting, reassuring news. The crowd hardly acknowledges it.
Vultures, thinks The Event Organizer, the Facebook event page only says that Peace and Justice have been cordially INVITED as the guests of honor, not that they’ve CONFIRMED a scheduled appearance.
She stops for a moment.
Yeah, that’s good. That’s what I’ll say.
She notices she’s been pacing and stops and brings both shoulders back, tilts her chin slightly upwards before returning to a crouched position. Then, in her peripheral: a scuffle.
While The Event Organizer decided which wording sounded most empathetic, someone at the bar decided to finally tell the wack jobs crouched in the corner that Peace and Justice aren’t coming. They’re never coming.
“Whywouldey?” The man swung back and forth in his barstool while addressing them, making unfocused eye contact with the partygoers, hands gesturing around the room. “Loogatisplace.”
Smiles vanished. Cellphone footage would later confirm it was Gretta who, while crouched, threw a bottled IPA at his head, hit him square in the temple, and sent him tumbling off the barstool.
Covered in the security monitor’s whitish-blue, behind a two-way mirror, Gretta will lean over the stainless-steel table in the police station’s interview room, cupping her face in both palms.
“I’ll tell you why I did it,” she will sigh, “I just-I just really wanted to have this one thing, ya know? I’m a mom, a wife, I work all day. Like everyone else there, I just wanted to see Peace and Justice. Just one time. I know it’s a big wish, since no one’s seen either of ‘em in so long we forgot they were even here, but still—and to have that jerk rub it in my face, I don’t know—” sobs. She’d later be charged with inciting a riot and, worst of all, property damage under Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 28.03 for what happened after she threw the beer bottle.
When Peace and Justice finally get there, after many detours and wrong addresses, potholes and things of the like, they tip the Uber driver and walk up the pub’s stairs. Sounds bleed from behind the door’s tattered wood.
Crashes. Yelling. Each glances at the other with expressions that say “What can we do? We’ve come all this way.” Justice reaches out, twists the knob.
Peace ducks just in time to avoid a rather small man who has been used as a projectile. The man sails out the pub, bounces on one of the lower steps and flops to a halt on the sidewalk, unconscious.
Inside, fights between people in party hats and people not in party hats have broken out all over the place. Chairs fly from one end of the room to the other and crash into faces/walls. Bodies lie crumpled on the floor.
A woman, drenched in sweat, quickly paces back and forth in a hot pink pantsuit.
“No refunds!” she screams on an eternal loop. The room is too much of a violent blur for anyone to notice: shattered shot glasses etc. etc.
“This can’t possibly be where we belong,” gasps Peace.
“Perhaps we’ve gotten the wrong city,” wonders Justice.
“Or country,” mutters Peace.
“Or political-economic system,” grumbles Justice.
“I’m reminded of why we left this place so long ago,” sighs Peace.
They’re on the sidewalk, waving down the Uber before the bar’s door can swing shut. The passenger window rolls down as the driver pulls beside them.
“-and it’s a cynical allegory at that!” he hollers.
“Will you just please take us to the airport?” asks Peace, both eyes rolled as they climb into the car’s chipped paint.
“Please?” begs Justice, closing the door behind them.
Nobody has seen or heard from Peace or Justice since then. It is rumored they maintain a permanent residence among the Sentinelese people, in the Bay of Bengal, protected with arrows and spears.
“It really is lovely here,” chirps Peace as they walk hand-in-hand along white-sanded shores. Justice beams with a smile.
Sometimes, when debating if they should return, Peace and Justice discuss the things they saw on the way to the pub. A father lifting his son high overhead, their laughter soaring through the air. Someone stepping into traffic to scoop up a lost puppy. A protest against the far right. They discuss the possibilities these things hold.
Michael Zendejas studies for a fiction MFA at UMass Amherst. He’s a 2022 winner of the James W. Foley Memorial Prize, and teaches classes on fiction and poetry via GrubStreet. Follow him @mikeafff