Until this point, my reservations against the spindly frame known as Bertha had merely been somewhat antagonistic…but that mild resentment had grown considerably in the last few seconds. I rose from my chair, blocking the first impulse in my life to defenestrate a woman…well, a woman who wasn’t my mother. Though she has all the corresponding traits in order to fit the same psychological profile: strong feelings of entitlement, a penchant for playing victim, unable to engage in civil dialogue…almost a carbon copy in that sense. A bad parent is an exercise in geometry: you learn to be a good person merely by counterexample. It’s a more difficult form of learning in order to be a better individual, but in doing so, you get to know the subject material infinitely better, with the complimentary gifts of pain and a lost childhood. I felt sympathy for any of Bertha’s children, if any existed; I knew exactly what they must have gone through.
“Bertha,” I growled through grating incisors, pointing my finger at the door, “Get out of my house right now. Just so you know, all of these men in suits are cops, and they will throw your ass in jail for trespassing. Now get out!”
Undeterred by my warning, she instead hurried and placed herself before me, with one slender finger poking me in the chest. “I’m not going anywhere, oppressor! I know something sneaky is happening in here. You didn’t think that you could get away with it, did you? With stealing all of the flyers and notices about this building’s meeting from the hallways? We see all, Mr. Bolton. You can’t hide your crimes from us! Your plan to hide this meeting and gain favor with the mayor is now over!”
Aw, shit…who the hell saw me take them? Well, that plan definitely backfired on me. And now I can’t really kick her out without implicating myself…still, I don’t regret it, though : this lunatical display just proves that it was the better decision, worthy of such a gamble. But what the hell do I do now?
I shrugged emphatically, feigning ignorance. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, Bertha…your imagination must have been playing tricks on you.”
“Sure, Peter,” Bertha replied, with sarcasm that was too thick to spread even with a pavement roller. “I must have been imagining the injustice happening around us. Just like the people who imagined the Holocaust!”
It’s been less than a minute into this crazy conversation, and there’s already a Hitler reference? Man, they’re going to need to refine Godwin’s Law after this one…did we just beat a world record?
Immediately following her theatrical entrance, more people began to enter my abode. Some of them were clearly Bertha’s supporters like Helga, while others were more familiar faces like Officer Linares and Raymond. Active arguments were now dispersed among the living room. In the doorway, Babbu and Brian were yelling out curses, indistinguishable amongst the cacophony that had built its nest around my assembly of chairs. Mayor Dwek was now obviously a little uncomfortable at the spontaneous arrival of insanity, and in turn, her protection detail had become a bit restless. However, you could tell that this wasn’t her first rodeo, as the mayor addressed the wrinkled renegade in a civil tone that was as alien to the hexagenarian as a rational thought.
“Madam, what exactly is the problem? I assume that you’re one of Peter’s neighbors…and correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that you’re one of the defendants. Am I correct? Are you here for the building meeting?” asked Mayor Dwek, in her most official and respectful voice.
Possessed by a vengeful spirit (or cozened by senility and by a nostalgia for the 60s), the living portrait of paranoia focused her gaze on the esteemed ruler of our municipal domain. “Here for the building meeting? Lady, I am the building meeting!” she exclaimed, raising her finger above her head. In her mind, I was sure that she envisioned light shooting from her fingertips, as she was obviously a beacon of justice for all the world. Bathed in her imaginary light, her supporters in my living room raucously cheered and clapped at her poignant retort to the mayor, brilliant as it was. The elevated noise caused the mayor’s bodyguards to become yet even more tense, moving their hands ever closer to their sidearms.
One of Bertha’s protection detail stood a few feet from me, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. “No mames guey…” he said, speaking under his breath.
Tell me about it, buddy…Well, I can see that you’ve channeled your inner ghetto bitch, Bertha. What a shame if you ended up getting shot like one. Please, please, please pull out a knife or something…Of course, I suppose that would suit you just fine, dying as a martyr. For the cause, of course. Better to burn out than to fade away…
“I see,” replied Mayor Dwek, masking her condescension with an extra layer of formality. “Well, I was just here to see if I could be of service in some way to my fellow residents of Little Peru. Is there anything that I can help you with? I would welcome you to sit down and join our discussion. Peter was just beginning to explain the situation here…”
“Whatever he has told you,” Bertha interrupted, “I promise you that it’s all lies. You should listen to nothing from his forked tongue. In fact, I think that you should have him arrested right now! Him and his conniving buddies on the board! In fact, I put them under citizen’s arrest!”
In the midst of their conversation, Babbu and Brian had made their way to me and Rhonda, finally standing behind me. “Hey, man,” Brian whispered to me, “Ray told us about this meeting at the last minute. Why didn’t you tell us?”
I shook my head, whispering back to the both of them. “Oh, sorry guys…I forgot to tell you.” Yep, I definitely forgot to tell you…just like I definitely didn’t steal the flyers and notices from the hallways. Just like I recognize Bertha as our queen and savior.
Even though her posture presented the very essence of calm, the true queen of this town shifted in her chair, with the body language of one who has need to either purge or consume some form of matter. However, in this case, though, I sensed that it was her impatience beginning to itemize demands of its own. I crossed my fingers behind my back, hoping that Bertha’s head might make the list.
“Madam, I would ask that you and your fellow defendants please sit down,” said Mayor Dwek, in a more assertive tone. “So that we can talk about this subject in a more civil manner. So that we can have a more productive dialogue than this…”
“We will do no such thing! We will not negotiate with these criminals…and I’ll give you one warning, Dwek.” Bertha lowered her finger of smite, pointing the dangerous end of its barrel directly at Her Honor. “Just know that if you’re not with us…you’re against us!”
Despite my best efforts, a fugacious smirk burst from my lips. Good girl, Bertha…thank you for threatening the mayor and saving me the trouble of proving you wrong. Now this is gonna be good.
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.