by Carol Guess
Every Monday, Mock City. You get up at five am, but instead of driving north to the airport, you drive south through strip malls and suburbs. You drive to the police academy where you were trained and now work one morning a week. Mock City interrupts the parking lot of the academy, a rectangular building with vinyl siding, handwritten signage, and too many doors. It’s the same script every Monday, fake rooms with fake furniture. The police recruits change, but they read the same lines. You guide them through mock scenes, composites of real cases: a bar fight with broken bottles, someone’s suicidal spouse locked in their bedroom, a domestic violence call where three people answer, all narrating at once. Social workers roleplay civilians. The social workers are in training for dealing with you.
The rest of the week you work at the airport, a maze of detours, circular gates. It’s rote until it’s not. It’s following the rules until someone doesn’t. It’s the same and the same until something explodes. At the airport you sit in an office high above the food court, overlooking pretzels and cocktails, greasy pizza to go. You’re invisible behind one-way glass, guns at the ready in rooms filled with family photos and instant coffee. The view from your office window is an advertisement shaped like a suitcase, seams leaking smoke spelling Report Unattended Luggage!
“Was that your idea?”
“Do I look like Marketing?”
You’re wearing your uniform, bulletproof vest, gun, Taser, latex gloves, badge, and American flag pin.
You do not look like Marketing.
You’re in roll call and then you’re at your desk and suddenly you’re racing through the airport to stop the guy with the hunting rifle staring down some anxious underpaid TSA agent.
You’re in roll call and then you’re at your desk and suddenly the country explodes, spontaneous demonstrations at airports nationwide, protesting the travel ban.
“See you on the other side of the barricades!”
You don’t laugh. And later: “Don’t kiss me when I’m in uniform.”
“Don’t kiss me when I’m gossiping at the water cooler.”
You don’t laugh and then we’re sleeping. Your gun is in the safe, but you won’t teach me about gun safety because why would I ever touch your gun?
“But what if some guy breaks in and you reach for it, but he shoots you first and it’s just me and you’re dead and you can’t reach your gun?”
“If I’m dead and I can reach my gun, you’re really in trouble.”
I don’t laugh and then we’re sleeping. Your gun is in the safe and you say it’s safer this way, safer that I’ll never know how it works.
We watch a Scandinavian crime drama on TV. You point out every wrong thing the heroine does. She runs wrong, she points the gun wrong, she cuffs the suspect wrong, she cuffs the wrong suspect. She speaks Swedish and has long pale hair and watery blue eyes like mine.
Your eyes are also watery blue. Your skin is even paler than mine. You kiss me. We make out but don’t have sex because sex is sometimes too upsetting to you. My noises, you say, sound violent. In the beginning, I wanted sex so badly I’d stroke you through your pants while we were eating dinner, but you pushed my hand away so I just stopped.
Once every two weeks you climb on top of me and grunt and the noises echo in the room. We both come quickly. If I don’t come, you put your tongue on me and then I do but it’s all over in a couple of minutes. While we’re fucking sometimes I think about Mock City. I imagine a scene where no one gets caught, two happy people, no broken glass. They’re lying in bed, no blood stain, no weapon. They’re kissing, slapping, licking, and thrusting. They last a long time, but we’re done just like that.
My best friend chokes on her coffee. “A gun? Why would someone leave a gun at your house?”
“Not gun, gun safe.”
“It has a gun in it, yes?”
“The gun goes with the person; it’s the safe that stays.”
When you walk through the door, gun under your shirt, I reach for you in my hungry way but it unnerves you, as if I might steal your gun. I learn to stand very still while you remove the bullets, while you unlock the safe, while you lock it all down.
Sometimes I watch you, looking for clues to the part of you that knows how to kill. When you kiss me all I feel is your mouth, but sometimes your hand tickles my throat.
One of the cops on your shift at the airport goes through a bad breakup, the kind where X leaves stuff on Y’s doorstep. You describe her opening the door, seeing the black metal box on her porch, dropped as if from a plane, every word recorded, every kiss, every song, every fuck, every fight.
“You know it’s over when your girlfriend gives you back your gun safe.”
I don’t laugh and then we’re sleeping. Your gun is in the safe, the safe is in the closet, the closet is in the bedroom, the bedroom is in my house.
Halfway through airport security I feel someone watching. The police dog sniffs my bag as I pull my belt out of my jeans.
“Do we still take out our laptops?” No one seems to know. The guy in front of me texts furiously and the pair bond behind me melds into a clingy mass of inflatable neck pillows.
“Does mace count as explosives?” No one seems to know this, either.
“Yes and yes.”
I look up and it’s you. You’re on duty; I’d forgotten, but had I really? Had I really forgotten, or had I planned my entire trip to see my maybe dying uncle to coordinate with your beat circling the airport, you and your Kevlar, your tactical aim?
I’m so well-trained not to kiss you that I think Don’t shoot! as if you’re a cop with a loaded gun.
One day I’m washing dishes, my back turned toward you, and I ask about the thing I see, the way you recoil sometimes during sex, your hesitation, your closed eyes, your detachment. I say I see you. I say I see how it is. I say you can talk to me. I say you can tell me anything. I say I don’t want it to be like that for you anymore. I say you shouldn’t ever do anything you don’t want to do, not for anyone. I say I love you. I say …
The door slams.
You come home an hour later.
“I have something to show you,” you say, holding your phone horizontally. When you tap the screen, it’s baby goats in pajamas. The littlest one keeps getting kicked in the head.
Our day arrives, and you show me Mock City.
The building looks exactly as you described it. Recruits cluster outside, away from the doors. You explain that standing away from doors becomes second nature.
“Anything can come out of a door.”
We walk inside. I’m proud to be with you, but also know I’m not the first and probably won’t be the last. The other officers have seen this before, small blonde beta trailing behind.
You push open the door and I follow you. It smells like gym, sweat socks, and blood. The concrete walls glare dirty white. Every room has windows opening onto the corridor, handwritten signs marking each scene: DV, Suicide, Dementia, Mental Health.
“It should say Mental Illness. The sign says Health.”
You look at me like I’m crazy, the same look you give me when I talk about my friends, friends who padlock themselves to fences, who grow roots in asphalt while the president plays golf.
You show me the fake jail cell first: cot with soiled blanket, bloodstains on the wall. Then a fake airport terminal and a fake bus station with real busses. For a time, you’re leading scenes in the barroom brawl. I watch the same play over and over, actors fumbling unrehearsed lines. Once in a while someone sparks, grabs the social worker, wrestles away the knife. Once in a while someone says the right thing, tough but with a hint of compassion, because we’re all in it together, and what we’re all in is danger. But mostly it’s rote, distracted, balloons floating above the room, and the actors acting their hearts out for me.
Everyone breaks for lunch. Someone brings coffee on a cardboard tray, someone brings sandwiches. Everyone jokes about beer. One of your buddies takes out his laser pointer and shoots you in the chest, red dot to heart. You fall on the floor, mock dead. Everyone laughs and then you’re eating, bits of lettuce falling to the floor of the fake bar, Top Forty blasting through real speakers.
After lunch, more scenes, then a buzzer goes off and everyone stops mid-sentence. The suicidal social worker laughs and checks his phone; the robber social worker drops the purse; the elderly social worker is still elderly and asks for her check. You gesture toward the door and we’re back in the hall, heading toward the exit, where I’ll ask too many questions and your face will stay closed.
But we don’t take the door leading outside. Instead, when the corridor is empty, you push me up against the dirty wall and kiss me. Then you give me a look as if to say, “Now.”
You walk away from the exit, into the deep. The building goes on and on, stairs leading up, stairs leading down. We walk and walk, more stairs, more down, landings that open onto hallways of doors. Sometimes we pass someone who glances at you and you gesture toward me, signaling something I can’t decipher. We walk until finally the corridor stops.
We are in a corridor and there are two doors. You stand in front of the doors and I wait for you to tell me which door to open. But you don’t say anything. Since you aren’t talking, I pick. Both doors have windows the size of TV screens. I peer through the window of the door on the right, expecting it to look like the others. But this room is different. Inside, through the screen, the scene looks real. It looks realer than real. There’s a road, light fading, toward evening, and the road has a double yellow line and there are two cars pulled over to the side. One of the cars has flashing lights. A cop gets out of the car and walks toward the other car, which is grey and dented and old. The cop looks in the window of the car. Raps on the glass. Just then I feel you turn away from the window, but it’s too late; I can’t not look. I can’t stop seeing the cop step back, gesturing for the driver to get out of the car. The driver holds up his hands and for a second, I think the scene is over. It was practice, a practice traffic stop. This is how you do it. This is how you stop someone for speeding, fine them, write them a ticket, tell them to slow down.
Instead the cop knees the man, pushes him to the ground. The man falls to the road and light from a hotel blinks on and off in the trees. The man doesn’t have a gun, doesn’t have anything. He’s saying stop. He’s saying don’t shoot.
The cop leans back, then steps forward and kicks the man. Kicks him again, in the chest, in the head. The cop takes aim as the man begs with bloody mouth: Stop! Don’t shoot!
Moonlight burns the trees.
Gunshots shatter the silence between us.
I’m heaving, sick. I bend over in the corridor and throw up, everything out of my body, wanting out of my skin.
I turn around because I need you to comfort me. Tell me everything will be okay. Tell me about actors, how they’re paid in Mock City, how at the end of the day everyone goes out for drinks.
But when I turn around, you’re gone. The road stretches for miles. It’s evening. I’m stopped by the side of the road.