The neighbors across the road hung a 6-foot rebel flag with an AK-47 and the words “COME AND TAKE IT” emblazoned on it off of their front porch. My 9-year-old daughter and I stood in the weeds across from it, taking pictures. “What does it mean, mom?” asked my daughter.
“I don’t know,” I said. The way the flag was positioned, hung up near a cast-off refrigerator, it was hard to tell. Maybe it meant, “If you attempt to touch my rebel flag, I will take out my assault rifle and murder you with it.” Or maybe it meant, “Free fridge, you haul it.”
The neighbors came here from an Amish farm, though they themselves were Calvinists. They had seven home-schooled kids, and they all worked together to run a successful landscaping business. A few months before they hung up the flag, Bob, the father, came across the road to borrow my bee smoker. One wall of a bedroom was filled with honeycomb (“that’s where all those bees were coming from”), and he was going to take care of it right then.
I grabbed my bee smoker and followed him across the road. A dog was on a long lead near the porch, and he barked and snarled at me as we passed by. “Will that dog bite?” I asked him.
“He won’t bite you,” said Bob.
We stood inside the bedroom. The sheetrock on one stretch of wall had been cut off. The space between the wall studs was thick with comb, and bees flew in and out of the square where the window had been.
“Do you know anything about bees?” I asked him. “Are you going to do this yourself?”
“If I call someone, I’ll have to get permits,” said Bob. “You know bees are regulated. The feds regulate you to death around here.” Bob picked up a can of insect spray and shook it up and down. He started talking about the Amish farm he’d lived on, and self-sufficiency. “The federal government exists for one thing only,” he said. “Defense of the nation. They shouldn’t be taxing and regulating everything.”
“Well, I don’t mind paying taxes for things like roads and libraries and food inspections,” I said. “I really appreciate some regulation, so corporations don’t screw everything up.”
“You are delusional if you think the government has your best interests in mind,” he said.
“I believe it’s possible to govern in a way that meets people’s needs,” I said. “I think that’s what we should demand.”
We stood there watching the bees in a silence that was not exactly hostile. “Thanks for the smoker,” said Bob, finally.
My daughter and I were still discussing the flag when Ben came home from work. “Did you see the flag?” asked Ben as soon as he walked in. “What are you going to do?”
“We should sneak over there in the middle of the night and replace it with a rainbow flag,” said my 9-year-old.
“No,” said Ben. “We should come up with a bunch of contradictory images and make him feel anxious all the time. A rainbow-colored swastika over a mushroom cloud, with the words ‘nuke ’em all.’ He’ll be like, ‘Nuke gay Nazis? Nuked BY gay Nazis?’”
“Why do they even have a dog in this fight?” I wondered. “They’re from upstate New York.”
• • •
Bob came back a few weeks later to return the smoker.
“Did you get the bees?” I asked him.
“Yep, they’re gone,” he said.
It was springtime, and the cherry trees were blooming. You could smell the wisteria in the trailer lot next door. “It sure is beautiful here,” I said.
“It sure is,” he said. “We are blessed to be here. The only problem is this road.” He yelled the last as a Walmart semi roared by.
“I know,” I said. “The first thing we’ve got to do is blow up that bridge.” I pointed to my left, toward the old bridge that spanned the Apalachee River and was the only reasonable way into Athens.
I was kind of joking, but also kind of not. Sometimes, to get myself to sleep, I lay in bed at night imagining protecting this small outpost of millhouses and two abandoned churches from… what? Zombies? A pandemic? Civil unrest? My fantasies always started with the neighbors banding together and blowing up the bridge.
I expected Bob to laugh. Instead, he said, “Oh, yes, I’ve already discussed this with the neighbor on the other side of you, and he agrees.”
“What?” I said. “You have? He does?” My neighbor on the other side was the guy who’d drawn a lot of people to High Shoals when he started the intentional Christian community. He spent most of his time building things and listening to The Beatles. He did not seem like the type to blow up a bridge.
“Oh, yes. He says he’s all for it. Everything bad comes from that way.” Bob waved his hand toward Athens. “But then, what about over there?” He pointed in the opposite direction, where the two-lane road disappeared around a curve, headed for Bostwick.
“We’d pile up a bunch of cars and take turns manning it,” I said. “Like a road block.”
“Yep,” said my neighbor. “That’s what we’d do.”
Emboldened by our surprise conversation, I decided to talk to Bob about something that had been on my mind a lot recently. “Bob,” I said, “I need to talk to you about something I’ve been thinking a lot about.”
“Shoot,” said Bob.
“I know that we don’t agree about politics. You are very conservative, and I am very liberal.”
“Eww, I just love libraries!” said Bob in a girly voice, throwing up his hands.
“Right,” I said. “However, if something really bad does happen around here, like, if there’s some sort of civil unrest or something, I promise not to murder your entire family if you promise not to murder mine.”
Again, Bob did not laugh. “Robin,” he said, sticking out his hand and looking me somberly in the eye. “You are my community, and your community is your family.”
“That’s good,” I said, shaking his hand. “If the fit hits the shan, I just wanted to make sure we had a deal.”
“The shit has already hit the fan,” said Bob. “And it’s a deal.”
• • •
My neighbor on the other side had a talk with Bob, and Bob had a talk with his oldest son, and the next day the rebel flag came down. The refrigerator’s still on the porch, though, if you know anyone.
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