I open my door to see a girl, young, maybe eighteen or nineteen, standing outside. She holds a manila envelope in her hand and a smile on her face.
“Are you Garri███ ███chester?”
“Who?” I pull the door open a little more. “I couldn’t hear you.”
“I can’t hear you over the, uh, bars?”
“Sorry. I have to use them for public safety.”
“Public safety?” I lift a brow.
“All you’re doing is asking what my name is. What’s that have to do with public safety?”
“That’s actually what I came to see you about.” She thrusts the manila envelope toward me, offering it as her smile grows wider, I think, too wide for her face.
I stare at the envelope, but don’t reach for it. “What’s that?”
She waves, getting more aggressive until I take it. “It’s a petition.”
I take it and pop the seal open. Slowly withdrawing the clean, white sheets, I look over the header, but don’t really read any of it. “What do you want?”
“I don’t particularly want anything… However, the neighborhood has been talking–you know, about improving safety, improving everyone’s lives, and, well, you came up.”
I roll the letters in my hands. “Okay… Why did I come up? Am I not a good enough Samaritan or something? I’ve planted flowers in our park before–granted it was a couple years back, but–”
“No, that’s not it.”
“Did you want me to join the neighborhood watch?”
“No, no. That’s not it either.”
“Well, we got together and created this petition for you to change your name.”
I close my eyes for a moment and shake my head like I just took a whiff of something bad. “Say that again.”
“All your neighbors got together and wrote this petition for you to change your name.”
I look over the petition and the signature page especially. “There are only three names on here…”
“Right. So, all your neighbors—”
“None of these people are my neighbors. This guy’s got a Rhode Island zip code.”
She purses her lips and puts her hands on her hips. “Does it really matter how many there are and where they live? This is kind of important, like, for everyone, and even if they didn’t sign the petition, this will help them.”
“Because your name is offensive and a risk to public safety.”
“What’s wrong with the name Garrison Manchester?”
Her eyes widen as I speak. Her mouth drops open with utter horror and she stares at me, unmoving. “How… how could you say that to me?”
“You know what you said.”
“Stop!” She stomps her feet.
“Stop what? I’m just saying my name!”
“But that’s the problem–Look,” she looks like she choked on her tongue. “Gary–Can I call you Gary?”
“I prefer you didn’t.”
“Gary,” she says again and I clench my jaw. “You seem like a rea███able guy, though maybe a bit dated and behind the times, so please, let me explain. It’s the least I can do.”
I cross my arms and her papers bend beneath them. “At least.”
“Your name is an issue for public safety because it contains a few very… ill-███nered words that we don’t use in polite society anymore. I know this might seem like crazy news to you, but everyone in the neighborhood got together and decided these words are just… so inappropriate and so unnecessary for modern society and if you think about it, they’re actually pretty damaging to almost anyone who has to hear them.”
“Words like what?”
“Well… You know…” She leans forward. “You should know. You have two of them in your name.
I real a second over where her censors come in and only look back at her once the words hit me. “Are you talking about man and son?”
“Can you please stop saying those words!” Her voice screeched like nails going across a chalkboard. “I realize you’re from a different generation, so you might not understand this, but those words are no-no words now. Like, how when we were kids, our parents said don’t say things like damn and shit and hell and fuck? But those words are fine now. Hell, you should put them on signs–wear them on clothes. But, the words you just mentioned, whether they stand on their own or are part of another word, they’re inappropriate–always.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I wouldn’t expect an old fuck like you to understand,” she sighs, rubbing her forehead.
“This is ridiculous.” I turn away.
“Oh–You can’t say that either. Because you know… The center word in there which relates to the other words?”
“That’s the one.” She cringes, her eye twitches, and her jaw clamps shut. “So, please, for public safety, stop using words with those in them. Useless… insensitive and barbaric words instead. And also change your name soon. I like Gary Chester. Or maybe something classic like.. MacBeth. I dunno. We didn’t petition for that. We just wanted change. So, if that’s all–”
She turns around and without thinking, I grab her arm. “Wait.” Seeing her stare of terror. I release her hand. “I wanted to get this straight. If you cant say ‘man’ than how would you suggest saying woman? Should I assume the proper classification for someone like you is now WO?”
“Good question, but the answer is no. Because if you say something like WO when you see a wo███, then it sounds like you’re a sexist going WOW. Better to stay away from that and just call her a lady per███.” The girl pauses, hearing the click in her own words. She diverts her eyes downward and her eyes narrow in thought. “Lady…” she finally says. “Yeah, go with that. Lady. Or lady folk. Or miss. All of those are acceptable for people like me.”
“This is ridiculous,” I close the door, but she sticks her foot in the door jam and stops me.
“There’s that word again.” She strains to smile through pursed lips. “I know you’re a reasonable hu-folk. If you’ll take a moment to stop the insults and offence, we can come up with a new name that I’m sure you’ll like if Gary Chester isn’t the one.”
I think about making her foot the center of a sandwich between my door and the door frame. “I’m not changing my name.”
“But it will help so many.”
“It will help no one.” I yank the door open and take the clipboard from her hands. “I’m guessing your Beatrice since that’s the first name at the top of this petition and all of the others…” glancing down the list, “are fake.”
“I’m not sure if you know this, what with your obvious cultural background, but to question someone’s physical reality is offensive. Our neighborhood is one that welcomes people from all walks of life, real or imaginary. Everyone is equal here.” She reaches for the clipboard. I pull it away before she can take it. Flipping through the pages, none of the names are real. She calls it neighborhood safety, but the only way any of these people lived in the neighborhood is if you count the creations she has in her head.
I hand the clipboard back. She seems surprised she doesn’t have to fight me for it. “Beatrice, I’m not going to change my name and I’m not changing a damn thing about the way I speak. Part of a person’s identity is in their name, another part in their background. Your declaration is my existence offends you. At what point is that any different than saying you wish I didn’t exist? You’ve come to my house and demand I change for a book of made-up people. Don’t come to my house and demand my existence be removed. If you hate me that much, admit you wished I were dead, not this bullshit your name is a problem trash. You have a problem with me which means I’ve got a problem with you. Come back to my house again and I’ll be forced to say every unreasonable word listed in your mandate. Man, woman, human, person, cock and balls, and get bent.” I slam the door on her, this time, her foot doesn’t catch it. I stand at the door, waiting to hear her go. I’d hoped she wouldn’t come back. A couple weeks went by and she didn’t, but my neighbor knocks on my door and warns me about the crazy woman petitioning to change his name from Norman Blackman.
According to the paperwork, there is nothing acceptable about his name and he can’t be helped; she was petitioning to get rid of him completely.