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This Gated Community

by David J. Rank

The Fowlers knew how to throw a party. Everyone was there. Jonathan Dunne had a wonderful time: plenty to drink, marvelous food, entertaining conversation, the music selected properly light and frivolous. He mingled and observed.

Dunne joined in on a running commentary about the problem of cleanliness along the wall trail. Everyone agreed the Association Board never seemed able to keep up with it. Frank Reynolds spoke with disgust of the litter always being found there. “Vandalism,” he called it, as did others. “The Association Board must take stronger action,” he said. One anecdote after another was told about the awful things found at the base of the wall. It was the only topic of a serious nature anyone cared to discuss that night.

One of the pleasantries of living in this gated community was most everyone refrained from discussing anything but the quirks and advantages of living there. The troubles of the world were left outside the enclosing wall where they belonged — except for the chronic problem of the trash and detritus flung over the wall. That no one could ignore.

Dunne watched his neighbors, listened to their chatter — he was a careful observer — and laughed most of the night. He sent a text message to his office shortly after 11 o’clock.

The party broke up at midnight. The Authorities took Frank Reynolds away, right from the Fowlers’ front porch. He went quietly, a bit drunk. Joan, his wife, was comforted by John McMurray and others. There were whispers of Decency Code violations, that he had lied about his background on the Housing Application. Dunne did not believe any of it.

“I for one, always thought he did not belong here,” someone said. “Not like Joan. Too opinionated — and not in the right way.” Several people nodded knowingly but did not comment.

“A beautiful night,” Dunne’s neighbor said. “Or should I say morning?” He elbowed Dunne. “Past our curfew.”

“I’m not worried.”

“Lovely moon.”

“And not a cloud in the sky. Odd, though, it smells as if it’s going to rain.”

They walked the three blocks to their adjoining condos close to the east wall of this gated community and bid each other good night from their respective stoops.

* * *

Dunne slept late. It was Saturday. He strolled to the Koffe Kaffé where he ordered his weekend morning favorite, hazelnut latte and a blueberry scone. He sat at a tiny table by the front window, a good place to people watch. Warm sunlight beamed through the colored glass of the window and fell softly on his face and arms like the touch of a woman.

The Fowlers were there, as was Joan Reynolds, enjoying the company of John McMurray at a corner table. They were splitting a Danish and drank fruit smoothies topped with whipped cream. McMurray nodded at Dunne.

Polite morning conversations were masked by the burr and shoosh of machines behind the sales counter making it difficult for Dunne to eavesdrop. The cafe was full of interesting aromas: roasted coffee, of course, warm bakery, cocoa, nutmeg and cinnamon, freshly juiced fruits. Dunne breathed deeply of all the spice and sweetness and smiled. He always enjoyed his visits there. It always felt so unencumbered and so very free to him.

A jogger came in, sweaty and upset. “It’s disgraceful...” He’d been on the trail along the wall. He ordered granola with skim milk and fresh berries. “What those malcontents throw over the wall! Disgusting. Troublemakers. All of them. Socialists! I almost stepped—”

“Would you care for orange juice with that?” the barista asked. “Free upgrade to a large this morning. Fresh squeezed.” He glanced at Dunne.

The jogger agreed, obviously happy with the deal.

It perturbed Dunne. The barista hadn’t offered him a large orange juice.

* * *

Nearly noon, Dunne left the Koffe Kaffé. He circled through the small commercial district full of interesting shops and strolling shoppers. Outside Blooms & Greens, the black-clad Authorities stopped a couple, the Moores. Dunne knew them vaguely. They had been at the Fowler’s party last night, their behavior a bit inappropriate, Dunne recalled. People had commented. The Authorities led them quietly into a black van and drove away.

Dunne waved to Joan Reynolds and John McMurray on the corner across the street.

“Lovely weather,” McMurray shouted. “Thank you.”

“Yes it is.”

The new couple headed in the direction of McMurray’s nearby loft.

* * *

Dunne’s neighbor was taken. Dunne hadn’t really cared for him much. A bit of a loudmouth. Days later, Chuck and Alaina Walker moved into the vacant condo.

The covenants of this gated community did not permit couples in units intended for singles. But demand was high for housing in this secure development and there was little room left for new construction. People wanted to get away from the troubles outside, and would do almost anything, pay almost anything, to get in.

Lately, the Association Board had been making exceptions — allowed by the covenants if there was a unanimous vote. A few, Frank Reynolds had been one of the more vocal, questioned if that was wise. It risked the tranquility of this gated community if you let too many people in, some thought, if you lowered the standards.

The Association Board never publicly responded to such criticism. There was a long waiting list to get in, it was said.

The Walkers were a pleasant couple, young and handsome. Dunne flirted with Alaina right from the beginning. Harmless stuff, really. She smelled of fresh spring water.

They found they enjoyed the same music, liked their steaks medium rare and peppered, read similar books, some approved by the Association Board, some not. They shared a quiet giggle over that shared indiscretion.

Dunne mentioned the bi-weekly book club. Alaina said she surely would join. With the time demands of his new job — he was a low-level administrator for wall maintenance — Chuck said he couldn’t, but he’d enjoy hearing Alaina tell him about the meetings. “I read books, too. When I have time.”

“Welcome to this gated community,” Dunne said that first day. “It’s very safe here. I’m sure we’ll be good friends.”

They returned his smile and Dunne winked at Alaina.

* * *

Several days later distant gunfire was heard coming from the north wall. Word filtered through the gated community over the following weeks that those sporadic gunshots had involved some minor trouble with the malcontents outside. There was never an official statement issued by the Association Board.

Chuck Walker would not discuss it either when Dunne made inquiries. He and the Walkers now enjoyed evening drinks and conversation, often in each other’s condo. “It is nothing,” Chuck said. “Nothing we should discuss. Please, there are so many more interesting things to talk about. Tell me about that book club you and Alaina go to. She says she’s enjoying it so much.”

Dunne did not mention the gunfire again. Perhaps more so than anyone else, he understood how things worked in this gated community, how to get along. Dunne, as did most of the residents, had faith in the judgment of the Association Board, its ability to maintain order. Questioning that was out of the question.

This was such a fine place to live, none better in a troubled world. Its residents were, for the most part, upstanding citizens, all of like mind and taste. Each worked hard to be accepted here. They understood the need to maintain certain standards in this gated community, the need to defend it, and keep out the malcontents who would disrupt everyone’s peace of mind.

Eternal vigilance was the sacrifice its good citizens had to bear if they wished to enjoy the benefits of this gated community. They understood, and Dunne most of all, it was not worth risking eviction to stir up discontent.

Whatever the incident of the gunfire had been, Dunne hoped at least it would end the filth being flung over the wall. He was disappointed to learn later it did not.

From that day forward, the sounds of random gunshots often were heard coming from the north wall. After a while, no one bothered to comment about it any more.

* * *

The black van of the Authorities rolled slowly down the street one day, stopping a few doors south of Dunne’s and the Walkers’ condos. Mary Smythe was taken. Her husband waved as the van pulled away.

Dunne saw all this from the window of his tiny den. He worked for the accounting firm in the commercial district but could fulfill nearly all of his duties online from home.

On a scrap of paper pulled from beneath a stack of notes Dunne added another mark. He studied the paper, nearly filled with tidy, thin pencil lines. He did not bother to count them, but he noted it was a considerable number. Most he understood. A few perplexed him.

He thought of Alaina, and enjoyed looking into the lovely blue sky, blue as Alaina’s eyes. One fluffy cloud slowly slid across his field of vision.

* * *

It rained a few weeks later. Bursts of gunfire seemed to break out from all directions of the wall, scattered like handfuls of thrown pebbles — pop, pop, pop.

Dunne turned up his music. Gershwin. It made him think of Alaina. He had introduced her to the joys of Gershwin just the other day.

* * *

The Authorities took the Fowlers a short time later. When Dunne learned of this, he was terribly saddened. The Fowlers had been the center of evening social life in this quarter of the gated community. He enjoyed their parties very much.

Dunne had never thought their improprieties significant. He regretted that someone else thought they had to leave. Dunne decided he would have to inquire who had reported them. He called his office but received no satisfactory response.

He added two more marks on the scrap of paper from beneath the pile of reminder notes beside his computer.

* * *

The Walkers were told a week later their application to move into the Fowlers’ vacated house had been accepted. Alaina cried when she told Dunne. She had become quite attached to their condo, she said. “I will miss your company, Jonathan.” Chuck just said goodbye.

An elderly couple replaced the Walkers next door. Dunne was polite to them but didn’t try to remember their names.

* * *

Dunne could not recall how long after Alaina and Chuck moved away that he received the email informing him his services with the accounting firm were no longer required. When he inquired why — “Have I not done everything you asked?” — they did not reply. Dunne was concerned.

Without his job, his usefulness to this gated community was at an end. He tried to contact the Association Board directly but could not get through.

He did not sleep well that night. He paced a lot, and peeked out the windows of his condo quite often.

* * *

The Authorities took him that next day.

From their front door the old couple watched Dunne being escorted to the black van. They looked fearful and did not wave goodbye.

In the slow-moving van, watched by two silent and well-armed men clad in black, Dunne stared out the tinted window. The candy-colored homes, lofts and flats, the condos of this gated community rolled past the window. He noticed it was another wonderful day: sunny, a clean sky.

Dunne grew aware that the pop, pop, pop of gunfire from the north wall was growing louder. The black van was heading into a quarter of this gated community he rarely traveled.

He wondered where they were taking him and what they planned to do with him once they got there.

Oh, well, Dunne thought. Whatever it is, surely it will be in the best interest of this gated community. That was all he had ever worked for, really. He hoped the Association Board understood that. He planned to talk to someone in authority as soon as possible and clear up this little misunderstanding so he could apply for readmittance to this exceptionally well-run walled community. It was such a fine place to live, the only place he wanted to live.

Perhaps, Dunne thought, he could find a residence closer to Alaina Walker, renew their friendship, their reading of books together. He smiled at the thought.

Dunne passed the time remaining to him watching puffball clouds skim by in a very blue, blue sky, as blue as Alaina’s eyes.

Copyright © 2010 by David J. Rank

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