There he stands in front of the sign. Smug. Mayor of Podunk. Mr. Big in Smallsville. Always dressed like he was going to a funeral. Got to make a good image, he said. “Thank You. Come Back Soon” the sign says. He designed it. He had it built. Talked someone into donating it. Why pay if you can get someone to give it to you. Think of the impression it will make and business it will bring he told them. Arm twisting. Coercion, but subtle. Smarmy, I thought, with that red heart and frou-frou lettering. And those cheap porch posts from the lumber store. He had one placed at each edge of town. Get ’em coming and going, he said. He didn’t mean it; not really. Well, maybe if you were a nice white family with well-behaved kids and you kept your grass mowed and your dog didn’t bark too loud and you were conservative and Protestant. Even better if you were Pentecostal. Otherwise, not so much. Maybe nothing overt, no real harassment or hassle. But if you knew him you knew it was there. The cops knew what he expected. They knew what would happen if they didn’t follow the rules. Still, in his mind, appearance was most important. He believed his own stories. The fact that his children avoided him and his grandchildren were afraid of him and he yelled at his wife and called her worthless were side issues. Don’t talk about it to anyone or you’ll really get it. Wide berth. “Come Back Soon” the sign says. I made it out, Granddaddy. No, I won’t.
Story by Steven Yancey