Only So Much More

by Robert Gordon Sumner

“And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black, and the moon became as blood…” The words radiated from the polished, professional image of Congresswoman Falconer standing at a podium in front of an American flag.

Mathilda Leon hurled her bowl and spoon and the remnants of her breakfast at the image of Falconer on the television screen. A glob of oatmeal oozed down Falconer’s angular face, justifying the childish protest. She picked up the bowl and spoon, hurried into the kitchen, tossed them into the sink, and returned with a rag. She wiped up the oatmeal without regret, pleased with her absurd defiance—mushy goo glopped across a fascist’s face.

Mathilda fixed her hair enough to get by for work, put on a decent outfit, and skipped the makeup. Her workplace didn’t go all in for the slacker ethic of most internet companies, but it was casual enough that some of her co-workers were able to delude themselves into thinking they didn’t work for a corporation, judging by their indignation every time she referred to it as such.

She paused at the front window to scan the yard—the area around where her car was parked and the spaces underneath the cars parked on the other side of the street. Her ex-boyfriend hadn’t been seen nearby in weeks, but if Ryan popped out from behind a bush on the way to her car it would be half-expected. He had destroyed some photos of old boyfriends he found in her room. That should have been enough. When she caught him reading her emails, she stopped procrastinating and ended the relationship. Ryan expressed some strong objections. She couldn’t help the superstitious hunch that his recent absence portended an imminent bout of renewed stalking. She strapped her purse over her shoulder, locked the door and stepped out quickly, relieved when she made it to her car without incident.

Mathilda started the gentle engine of her Toyota. AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” erupted from the stereo as she turned the key. Maybe it was a little too early for that. She ejected the disc and replaced it with The Cure’s Disintegration, something more suitable for the feelings of mild despair that descended on her every morning as she got closer to work. She drove through her neighborhood trying to cheer herself up. At least she was employed, after all. As she approached a stop sign, she slowed. A young man in a red hoodie stood on the corner nearby, glaring at her. Without fully stopping, she glided across the white line and sped away. Maybe she should buy a gun. No, that’s awful. I shouldn’t think that. 

She’d been warned about moving into a gentrifying neighborhood—by some who were genuinely concerned about her safety, by others who leapt at another opportunity to lecture someone less imbued with the essence of social justice. Mathilda appreciated the concern about street crime but felt it was overblown. Having grown up in Oakland, she wasn’t going to start worrying about such things after a mere change of urban scenery.

As for her tentative friends who were more concerned about the effects on those less fortunate, their eyes always went wide and their mouths dropped open in horror when Mathilda pointed out that being anti-gentrification is tantamount to being pro-segregation. If you’re opposed to white people moving into minority neighborhoods then you’re in favor of white people avoiding minorities, right? Somehow her colleagues always failed to grasp that obvious logic.

Mathilda made it to her cubicle without interacting with any of her colleagues. She settled and typed for a while. Palmer Germick, an ogre in his mid-fifties with wavy greying-black hair and smooth yet blistery skin, a neurosis reactor dressed in a suit that would have been de rigeur at an insurance company in the 1960s, approached Mathilda’s desk. She glanced over her shoulder at him with a concealed shimmer of disgust.

“How’re those reports coming along?” Palmer croaked.

“Fine. I’m almost done,” Mathilda assured him without pausing her typing.

“You’re not screwing around on the internet are you?”

“What? No, I…”

“Then why is that icon open on the bottom of your screen?” Palmer jabbed his finger at a browser icon like he was denouncing a traitor.

“Oh, sorry, I just had to…”

Palmer grasped the back of Mathilda’s head and ran his hand down through her hair to her lower back slow enough to locate the mole on her right shoulder blade. “C’mon, we’re having a meeting in the conference room. You can grace us with your presence.” She shivered as Palmer strode away.

Mathilda sat in the last empty chair, Palmer at the head of the table with her co-workers along either side.

“Mathilda, why don’t you tell everyone why you’re always behind in your work?” The other employees turned to look at her, their eyes devoid of sympathy.

“Ah…well… I’m not sure that’s fair, Palmer.”

“Don’t you tell me what’s fair. No one thinks you’re very good at what you do. This is a team and you’re barely a back bencher.”

“I work just as hard as…”

“What went wrong in your childhood? I’m guessing you didn’t have a lot of friends.” The insult slithered out of Palmer as his expression changed to mock pity.

“What? I had…” Mathilda thought of the self-criticisms the Chinese Communists forced their collegues to undergo during the great purges that she’d learned about in college. She stifled the temptation to voice that comparison. People hate having their behavior placed in a larger context.

“Oh, sure you did. Do you ever talk to any of them?”

“No, it was a long time ago and I moved here in…”

“You could look them up online.”

“Yeah, I guess, but…”

“You’re afraid they won’t want to hear from you. That’s it, isn’t it?” Palmer had perfected unctuous, arrogant hypocrisy. It was inconceivable to Mathilda that anyone would want to hear from Palmer. But his mind would reject any doubt or self-awareness the way his lips ejected white phlegm when he spoke.

“Do you have any friends now?”

Mathilda struggled for a response, mouth agape. Finally: “Yes, of course.”

Mathilda’s mind slipped into a projection booth. The film her mind began running was a low-budget slasher exploitation flick. It depicted her stabbing Joshua, the smug frat boy—always saying “bro” and rolling his eyes at anyone who doesn’t like sports—with a shining dagger, then impaling Bunny, the Korean woman—always sneering at anyone who fails to immediately purchase the latest model smartphones or speak in the latest techno-jargon—through the left eye, the one that always half-blinked with each sneer. The remaining programmers reacted with typical screams, backed away from her and huddled in a corner. Palmer wet his trousers as he slowly stood up, the director lingering in a close-up of the damp spot longer than strictly necessary. Palmer’s mouth froze as he tried to switch his verbal bombardment to calm reassurance. Mathilda climbed up onto the conference table, walked slowly towards Palmer. She relished his stammering pleas as her dagger sliced off the final one at the dependent clause.

Her mental matinee ended and Palmer was, unfortunately, still very much alive and non-slashed. “Who are they?”

“Why? How is that any of your business?”

“Go on. Tell us their names.”


Mathilda trudged up to the front door of her home as her body registered the shift from rage to depression with an ache that started in her chest, then crawled into her limbs. She took out her house key and held it up to the lock. On the porch floor to her left she noticed a package wrapped in white paper. Warily, she picked it up, looked up and down the street, stepped inside, closed and locked the door. She set her purse and the package down on a coffee table, then turned on the television. A face of a middle-aged man that betrayed goodwill mixed with mounting despair appeared on the screen. “It’s appalling that someone who is being considered as a presidential aspirant would use this apocalyptic language. Quoting from the Book of Revelations is odd, it reflects poorly on her temperament and…”

Mathilda tore the tape holding the paper flaps shut.

A thirty-year-old blond woman with a gleaming, rigid face molded in a mask of disdain since high school, interrupted the man. “What’s odd about her being a woman of faith? That may seem odd to secular elitists but not to ordinary Americans. Why isn’t the President quoting from Revelations? Is it because he doesn’t actually believe in it like he claims to?”

Mathilda unwrapped the package. A dead fish stared up at her. She impressed herself by not gagging or screaming.

“The President has his—or her—finger on the nuclear button. Falconer seems eager to end the world.” Middle-aged liberal pundit was sounding flustered. He bored Mathilda by not stating what she knew needed to be done.

She dumped the fish in the kitchen trash. Something like this was inevitable. Ryan’s lack of dignity during the breakup predicted it. Mathilda was a bit shocked, not at the fish or the menace it symbolized, but at her own grim desire. To end this somehow.

Blonde conservative was still obfuscating in the other room: “The Constitution forbids a religious test for public office.”

“That doesn’t mean we all lose our right to point out how loony her beliefs are. Falconer is a threat to our civilization,” liberal pundit said.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Mathilda held up the wrapping paper and saw a message in block newspaper clippings: MISS YOU. She should have it framed. He’s going to hurt me soon, she thought. I can’t let this go on. 


In the backyard, she dumped a bucket of beer and wine bottles into a recycling bin. As she began to turn towards the back door, the young hooded man ran by in the alley. Without looking at her, he threw an object into a bush. Mathilda waited until he was around the corner and out of sight, then walked over to the bush at the edge of her yard.

A semi-automatic pistol with a silencer. Just like in the movies. For a moment she stared at the gun. Dreading and admiring it. Again checking for anyone who might witness her evidence tampering, she plucked the pistol out of the bush, then hid it in the bucket.

Back in the kitchen, she chopped vegetables on a cutting board, repeatedly glancing at the pistol and silencer. Malevolent and elegant.

Police sirens blared a few blocks away.

She set the knife down and picked up the pistol. Cradled it in her hands. Mathilda climbed up onto the counter, hid the pistol on top of a cabinet, climbed back down and resumed cooking.

Robert Gordon Sumner grew up in Virginia and graduated from James Madison University. He now lives in Berkeley, California. He wants to write the way Stanley Kubrick filmed. Follow him on Twitter: @RGordonSumner