During the pizza lunch, my family asked about my Mitch situation. I have two neighbors, on either side of the house I live in, both named Mitch. I am surrounded by Mitch.
It was the first time I had seen my family in a year. Everyone arrived with their shirts tucked in. I hadn’t been thinking about my Mitch situation because what I wanted to talk about was a woman I had recently met and planned to marry. The first possibility since my divorce two years ago. But all they wanted to talk about was my Mitch situation.
“The biggest difference,” I said, “is that one Mitch is black and the other is white.”
“Racist,” said a cousin.
“Evan,” said my aunt. “It’s only racist if you treat the black one worse than the white one.”
Someone knocked on the door, and it was obvious: statistically, it was a Mitch. The cousins slapped each other on their legs. They were very excited to get a good look at a Mitch.
As I walked to the door, my mother grabbed my hand and squeezed. I said it was okay because I had experience in dealing with Mitch. I was good at it. Everyone was quiet and my father said he loved me while eating his last slice of sausage pizza. The cousins mocked my father for eating sausage pizza—a half he had requested, ate, and enjoyed with hidden shame. Everyone else was a vegetarian except for chicken, fish, and turkey. My father was upset but he kept eating. This was out of character for him. The being upset that is. But my father and mother don’t live between Mitch. They have neighbors named Madison, and Hugh, and Jackson. I reassured everyone I could handle whichever Mitch was at the door.
What I didn’t expect was both Mitches. As soon as I opened the door, I attempted to close it but they pushed back. The force of a double Mitch was very strong. I had never experienced it before. I placed my body against the door and pushed. They pushed back against the door harder. They were opening the door as I pushed it closed.
I needed a new move, so I planted my legs behind me and pushed back with my head down. My aunt said, “It’s probably the black one,” and one of the cousins, I couldn’t tell which, said, “Is anyone going to help him?” and my father said, “He lives alone, he needs to handle this Mitch problem alone.”
When I looked at the space between the door and the frame I could see white Mitch, who was smaller, beneath black Mitch, pushing in the style I was pushing.
“Someone,” I said.
“He’s got it,” said my uncle. “Have to ask—is there a dessert?”
“Cookies!” I said. “Now help!”
Everyone moved closer. But they were only moving their chairs closer to the door. My family wanted to get as close as possible to the danger of a double Mitch without entering into the consequences of a double Mitch.
My feet slid backward. But I was strong. At my office job, I have a cubicle with no windows and I do push-ups all day. My co-worker Gina asked once if I was doing push-ups all day and I said, “Of course, why wouldn’t a person do such a thing? Do you have any idea what my living situation is like?”
But I was outnumbered. I calculated that if I exhausted myself in five, ten, or fifteen minutes, then one Mitch would also be exhausted, or half exhausted, leaving another half a Mitch still ready to push their way inside my home. I had to save my energy somehow.
So I pushed the double Mitch back another inch. The double Mitch pushed the door open two inches. I let them. Then I really did get tired. I only had so many small pushes and big pushes, maybe one mega push, left inside my body. Some people can do a mega push several times an hour. Not me. I’m the kind of person who lives his life in small pushes and not enough mega pushes.
“Fuck!” I said. “I have a Mitch problem!”
“Hm,” said my family.
“Can’t you see I’m losing?” I said.
“Hm,” said my family.
When I was younger, I thought I was adopted. I read books. They ate pizza. But they were smarter than I was now. My family realized, witnessing my impending demise at the hands of a double Mitch, that if I had lived alone for years between Mitch, the double Mitch would take me, not them. If they tried to help me, then they would incriminate themselves, and the double Mitch would go after them as well. It was a guilt-by-association situation, as well as a Mitch situation. Each of them, even the youngest cousin, had wives and husbands and children to think about. They couldn’t risk their lives to fight off a double Mitch.
“Here,” said my aunt, and threw a small plastic knife at my feet.
“It’s a plastic knife,” I said.
“Can’t say you didn’t try and help him,” said my uncle.
“I can’t do this!” I said.
“Even at a young age,” said my mother, “a dramatic child. He’d cry after a skinned knee and pretend to be a baby. Oh God, this one time at the beach, another boy, even smaller than him, stole his shovel, so he walked into the water saying he was going to drown himself.”
“What you have to do,” said my aunt, “is when they get upset like that, don’t react. Anytime they cry you say everything is okay and smile. That way they don’t get upset. Sometimes you being upset makes them upset.”
Everyone nodded at my aunt. “Very smart,” said my uncle.
“But I’m upset right now,” I said.
“Not validating a child’s emotions negates their emotions for their entire life,” said my sister, reading a book.
“This is going to sound bad,” said my uncle, “but I’m kind of feeling like coffee cake, not cookies.”
White Mitch stabbed his arm inside the door. The cousins applauded. They took pictures on their phones then typed on their phones. My aunt mentioned the plastic knife again. I pressed my body against the door and grabbed white Mitch’s hand and fought it back. The double Mitch said to come outside because I had won a special prize. But I was smarter than that. I knew there wasn’t a special prize. There’s never a special prize.
“But what if you’re wrong?” said my father. “What if they really have a special prize out there?”
“You don’t want to miss out,” said my uncle.
“You need to attack opportunity,” said my mother.
Everyone moved their chairs closer to the door because I was closer to being taken by the double Mitch. I didn’t have enough chairs. My mother and father sat on the floor holding hands and my aunt stood with her arms crossed. I had thought, before they arrived for the pizza lunch where I was going to tell them about the new woman I planned to marry, they would be upset by my lack of sitting options. I said some folding chairs were in the basement. But they didn’t care about chairs anymore. They were too entertained by the double Mitch coming for me. That’s when I noticed my brother wasn’t there. His chair was empty.
“Special prize doesn’t exist,” I told the double Mitch. “You’re liars.”
“There’s two,” said black Mitch.
My father elbowed my mother.
“You can have them both,” said white Mitch, “if you just come outside.”
In one mega push, the only one I had left, I closed the door and locked the lock. The double Mitch continued to pound on the door and then they stopped. I felt like someone who had showed his family he could live alone.
“I did it,” I said.
No one responded.
“What? What’s wrong?”
My aunt pointed out the window and with her other hand she cupped her mouth.
On the front lawn, surrounded by Mitch, was my brother. This is something a person just can’t do. I’m speaking from experience, but if you’re going to exist alone, between Mitch, you need a house, and you need your own air, and you need to see only yourself and your own walls for many hours of the day. Exposing yourself to a double Mitch is insane.
The cousins took pictures. My parents pounded on the window. To my uncle’s disappointment, my brother had brought the cookies outside. He held several cookies in each hand, each arm extended out to a Mitch, sitting calmly like a little Buddha.
“I bet the black one eats all the cookies,” said my aunt. “Not because he’s black but because he’s bigger.”
The double Mitch ate all the cookies. “Damn it,” said my uncle.
My brother sacrificing his life for mine wasn’t too surprising. After we had our wisdom teeth pulled during the same visit twenty years ago, my brother gave me his pain medication because I was in more pain, he thought. But he was really in a lot of pain. Tremendous, excruciating pain. For a week he didn’t sleep. His wisdom teeth were “impacted” where mine were three quarters through. My brother didn’t want me to feel any pain then, and he didn’t want me to feel any pain now.
“He’s the special prize,” said my father.
After eating the cookies, the double Mitch fell asleep on the front lawn with their shirts pulled up to their chests. Sirens and lights came down the road backlit by the setting sun. Kids jumped their bikes to the sidewalk and slowed when they saw the sleeping bellies of the double Mitch. A little crowd started to gather.
Two cops surveyed the scene. My brother explained in confident hand gestures what he had done to save my life. The cops stuck a gold JUNIOR OFFICER sticker over his heart. My mother cried with one hand pressed against the window.
“Yup,” said the white cop. “Pretty typical Mitch situation if you ask me.” The black cop nodded.
My family wanted cookies, but all the cookies were gone, so they watched the cops handcuff the double Mitch, which gave them great pleasure.
My brother had to go to the police station to give his side of the story in a recorded statement. He touched his JUNIOR OFFICER sticker with one finger and then pointed at me.
Back inside my family settled around the dining room table to stare at each other. They said I needed to move. I said this was all I knew. This was my life, between Mitch. I couldn’t afford to live between Charlotte, or Asher, or Harper. My family lamented dessert.
Too scared to leave at night, everyone slept on the floor in sleeping bags and sheets. They discussed how pigs were treated on factory farms. When a cousin said, “Isn’t it just the worse thing you’ve ever heard?” my father said, “Yeah. It’s an animal.”
I was still looking for an opening to tell them about the woman I had met. Her name was Crystal, and she taught yoga, but what she really wanted to be was a doula. I pretended to give birth on several occasions because I loved her, even though I hadn’t told her yet. Even though I hadn’t told my family she existed—which, lying on the floor with my family, made it feel like she didn’t exist at all. But she exists. We’re going to get married and honeymoon in Niagara Falls on the Canadian side.
“Those cookies sure would be nice right about now,” said my uncle, struggling with a sheet twisted around his legs. “But you can’t have it all, now can you.”
“What a day,” said my mother. “A real ordeal bonanza.”
“But a good one,” said my father.
“Yes, honey. Thank you for the pizza,” said my mother.
My aunt clutched the plastic knife in her sleep. I listened to more sirens in the city. I couldn’t sleep. I thought about people living between Ron, Samantha, or Chuck. People who had real problems. The sirens moved closer, so I walked to the door, all three locks locked, and looked out the little square window in the door with Mitch fingerprints all over the glass.
Dozens of cop cars drove slowly, a little too slowly, down my street with their lights on. I had never seen anything like it in my life. The leaves on the trees lit up with light and swayed in the breeze. It was somewhat sad neither Mitch was outside enjoying so many cop cars driving so slowly with their lights on during such a nice night. But my uncle was right: you can’t have it all.
I opened the door and walked out into the warm summer air and found, on the front lawn, one cookie. I stepped on it. I sat in the crumbs. I waved to the cops. They didn’t wave back but they stopped. Awful news was coming my way. So I turned and took a picture of myself surrounded by all that light, all those other people—Gwen, Stacey, Bob, Paul—sitting on their front lawns, waving too.
Shane Jones is the author of several books, including the novels Light Boxes (Penguin 2010), Daniel Fights a Hurricane (Penguin 2012), and Crystal Eaters (Two Dollar Radio 2014). His work has appeared online in BOMB, The Paris Review, The Believer, Quarterly West, VICE, and DIAGRAM. He lives in upstate New York.