I’m at home sipping coffee and watching the news on TV when I receive a text from Riley Douglas, my ex-boyfriend, who I have grown to dislike immensely. It’s a photograph of him in the roof top bar at the Hotel Washington where he’s staying with his buddies. He’s bundled up in his macho army green jacket of a thousand drawstring pockets wearing his red MAGA hat and listing at a forty-five-degree angle like a sinking ship, pointing at the Washington Monument. Beneath the photo is a caption that reads: “I’m Going In.”
This is in reference to a trip we took to Shepherdstown to visit Antietam battlefield, two years ago, to pay homage to Major Henry Kyd Douglas, his ancestor. I waited in the car while he banged away at the ATM keys in front of the bank. I guessed he was upset. No money was coming out of the slot. He checked me out. Shrugged. Banged away at the keys until he threw his baseball cap on the ground and stamped on it. A man wandered by, picked it up, and handed it to him. Riley grinned at me sheepishly. I grinned back. He stuffed the hat in his back pocket, listed at a forty-five-degree angle pointing at the front door of the bank. “I’M GOING IN,” he yelled.
That, I think, was when I fell in love with him. Nothing like a guy with a sense of humor or at least that’s what I thought. I was doubled over in laughter when he returned to the car with his money. “You’re a hoot,” I said.
“I was angry,” he said.
“Even when you’re angry, you’re a hoot.”
I live in an A-Frame at Bryce Mountain Resort. I work for Google. I’m trying to start over again, but it’s hard when I can’t erase Riley from my mind. The texts don’t help. In the second one, he raises his hands in a peace sign like the one in the photograph of Nixon when he left the White House for the last time. Behind him Donald J. Trump’s on a podium with his hand over his heart. I hear his baying voice on the T.V. “And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
I type out a message for Riley: “Why don’t you stop bugging me?”
The answer comes in a flash. “I’m not bugging you. I want you to see what I’m up to.”
I type back, “You’re up to demonstrating at the Capitol. Big deal.”
The reason I can’t erase Riley Douglas from my mind is that he’s gorgeous like his namesake, a melancholy baby-faced Confederate major who rode with Stonewall Jackson. Light gray eyes focused on the distance, eyebrows lowered, close together, a fine aristocratic nose with fluted nostrils, and sensuous lips drawn in tightly as if he were about to cry. It made me want to hug him close, run my hands through his silky mane of fuzzy, black hair, and whisper in his ear, “There, there. Everything will be okay.” It didn’t hurt that he was a body builder. I was wildly in love and that night at an inn in Shepherdstown we shacked up for the first time. I was hopeless from then on. I don’t know why. His beauty, as it turned out, was only skin deep.
It’s like, you go through a relationship. Everything is copacetic. Then reality sets in. In this case, I got pregnant. My diaphragm slipped or something. “Don’t worry. We’ll deal with this,” assured Riley. I wasn’t clear what he meant but I thought he was mine forever. All the time we spent together. We traveled. Once to Santa Fe where we stayed at a fancy hotel and spa, he stood at the lobby door and yelled, “I’m going in.” This was becoming a big joke with us.
Another at Hotel del Coronado, a fancy beach hotel in San Diego where they filmed Some Like It Hot. “I’m going in.” Once we rented a mini RV and camped out in National Parks. “I’m going in.” But the trip I liked the best was to Spain.
When we arrived home, Riley pieced together a video with background music. He titled it, The Maddie Birthday Blues. In it are shots of the sites we visited like the Alhambra all lite up at dusk, the afternoon shadows as they move across the deep rocky gorges in Rondo, a shot across a lake filled valley from the blue mountains and cloudless sky to me striding along a cobblestone walkway away from the camera. I’m wearing knee length tan boots I purchased in Barcelona and tight jeans. My long golden hair swings in rhythm to my hips and the background music. The blues singer sings of how fine he feels, all because of you and how you sure look fine, a refrain that’s repeated over and over as if “you” or I, as I assume Riley intends, is a masterpiece of art. The final shot is Riley, his arm around me and a blissful smile on his sensuous lips. I surmise that I am the center of his world because the singer testifies in the background that I’ll do anything, baby, anything you want me to do. This followed by a nice bell-like, slide guitar rift that ends in a sigh.
My cell phone pings. I check the message. Another Riley video, this time marching down Pennsylvania Avenue waving hand held Confederate battle flags, the MAGA hat tipped jauntily on his head, while his buddy, Buzz, waves an American flag emblazoned with an eagle holding two rifles in his talons and the words:

Buzz owns maybe ten guns. When he is bummed out, he hunts bunnies and once spelled out PETA with their carcasses and put it on Facebook. Another buddy holds a black flag that says,

Riley is dancing around the tightly packed crowd offering his battle flag. He must have dozens packed in his drawstring pocket. I can see the Capitol slowly approaching in the foreground. They’re all chanting: “Stop the Steal. Stop the Steal.”
“Biden is a fraud,” he informs me in another message. “We are patriots out to save the country from Deep State tyranny.”
“I feel sorry for you,” I type back. “You and your friends are completely delusional.”
“I feel sorry for you,” he responds. “You are a moron.”
The reason that I immensely dislike Riley is that he took me to a Mexican restaurant right after he found out I was pregnant. We drove up Route 66 to another battlefield near Front Royal. We sat at a table on the patio in the shade. It was hot.
“Let’s drink beer,” said Riley. He waved down a waiter. “Two Dos Equis.”
I checked out the scenery. To our right was a two lane road, a Gulf gas station and a rundown suburb of tiny houses with kids playing in the yards. To our left the Shenandoah River, a cliff choked with kudzu and beyond the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The waiter brought the beers and placed them on two felt pads. We ordered lunch. Taco salads. Chips and dip.
Riley leaned forward, his elbows on the table. “You know I said we’ll deal with this.”
I was on the edge of my seat in expectation of a proposal. “Well, the way I see it,” he said brushing the hair out of my eyes, “is that a relationship between a man and a woman is a delicate thing. You don’t dive into it expecting the best. You must be circumspect.”
“Yes, I agree,” I said.
“What I mean is that when something comes up that, you know, interrupts the natural flow of the relationship, that’s when you need to be the most cautious of all.”
I eyed him carefully, but not with compassion.
“I mean look at it this way. Let’s say you had the baby. We got married and found out that we weren’t ready to make a commitment.”
I was, but I didn’t say anything.
“What would happen is that we’d get divorced and you’d be a single mom. That wouldn’t be fair to you or the baby.”
“Or you,” I said. “You’d have to pay child support.”
“Yes.” He blushed. The waiter brought the food. We sat there eating quietly, looking this way or that but not at each other. I didn’t feel hungry even though, as they say I was eating for two. I wanted to cry, but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction.
“So what you really want,” I said, finally, “is for me to get an abortion.”
“I’ll go with you and I will stay with you all the time,” he said, patting his stomach and relaxing after he finished his meal. “I’ll even foot the bill.”
I gaze outside the window of my A-frame at the wind whipping through the trees. Dark clouds scud across the sky. Maybe a storm is brewing. No matter. I’m safe and cozy in my little hideaway where Riley can’t find me. I gaze at the television. The MAGA crowd gather at the foot of the Capitol playing tug-of-war over the bicycle rack barricades with the Capitol police.
Suddenly the police break for the steps followed by the crowd brandishing flags: the red, white, and blue, the don’t tread on me, the stars and bars, and dozens of the blue Trump flags. I don’t see Riley though I catch Buzz’s flag waving in the air. I lean closer to the TV, squint my eyes. No, it’s similar, but it says:

The crowd scrambles to the top of the stairs and spreads out along the corridors like water seeking the path of least resistance. Other MAGAs climb the walls like ants. One is draped in an American flag, another slips and falls.
The camera pans to a scaffold with a noose hanging from a crossbeam to add to the drama of what the nutty crowd is shouting about hanging Mike Pence.
I’m not a left-winger. I’m not a fan of the Squad, nor Bernie exactly but unlike Riley, I can distinguish truth from fantasy. Riley is hung-up on his ancestor like it’s a Game of Thrones sequel. He once told me that Henry Kyd Douglas wasn’t a rebel. He was a revolutionary. The Civil War was the second American Revolution and this was the third. Looking at what was happening in front of my eyes on the television, I could grasp his meaning sort of. These revolutionaries weren’t like the sailors charging up Odessa steps nor the peasants storming the Bastille. They are more like drunken frat boys at a beer blast trashing the frat house where they live.
I turn off the TV. I’m unbelievably pent up. I’m angry at Riley because of his delusional ideas. I’m angry at him because of the abortion. Mostly the abortion. He paid for the procedure and drove me to the clinic. He told me, “it’ll be okay. I swear to God, it’ll be okay.” But, of course, it wasn’t okay.
He drove me home to the apartment where we lived together in Woodstock. I went to bed. I tried to sleep but all I could think of was what I had done. I started blubbering and kept it up for a long time trying not to think of what would happen if I bought the baby to full term but thinking exactly that. Not that I’d change my mind. The world is not black and white. But that didn’t stop me from blaming myself even though it was equally Riley’s fault.
Riley was in the living room watching Fox News. He wandered in every half hour and asked me how I felt. I said fine though all I wanted was for him to hold me in his arms, stroke my hair, and say in a soft voice, “There, there. Everything will be okay.” But he returned to the TV until his cell rang. I heard him talking and laughing. He came in to say he was going to meet his buddies at a local bar. Do I want anything? I said, yeah. Get me a hamburger, fries, and a garden salad. He didn’t return until three A.M. without the food, but he asked me before he went to sleep how long until we have sex. Never, I thought. But we did and the relationship plodded on for months until it dawned on me what a shit he was and I asked him to move out. This was after the Covid-19 hit town.
“What are you having an affair with someone else?” He asked suspiciously.
“Why would I be having an affair in the middle of a pandemic? I hardly leave the house.”
“Then what other reason could there be?”
“The reason is that this relationship isn’t going anywhere. You don’t love me. You don’t even care that you got me pregnant.”
So he left and moved back to his hometown of Winchester not twenty miles away and I moved to Bryce where he could only find me by phone like now. I hear my cell ping. Another video, this time of a long haired guy in a dark winter coat banging at a window with a plastic shield. I hear glass breaking, the crowd roar, but I can’t see Riley until the camera pans to the right. There he is listing at the forty-five-degree angle pointing at the window. The tendons in his neck stand out, his eyes bulge, his face is as red as the MAGA hat that’s askew on his head. I can’t hear what he’s saying because of the noise, but I know what it is.
The next text Riley is inside the Capitol in Statuary Hall planting flags at the feet of his heroes, Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, and “Fighting Joe” Wheeler in a Rebel uniform, I think.
Then he and Buzz are hugging a dumbfounded fellow with the Rebel flag. “Where you from?” asks Riley.
“New York.”
“You see,” he says pointing at the guy, “even the Yankees are Confederates these days.”
He runs up the stairs after a cop, peeks through a window at two FBI types pointing a gun in his face, and bangs a gavel in the Senate chamber.
“Come to order. Come to order,” he says.
I switch off my cell and toss it across the room. I’ve seen enough. Later in the evening I fix dinner, watch a romantic movie on TV, and trudge upstairs to bed.
In the middle of the night my eyes pop open. I’m shivering. I stumble into the bathroom. Pour a glass of water and drink it down slowly. I stumble back to bed and climb under the covers. What I’m thinking about is the dream that woke me up. I’m wandering through a dark forest when I come upon a wolf in granny clothes like in a fairy tale. The wolf is holding a jar of Gerber baby food and feeding a wolf baby in a high chair with a tiny spoon. The baby grabs the spoon, flails its arms and legs, gurgles happily, and spits some of the food back at Granny. Granny laughs. Shows her sharp teeth and stares at me with her ugly, yellow eyes as if I will be her next meal. That’s all I remember. I close my eyes and sigh. I know better than Carl Jung the meaning of my dream. I’ve had similar ones since the onset of Covid-19 and my isolation up here on this mountain. Even in my subconscious, I am racked by guilt.
The next morning the alarm on my phone wakes me up. I wasted a whole day. I need to get back to work. I lean over the bedside table to turn it off, but notice it’s not the bong-bong of the alarm but a single ping. I check the message. It’s good old ex-boyfriend Riley Douglas back in the roof top bar at the Hotel Washington looking bleary eyed and seedy. He must’ve spent the night out in one bar or another drinking with his buddies after escaping the Capitol. He’s still bundled up in his army jacket but it’s hanging off his shoulders, red MAGA hat askew on his furry head. He is not listing at a forty-five-degree angle like a sinking ship, but standing foursquare facing the camera gnashing his teeth in a hideous grin. His hands are raised in a two-fisted digital salute. No message below. The photograph speaks for itself. Two can play at this game, I think to myself.
I shower, get dressed, and wander down to the kitchen where I fix a substantial breakfast of eggs, bacon, and grits. I drown myself in coffee and afterwards, mug in hand, sit at my desk and stare out the window at the ski lodge at the bottom of the hill. It has started to snow, but there won’t be many skiers because of the pandemic. It’s beautiful though, the lodge, the ski slope behind it, the snow barely covering the ground, the bare trees, the creek winding through the golf course. I turn on the computer and Google the FBI. The closest field office is in Winchester. Ironic. I work until early afternoon before I make my call. They want me to come in immediately so they can download my messages. I say, sure. What I figure, it’s no big deal. I need to get Riley Douglas out of my hair. I know he won’t come after me. He’s not a stalker. Riley is such a sexy, beautiful man on the outside, I know he’ll have no problems finding another female to harass once he gets out of jail.

Jeff Richards short story collection, Everyone Worth Knowing, launched on June 1 from Circuit Breaker Books. He has published two novels, Open Country: A Civil War Novel in Stories (Paycock Press, 2015) and Lady Killer (Mint Hill Books, 2019). His fiction, essays, and cowboy poetry have appeared in over 27 publications including Pinch, New South, and Southern Humanities Review and five anthologies such as Tales Out of School (Beacon Press). You can find him at jeffrichardsauthor.com.