The blonde woman – Lydia? – has Cass in a choke hold.
“But I’m ready to fight back. I have the Direct Hit™ keychain,” Cass tells the three women seated on the couch.
Cass raises the spiral baton and presses its point into the fleshy part of Lydia’s elbow. Cass is gentle, but Lydia winces.
“The Direct Hit™ comes in a dozen colors and patterns,” Cass says. “You’ll earn it as a hostess gift when you book a Safety Dance demo.”
Cass gestures like a game-show model toward the sample case she’s borrowed from her upline, Belinda. Lydia returns to her chair. Lydia is the only guest who’s not in the moms group at Cass’s church. Cass is counting on Lydia to expand her sales network by booking a demo.
“I know you’ve been waiting to see our stun guns,” Cass says. “Compared to the 50,000-volt models you’ll find in stores, our Zapp Attack™ packs three million volts of power.”
Cass’s Zapp Attack™ is emblazoned with an orange and red flame design. Carrying it makes her feel like one of Charlie’s Angels. She wishes she’d owned it when the sweaty guy outside the Joslyn Museum groped himself as she walked past. Cass blushed when she described that incident to the women in her Bible study a few days later, ashamed of her helplessness and of the titillation she’d felt alongside her revulsion. Belinda prayed with Cass and then persuaded her to host a Safety Dance party. It’s a self-defense class and a shopping spree rolled into one, Belinda said. Just serve up some appetizers and leave the rest to me. It sounded to Cass like an opportunity for exoneration.
“The Zapp Attack™ is legal here in Nebraska and all neighboring states. The newest models are these fun animal prints.” Cass removes a leopard-spotted stun gun from Belinda’s sample case.
Belinda is in her late forties, ten years older than Cass. She has a big voice and a big chest and big spiky hair. Cass recently tried to imitate Belinda’s haircut and came home from the salon looking like a poinsettia. At the party Cass hosted, Belinda recounted her own story of peril, of a man in downtown Omaha who hustled away muttering Jesus, lady when Belinda blew her Wolf This! Whistle™. That’s right, Belinda told Cass’s guests. Jesus and Safety Dance have my back. Cass was impressed by Belinda’s assuredness. Belinda seemed not to fear the things that made Cass anxious: walking alone, failing her family, amounting to nothing. When Belinda offered Cass’s guests the opportunity to become Safety Dance consultants, Cass blurted that she was ready to join Belinda’s team.
Cass straightens the floral scarf around her neck. She shifts her stance so that she’s facing Lydia and continues reciting from her memorized script.
“You might be overwhelmed leafing through your catalog. You wish you could order everything, right?” She glances at the unopened catalog on Lydia’s lap. “You shouldn’t have to pick and choose your safety. If you join my team today, you’ll get everything in the starter kit plus our new Hott Flash™ pepper spray-flashlight.”
Belinda complimented that “pick and choose” line when Cass suggested it at the training meeting. I wasn’t a marketing major for nothing, Cass quipped. Even as she said it, she knew it was a lie. After two years selling ads for the World-Herald, she’d gone on maternity leave and never returned.
Cass hovers near the couch as the women fill out their order forms. She watches Lydia choose a single item from the back of the catalog, a book called Empowering Our Daughters: Self-Defense for Women.
“Remember, you can save up to fifty percent on all purchases if you book a party today,” she says. Lydia hands Cass her order form without checking the box that says “Yes! I’d like to host a Safety Dance demo.” Nobody checks the box. Cass collects the order forms, scanning the totals. Her sales amount to less than two hundred dollars, only a fraction of which applies to her earnings. In six weeks as a consultant, she’s barely earned back half of her nine-hundred-dollar starter kit.
Cass gives tonight’s hostess her thank-you gift, a Direct Hit™ keychain in cotton candy pink. She packs her product samples into plastic totes and lugs them to her van. Her phone rings as she straps herself into the seatbelt.
“When will you be home?” She cringes at the irritation in Grant’s voice. The TV blares in the background. Some Disney Channel show, judging by the sound of the canned laughter.
“I’m on my way. I need to swing by Belinda’s first to return her samples.”
Grant sighs. He didn’t want her to become a consultant. If you need a stun gun, he said when she broached the idea, I’ll get you one at Cabela’s.
“Did you earn back the nine hundred dollars?”
Cass fishes her Zapp Attack™ from her purse and points it at the phone. I’ll show you a stun gun, she thinks. You with your hot shot career and long-suffering eye rolls and refusal to put the girls to bed or the dishes in the dishwasher. Her heart pounds. It occurs to her that what she fears more than anything is her own anger.
“I got closer,” she answers. “Maybe after one more demo.”
She clutches the Zapp Attack™ and closes her eyes. A vision of Lydia regards her with disapproval. Self-possessed snob. Cass fingers the stun gun. The imaginary Lydia thrashes to the ground, the contents of her Coach handbag spilling beside her.
“I’ll be home soon. Have the girls brush their teeth.” She ends the call before Grant can object.
Making her way along Harrison Street, she stares into the oncoming headlights until just the point of blindness. She seethes at the Safety Dance company for enticing her to shill blinged-out weapons. Why buy advertising when underemployed women will pay for the privilege of hawking your wares? Cass lays on her horn as a Subaru turns in front of her. Make us feel empowered, and we’ll recruit our friends to peddle for you too.
She turns from Harrison onto 139th. Belinda’s house is just ahead. We’re a pyramid of dupes, Cass thinks. On the phone this afternoon, Belinda gushed about her promotion to Director. Belinda has grown her team enough that her earnings could triple to twenty grand a year. Cass did the math while Belinda blathered on.
“Who works full time for six thousand dollars?” Cass shouts at the windshield, tires squealing into Belinda’s cul-de-sac. “Looks like I do now so Belinda doesn’t have to!”
Belinda’s driveway is straight ahead. Cass taps her brakes. She narrows her eyes at the three-car garage. The doors are closed, and the driveway is empty. Belinda stores her inventory in the third bay. Cass lifts her foot from the brake and presses the gas pedal. She careens onto the driveway and smashes into the garage, thrilling at the explosion of wood and metal. A stack of Safety Dance boxes collapses as she slams on the brakes. She climbs out from the wreckage, disappointed that the airbag hasn’t deployed.
“What on earth?” Belinda runs from the house, her massive chest heaving beneath her plaid pajamas. She wields a baby blue Hott Flash™ pepper spray-flashlight. “Cass?”
Cass grips her Zapp Attack™. She doesn’t remember carrying it from the car, but here it is in her hand, its flame design seeming to glow. She extends her arm and glares at Belinda. Belinda’s eyes widen. Cass lunges forward and thrusts the Zapp Attack™ into Belinda’s thigh. Belinda howls and depresses the Hott Flash™ nozzle. The smell of burnt flesh mingles with the pungent odor of pepper spray. Choking for air, Cass grasps Belinda’s flannel sleeve as both women tumble to the ground. Cass buries her face in Belinda’s tremendous bosom and screams and screams and screams.
Kim Kankiewicz is a Kansas City-based writer with essays and reviews in Creative Nonfiction, Colorado Review, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, O, The Oprah Magazine, Full Grown People, and the Object Lessons series at TheAtlantic.com. She is a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at the University of Kansas. This is her first published work of fiction. Find her online at kimkankiewicz.comor tweeting sporadically as @kimprobable.