Sophie the SJW
Sophie’s face was ugly as she stepped into her room. Snot and tears had accumulated along her lips and were beginning to stream into her mouth. She didn’t have to look in the mirror to know her nose was red and her face swollen, and she was glad that her roommate was out. Sophie pressed her gross face against the glass of the room’s single window, her eyes wildly scanning every inch of land they could see. Almost miraculously, the truck was still in sight; not enough to get a picture of the man’s face, but just enough to be able to figure out his license plate. It wasn’t too difficult to do, as instead of the standard set of letters and numbers, these plates read “suthrn”.
Yes, thought Sophie. I know exactly where you come from.
She ran to the bathroom and promptly threw up.
If petrichor is the smell of the earth after it rains, then this day was the opposite. A sense of density hung about in the air, so thick that it did, somehow, have its own muggy scent. Had it been the day after a rain, Sophie’s plan would not have worked. She needed the ground to be dry. Although her hair stuck to her face a bit from the humidity, the sun was high and the grass was not dewy. Sophie had done enough reconnaissance to know that all of the residents would be at work this time of day in the neighborhood she was walking towards. Thus, there was no one to see her wipe the sweat from her forehead and remove her backpack. There was no one to see her slowly pull a large red container from the bag; no one saw her struggle to unscrew its cap. And Sophie was certainly the only one to witness herself tipping the container over and pouring its contents in what would seem—had anyone been home—to be a carefully plotted line.
The gasoline can landed softly on top of the other plastic recyclables. Sophie had emptied it out and was ready to move on to phase two. No potential onlooker would have been able to see the flick of her tiny wrist, or the careful way in which she let a wooden stick fall from her fingers. Before the match could hit the liquid, Sophie was on her way. She had come prepared and pulled from her bag a baseball cap and sunglasses. As she pushed the sunglasses up the bridge of her nose, she grimaced a little. This combination was not her style at all, but it was a good idea. Had anyone known her secret, they might have asked her why she was so comfortable dressing in such conspicuous outerwear. Sophie had had a few friends that would be considered part of the ‘underworld’ before—drug dealers and street artists that were always conspicuously paranoid. She had seen her friend (‘friend’ being used lightly) Adam run from cops before they even noticed him…which inevitably, led into them noticing him. He was a lucky kid, and was only ever briefly suspended or asked to write an essay repenting for his petty crimes. But Sophie couldn’t risk even that. In an attempt to learn from Adam’s paranoia, Sophie figured that the less she tried to hide herself from the authorities, the less annoyed they might become with her.
Not that she would ever admit it in her lifetime, but in that moment before the gasoline caught fire, Sophie was terrified. Suppose she didn’t pour the line quite right and all of the foliage she had come to love so greatly burned as well? And, of course, there was always that voice that she had to constantly shove to the back of her mind, that voice that was convinced this was an overreaction…
Nevertheless, what was done was done. She was already most of the way down the brick lined street. Although it was tempting, she refused to look back as the liquid burned along the path she had created. If Sophie stopped to look back, ever, she was that much closer to being caught. This was her first course of action towards justice, and she really didn’t want it to be her last. She knew she was an amateur, and relatively alone in her mission. There were no tips on the internet for the best ways to enact vigilante social justice. Regardless, she couldn’t risk having that in her internet records. So she had made up a series of strict rules for herself, the first being to leave the scene as quickly as possible and never return. Hopefully her actions would cause enough of a scene, and she would be able to see it on the news later.
Still, it was especially tough not to look when the line of flame finally reached its intended destination and hit her target with a satisfyingly loud roar.
Always having had the power of cleverness, Sophie was right as usual. The story was all over the news within a few hours. The man whose truck she set fire to apparently had called the news stations himself.
Sophie sat absentmindedly flickering a small, black lighter as she frowned at the lobby television. The pick-up truck idiot was blubbering to the cameras on at least three different channels. “I just can’t imagine how Jesus could have let this happen,” he said. “The worst part is that my rebel flag was burned to a crisp. That thing’s been in my family for generations, passed down from ancestor to ancestor, celebratin’ our heritage…”
Sophie stared at the ceiling, exasperated. Had it not been clear enough that she was targeting that flag in the first place? Some people might think what she did was going too far, but she knew it was necessary: throughout history, progress almost never happened without reactionaries. She wished that she could talk to someone about it, but people these days didn’t tend to see anything but lynching as an act of racism. So what if the man had shouted names and thrown trash at her? People would find a way to tell her it didn’t matter.
Besides, how could it possibly fall to her, the victim, to justify her victimization? But Sophie knew how. She knew that was the world she lived in, and so she remained alone.
Something was buzzing underneath her. Patting around the old, stiff couch cushions, Sophie found her phone lodged in between them. She answered the phone and was greeted by a familiar, whiny voice.
“Soooooooooophie?” her roommate had on her ‘I need a favor voice’. “Can you come let me in, pleeease?”
Sophie rolled her eyes at this interruption—just a tiny bit—and hung up. I can finish sorting out my thoughts when I go underground later. She walked the ten feet from the lobby to the front door and nodded at her roommate, who was finishing a cigarette. Madeleine put it out and rushed inside. As they waited for the elevator, Sophie made the decision to leave the TV on in the lobby for others to see as they walked by.
They got into the elevator. She tuned in to what Madeleine was saying to her to see if any of it merited an actual response.
“I’ve had the longest day. Remember that time I fell in the mud and had to hide in the bathroom downstairs and you had to bring me new underwear? This day was almost just as long as that one…”
Sophie tuned back out again. She loved Madeleine, but she had learned that if she entertained everything her roommate said, she would become exhausted. Sophie needed to conserve her own energy, so she tended only to reply when the tone of Madeleine’s words seemed urgent.
Right now her roommate was waving her hands in front of Sophie’s face. “Sophie.” She complained. “Why don’t you ever talk?”
Sophie shrugged. “I do.”
Madeleine squinted at her, which was her version of glaring. Sophie’s face twitched with the effort of a smile as she put her arm briefly around Madeleine, giving her a light squeeze. “Come on,” Sophie said.
They turned the corner that led to their room. The two got along as roommates mostly because neither one was more or less sloppy than the other: often, there were clothes piled up everywhere, and trash would accumulate quickly in their walk in closet sized space. About once every three weeks, the pair would shudder simultaneously at the mess and clean it up. They didn’t aim for perfection, but rather tried to make the room less atrociously messy to more of an average, regular college student level of messy. Sophie and Madeleine had lovingly labeled their shared space as the Depression Dungeon. Tonight, the DD bordered on atrocious, but neither one was interested in cleaning. They both flopped on their beds. Sophie closed her eyes and tried to come up with a way to make her message clearer.
When she opened her eyes, it was 3 in the morning. Another strict rule of hers was to only visit her thinking space in the dead of night, in those hours where even the insect life remained still. 3am was the perfect time to sneak out of the Depression Dungeon and quietly walk to her hidden space in the middle of campus. There was only one security guard patrolling this time of night on a weekday, and Sophie knew the exact path around him.
Having reached her destination, she squatted down and lifted the lid to the tunnel network underground. The first time she tried to open this had been a nightmarish test of her strength, but since then she had stuck a small folded up piece of paper in between the lid and its frame. This created a much easier process.
She slid into the hole, which was conveniently just the right size for Sophie’s body. Using the fragile, rusting ladder rungs for leverage, she pulled the lid back over the opening and replaced the paper wedge to make her exit equally painless.
She dropped down into the dimly lit, dusty space. Sophie had done her best to compensate for the health hazards. For the dampness, she had placed a cheap dehumidifier in the tunnel. Finding one that ran on batteries had taken some serious internet digging.
Sophie had stuck on several of the battery powered nightlights that they advertised to paranoid parents and grandparents on the walls—the kind that attached to the wall so one could see as they made their way downstairs to get water in the middle of the night. There were dozens of these all around the tunnel system. Sophie liked to think of them as the modern equivalent to torches.
She had also placed a broom and dustpan against the left wall, as the space required frequent dusting. Although she was the type more inclined to coexist with insect, she did have a roll of paper towels waiting nearby, just in case she should encounter a particularly creepy crawler. On the right wall there was both a space heater and a fan. Somehow it was often necessary to run both at the same time. In order to make up for the old cave smell, Sophie had tied a car freshener to the fan. There were also several little plants intended to provide her with oxygen in her stuffy section of the tunnels.
In comparison to any classic hero, yes, Sophie’s space was mediocre. There was no large technology set up, or fancy stone elevator to take her further underground. There were no bats or automated butlers. Despite this, Sophie’s space was everything to her. Due to all of the nightlights, the place had a soft orangey glow, and felt overall quite comfortable. The lawn chair and blankets in the middle were all the luxury she really needed down here.
More importantly, Sophie needed the privacy to pace around and think without being questioned. She needed a space where she could listen to the police scanner on her phone without waking Madeleine up and being forced to clumsily explain herself.
She turned on the scanner now and began pacing. How could she be so stupid as to not realize that the Pick-Up Truck Idiot wouldn’t have gotten the message, and neither would the media? This message was important to Sophie. She needed people to know that ‘heritage, not hate’ was absolute nonsense. She needed people to know how frightening it was to see large men in large trucks flying large flags in order to celebrate a long history of inflicting pain with no remorse.
Sophie stopped and put her head against the tunnel wall. Her thoughts began to race. What I did was too small, so I should just make it bigger. Right? You’re not supposed to fight fire with fire, but my first fire wasn’t big enough, clearly…and does that warning even apply here? It was my own fire, and that saying is too figurative to be of any help. Right??
If she looked down from this position, she could see tiny creatures travelling along, living simplistic and natural lives that she would never be able to fathom or take part in. She sighed and scrunched up her face. Another fire would be too redundant, but she did have a different idea. Even though it was strictly, unquestionably against her policy and better judgement, Sophie was going to have to return to the scene of her crime.
Although her new plan was hardly more risky than the flag burning attempt, Sophie was still nervous as she played it over in her head and tried to solidify it. She would have to either have to work when it was too dark to see any potential danger, or visit the scene more than once in order to scope it out and create a specific land plot. As she was relatively small and absolutely an amateur, Sophie had to admit to herself that it was in her best interest to commit to the latter: she would have to go back at least twice. To avoid panicking about this before necessary, she decided to visit one of her ‘underworld’ friends for supplies.
It was around 8am when Sophie knocked on Adam’s door. Obviously, this time of day would be way too early for someone like him, and as she expected, he did not answer. Sophie had never intended to wait for him and had really only knocked to conform to the polite, socially acceptable custom. Shaking her head, Sophie let herself in to Adam’s room. His room was similarly messy to hers: clothes and papers were strewn everywhere, and the trash was overflowing. However, there was one key difference between the way the two kept their living spaces, and that key difference was stupidity. If Sophie had ever been suspended, she would never appear messy again. It would give too much reason for the institution to be suspicious. Stepping over Adam’s irresponsible mess, she approached his bed and kicked it.
“Adam!” she shouted. Sophie did not have time to wake him up gently, nor would she have regardless. Predictable as always, he did not respond. Sophie indulged in a haughty sigh as she climbed onto the mattress, stood on the end of the bed, and began to jump on it forcefully.
“Hey! Up, get up!” She jumped as hard as she dared without risking breaking the weak frame.
This carried on for at least 60 more seconds before he opened his eyes and grunted. He looked around frantically, trying to determine the source of the commotion. After he had had a few moments to adjust to this new status of being awake, he realized what was going on and flipped onto his stomach, exasperated.
“Sophie, I told you to stop doing this!” He sat upright and rubbed his eyes.
Sophie did nothing but stand with her arms folded on the edge of the bed, and raise her eyebrows at him.
Adam exhaled loudly. “What do you need?”
Having gotten her paint from Adam and placed it carefully away in her backpack, Sophie set on her way to scope out the street she planned to deface. The paint weighed heavily on her shoulders, and she realized for the first time in her life why sidekicks were a part of nearly every heroic narrative. Perhaps, she thought, ‘no man is an island’ is not just a useless cliché. Though if life had taught her anything, it was that it was impossible for humans to be trusted. Even people in love hurt each other constantly, arguably even more so, and arguably on purpose.
Sophie did not get a chance to reconcile these opposing mindsets, as she was distracted by shouting and honking. Sophie looked around. About five yards behind her was Madeleine, likely on her way to class.
Unlike Sophie, Madeleine was faced with trying to be polite to some man who had hit his brakes to talk to her. Sophie couldn’t hear what was being said, but she could guess. What she could hear, however, was the several cars that were now honking because this man had literally stopped traffic. Sophie took note of her roommate’s body language— a terrified hesitancy to move—and ran over to her.
Once within unquestionable earshot, Sophie put her arm protectively around Madeleine’s shoulders and shouted, “Leave her alone, jackass!”
The man frowned as the insult hit his ears and slowly registered on his face.
His look became a bit more menacing as he said, “You sure are small to be calling someone of my size names like that.”
Sophie shouldn’t have, but she couldn’t help it. She spat in his direction, and could see little flecks of it land on his face.
The man laughed in disbelief and began to reach for his door handle.
Cars were still honking behind them. Sophie tightened her hold around Madeleine out of fear. She was becoming a bit less in fight mode and a bit more in flight mode, but she did her best not to let it show as she said, “Okay, just leave us—”
Her voice was lost in the sound of the worst sound she had ever heard: a shrill blaring, with no pauses, seeming to grow louder and louder. The noise stopped everyone in their tracks, from the man to the honking cars.
Although the sound was almost blindingly loud, it gave Sophie the courage to stare the man in his face and make an obscene gesture.
Veins were sticking out of his forehead, and his complexion was flushed. He looked around him, assessed that he had been bested somehow (though he really wasn’t sure how at all) and sped off. After a moment of confused hesitation, the cars behind him followed suit.
Sophie stared at Madeleine, trying to figure out what was going on. Madeleine had her ears covered with her hands as she did her best to yell over the siren. “Come on, it won’t stop for a few minutes.” Something clattered from Madeleine’s pocket to the ground, and Sophie finally located the source of the noise—a little cylinder, with a button on top. Madeleine grabbed Sophie’s hand and pulled her away from the alarm. Once they had walked far enough away to be able to think over the sound, Madeleine stopped.
Sophie talked first. “What the heck is that noise?? A high tech safety whistle?”
Her roommate didn’t answer the question, except for with a slight nod. “What the hell was the spit for?” she asked in return.
Sophie was confused. “What do you mean? I was trying to help you.”
“Who would it have helped if he had tried to say you assaulted him and pressed charges? You can’t just go running and screaming at people, especially not ones who are just doing what everyone thinks is normal.”
Sophie closed her eyes and frowned. What was it that she had been thinking about earlier again? Then the lightbulb went off.
“You’re right, Madeleine,” she said as earnestly as possible. “Hey, could you help me with something?”
Madeleine shrugged and said, “Sure. It’s not like I was going to go to class after that.”
When they reached the Pick Up Truck Idiot’s house, Sophie was careful to only assess it out of plain view. It was one of those houses that didn’t seem super impressive, but likely cost a ton of money due to the historic area. In the yard was a banner that read, “Like the police force on Facebook!” The banner was so large that it prevented any insight as to what was going on behind the windows, but luckily Sophie only needed to see the outside.
“Why are we doing this?” asked Madeleine. “I’m all for revenge on assholes, but it’d be nice to know what this guy did.”
Sophie considered whether or not to explain the entire situation to her roommate right then and there. She remembered what she had been conflicted about the night before, about how she would be asked to justify what had made her so upset. It was too annoying to consider at the moment. “I’ll tell you more about it later,” said Sophie.
Sure, it would be nice to have Madeleine in the know, if only so she would stop whining about it. On the other hand, people could not be trusted, and perhaps more important was the fact that there was simply no time. Sophie was jittery enough.
“I’ll tell you later,” she said. “Promise. Can you make sure no one is coming?”
With Madeleine there as look out, Sophie could complete her mission without the cover of night. She covered her head and began to work.
15 minutes later, Sophie was done. She and Madeleine surveyed her sort of sloppy, but nonetheless effective work. In the street, as large as Sophie could make them, bright red letters spelled out the phrase: YOUR HERITAGE IS HATE.
“Nice,” said Madeleine, leaning into her.
Sophie smiled. “Let’s get out of here.”
Just then, a semi singed truck pulled up. Sophie’s eyes widened as she quietly indicated to Madeleine that this was the man in question.
She almost burst out laughing when Madeleine said, “Welp, we don’t have a fucking choice now.”
“Oh my god,” said Sophie between giggles, “we have to run.”
They took off, and had made it to the next street over when the shouting begun. Clearly, at least for a few moments, their message had been seen.