Cousin Sherry on the Phone by Bill Tope

Friday, March 3, 2023
Bill Tope's character patiently listens to his cousin's misguided opinions in this light-touch but provocative piece; first published in Children, Churches and Daddies.

Image generated with OpenAI
I had an intriguing telephone conversation tonight with my cousin Sherry, who lives up north, near Chicago. She updated me on her children, her grandchildren, her job prospects, and a host of other personal and rather prosaic matters. My part of the conversation, as usual, was to say "Um, really?" and offer up an occasional "Wow, that's something!" More than one speaker is rather redundant when talking with Sherry. Finally, after considerable preliminaries, she got down to the nut of her conversation.

"I am so tired of Black this and Black that and Black Lives Matter and all that shit!" she exclaimed with some vigor. "I just don't get it."

"Well, I can understand some of what they mean," I replied warily, anxious lest she explode into a vituperative tirade on why Black lives don't in fact matter.

"Hell, they gather in the city streets and shoot each other, spread COVID, and threaten people; they believe that Black people are the only important people..." Her voice lowered to a whisper. "Have you ever looked at a Black person, really looked at him? His face, his hands, and his arms are so primitive, sort of like monkeys or apes. And," she went on, "they don't speak; they grunt and mumble and snarl..."

"I think what they're really saying," I explained, "is that all life matters, including Black life. And do you really think that Black people are a major spreader of the coronavirus?" I asked skeptically.

"They're a large part of it. They don't wear masks!"

"Do your children or your grandchildren wear masks? Have they gotten vaccinations?"

"No, but that's their choice."

"It's their choice whether to infect other people with a deadly virus?" I asked.

"They're not sick; they're not infecting anyone. It's free choice!" she said. "Besides, wearing masks doesn't help." People get COVID from the ventilators they have in the hospital. My friend Mary, a respiratory therapist, said they infect them with coronavirus, pronounce them dead, and then scoop them into body bags like pizzas out of a hot oven."

"That doesn't sound real," I protested. But I could tell she was just getting warmed up.

"Mary's a respiratory therapist," she repeated for effect. "And you're not!"

"That would come under the heading of anecdotal evidence," I pointed out. "It's effectively useless as a statistical norm."

"And vaccinations aren't valid science. They just whipped up the vaccines in someone's kitchen sink, practically overnight. It hadn't been tested yet."

"Well, would you prefer that they withhold the medicine until it's proven, or would you rather they administer immunizations on an emergency basis? After all, Sherry, four thousand people were dying a day."

"Those were old people with underlying conditions, right on the precipice of dying. They counted every death as COVID-related because they'd make more money if it was a coronavirus."

"Are you serious?" I asked.

"I heard it on Fox News, and it was on the internet too, so it had to be true."

"Well, I don't know..."

"I'll tell you who's the real villain in this. It's that damn Fauci! He lies. He has stock in Pfizer and Moderna and told everyone not to wear masks, and he was on the committee to elect Biden, that sonofabitch!" I shook my head and sighed.

"What else has got your dander up, Sherry?" I asked.

"It's that damned Critical Race Theory," she told him heatedly.

"What do you care about CRT?" I asked. "Your kids are all grown." (Two of them were in prison, and one on probation for having ransacked the Capitol on January 6.)

"My grandkids are in school," she pointed out. She paused a beat. "Well," she amended, "the ones that aren't in foster care. But their parents will be out soon, and then things will get back to normal." I nodded my head.

"Are you nodding your head again?" she asked. "You know how that drives me crazy when I can't see you!"

"Sorry." She took up the thread again.

"They teach that Columbus started slavery," she said. "What kind of shit is that?"

"Well, Columbus did seize and deport to Spain thousands of Tainos from Hispaniola," I reminded my cousin. Over the phone, I could hear her snort loudly.

"They weren't citizens - of anywhere! - so why shouldn't Spain recoup a little of the expense it incurred colonizing the New World?" She came back at me. "If it weren't for Columbus, we'd all still be living in Polandia or some damn place."

"It was chattel slavery," I said. "It was unethical, immoral - heinous!"

"Oh, you've been reading those damn history books again," she accused. "When I get elected to my local school board, we're going to ban all those Communist, Black Lives Matter, and other satanic books. Kids have no business reading that kind of garbage."

"You want to ban books?" I asked incredulously. "In the 21st century?"

"This isn't the 21st century," Sherry said. "It's the 20th."

"Maybe in your own mind," I retorted. She was not only enraging me; she was making me sad.

"Last century was the nineteenth," she explained patiently. "Kennedy was assassinated in 1964, so it was the 19th century."

"You're wrong," I persisted. "And besides, JFK was killed in 1963."

"Who?" she asked. I fleetingly wondered if our conversation could sink any lower on the intellectual scale.

"Are you still writing poetry?" she asked out of nowhere.

"Yeah, well, some."

"Are you getting paid for it yet?" I admitted that I was not. I explained that in the United States, poetry was not generally a money-maker. Again, I heard her snort in my ear.

"Then what you're doing is a waste of time and effort," she declared rigidly. I shook my head.

"Are you shaking your head again?" she demanded. "You know I hate it when you do that and I can't see it!" I blew out a breath of air.

"And have you nailed that girl you've been seeing?" she wanted to know.

"She's just a friend. We don't actually date; we just go to lunch, flea markets, things like that."

"Oh, so you're pedantic?" she asked.

"Platonic," I corrected automatically.

"Right," she said skeptically. "If you don't make it with her, then what is the point?" Sherry asked. "It's like that poetry: you don't make it with that either. I'm beginning to wonder about you, Cuz."

"Not every endeavor ends up in a paycheck. And not every relationship ends up in bed," I asserted wearily. We'd had this very conversation many times before. For the third time that evening, I heard her snort.

"Well, look, I gotta go," she said. I checked my watch; we had been talking for nearly two hours.

"You take it easy, Sherry," I said, glad to be ending the call.

"Right," replied my cousin. "Next time I'll straighten you out on COVID. Tucker Carlson has a special on Fox News tonight called 'What pandemic? There never was one.' You should watch it."

"I will," I said. "If I'm not busy writing poetry."


  1. This story depicts the chasm that has grown between the liberal left and the far right (or should I say Trump followers) in the United States. The narrator is an empathic soul who puts up with a lot from Sherry because she is family. Excellent, witty dialogue. Well done, Bill.

    1. I’m happy you liked what was more or less fiction, Rozanne. The comments mean something, coming from such a thoughtful writer as yourself. And kudos for the Pushcart nomination! Well-deserved.

  2. Witty and provocative. Cousin Sherry is a modern-day Archie Bunker on steroids. I’m sure the MC is as exasperated as Meathead, but seems to have more self-restraint. Very well done, Mr. Tope!

    - David Henson

    1. Funny you should bring up Meathead; I believe that’s the one thing that the real “Sherry” didn’t call me. Thanks for the comments, David. Can’t wait to see your next story. I am a fan!

  3. Hi Bill, I chuckled a couple times. I know people who are exactly like Sherry and they give me the worst headaches. I don't think it would be too wild of an assumption to assume that you either have a family member like Sherry or deal with people who have fallen for false information. They are impossible to communicate with when it comes to politics and reality. You hit all the hot topics of the current moment and I enjoyed your story. Thank you.

    1. Hi Aidan. If you assumed there was a real “Sherry” in my family, you would be correct. In a couple of instances, I quoted her verbatim, in fact; e.g., “It was on Fox News and the internet, so it had to be true…” I knew then I had to write this story, for only for cathartic reasons. Thank you, for expressing your thoughts. I appreciate it.

  4. My Boring (as in Boring, Oregon - he says all of his relatives are Boring) cousin has a sister somewhat like Sherry. He had a sign on his door for a while something like "Politcs stop here". Paul Simon said it in "The Boxer" (probably not exact) "Hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest". Mr. Tope nails it. It would be funny if not so sad.

    1. Hi Doug. Thanks for your well-considered comments. I find I have to laugh at the situation, lest I cry. At one point, Sherry told me that another cousin had been in on the routing of the Capitol on Jan. 6; so it is a familial affliction, apparently. Take care and thanks for reading. By the way, I enjoyed “Rescued from Aliens,” appearing in Spillwords the other day.

  5. I had a very strong emotional reaction to this piece! (as a random US reader most especially - great job!)

    This story will be extremely funny someday - but I just need a few more decades before I can laugh at it comfortably.

    Right now, it just makes me so, so … so, so anxious.

    It is a great encapsulation of this common US experience now of each of us having “those relatives” who have fallen down the far right FOX news rabbit hole…

    1. Hi Adam. You’ve become FOTW’s most dependable critiquer of stories, thanks for reading mine. Now, you don’t want to wait too long before you allow yourself to laugh, else you’ll wake up as old as me and Hawley. Thanks for your observations, Adam, they are important to me as a writer and as a citizen of this benighted nation. Take care.

  6. Nicely done. Donc tres americaine! The good thing is that most of us aspire to equality and respect for all. We may neve rub all the red from our necks, but we're trying, aren't we? Your story helps.

    1. Perhaps you’re right Gary, and it is typically American; there are a lot of Sherries out there. Looking forward already to your next story.