Creative Nonfiction: A Rental in the Poconos by Michael Todd Cohen

Photo by Michael Todd Cohen


At 7pm on Saturday evening, at an Airbnb rental in the Poconos, rifle blasts rip through quiet twilight. Sometimes they’re followed by a carnivalesque ding! as the bullet ricochets off what I’d imagine is an empty bean can or coffee tin. It’s an acoustic thumping of the chest. A test of mettle, maybe for the local girls I’m picturing, who coo at the force of the recoil, covering their ears and buckling their knees. Or maybe they don’t go in for all that stuff, the local girls. Besides, to assume they’re doe-eyed and desperate for affection is wildly unfair, it’s just how I’ve seen it in movies. And maybe for this rifleman, it’s how he’s seen it in movies, too. Seen how gripping a gun, veins bulging like slugs beneath skin—dispatching tin and imagining the enemy—makes him worthy of admiration in the eyes of others.

Who is the enemy, then, in this scenario? Is it the predictable ex-girlfriend who wounds his pride by flaunting a new romance on Facebook? The cliché of a stepdad: a heavy-handed drunk who breaks bottles and bones after dark? Or something farther away and unfamiliar? Is it me? The faggot sitting cross-legged on this porch, six hundred yards away in a pool of yellow light? Maybe viewed through this soft lens, his simmering anger will seem righteous when it comes to a boil.

When the rifle fire stops, it’s the sound of tree frogs—thibet, thibet, thibet—that ushers in night with an inquisitive chorus. Endless questions with anticipation quaking beneath—thibet, thibet, thibet?—lobbed back and forth—thibet, thibet, thibet?—without an answer.


An hour before, deer appear one-by-one from behind the above ground pool like timid ingenues onto a grassy stage. I imagine them now, caught by rifle fire, falling slowly in choreographed movements; breathing their last whiff of wild mushrooms and burnt crabgrass by the tired swing set.

I think about how, in America, we kill things because we can. Stocked ponds brimming beside country roads; fish in a barrel. I think about how ego gets in the way of everything, even deer crossing a lawn.


Three hours before, the sliding door from the kitchen opens with a deep sigh. Our friend Matt steps through into bright sun. He’s wearing a polyester Tiffany-blue nightgown holding an Aperol spritz in one hand and clenching a copy of The New Yorker under his elbow, folded like a chicken wing. His wisps of turquoise eye shadow come into focus as he nears the raised patio, poised on the lip of the pool, where the rest of us are lolling about smoking weed and drinking Costco vodka.

“Where will we go if he wins?” Matt says after a large swig of his spritz.

“Canada maybe—or the UK,” I say.

“They’re in rough shape there, too.”


My husband tugs at his hot pink shorts, uses the pool net to poke at leaf debris and struggling grasshoppers in the frigid water.

“I mean, Scotland is pretty liberal,” he says.

A neighbor mows his nearby plot, drowning out cicadas with the grinding motor, casting glances between brush cover.

Matt responds in the same spellbound way people mention imaginary places of great importance: The Ivory Tower, The Castle in the Sky, Helm’s Deep.

“New Zealand,” he says.


Twenty-four hours before, my husband and I are in the car, pointing at Trump signs like roadside attractions.

“This one is a whole banner! Honey, it has to be custom made. Look! There’s a flaming army tank in the background. What would something like that cost? Why would you spend your money on it? What does that flaming tank even mean?”

I hang expectantly in that charged air between when a question is asked and the answer comes. I imagine the instants between when a bullet escapes and when it finds its home can feel like forever.

Michael Todd Cohen (@mtoddcohen) is a writer and producer living in New York. He is EIC of and his work appears in The Daily Drunk Mag, Barren Magazine, Stone of Madness Press, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and HAD (a Hobart companion journal), among others.

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