Salamander Johnson woke up at 7 in the morning. Despite leaving his bed at 7:30 the Confederate flag hanging above his head continued to follow his rugged exterior across the room like one of those haunted paintings in every Halloween movie before 2002. Adjacent from the flag is a poster of the same flag with a skull bearing a bandana with the line “rebel” barely legible. He grew up with the flag. He knows what it means to his parents and takes it for himself as a replacement for the lack of inheritance money he won’t receive in the future.

Crossing the threshold of Salamander’s home meant catching a gaze of the television that sat on a throne close to the front door. His parents had already left for work but leave the plasma screen sedated on Fox News because “it’s the only way to avoid fake news”. Salamander didn’t ask for a truck, it emerged from a void of Copenhagen scented smoke the morning he went to the DMV. One might imagine a student with the unfortunate name Salamander would live anywhere except for a suburb; when the opposite could not be more apparent. The road to Sal’s high school overlooks a golf course, for Christ’s sake.

Most, if not all, students at Salamander’s high school think the same as his parents. This means he does too. Sometimes teachers try to sway them, but to no avail. At dinner his nearly swayed opinion is rewound to what it was that morning, this time set in stone. “Fake news”, they say. “It’ll become better soon” they spout as if it wasn’t worse. Sal’s father is just as outspoken in public as he is at home. Why wouldn’t he be? He can flash the gun on his belt and never be in the wrong, the same with his mother. Even Salamander was prepared to be a carrier in the future. Anything to stop those marches. To quote his father, “Why can’t they understand that they lost?” The fact that they never will is what evaporates any prior use of the once beloved term “free speech”.

Salamander finishes high school. He does fine. It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t accepted for any scholarships because not only did he not apply for them, he never needed to. His family does well enough, if not better, alone. He is accepted into one of the schools he never read much about but applied anyway because college felt like the only option. He does fine in college, too. Not great, yet not horrible. He earns his business degree on time, along with his peers; just as his father did too, years ago. Sal faced another case of déjà vu, the same as in high school. His opinion was nearly swayed. Several professors, while on the complete other side of the political sphere, began to make sense. Maybe the flag wasn’t what he thought it was. Maybe things weren’t getting better, but worse. If not for his peers, he might have switched majors halfway through his junior year. Whatever new perspective that almost crept on him was long gone after a stern talk with his father about heritage. Plus, maybe that was the year he’d get a gun for Christmas!

Life after college for Salamander Johnson feels awfully familiar to him in several different ways. The road to his job that he still doesn’t know exactly what his job is, overlooks a golf course, for Christ’s sake. He marries his college sweetheart and they have a child named Gecko.

Gecko Johnson woke up at 7 in the morning.