by Tamara Kaye Sellman
When we cross the last of the floating platforms in our SUV, the girls give out high-pitched hurrays and giggles, calling me the greatest Mommy ever. You’d have thought we’d won some sort of reality show competition. And I feel like a winner for the courage it took to get here in the first place.
But the truth becomes apparent in the moment that follows, when the first row of search lights and flashing reds blaze along the fog-obscured shore.
“Mommy, why are the police here?”
One Hour Before
A few among us direct traffic. Mostly men, though I recognize Joan, the checker down at the drugstore, waving people toward the platforms. They wear sad, knowing smiles on their faces, jaws tight with resolve—neighbors helping neighbors through a difficult time.
I pull into my assigned lane. Then I gasp. The man directing this lane of traffic is the retired colonel.
We lock eyes. He winks, motions me on.
What is he doing here? I’m afraid to ask.
“Godspeed,” I hear him say through my open window. “Everything will be okay.”
I swallow hard.
What is he doing here?
I can’t conceal my panic.
“It’s all right,” he says, as if he can tell in the dark how terrified I am by the idea that he is here. “This has always been the exit strategy.”
One Hour, Thirty Minutes Before
When we crest this last hill, I expect to see the lights on the other side, across the water. Our island is densely forested and not very well lit. Across the channel, deeper into the county, life normally resembles the one we left back in the city: major roads, strip malls, subdivisions, neon signs, and stop lights.
But tonight it’s eerily secluded over there. A fog has pulled in. I want to cheer. Cloak of darkness, cloak of fog, cloak of silence. Proper conditions on this lowest-tide night.
When the girls and I reach the bottom of the hill to the beach, other cars and people appear in the night’s opacity. Quiet, cautious, at the beginning.
I see my friends. We are safe.
I pull the truck into a queue and roll down my window. People make private conversation, hug, check roofrack tie-downs. Children huddle in car seats, buckled in, most of them asleep.
“We’re here,” I whisper with my heart in my throat.
“And then we’ll be there.” My oldest points out into the fog, smiling.
“Here we come, Daddy,” says my youngest.
One Hour, Forty-Five Minutes Before
It’s harder than I expected, driving without lights. You can’t see anything, or if you see something, it looks like something else.
We only notice one other car on the road. Its lights are also extinquished.
“Mommy!” my youngest, the one with eyes like a cat’s, points. The car emerges from a driveway concealed by trees. I hold my breath.
No lights go on.
Two Hours Before
I double check. The porch light is still out at the retired colonel’s house. There aren’t any neighbors sitting sentry on their front porches, either. After a few days of Liberation, they must feel smug, convinced the Crackdown has succeeded.
I drive through the neighborhood at a crawl. My eyes scan left and right for the sudden glare of lights. My ears perk for voices, alarms or, God forbid, gunshots. The girls are equally watchful and focused in the back seat, clinging so tightly to their stuffed animals that their knuckles glow white in the dash lights.
I gasp. The dash lights! I turn down the pale green glow from a knob on the dashboard panel. Any light is too much.
We make it to the main road without being seen.
The girls don’t demand “car music”—children’s songs that help them to sleep. I tune the shortwave to the local channel where we have, in the last few days, picked up tinny broadcasts from our ousted island mayor.
I can barely pick up her words tonight. She asks for patience, prayer, and for no one to panic. Something about due process.
Two Hours, Fifteen Minutes Before
Children have a way of knowing when it’s not their place to protest.
As I scoop the girls out of their beds in their jammies, they hold on wordlessly, their eyes wide and bright as stars.
I buckle them into their car seats, return to them their appropriate lovies and cozies.
After a deep breath: “Here we come, Daddy.”
Two Hours, Thirty Minutes Before
When it’s clear the other neighbors won’t be returning from their brotherhood meeting for a while, I steal down to the garage and smash all the lights out on my SUV. Blinkers, rear brakes, reverse whites. I do it in the dark, praying no one will hear me, especially the girls.
They should be sound asleep. I’d silently packed everything into the truck earlier, while the girls were watching a movie. Monsters, Inc.
We are ready.
One Day Before
We find out the hard way that school has been canceled.
My neighbor across the street, the retired colonel, stops us on the sidewalk. “Where you going this fine morning, ladies?”
The girls and I are walking to the bus stop like any other Tuesday morning.
My youngest, the kindergartener, is first to reply, with the pride reserved only for kindergarteners, “Today is a school day.”
I see, then, the patch on his sleeve, the kind they sew on for emergencies of state, a blazing red emblem signifying the brotherhood.
“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to go back to your homes now.”
On his breast pocket, a badge like a deputy’s reflects the morning light.
“Come along now, you know the rules.” He gently turns the girls by their shoulders and faces them in the direction of the house.
I stammer, “Surely they haven’t shut down school because of the problems in the city….”
The retired colonel smiles at me. A sad smile, jaw tight with resolve. “City? Dear lady, this is a nationwide curfew. Move along now, give the government the respect it’s due like good Americans.”
When I open the front door to let my befuddled children back in, I look back at the colonel.
“Don’t worry, they’ll bring you food,” he says, pointing to the houses down the road from ours. In the yards stand people I’ve been friends with for five years.
All of them wear red patches.
Two Days Before
National Crackdown on Liberals Enforced By Local Agencies reads the headline in the morning paper.
No one has called. No one has emailed. There was nothing on the news last night or this morning.
I try to keep my concern from the girls while they sleepily lick peanut butter off their morning toast. I’ve been up all hours wondering where my husband is. He never came off the commuter-hour boat last night, or any of the later ones.
When I put the girls to bed last night, I kissed them both on the forehead and told them that Daddy was just visiting friends.
The newspaper headline proves quite opposite: Daddy is probably in jail, detained by the brotherhood.
Daddy is a Liberal.
Three Days Before
“Give Daddy a kiss goodbye,” my husband says as he kneels for the peanut-butter-toast pecks from the girls at the bus stop. “I’ll miss you later.”
“How come?” my oldest frowns.
“I have an appointment in the city.”
My youngest one asks, “Are you going to the dentist?” The only appointment she’s ever had in the city has been to see the dentist. Naturally she assumes the same for her father.
“No, sweetie, I’m going to visit my boss. Have a meeting.”
I want to say, Daddy’s going to get a raise! The salary freeze was dropped for certain levels of management last month, just in time for my husband’s annual review. We’re hopeful. We could use the money; the changing economy has made life tough even for the wealthier middle class. Gas and electricity are excruciatingly expensive these days, which means that everything else is, too, including peanut butter.
“You haven’t had a meeting in a long time!” My oldest daughter’s eyes are wide with surprise.
My husband laughs. “Not in the city, no. But I have meetings every day in the home office. Remember?”
The girls nod and smile. They’re so glad Daddy works at home.
Frankly, so am I. With so many disconcerting political developments in the news these days, it’s good that he’s always so close to home. Any time he ferries over to the city, I worry. It’s one of those I-can’t-put-my-finger-on-it kinds of worry, so I don’t say anything to him. He’s a logical man. He requires the evidence of fear before he worries about anything.
He tweaks the girls’ ponytails. “I’ll see you at dinner. Be good for your Mommy.”
The bus doors close behind them, and they are off, blowing kisses to Daddy and me as we walk, arm in arm, away from the bus, back to the home where we work together, live together, love together.
Six Months Before
Since the elections and the Constitutional redraft, working life in the city has begun to drag on my husband’s morale, like it has for so many others.
“No one ever comes into the office anymore,” he laments. “Even the ferry ride into the city doesn’t make it worth it anymore.”
“Why not build a place in the basement?” I suggest. I’ve worked out of the house for five years now, and it has been an excellent solution for me, the working Mommy who wants to be home with her kids.
“Heck, I don’t even need to go into the office anymore, not with this DSL, my cell, the laptop and wi-fi.” He glows at me. “That’s an excellent exit strategy.”
Five Years Before
“It’s perfect,” I glow at my husband. The girls giggle and give out high-pitched hurrays. “Not only the house, but this island.”
We’ve finally found a place that’s right for us. Sure, the neighborhoods are safe, the schools good, the quality of life outstanding. The island is absolutely beautiful, as well. But there is something about this place that beckons us after years of life in the city. The people here embrace our values. Community. Sustainability. Fellowship. Compassion. Peace.
The realtor passes us the full set of keys and our signed paperwork. “Remember, only two ways off the rock, by boat or by bridge.”
My husband laughs. “Even if there was a third way, we’d never want to leave,” he sighs with satisfaction.
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