Friday, May 14, 2010

Part Four: What Lies Ahead

Part Four

I’m terrified. And I’m furious. Furiously terrified and terrifyingly furious. For every step forward we try and make there are always those that throw a monkey wrench into the works. They’ve also been throwing the monkeys and lately it feels like they’ve been throwing the whole flaming zoo at me too.

Look how I’m living; like a ghost in the attic, like a mouse in the walls that only comes out when absolutely forced to by necessity, and even worse like a vampire afraid of the light. Of course the fact that I am alive and have a where to complain about is a heck of a lot more than a lot of people have so that’s got to be something. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate it because I do. I’m not just a Drama Queen because I feel like it. I know what blessings I have, especially under the circumstances. I remind myself several times a day. But …

Isn’t there always a “but”? Don’t we always imagine we have something worth complaining about, something greater to complain about that the next person? Wishing the grass was greener on our side of the fence for a change? Wishing that things were back the way they used to be even as messed up as they could be? This time it’s really true; true on a level it never was before even when I thought I had something worthy of complaining about. The injustices of the past are nothing compared to the terrors of the present.

How much harder this is to do alone. How hard it was to watch them take him away. It’s certainly not his fault. So many men … and women too … have been drafted in this war. They came so early in the day that no one was really prepared, ran through the whole neighborhood. Only three that were taken were allowed to return home but it hasn’t done them any good. Lack of draft eligibility has seen their ration points drop significantly.

Life is so fractured but that doesn’t mean I need to record it that way. I need to go further back, what happened today won’t make any sense otherwise.

The last three months have been challenging. What little innocence or idealism I could still lay claim to has been obliterated by events like coarse sandpaper against a black lacquered surface. And current circumstances continue to sand blast what hope I have left. Optimism fades on some days but when I remember his words it never goes out completely, at least it hasn’t yet. Only my faith sustains me.

I know that should be enough but I’m weak and there are nights I wake up calling his name, mornings I open my eyes to feel the salty residue of tears on my cheeks shed in my sleep. I wonder where he is. I wonder if he is … is eating, is sleeping, is safe, … is still alive. I’m scared of what is going to happen to Nydia, to our baby, to me. If I could just get to the point that survival was a day to day compartmentalized thought that took up all of my mental energy I think things would be better but the future looms too close and too large for me to be able to ignore it. It sits there like vultures around a carcass, waiting for the big predators to leave.

Things deteriorated so quickly, so suddenly; all over the world. The Administration had appeared to gut our ability to defend ourselves, much like they had gutted our standing in the world, in the interest of globalization and the so-called redemption of US arrogance, their idea of “equal” and “fair.” Idiots. Incompetents. Traitors to their own people and Constitution. Making promises they could never fulfill while gutting our future and the future of our children and our children’s children and beyond. Making promises they never meant to keep just to give people a few more feet of rope to hang their hopes with. Thank God that there are still real people in charge that can use their brains rather than just a computer and that there are still real, thinking people under their command that are brave and honest and true and loyal.

Oh, if I’m honest, I can admit it’s not just this Administration’s fault; all the bad stuff that has been happening has been years, decades, generations in the making. But the inexperience with anything beyond narcissistic imaginings practiced with a thug mentality made so many problems so much worse.

Broken promises. Lack of transparency. Outright lies. Obsequiousness to the wrong people. Arrogance at the wrong times. Anger at the wrong issues. Belief in the wrong philosophies. Pile upon pile upon pile of wrongness.

Destabilization of the US Economy – an intentional action or not depending on who you talk to and how tight their aluminum chapeau – set in motion events on the world scene with far reaching consequences. Everywhere began to destabilize like a key stone had been removed from a vaulted ceiling.

The EU, always more loosely connected than they let on, changed from a peaceful confederation to a balkanized madhouse. Countries would threaten to pull out, act like they were pulling out, and then demand that they have some say in the EU’s direction and how the IMF was distributing “bail out” funds and loans. Sometimes the EU only seemed to be made up of its weakest links and sometimes it more closely resembled ancient feudalized Europe with the stronger countries having direct control over the weaker ones. And yet, in the end, everyone continues to fight with one another like a bunch of unruly three year olds that have missed their naptimes.

The two Koreas have gone at it again; nukes have been used but not very efficiently. Lord, what a way to put it; “not very efficiently.” I don’t suppose that is any consolation for the tens of thousands that died instantly nor the ones that continue to die of radiation related sicknesses. The whole episode was so globally disturbing that it temporarily put the brakes on the madness the world has been experiencing. Temporarily. Unfortunately there are a few too many madmen roaming free to put the brakes on for long.

Factions in Pakistan and India are in a stare down contest and neither appear ready to blink. Now that the first nukes have been tossed the temptation is to use them again. “See, only a couple of ten thousand people died. We have millions more to replace them.” It makes me want to puke in fear if I think about it too hard. What kind of future is there for Nydia and my unborn baby if this keeps up?

Some Middle Eastern countries tried to take advantage of the world’s instability to strike at Israel and while there was horrific loss of life, the perpetrators were hurt even worse, learning that size matters less than what you do with what you have. There are plenty enough espionage artists that, while it couldn’t have been an easy thing, the nuclear and biological weapon labs and locations in some countries were sabotaged and the results were far worse than what is being publicly released, or so say the late night radio broadcasts from frequencies claimed by such stations as Radio Free America (never broadcasts from the same location twice), Yankee Tide (supposedly broadcasting from international waters),Saoirse An Phreasa (an Irish station), Libertad (broadcasts mostly in Spanish), Droits des Citoyens (operated by an Expat in both French and English), Einblick (German/English broadcast from the EU), Pensatore (another European station that sometimes broadcasts in English).

The fiasco in the Middle East has got everyone going nuts and fuel is even more tightly restricted and higher priced than it has ever been. It is actually now a crime to drive a passenger vehicle unless you are part of a licensed carpool; if not, it’s public transportation for you … or you have to walk or ride a bicycle. The national news outlets have reported that unlicensed cars are being impounded and if the owners can’t pay the fines they are being confiscated for parts, etc. Or, you can voluntarily turn an unlicensed car in for extra ration points. That sparked a lot of car jackings and garage break ins and now you have to show two proofs of identification and vehicle ownership; day late and a dollar short if you ask me and some segments of society are saying that is discrimination because it makes them look like criminals. In the words of some of my former students, “Well, duh.”

Speaking of education, school districts have been redrawn and if you live less than five miles from the school you lose your bus seat. No more school choice, you go to the school assigned period regardless of what area of town it is in. From what little I hear of the new curriculum I wouldn’t have my kid in school regardless of how easy it was for me to get them there. It is nothing more and nothing less than indoctrination and reminds me rather frighteningly of Hitler’s Nazi Youth movement.

Heard on the local news last night that truant students are being drafted into public works programs and many are being sent off to “work camps” regardless of sex or age. Teen parents that are accused of being chronically truant are being forced to leave their children behind, either with a “state approved” family member or they lose custody to the federal foster care system that has been created. I dreamed the other night that they came to take Nydia away from me and when I woke up I thought I heard someone in the house. It was hours before I got back to sleep even with the solar-powered fan finally relieving the hidden bonus room of some of its stuffiness.

Russia forced the Ukraine to merge with them no matter what the majority of Ukrainians wanted. This has given the Russian Bear back a major industrial and agricultural component in their planned economy. But from reports that you can get if you listen to the right radio broadcast at the right time of night, reintegration with Mother Russia has been as difficult as the separation had been back when the Communist Bloc disintegrated.

I’m not the only one that has trouble sleeping at night these days. Sleep is elusive for many in Asia. If it isn’t Russia breathing down their necks it is China. China is the bigger fear at the moment. As predicted, though the timing was off, China’s economy imploded. They had been able to feed on themselves for only so long and after that … kablooey. Their economic back up plan was apparently not quite as fail safe as it had been designed to be. They might have cornered the world’s market in a lot of natural industrial resources but having all the resources in the world for industry doesn’t do you any good if there isn’t anyone out there that can afford to buy them no matter how low you drop the prices.

Prices were actually what Mateo and I were talking about when we had our first visit form the local Federal Volunteer Board organizer. I won’t even start on the misuse of the word “volunteer” which generally means participating in something willingly. What the FVB is in reality is the administrative arm of the new-and-improved civilian draft process that had been hidden in one of the most recent Bills to make its way through Congress. Turns out when too many people started squeaking about it being a draft rather than a call for volunteers the President simply signed it into law using his executive powers stating that it was necessary for the possible preparation for a potential war. He really used all of those qualifiers. These days whoever is writing his speeches tries to leave so many loopholes for him to climb through that you can’t understand most of what is being said.

I was watching when one of his teleprompters literally melted down on his last televised speech. He tried to keep going but he started tripping over his lines and then started adlibbing and then one of his advisors stepped on stage and whispered in his ear and the President left the stage in a hurry surrounded by body guards. Later the incident was made to look like there had been a threat of some kind. One story that made the rounds was that the President continued to try and talk to “his people” even though he was in the middle of a failed assassination attempt but that finally, no one could stand to see him in such danger so they begged him to leave the stage and go to safety. Conspiracy theorists call it “The Teleprompter Incident” and the talk about it gets pretty wild.

But that day, one of my last peaceful mornings, Mateo was helping me to trim some tree branches heavy with leaves that were hanging down to the top of the fence. The morning was already muggy and we were covered in sweat but we were together and in harmony and that was enough. I had Nydia corralled in the shade on the porch playing tea party; it was one way I could ensure that she would drink plenty of water in this heat as she filled cups for her animals and helped to drink them too.

I had gone to the grocery the day before and was telling Mateo how some items never seemed to move off of the shelves at any price but that other items just seemed to continue to go up when they were available. Frozen foods were disappearing which didn’t break my heart any but it was a definite change from the way things used to be.

“You should see it. You go in and it is like being back in the olden time markets. You take your ration book and your list up to a counter … I was in line an hour to get approval from the grocery store police before I was even allowed to get in the line to see a grocery clerk … then the clerk tells you whether they have what is on your list or not and how many ration points you need plus the cost of the items they do have that are on your list. You have to be quick because if you don’t have alternative choices in mind right there they move you on through the queue and you are out of luck. People that can’t do math in their head or aren’t flexible on their choices have an awful time of it.”

“And we put up with this why? We have plenty in the garden and … the other as well.”

“We put up with this because we need to look like we are the same as everyone else. And so long as we can keep adding to our food supplies without having to break in to … the other … the better off we will be in the long run.”

“Still Corazon, I hate to see how tired you are after a day of shopping. Your color was not good yesterday.”

“That was just …”

I never did get around to telling him how close several of us had come to getting hit while standing in line when an old woman lost control of her car and jumped the curb. It wasn’t really the near accident that bothered me so much as what happened afterwards when a white van pulled up and these men got out and took the old woman into custody. Where they took her I’m not for sure but my guesses aren’t pleasant.

The reason I had stopped in mid-sentence is because of the sound of a large truck coming down the road. In and of itself it was nothing to be shocked by but given the fact that vehicles were are few and far between – this was true even before they had made it illegal to drive unless you were part of a carpool – huge trucks painted an annoying baby blue really got your attention.

I will not print the rude Spanish expletive that Mateo muttered under his breath but I was very close to saying the English equivalent of it. They’d been playing commercials for the Federal Volunteer Board for weeks now, making them out to be a cross between super patriotic tough guys and warm, fuzzy kittens at the same time who weren’t a threat to the public. The whole thing left a very bad taste in my mouth because it reminded me unfortunately of some of the “commercials” played on the radio and early movie reels of the Third Reich favored by certain political parties in Europe just prior to the onset of WW2.

They really pushed the “multi-cultural coalition” angle too, playing the commercial in several different languages. Some of those commercials were so over the top that they were almost cartoonish, like they weren’t really targeting adults at all but children and adolescents. There were even a couple done in the latest anime style that actually looked cool until you read between the cartoon figures and understood what they were trying to message in.

Mateo agreed with me and we had both been dreading the day we would see the FVB in our own neighborhood. You can ignore a commercial, it’s much more difficult to ignore someone at your gate that won’t go away until they’ve glad handed you and made you aware of the importance of everyone doing their part. A couple of days later they were back, this time with a group of “volunteers” who were taking what amounted to a census and who expected to be allowed to come in and survey our home and property.

Mateo hacked the head honcho off quite a bit that day by refusing him admittance to our property. “Sorry, given how expensive healthcare is these days, it is my patriotic duty to keep possibly unsanitary and infectious people away from my pregnant wife and our child. There is a legal survey on file with the County’s Property Appraiser’s office and I’m sure that now that the federal government has taken over Google Earth Map that you can get an even more up-to-date aerial view that way.”

Gerald ran out, acting like the school tattle tale and said, “You can come look through my backyard. They have a barn and a garden and a pool. I see them grilling out all the time.”

Mateo was furious but was careful not to let it show. He laughed and said, “Honestly Gerald, you’d think all that stuff you bring home from the County would be enough for you. So what if we turn off the electricity when we don’t need it? The whole state is under a mandatory conservation order for electricity. At least we have the sense to follow the rules, I’ve never seen you go without your air conditioner yet and bragging about those steaks your boss gave you for ratting out his political opponent’s son doesn’t exactly make it appear like you are suffering in the same way as the rest of us. Since you’ve already given them permission, and you claim you don’t have to pay for healthcare since your son is a doctor over in St. Pete, how about they start by surveying your house so that the rest of us can see what they are doing.”

I thought Gerald was going to have apoplexy when the FVB group leader jumped on the idea like a dog on a T-Bone. They never did get back around to surveying our house, guess they got a good enough look over Gerald’s fence. Or it could have been the huge blackberry hedges, wet swamp, mosquitoes as big as airplanes and masses of wild roses that dissuaded them from making more of an effort.

A couple of days after that another gang of FVB came through and these guys were a different kettle of fish from the first two groups. I suspect the first two gangs were sent in to soften everyone up with the warm and fuzzies and to make them feel safer and more accepting. In all honesty all they did to Mateo and I was to make us feel even more wary. The third group of FVB were supposed to be civilians but they were dressed in dark green coveralls. Some of them even had side arms; they reminded me of some type of trained enforcement team. Most of them looked like they were former defensive linemen; those that weren’t big looked even more like the kind of men you didn’t fool with or push far.

They didn’t say much. They went in three-men teams to each door, or in our case gate. They didn’t hassle us about not letting them in. They simply took bolt cutters and cut the chain off, and then strong armed Mateo out onto the black top. When he would have fought one of the head FVB said sotto voice, “Man, don’t make a scene. There is always someone that makes a scene and gets the @#$% kicked out of him and then gets taken away anyway. According to your papers you got a wife, a kid, and another on the way. They going to need you back in one piece and you don’t want you-know-who to come in and confiscate your place with you gone. You know what I mean man?”

A couple of the other men around him gave him a hard look but the whisperer just gave them blank face back. He’d given Mateo enough to think about that it forestalled his temper. I’m grateful. I pray for that man for risking who knows what for giving Mateo the warning. From a house down the road came screaming as several young men were thrown to the ground. A couple of women tried to run to them and were roughly pushed back. I could hear a sneering voice, “You boys gonna let your Momma and Grandmama tell you what to do? You a bunch of babies?” Rough laughter followed. From the other end of the street a man with a bloody face was being drug to the bus that had pulled up.

“Mark that house.”

I could see Mateo getting wound up again and again the man stepped in front of him and said something. I don’t know what it was but Mateo got a look in his eyes and I saw a look of resignation on his face. He asked if he could talk to me and calm me down. “Make it quick man. They don’t like us to let the emotional stuff go on too long as it creates problems.”

“Corazon, I’ll come back when I can but I don’t know when that will be. Stay safe and keep the little ones safe. Kiss Nydia for me and don’t let her forget me. Take care of yourself and I will try and let you know where I am when I can. Look at me my love. I trust you and … don’t lose faith, no matter what. Whether soon or … not … we will be together again some day.”

Those were the last words that I heard from him. I was near hysteria, grateful beyond measure that Nydia had fallen asleep for a nap at an unusually early hour and wasn’t a witness to what was going on. I worried that the noise coming from Gerald’s house would wake her.

“No! Do you know who I am?! You can’t do this!! Do you know who my boss is?!!”

“Yeah, some little @#$% of a nobody down in the county building. He started making a lot of noise like he thought he was somebody until his sons and daughter got brought up. He signed your release papers pretty quick after that. Of course, his kids still have to serve anyway but he don’t know that yet. Everybody serves. Ain’t you been telling everyone else that?” That was followed by a sarcastic laugh as they shoved Gerald onto the bus. The FVB man then looked right at Gerald then tossed a thumb back at his house and said, “Mark that house.”

Gerald’s wife started screaming and crying, tears, snot, and heavy mascara running down her nearly purple face. “You said this wouldn’t happen to us! You promised you son of a @#$%&! You said all we had to do was play by their rules! You liar!! You fool!! How could you do this to me?! What am I supposed to do now?!!” Gerald just sat on the bus shocked and totally defeated.

I spent the rest of the day in shock myself. I was five months pregnant with a toddler to take care of. The first thing I did after the bus drove out of sight was run to the gate and take the shorter length of chain left from the cutting and relocked our driveway. I knew in my head that it gave me a false sense of security but at the moment I took anything that I could get.

Then I ran inside and shut that door and locked the bolts and threw the two bars that Mateo and I had installed when home invasions had been reported to have tripled over the previous year’s statistics. I don’t know how long I stood there but it must have been a while because I came back to myself when I noticed Nydia pulling my leg saying, “Nonny, Nonny. I hungry. Can I has carrots for lunch? Can I has carrots and pudding for lunch? Nonny can I has carrots and pudding and crackers and …”

I bent down and hugged her to me. “Yes, you can have carrots for lunch. Would you like a bocadillo de queso to go with your carrots?”

“Umm, umm … cheeeeese. I likes cheese.”

I was still running on autopilot but at least I had a focus. I spent the afternoon trying to explain to Nydia that Poppy had gone on a business trip and that he would be back as soon as he could but that I didn’t know when that would be. At dinner time she threw a horrible temper tantrum, almost to the point of making herself sick. I suspect that she knew I was lying to her but she was too young to verbalize it like that. While I cleaned up the food she had thrown, remonstrating her more roughly than I probably should have, tears rolled down my face because I felt at a complete loss at what I was supposed to do next. Then Nydia started crying, and then she started howling. Small comfort but she didn’t kick me when I finally corralled her and cuddled her, both of us broken hearted, both of us crying for Mateo.

She fell asleep, exhausted, in my arms. I was on my way to put her down in the bedroom when real fear gripped me. I was alone, truly alone, for the first time in my life. I’d gone from my parents’ home to Mateo’s home. I’d never really had to do it all by myself. I’d always had someone that I could count on, to share my pain with, that made me feel safe no matter the circumstances.

I lost it for a few moments. I lost my self confidence, lost my faith, and nearly lost my mind. Then a still quiet voice seemed to whisper unintelligible words in my mind; words of comfort, words of assurance. It was like a gentle breeze or a sweet odor made me turn to look at the stairs. I hefted a sleeping Nydia onto my shoulder and I slowly walked up the stairs and faced the bookcase that hid the entrance to the bonus room.

After laying Nydia down on the guest bed I spent the next several hours in drone mode. First thing I did was pull back the blackout curtains that were across the dormer window. From the outside it looked like a false window but the reality was that it was the only exterior light source for the room. Then I started a list as I cleaned. When the sun began to fall I closed the blackout curtains and turned on the solar lamp and kept working. I don’t know how I managed it but I drug most of Nydia’s belongings up the stairs and put them into the bonus room after marking off a corner as her “new room.” I also took the mattress off of the guest bed and made my own “new room.” I made sure I had a week’s worth of clothing and underthings upstairs. By that time I was exhausted. I was ready to just crawl in bed when there was a rattle of something landing on the roof and then falling off.

I nearly stopped breathing but when it happened for a second and third time I thought that maybe it was Mateo. I ran downstairs and looked out the window and saw … nothing. Then it happened again and it was coming from the back of the house. I ran back there, grabbing a butcher knife from the kitchen this time and looked out back and nearly screamed bloody murder.

Greg’s face was right at the peephole. I cracked the door open and hissed, “You nearly scared me out of a year’s growth! What are you doing?!”

“Saw what happened. I’d heard that they were heading this way but couldn’t get here in time to get Matt bugged out. Might be better this way in the long run. Followed them to the processing facility. They’ve taken over the dorms at USF. Got contacts. One of ‘em is looking after Mateo, getting him up to speed. Ain’t nothing we can do to stop this now. I can’t stay but, we’ll have people looking after you when we can. Matt would want that. Brought that stuff he asked for. You need something, you leave a note under that rock out behind the barn. Somebody’ll find it and we’ll do what we can. I’ll try and arrange for a woman to come and help out. Don’t know when yet but hope to find someone before your ration book runs out.”

“What does …”

“Look, this is how it’ll work. You turn over your ration points to whoever I can find. She’ll look a lot like you, fit your general description; being big with a baby is going to be a challenge but we’ll work around it. She’ll spend your points for you and then keep a share of whatever she buys, but it’ll be a fair cut. It’ll be fair or I’ll know about it. So’s that parts all taken care of up front. The rest of it, the baby part … I ain’t sure what to do about yet. Let me talk to some people I know. Maybe we can get a midwife to come and take a look at you. Let me think on it some. Don’t open the door for no one but me after dark and I won’t send anyone during the day. And for God’s Sake woman, that pig sticker ain’t worth nothing. Get them guns out. You do know how to use them don’t you?”

“Yes, my Dad …”

“Well, that’s a relief. Just don’t have no accidents with ‘em or Matt will have my guts for garters. And if you have to use ‘em, don’t just play with it, shoot to kill and then drag the body to the swamp. We’ll take care of that too. Now get inside and lock up. I ain’t got all night to stand around talking.”

And with that he just faded into the night leaving a canvas tote bag at my feet. I was real close to throwing something straight at Greg’s head and I think he knew it because he moved a lot quicker than he usually did.

After locking up I trudged up the stairs, moved Nydia to our new living quarters, fell across the mattress and amazingly fell right to asleep. But not for long. Sometime after one in the morning, lasting all the way through the dawn, the gun fire started. I didn’t know what it was about but I knew I was stupid for not immediately having followed Greg’s call for me to use commonsense. I snuck downstairs and got all of the guns and ammo and brought them up to the bonus room; they were heavy and took several trips to move. I temporarily hid all but one of the guns under the mattress, making sure they weren’t loaded. The ammo boxes I stored in the only vacant section left in the wall.

I knew that I’d have to secure them better against Nydia’s insatiable curiosity but it was the best I could do at the moment. Most of the noise was coming from the eastern end of the street where the two small subdivisions were located. One of the subdivisions was very middle class, full of homes built in the sixties and seventies. The other subdivision was a very affluent one; full of homes larger than Mateo’s built in the nineties on zero lot lines and conservation lots.

The gun fire had not abated any by three AM but I could see from an upstairs window that there was at least three fires as evidenced by three separate large glows off in that direction. The smell of smoke was also strong and crept into the house despite being shut up tight. What I didn’t hear was sirens. No one was coming to the rescue. No law enforcement ever showed up either.

Nydia awoke at six AM as was her habit and I had no choice but to wake up mentally myself. I went into the garage to get the camp stove and some instant oatmeal and noticed an odd circle of light on the floor. Looking more closely I realized it was a circle of light, but the power was off like it frequently was. I looked up thinking that Mateo had hung an LED tap light or something but there was nothing. Then I saw the dust motes in the beam of light that was causing the light and with my eye followed it to a small, round hole in the garage door.

I stopped breathing for a moment. Looking at the hole in the garage door and then following that across I saw one of my #10 cans had, quite literally, bit the bullet. It was a can of powdered eggs and lucky for me I had intended to open a new one today to make a hearty quiche that Nydia and I could have for both lunch and dinner. I couldn’t tend to my nerves at the moment because I had a toddler calling for her breakfast.

I set Nydia’s play yard up in her “old room” since the windows had already been really secure even before Mateo and I got married with film on the windows so that they wouldn’t shatter and then as time went on and got bad we’d added metal screens on the inside and outside of the window in addition to the storm shutters on the outside of the house. I put the pistol that I had been carrying around in the pocket of the smock I was wearing, attached the baby monitor to my waistband after replacing the battery with a newly charged one, and cautiously exited the house through the backyard.

I heard them immediately. And could see them when I inched over to the corner of the house. A large moving van with the FVB insignia was backed up to Gerald’s house.

“At least let my mother get some clothes and photos and important papers.”

“Look. I don’t care who you are, who you think you are, who she is … nothing. I’ve got a work order here. The contents of this house is to be confiscated in lieu of a cash fine against the owner for his crimes against the federal government. It doesn’t say the contents except for clothes and photos and important papers. It says the contents, the whole contents.”

“But that’s absurd.”

“What is absurd is that the owner of this house committed whatever crime that he did. His disrupted the order of things. The fine stands as is. Now move or suffer the same consequences.”

“I’ll be talking to my lawyer about this!”

“Sir, please take my advice. Do your job. Don’t make trouble. Keep your head down. And stay out of the way. If you choose not to take my advice you may find yourself facing imprisonment as an enemy combatant in the federal prison system until your case can be heard.”

“This … this is … this is outrageous. Do we live in America or not?!”

“In case you have failed to notice sir, the rules have changed. We are at war.”

“At war?! With who?! I haven’t heard Congress make a declaration of war!”

“The President doesn’t need Congress to declare war against obvious threats to our social and financial structure. It is simply the reality we now live in. You can blame those idiots in Congress for not controlling the dissidents with all of their anti-government rhetoric while they had the chance. Instead they acted like a lot of wimps and allowed people to play up their First and Second Amendment rights without understanding that the Constitution is a fluid document that changes with the times. It is about time that our President put his foot down and stopped all of that nonsense.”

I don’t know what horrified me more, what was happening to Gerald’s family or that the man actually believed that tripe he was spouting. They were both equally nauseating.

I stayed in the bushes and then slowly backed up to the house, hoping I didn’t trip and bump into something; actually it wasn’t a something it was a someone. Old habits still help and despite being pregnant I popped the man on the nose with my fist and then turned around swinging only to find Greg on the ground holding a bloody nose and rolling away from me. I was worried until I saw the lunatic was trying not to laugh.

I whispered through clinched teeth, “Are … you … crazy?!”

He crawled over to the lanai and slipped inside. “Better oil them hinges. I heard you come out.”

“I repeat, have you lost your mind?! I could have hurt you … and you nearly … oh … you …”

“Aw, don’t cry. I didn’t mean to make you cry. Come on, Matt warned me that you might look like a little sweet thing but that you can come out swinging under the right conditions. He’ll either kill me or think it’s funny that you caught me off guard. No hard feelings? Right?”

I wiped my eyes and sniffed, “I hope it hurts.”

“Yes ma’am,” he responded while wiping his nose.

“Look … I’ve got some oatmeal …”

“Naw, can’t stand the stuff. You got any grits? Had to stash my pack last night and haven’t gotten back to it yet.”

He wouldn’t come in the house but sat in a corner of the lanai, hidden behind a couple of potted palms and a Chinese screen. I brought back a large bowl of buttered grits that I’d mixed some canned sausage into. I thought at first that he’d been asleep but as soon as my eyes fell on him he was wide awake.

He gave a guarded grin. “Cat napping, only way I sleep these days.” Then as I handed him the bowl he said, “Aw, I didn’t mean for you to go to this much trouble.”

“Don’t worry about it. I was going to open the sausage anyway for our lunch and dinner. What happened last night? I woke up at one and …”

“They’re getting faster.”

Confused I asked, “Whose getting faster.”

“Scavengers. They follow the FVB around and after they’ve removed most of the men and single women out of a neighborhood, they come through like locusts and take what they want. Ain’t enough cops to take care of them and the National Guard and Military are all busy trying to hold things together on the international front and areas surrounding military facilities like MacDill on the other side of town. Last night someone underestimated someone’s granny and several of them scavengers wound up with holes through their middles. Gotta love that kind of action so a few of my people took some revenge on them scavengers for some past battles that didn’t go our way. FVB came around right after first light and we faded and the Scavs got caught by the men in riot gear. Fire has spread but they’ve brought in the big equipment and they’ve knocked down the fires and they should be out by tomorrow.”

“I have a bullet hole in the garage door.”

“Yeah, about that. Matt said the house is all block all the way up. The storm shutters are steel and will keep all but armor piercing rounds out and the Scavs ain’t got that kind of fire power. But that garage door. It ain’t what I’d call secure. Matt had meant to tackle it but he ran out of time … “

“I guess it would be too much to ask if you’d heard anything from him.”

“Actually …,” he said as he pulled a crumpled envelope from his pocket. “Don’t expect any more of these. My contact risked more than he should have to get this out. I like Matt but no way am I putting the whole operation at risk.”

My response was to snatch the letter from his hand and read:

“Corazon, I am safe. I know it is a waste of ink but I ask you not to worry. I am told that I will be shipped out of this area as they do not believe that locals will do as they are told against their friends and neighbors. It prevents entanglements, or so they say. I will do my best to keep in touch in any way I can. If need be, head to Bea’s as I am sure her brothers would all welcome you with open arms and protect you for your own sake and not just for hers. Do not stay at the house just for my sake or memory as this is not my desire. My greatest wish is for you and our children to be safe. As I trust you, trust me to do my best to come back to you as soon as I can. Be patient. Be safe. Be my love. Your Novio.”

I wasn’t sure what I would have said even if I could have spoken at that moment but Greg, in his own eccentric way, seemed to understand. I was finally able to clear my voice and ask him, “What is going on Greg? Don’t … look, I’m not the helpless little woman that Mateo sometimes … I’m …” I took another breath and was finally able to finish. “Greg, I know I don’t look like much and probably do not have near the experience that I should have. Dad and Mateo pretty well insulated me from the worst that could have happened in this life. But, that was then and this is now. I have Nydia and this baby to think about and I can’t make constructive and efficient plans if I don’t really know what is going on.”

Greg just looked at me for a moment and then, “I guess you’ve got the right of it but Matt won’t want you getting up to things. And let’s be honest, your condition is a liability and some folks are gonna think that makes you an easy mark. I can’t have people guarding this place all the time. You need to be able to look after yourself as much as possible. The thing is I have to know how far I can trust you. Women talk even when they don’t mean to and …”

“Greg, you do not want to go that direction with me.”

“Don’t matter what you want. It’s what I know to be true. Women talk and don’t always think first.” He stopped a moment looked at my face and then continued, “But for the sake of argument let’s say people in general talk and let things slip on accident when they shouldn’t.”

“And exactly who would I be letting things slip to? I’ve never been much for socializing here in the neighborhood. The fact that I used to be the nanny and am a few years younger than Mateo has made most of the women assume that I’m no better than I should be. More than a few of them have acted like I’m a gold digger or worse. I’m certainly not going to go around talking to strange men … except you I mean. The only place I have driven since the doctor cleared me was to the market and I did that as little as possible and I don’t think I’ll be able to do it at all now because it would mean taking Nydia with me and leaving the house unprotected. There is no one living on either side of us now. The people across the street act nuttier than a field full of peanuts and had to be dragged from their house for the FVB organizers to see that they are several bricks shy of a load and physically incapable of prolonged physical activity.”

“Yeah, them folks is some of the people I’m suggesting you avoid. They’ve got booby traps all over their property and one of my people said he’s seen them out at night creeping around the neighborhood breaking into abandoned houses. And they aren’t the only ones. If I don’t miss my guess things is about to get downright rough for folks. Y’all have had it easy in this neighborhood but that could be changing sooner than you think.” He shook his head and continued, “The world is going crazy, crazier than normal. Things could start popping and I ain’t too sure that being this close to MacDill is a good thing. Then again, could be because of the importance of what’s on the Base that things won’t get half so bad here as they might if war breaks out.”

“War?!”

“I thought you was a history teacher. You got your head buried in the sand or something?”

“No, of course not but why do you say war? It would seem that countries have enough of their own problems to spend their energies on and wouldn’t have the time to start a war. And the news hasn’t been that bad.”

“Says you,” he muttered and that’s when he filled me in on many of the international incidences that were being kept off of the airwaves.

“Mateo knew about all of this?” I asked, shocked in spite of myself.

“Sure. Sure he did. Why do you think he went as far as he did? Just because you got a little squirrel in you and like to play at being prepared for the winter?”

I don’t know why I always forget how blunt Greg can be. He’ll say something and just keep going, not giving you the chance to do anything but forgive him or forget it and right when you are getting comfortable he goes and does it again.

“Look here now. Maybe Matt was trying to protect you from things by not telling it to you completely straight but I ain’t him. I don’t have time to babysit you. I’ll do what I can ‘cause I owe Matt. He gave me a hand up when most folks just walked by and spit on me. He told me I seemed like a good investment. Well, turns out I even surprised myself at how good an investment I’ve turned out to be. I figure he’s due a good return on the chance he took. So, I’ll help you when I can but not at the expense of my people or our mission. Things is too important now, play time is over. Now the real work starts. And stay out of the swamp if you know what’s good for you. You think I’m rough as old raw hide you really don’t want to meet up with some of the others. We’ve got our own way and it probably ain’t your way so just leave us to it and stay out of the way.”

Greg had about had his fill of civilized conversation at that point and I could see he was getting antsy. I offered him a zip bag of instant grits to take with him and he didn’t turn me down. I was more than ready for him to leave as I had a lot of thinking to do.

I checked on Nydia and found she was ready for a change of scenery. I kept waiting for her to bring Mateo up but she didn’t and when I tried she’d just turn her head away like she was ignoring what I had to say. I knew I’d need to address this, and soon, but I was at a loss as to how right then. After taking care of her, giving her a snack and switching out a few toys and giving in to her request to watch Beauty and the Beast I pulled out a clipboard and some notebook paper and started making a list of things that I needed to do.

I started back where I had started in the beginning; the basics. Shelter. That was already taken care of by moving our sleeping area up to the bonus room. I wandered through the house noting things here and there that would make us more comfortable or that I wanted to move out of sight for security purposes. A small writing table and chair so I could work upstairs was one of the first additions. I moved a five gallon bucket with a snap on toilet lid upstairs as well and took one of the down stairs bathroom’s shower curtain and strung it across a corner for some privacy. An antique pitcher and basin and a mirror completed our “bathroom facilities.” I also took the Chinese screen from the lanai up there and put it near a rolling rack and we had a changing area. I took some hooks and screwed them into the wall low enough that Nydia could hang her clothes on at night and her night clothes on in the morning. An old telephone table became my nightstand. My one real bit of silliness was when I dragged both of the stuffed Queen Anne chairs up from Mateo’s office. They took up space that we could have used for storage but I’ve since been very grateful for my momentary aberration. After I got so big it’s been nice to have one comfortable place that I can sit in up there, especially since I spend so much time up there.

After shelter I started on food and water while I fixed the quiche since the power was scheduled to be on in thirty minutes and we were supposed to get a whole afternoon of uninterrupted service. Since I’d heard that one often enough to know it was true about only half the time, I worked as fast as I could and I put ice trays in the freezer in the hopes of having something cool to drink when the power went off tonight. While I patted the crust into the tart pan and then fixed the filling I made note of all the things I would need if we went without power for a prolonged length of time. I was relieved to confirm we already had everything we needed but it wasn’t necessarily at easy reach if I was stuck in the bonus room for a prolonged period.

I decided that the first order of business would be to put together some mixes and meals that only required hot water to complete them. That would be easy enough to get because I could siphon off water from the passive solar heater that looked like it was hooked up to the pool. That was one of Mateo’s ideas. We had to run the piping in through the soffit and fascia but no one, not even Greg, realized just how we continued to have hot water despite not having electrical power on a fairly regular basis. The pipe ran directly to the shower in the master bathroom but it also had a turn off valve and spigot in the bonus room. I moved a large and rather ugly orange igloo cooler upstairs and put it on a metal patio table. The cooler held ten gallons and I figured that that would give Nydia and I a couple of days of drinking water but I knew that I would need to keep it topped off.

The other thing I did was to bring up the 12V picnic cooler. I had an inverter that I could plug it into and so long as I keep a series of batteries charged using our PV panels I have what amounts to a handy dandy little refrigerator. It won’t freeze anything but 40 degrees F is nothing to turn your nose up at either; especially on really hot nights when all you can do is drink quart after quart of cool water to try and keep from burning up. I always keep several cups for Nydia in the cooler at all times. The solar attic fans go a long way towards easing our misery as well, but if hot air is all there is to move around the fans can only do so much.

To hold our dishes and dishpan – had to have some way to clean what we ate on after all – I brought up the materials to build a little shelf but that was a project for the next day because I knew my next task was pretty much going to spend all of my remaining energy if not a little more.

The floor of the bonus room is reinforced concrete board so it can take quite a bit of weight. After only one night I knew that sleeping on the floor, even if it was on a mattress, was only going to get harder as I got further along in the pregnancy. I brought up a bunch of super pails filled with dried beans and grains – I had to tie them to the dolly and drag them up the stairs since they were so heavy – and then I laid a piece of plywood over the top of them creating a “box springs” for me to lay the mattress on. They are nearly the perfect height and by putting a bed skirt across the plywood it’s almost like having a real bed.

I’ve added things here and there over the last several weeks, like a couple of floor rugs to keep the plywood splinters out of Nydia’s feet. I wouldn’t call the space anything like spartan, but it’s not the The Ritz either.

The week right after Mateo was taken away was hectic. I spent a lot of time putting together “instant meal” packages, keeping up with my normal list of chores plus the ones that Mateo had taken on or at least helped me with like gathering the water from the barrels, and trying to think of all of the problems that I could run into. I didn’t see anyone during this time; not Greg, any of “his people,” nor any of the neighbors. Greg was always a see-him-when-he-shows-up type of guy but not really seeing any of the neighbors out and about was really freaky.

It was two days before I really began to get outside myself enough to notice just how empty the street felt. Both of the neighboring houses were empty and both had been gutted with government approval; one local, the other federal. The only sounds were those of nature – the wind, birds, bugs, etc. Every once in a while I’d hear a bus or some kind of big truck out on US41 but otherwise it was too strange because I knew, knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there were other people in the neighborhood. It made me wonder though just how many people were left and if they were all hunkering down like I was.

The next night I heard the gravel on the roof like I had before and went down more carefully this time … and with two of the guns. One was a 22 rifle that Dad had taught me to shoot with and the other was a small hi-point pistol that I hoped wasn’t going to break my wrist if I had to use it. Lucky for my nerves and my wrist it was Greg in a crankier mood than usual; but all he did was tell me to do something about my garden because he didn’t have a lot of time to waste keeping people out of it.

“People are getting hungry and word has spread that the FVB has taken most of the men out of this area. Your garden variety scavengers are starting to move through. They ain’t up thisa way yet, but nine’ll get you ten it won’t take ‘em long. I know Matt has the barn fixed so no one is breaking in there, and there’s gators in the swamp again too,” he said with a grin that let me know that he probably had something to do with the reptiles I saw sunning themselves the previous day. “They won’t bother coming thata way no how ‘cause it’s too much like work when they can just walk up the middle of the street with impunity.”

“Impunity? What about cops or the national guard or …”

Greg shook his head, “Matt didn’t do you no favors did he. Look Emma … I can call you that right?” At my affirmative he continued. “Y’all folks have had it pretty good up to this point. And it doesn’t sound like Matt really kept you completely up to speed with what all has been going on out in the real world.”

“Greg …” I said warningly, reminding him I didn’t exactly appreciate being treated like a little girl.

“Greg me all you want but it’s the truth. Now if I was to ever get me a woman I’d want her to be smart and tough. You got the smart part all right but you ain’t had the information to be able to use it. I just don’t know if you got the tough part though. And you’re gonna need to be tough. I promised Matt I’d keep an eye on you and he knows I would anyway since I’m such a sucker but the truth is I could be gone from this world in the next heartbeat and you gotta be able to take care of you and the little gal and the one you got in your belly. Now get on back inside and I’ll keep the varmints out tonight but tomorrow you’re gonna have to do some thinking on what is a priority … what’s worth saving and what you’re willing to give up.”


A priority? What was I willing to give up? To questions that I had already been asking myself and depending on the circumstances coming up with new answers each time. But the garden issue was a new one for me and would really take some thinking. In the end, after all my thinking and praying about what was the wisest course of action, I harvested what I could as it came up but didn’t replant anything. Any replanting I did was done in containers and a huge new task was added to the total of my daily chores. The containers were outside from daybreak to sunset then I would wheel them in using the dolly. I haven’t done half bad but the harvests have sharply declined. Most everything gets eaten fresh because not enough is left over worth preserving.

The work is hard and I’ve had to be very careful. I see strangers come through the neighborhood with guns several times a week now. I’ve let the yard go to seed as much as I can and still stay within the local laws. I go out at night every week and a half and use a swing blade to keep things trimmed if not manicured. I continue to try and keep up with our edible landscaping out of necessity but only on nights of the full moon so that I don’t have to use a light. I’ve learned to use smell and touch as much as sight to detect ripeness and harvest time. My night vision has improved in the exact proportion that my daytime sight has deteriorated.

And why am I living like a nocturnal creature? Some very simple reasons and they all have to do with comfort and survival.

War … once a specter … is now a reality. Who our enemy is though is a mystery to me. Is it the internal terrorists that our government seems to be obsessed with and constantly running in fear of? It is almost like we are fighting a war on two front; one multi-national and overseas and a civil war that hasn’t quite broken out yet. Is it the home countries of the terrorists that almost daily strike at our infrastructure and technological capacity? Is it with China and her allies as they try and bleed us dry economically and with whom this Administration seems to have a love/hate relationship with? And what kind of war are we fighting? Economic, religious, ideological, or geographical?

Tampa has suffered at least as much as some of the other cities in our nation. One of the first acts of terror was when the boat was exploded underneath the Skyway Bridge while at the same time a bus was exploded on the Gandy Bridge, destroying both of them at the highest spans. It will cost billions to repair the bridges and the money just isn’t there to do it so the bridges sit, a depressing reminder of how vulnerable we are when someone really wants to strike at us.

The Curren Wastewater Treatment Plant in Clearwater was sabotaged with a bomb under the huge chlorine gas tank. When it exploded it sent a deadly plume of toxic gas around the Bay Area. More than a few people died and thousands were made ill, some permanently disabled. Other areas have also been sabotaged: the Clorox plant, the Hillsborough River Water Treatment Plant, the Bayside Power Plant, and companies like DPC Enterprises and Harcros Chemicals. The main gates at MacDill AFB have been attacked three times and now the whole base has been put on a war footing and there are soldiers with machine guns that patrol the new wall that has been built to keep people out. Neighborhoods surrounding the base have been evacuated and taken over by imminent domain. Buildings for yards in every direction of the wall have been bulldozed down and concertina wire and other types of barriers, some that go boom, have been laid.

The Port of Tampa, once a thriving industrial complex, is now more or less an extension of MacDill as the military and quasi-military have taken it over. The civilian dockhands have their own love/hate relationship with this new reality. On the one hand it has made the dock areas much less vulnerable to the drug and organized crime issues that once plagued the area, on the other hand it has made the port an even bigger target for international terrorism and several incidences have been hushed up if rumors are to be believed.

Busch Gardens has made a good living off of the dramatic increase in military presence in the area. Special discounts available to certain types of non-civilian federal personnel has allowed the tourist attraction to remain viable when many other such tourist enterprises have failed. Of course, getting into the park is a rare experience; metal detectors, body searches, no back packs or coolers (not even for the baby), strollers and wheelchairs must be rented inside the park, if you have a purse of any kind it has to be small and clear plastic, there are concrete barricades and armed guards all over the place. I suppose all of that has become most people’s new normal. To me it is just …

It is like watching pictures of how South and Central America used to be; paid security people – most of them former military of some type – who walked around with automatic weapons looking tough and menacing. Or the pictures of Sarajevo or Bosnia as they descended into every increasing amounts of chaos. This wasn’t supposed to happen here, not to my country, not to my family.

But it has happened and it is happening. What really frightens me is that Nydia has begun to accept things as “normal.” She doesn’t ask for Mateo anymore. I have to remind her to include him in her prayers. It is like she is forgetting him out of self defense; that remembering him is just too painful for her little psyche to handle. I keep lots of pictures of him up on the walls, pictures of him by himself, pictures of her and him together, pictures of us all together. But the baby is more real to her than Mateo is, she seems to have transferred the devotion she used to reserve for him to this unborn child I carry. Sometimes that causes such an ache in me that it is all I can do to not let her see me cry because it confuses and upsets her.

She sees only me and the pictures made when I allow her to watch the little DVD television, something I ration by necessity and by choice. She has her toys, her dollies, and her books. She plays in the sunbeams that come through the window when I feel it is safe to have the curtains upstairs open. She hasn’t been downstairs in weeks. At first this was a real problem for such an active little girl but slowly she adjusted and I have to make an effort to get her to talk so that she doesn’t lose any more of the communication skills than she has. Am I doing right by her? But I’ve seen them come and remove children from homes, seen the crying and hysteria … or worse, the stoic belief that they are giving their children the only chance they might have for a square meal. I wonder if that is how it felt for those English parents to send their children to the countryside during WWII?

I go downstairs only when necessary, only when I’m sure that Nydia won’t wake up and come looking for me. I’ve moved what I can upstairs into this room and the spare bedroom. I’ve screwed the door to the room shut from the inside and the only access to it is through a crawl space that I cut from our hiding room. The opening of the crawl space is hidden behind a false intake cover. I think it will be big enough even when I’m nine momths along, but it will be a tight fit.

I can’t risk leaving the house or the yard for fear that someone will come along and break in or the FVB will come along and confiscate what they believe is an abandoned house or the local municipality might do the same thing. I have to make it seem like someone is living in the house but at the same time I can’t make it obvious or I could make us a target of those that think we may have more than they do. My “garden” keeps us in fresh food, but barely enough.

Water is a problem. Even with the solar power to run the well we can’t risk the noise of the pump motor running unless the power is on to the neighborhood. When the power is on, about three times a week lately, the float switch kicks on in the cistern and it refills. I also refill any empty barrels using a hose that I run from the cistern into the house. Thank God for the huge concrete cap on the cistern or someone would likely have had it opened and emptied long ago. Nothing that can be carried off survives long left outside and unattended; I lost a water hose like that and a couple of empty plant pots and that’s just about as far as I want to have to learn that lesson.

But to be on the safe side since I never know when we’ll have power and how long that we won’t I built a sand filter. It is contraption I read about in one of the books that I’ve brought upstairs. I have a notebook full of notes from those books but not a lot of ability to implement them right now, but the filter I thought was both doable and wise.

I took an old plastic barrel that was too difficult for Mateo and I to move when it was full of water and then rolled it to the door in front of the walk in pantry. This door opened out so with the barrel in front of it the door couldn’t be opened. I had a reason for this. I needed more room to store our belongings in and the hidden room was directly above the pantry but I’ll get to that in a moment.

First I installed a PVC spigot near the bottom of barrel. Then I put some decorative river rock in the bottom of the barrel. The sound of dropping that stuff in nearly gave me a heart attack and I worried that someone would hear what I was doing and come investigate. Justified or not, that is how paranoid I’ve become. On top of the decorative river rock I put an even smaller grade of pebbles and then on top of this I scooped in fine grained playground sand that Mateo had bought for Nydia during better times. We were planning on building a jungle gym for her but it never happened.

At night I go to where the swamp comes up to our property and dip in a couple of buckets. The water is very nasty. Rather than clog up the sand filter I first the water through a screen to get rid of the worst of the gunk. If the water still looks pretty bad I’ll let it settle out and then skim the best water off the top and pour it into the sand filter. It took a lot of water before anything would come out of the spigot below. I suppose I should have dampened the sand as it went in so it would compact better. You live, you learn.

Eventually water did run through the sand filter but I’m a bit of a freak about that sort of stuff so I decided to take it a little further. I added a minute amount of powdered alum to a couple of gallons of filtered water to act like a flocculent. This settled out even the finest particles and I siphoned off the good top water and then went even further and sanitized that with a little bleach. It still bothers me when I think about where the water came from but the heat drives us to need a lot of water for drinking and for keeping cool.

During the worst heat of the day Nydia and I take our naps with the solar fans going as much as possible. I keep the fans greased so they make little noise. I pray that the little bearings will hold up for as long as they need to. I don’t know how we would live up here if we didn’t have those little fans to help draw the heat that rises into this space.

This mid-day naps also help me to do the work I need to at night. Without those naps I wouldn’t be able to stay awake through the long hours. Nydia is getting to be a night owl as well. I worry that she’ll eventually have some kind of health problems but then again, people live where it is “night time” half the year and adjust to it. It’s a shame though that we have to adjust at all. But I see no alternative right now.

The woman that Greg had found to play me in exchange for sharing my ration points has disappeared. Greg thinks it was a voluntary move on her part to be out west with some relatives she had out there but he is still hacked off that she didn’t give notice. He hasn’t been able to find a replacement and the latest bunch of ration points are beginning to expire. I’m not really worried, not yet. I called my OB/gyn to let them know that I couldn’t get transportation to my appointments and lo and behold I find that the doctor’s office is being closed and that they’ll eventually find me a new doctor. Eventually. What a laugh. I have a feeling that they’ll call to schedule an appointment with this new doctor about seven months after the baby has been born.

The birth looms closer and closer. I’ve begun to set up my own maternity wing in our already cramped quarters. It looks like I’m on my own unless a miracle presents itself between now and then. Mateo, where are you? I need you!

Things continue to escalate to a horrific degree. Crime is off the chart, or it would be if they bothered charting it any longer. They are using the “war” overseas to switch the focus away from what is happening here at home. I wonder if that is what happened during WWII in some countries like Germany. Were the people so involved in trying to understand the fighting in Europe, trying to keep track of their loved ones in battle that they failed to see what was happening to their own neighbors in their own backyard?

Well I don’t know where my loved one is. I don’t have a clue. If Greg knows he isn’t saying, not that I see him much these days. Greg is playing some deep game and it seems to be really personal to him. I don’t ask anymore; he never answered me when I asked in the beginning and it became a waste of energy. But with Greg and his people gone you can tell the vermin are slowly making their way back into the neighborhood. I think maybe yesterday was one of the worst days of my life. Am I thinking about this too much? Did I do the right thing?

The moon was full and I had a lot to do. Code Enforcement is pretty regular about making the rounds to make sure that everyone is in compliance with the conservation rules, they also still ding you on the beautification standards that the FVB set several months back. Busy work to keep the body moving and the mind numb with the heat and fatigue. What I wouldn’t give for a goat. On the other hand how would I take care of it and keep it safe? What is that old saying? Wish in one hand and fecal matter in the other and wait to see which one ways the most? Wishing gets you no where.

I used the big cradle scythe and cut most of the front yard in a couple of hours. I have muscles now that I’ve never had before in my whole life. I look ridiculous too, big belly getting in the way of nearly every swing, but a girl does what she has to. I’d also taken to carrying the 22 rifle with me everywhere when I stepped out of the hidden room. It rode across my back and the strap left a band of sweat across my bosom.

I was all done in; the heat hadn’t really abated despite the sun going down. The humidity made it hard to breathe. The blackberries were late this year so there were still some to gather and I was in the tall shadow of the fence doing just that when I heard breaking glass. Someone was close; too close. I listened again and could hear some noise across the street. Then I heard a cry and then a scream. A yell of rage followed that was abruptly cut off. Then I heard some rough laughter and a door banging open and sounds of a scuffle. Rough language told me someone was being dragged out into the yard.

I must be certifiable but I couldn’t just walk away. If nothing else I had to witness what went down so that I could report it to Greg … or that is the justification I placated myself with.

I followed the fence line down to our gate and then got down in a patch of grass I hadn’t gotten around to cutting yet since it was too near the Confederate Jasmine for the scythe to make sense. I looked out through the bars of the gate and saw three males dragging the woman that lived across the street into the yard. You can guess what they were after. I guess the light of the moon only made things better so they could see their debauchery.

No one was coming. No one would help. Then a thought crept over me. I was already here. I didn’t have to stand by and do nothing. Who would know? It was dark and if I did it right there wouldn’t be anyone left to tell the tale anyway.

Daddy didn’t raise me to do things by half measure. When he taught me to shoot, he expected me to become proficient. It had been a long time since I’d gone hunting but it isn’t like they were trying to hide. The moonlight was like a spotlight. They were all inside of one hundred feet. I couldn’t miss.

I didn’t miss. One. Two. Three. And then four when the third one staggered up only gut shot. The woman slowly sat up and stopped her crying. I could see her frantically looking into the dark, trying to see who had done the shooting. I didn’t dare move. The last thing I want to be known as is a vigilante.

When she didn’t see anyone she grabbed a large rocked that had been used as a decorative garden marker. She raised and then brought it down on each man’s head until they were all squishy. The man from inside came stumbling out, blood pouring from a head wound looking black in the night. The couple held each other. Then the oddest thing happened.

The couple became all business. They stripped each man of everything, leaving them buck naked … or what was left of them anyway. The rock had made a worse mess than my bullets had. Then the couple each grabbed an arm and I saw them drag the bodies away one at a time. When the last body had been dragged away the couple took a bag of oak leaves and up ended them and then used a tree branch to rake them around. I suppose they were destroying evidence. I wondered though how they knew what to do and whether they had already had practice at it since it seemed they knew what to do without even talking about it. Too weird.

After the couple went inside I waited a few minutes and then crept back to the backyard and then scurried into the house when a cloud covered the moon. I was half way up the stairs before the reality of what I had done hit me. I barely made it to the bathroom in time. I haven’t been that sick since I started the morning heaves.

I shook off and on for most of the night. I still have a hard time believing I did what I did. I haven’t dared think about what is going to happen if someone figures out what I’ve done. How could I do that? How could I endanger Nydia and this baby? What a fool I am. On the other hand how would I have felt had I done nothing but watch? Would I have been next, a woman alone with no one to protect or defend me?

I’m so tired, so scared. I want Mateo here, now. I need him here, now. But it looks like God has other plans. Please, if I can’t have Mateo, please give me the wisdom I need to be the mother I must be and the strength to protect and provide for my children. Please. I can’t do this as I am right now.