Chapter 2: the cause of this lockdown
The policers end up on the stoop, and exchange nods with my father when he arrives home from the hospital. He trudges into the living room, shuts the door with his eyes closed, and whips around to face me.
I’m setting the table. In my Place. Like a good girl.
“Why are there two policers on my front porch?” he asks, and he doesn’t say my name but his dubious navy eyes do. “Tell me you’re not the cause of this lockdown.”
What could I have done? “I’m not.” I might as well make it clear. “Sir.”
“Then why are they here?” He sits at the table without putting down his briefcase. Mom rushes to take it from him. “Do we know?”
“We don’t,” Mom says. “We really don’t, sir. They walked the girls home from school. How did it go at the hospital?”
“How do you imagine it went?”
Mom turns around with a small smile. My father’s eyes follow her into the kitchen like they’re magnetized, then snap back. “You took your exam? How was it?”
“Good. You really don’t know why these men are here?”
“No, sir,” I say, and I make myself look at his eyes.
He drops his gaze. “Well, that’s interesting, then.”
At eight the crackling of the speakers comes again. Mom and I hesitate, dishes midair and dripping soap, and Theo and Dad look up from their reading like there’s something to look at.
“Thank you all for your cooperation. The lockdown went smoothly, and the crisis has been averted. The explosions you saw were thanks to the States, but none were injured. For the first time in over fifty years, the States tried to engage us in their war.”
The speaker pauses here, and I wonder if he does it because he knows my heart is racing.
The speakers crackle, then go out.
Mom lets out a breath of air and Dad turns to lock eyes with her. Relief rolls through my family like thunder, or more like the fluffy clouds that come out in May on days you wish running wasn’t against the Law.
The policers on the porch come inside and for tea. They’re not allowed to leave for another hour. “Just in case. Captain says so.”
Dad clears his throat. “So gentlemen, to what do we owe the relief of your protection during the lockdown today? I wasn’t aware we were any kind of special situation.” And the way he says it, mildly but unwilling to continue without an answer, makes me glad I’m not them.
One looks at the other, and both shrug. “Don’t know. We usually just go where the captain tells us to, you know?”
“So he told you to come here to guard us?”
“He told me to bring Miss Danner straight home and not leave until I was told. And that’s it.” The policer folds his hands together like he’s shutting the covers of his lame story. Why does he keep calling me that? Why would they guard a ginger girl who’s not worth a thing?
“I was worried you wanted to write someone up,” Dad says like a joke.
“Ah,” says Ear, pointing his finger into the air. “That reminds me. I do still need to write you and your friend up for hiding. Almost slipped my mind.”
Dad asks me to get the manners minder from its place on the wall. When I hand it to him he thanks me.
One. My father doesn’t usually make such an angry face when he hits me.
Two. He tends to press his lips together and stare at the wall in front of him. Sometimes he even misses and has to try again.
Three. Today he grimaces as though he is receiving the blows himself. Maybe he’s hesitant to distract me when I should focus on my delegation, but that’s unlike him.
Four. Mom hums the Anthem as she sweeps the kitchen. I admire her ability to be cheerful all the time. It comes naturally to her.
Five. He closes his eyes as he raises the minder again and doesn’t open them when he swings it toward me. I wish the light wasn’t shining so directly on his face, wish he wasn’t at an angle in the window for me to see his expression perfectly.
Six. I try to imagine his usual face, thin-lipped from withholding his own speech over the years, or simply from troubles of a grown man I don’t understand. There’s plenty I don’t understand. Why he walks in a storm of papers and sighs. Why his midnight eyes avoid me.
Seven. Counting to ten is fast, but counting to thirty makes it so much longer.
Eight. I wonder if Theo is watching. Sometimes he sits at the top of the stairs, barely able to see. I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes notes.
Nine. I wish my father would take that pained look off his face. Years of practicing have taught me not to give way when I am hit, not even an inch. Can’t he give me the same?
Ten. I should stop counting.