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Friday Fictioneers: An American Diary

March 15, 2013

A Glimpse Into an American Diary
guest post by Grant Marcus
Day 1
Without warning, Mother sits up, closes her book.
She is the proverbial hound sensing something in the air.
We watch her in silence as she places her palm
ever so lightly, caressing the wall
as if she were taking our temperatures.
“They are here,” she says.  “I can feel the
infrared.”  She makes the sign of a hush
so she can listen to the faintest drones overhead.
The modern world and all its encroachment.
The modern world, more obscene than Ann Frank’s.
And yet they praise all technologies used against them.
Day 2
They are letting my mother go to work today.
She is sighfully happy.  They will pay her in
bread and cereal.  If she is lucky, she will get coffee.
If we are lucky, powdered milk.  Maybe synthetic honey.
She is happy to go to work because they have
decided she will be in “dividends” rather than “collections.”
She is happy because she will assist vendors of
Wall Street on-line rather than having to turn in
family and friends.
I won’t forget soon Mr. Pepper’s face, our one-time
neighbor next door, when my mother sent me out to sweep
the constant entrails of the jets overhead, as they
took him away.
I have a conversation with the jets and tell them
their droppings of dust are for the birds,  that is,
if there will be any.
On rare occasions, I have seen one, or two.
They are even more beautiful the farther between.
I miss them already.
(So I would gladly trade a few jets for them).
Mother wouldn’t tolerate my thinking.
With a special light, she shows me the numbers
underneath her skin that she’s been given.
There is a huge CENTER mom goes to which is part
of an underground detention.  They take her on a bus
full of black windows along with all the others.
It’s as if the blind had been given wheels.
> Day 3
Day three seems so far away from our one big joy,
or when the shiny big metal truck comes down the
street, bringing art supplies, and its big speaker on the
roof, moaning old music, as if there were a change in
the weather.

Mother says it reminds her of the old days, of
“Good  Humor trucks.”  They would play music too,
and sell something mother calls ice cream.  She says
it is smooth and creamy and sweet and cold, and
you have to eat it quickly before the sun steals it.
They stopped serving it in the stores some time ago,
before I was born, when they declared the milk radiated.
But the way she describes it, it sounds like the games
of paradise brought by the big metal truck.  Yes, Ice
cream sounds like fun, even if you don’t get to eat it..
Still father argues there weren’t numbers in
those days that people were required to wear.  And
there weren’t the long lines of people, disshoveled, with their
transparent boxes.  And there weren’t the helicopters
blowing like the wind overhead, half crazy.
My mother says father is a loyal pessimist.
But they were supposed to do away with them–
the helicopters–when they manufactured
all of the drones.  It hasn’t happened yet.  Instead,
we have jets and drones and helicopters and and and…
I hate the third day the most.  I despise it.
It is so distant from the big metal truck.
It is so in the middle of fore and back and
in both directions.
> Day 4
Awhile ago, they took away our family home.
One day strangers came carrying guns.
They shoved us onto the blind bus with the others.
Before they did, they made us watch
as portable drills boarded up the doors and windows.
They sealed off the garage and the gates to the garden.
We traveled on the bus for hours and hours.
We were given a citation and a court order to appear
for the inconvenience we had caused them.
My father pleaded with them, it was a computer glitch,
he insisted, an electronic switch of accounts and assets.
Like a flu, an  epidemic, It seems to be effecting
so many of us these days, they are having to build
more tenements.
My mother didn’t know who to believe.
My father or the government.
But then there was the expressionless woman
behind the partition, who, pointing to the stamped seal,
said it inferred proof of the legal paperwork.
And no one ever sees much fraud on television
brought to us by Goldman Sachs, Walmart, and Halliburton.
When we finally arrived at the shelter,
we put what few possessions we carried
along with the rest of the small piles in the corner.
I remember my doll lying there, turned away
from me, her arms so cold and bare
she gave me goosebumps,  but I couldn’t clothe her.
The fourth day is the day of foreboding.
It is the day of calls.
Calls from the banks
the collectors
the creditors.
It is the day of our ominous atonement.
First we hear the dial tones and rings of the telephone.
Then their faces appear from the overhead screen,
as their menacing looks and voices
lash out severely against us–
until we are all bruised ears
and slumped bones all huddled together.
They haven’t found a way to take that away from us.
Perhaps this is why my mother sighed so happily.
as if joy and pain had been clumped together with
her inflection. A combination of relief and sorrow.
Still, I envy her.
She says her work today must have been a mistake
between departments.  I haven’t heard of them making
mistakes between departments.
At AT&T, our junior high school, my friends
warn me that soon they will be taking away my parents
and shipping them to debtor’s prison.
a detention unit in Arizona.
I say they are exaggerating.
“That’s what they all say!” They yell back,
laughing at my foolishness.
I have to talk to my mother.

Mother should get home before midnight.
We will have to celebrate her missing our day
of atonement.
I will have to ask her.
> Day 5
The city inspector is here at his usual time.
We are required to leave the tenement spotless for him.
He inspects us for drugs and paraphernalia.
He inspects all the faucets and reminds us
the water is precious.  He lights a match to the water
to prove it.  He inspects the electric.
He asks us bunches of puzzling questions, then searches
our faces as if we were hiding something from him.
He always appears 10am sharp, the time
when all the lights are turned off for the natural
light, gray and streaking through the windows.
He brushes a finger against one of them,
to ensure it is spotless.
Once, my brother was dinged.
He had left the light on in the bathroom.
It cost our family four meal tickets.
My brother was given three years probation.
They always give three years probation
for almost anything and almost everything.
Still, my father didn’t scold him.
He just said calmly or pensively,
and in a voice of surrender,
over and over

“…You’ll remember. Next time, you’ll remember…”
> Day 6
Today is “Flag and Protest Day.”
There are booths which open at the end of the street.
They have fireworks every fourth year for elections.
But one day a week, the booths open for “flag and protest.”
Our family goes into our booth as a unit.
Every week we are required to think of
ten different ways to express our love of country.
We are also entitled to one criticism to improve it.
There is a “prerequisite” for our criticism.
We must supply another “system” as comparison.

Since we are at a loss, we always leave the “protest” blank
for we have never known another “system.”
It is also the day of free koolaide.
There is a big glass pitcher in the center of the booths.
and it is filled with a velvety red liquid.
It has a bitter-like sweetness and aftertaste.
We always toast to the deaths of our enemies.
The soldiers in camouflage pour it for us
into little wax cups.  There is a banner with
words over them that say, “THINK IN RED!”
What I think is that I feel different when I drink it.
With the constant flights of the military police
and the smell of sulfur in the air
we usually never leave the tenement.
It seems too dangerous.
But today, on the day of flag and protest,
everything is quiet.
And the jets leave the airspace.
And there is a calm from the absence of the helicopters.
It is a day one feels they have walked out of their chains
in hope for a glimpse of sunlight.
> Day 7
It is finally day seven, the day of the big metal truck!
I am up early, and sleepless,
to write down my anticipation.
But I am all out of the pencil they gave me.
I am all out of the recycled paper.

Now, I am forced to remember.
Before I am handed my supplies,
I am hooked up to a squiggley graph,
and they ask me questions of truth and lies.

One time they asked me if I had peeked at the paper’s
other side–which is something we are taught not to do–
So, “absolutely not,” I blurted out, only to remember
too late, the day the helicopter blew a piece from
my hands, and turning it over and over, and then,
how it landed on the bad side.
It was the worst week of my life.
A week without supplies.
It was as if they had taken my heart
and shipped it to detention.
I was told I was fortunate in that I didn’t lie
about something more significant.
But that was then, and today is the day of
the big metal truck that I hear rolling to a stop outside!
I run out and choose the art and the colors meticulously.
Quickly.  We are only given a brief window of time.
I pick out the wooden pencil and a pink sharpener.
I stock up on the recycled paper,  keeping my
eyes closed until they tell me it’s all right.

When I’m handed my sheaths, I will hold onto them
for dear life.
Now I am ready to take whatever test
they can give me, and then, I will have my supplies.

But first, they tell me, they must evaluate my writing.

And then it will take time for them to make copies.
Day 8
My grand inquisitor, who has left me, has
finally returned.  It has been a long night, and
I am thoroughly exhausted.
There is a gold epaulet, a flag on a crisp blue lapel.
It goes in and out of focus.
There is a mysterious feeling of power to
his eyes, as they penetrate mine.
“There are so many things we have to talk about,”
he begins, smiling dutifully.

There is the longest pause.

“Let’s begin with this” (as an underlying anger shifts
his tone) “I completely understand that ‘if we do not
remember history, we  are bound to repeat it.’

I have heard it said many times.  But what  did you mean by,
‘If we do not envision our future, we will be imprisoned by it?
What did you mean? What were you thinking? And,
what were you getting at!'”

His questions sound like the gunfire of accusations.
I try to think back to how the words occurred to me.
I think it was when I was staring up at the streaks
of the jets flying by, settling like prison bars against
the azure sky.
But it took me too long to remember, and I was
appearing hesitant–“Is there something wrong with
what I’ve written?” I ask in frustration.

“Is there?” Countered the flag.

“What I mean is, is there some kind of mistake
I could have possibly made?” I compromise.

“Have you?” Answered the lapel, his stubbed fingers
tapping the desk, revolving into each other like partners
on the sheen of the table, as if it were a floor for dancing.
> (Dancing with my life I think despondently).
Tears seem to slip from my eyes, and
they are dropping everywhere uncontrollably, like
beads spilling from a jar–
I become so startled, as I realize
I have yet to receive my supplies

I just sit there now and cry, as more lapels and flags gather,
hovering over me.

Sternly, they cross their arms, questions on their faces
for my awaited reply.

One by one, my chief interrogator takes the sheaths
of paper and lays them out, replacing the sheen of the desk.

With each one he lays down, supplies decrease exponentially.
From out of nowhere, I can see the blind bus coming
through the window, stopping where the big metal truck
left long ago.

I forget how many questions I have tried to answer.

The questions become gulls crying against the sky,
and then my mother screaming hysterically
into a chamber of sleep gone by–
> ***
I am in wonder of what could be more important
than water, or a bright burning light,
a diary we leave open and behind–
hoping for posterity.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2013 1:28 am

    Thank you so much for the ping back.

  2. March 25, 2013 1:29 am

    thanks for the like! and the comment!

  3. March 25, 2013 1:30 am

    Your story is really good.

  4. March 25, 2013 1:43 am

    Thanks! But I didn’t write it–Grant Marcus did. He’s a poet and an essayist who sometimes writes fiction. He shared it with me in an email and I asked if I could publish it. I thought I remembered seeing a Friday Fiction group…

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