Some days I think protest is important; others I think it is impotent. Either way it’s necessary. “The Long Night” (still a working title…) was written for a competition on Needle in the Hay (needleinthehay.net).
This story was first published on 15 March 2016: http://needleinthehay.net/short-story-flash-fiction-lydia-trethewey-the-long-night/
Soft grey light falls across Lucy’s face as I gently open her bedroom door. Hair spilling messily across her pillow, Mr Giraffe tucked up by her chin, my daughter dreams. She has a bead of dribble at her mouth, catching a slither of moonlight from the crack in the curtains.
I lean my cheek against the cold doorframe.
There are two reasons why I know it’s time to leave. One was seeing Ruben again, the half-moon of his face disappearing into the crowds in Forest Place. The other was a letter slipped into the mailbox, no name, no address.
Perhaps it seemed safer than contacting me online. Watching Lucy’s chest rise and fall, I picture men in trench coats and dark glasses scanning my emails; the one to Beth about meeting for coffee, to the hairdresser to book an appointment, to the coordinator at the school about volunteering at the upcoming fete. Maybe the spooks have a pin-up board with a photograph of my face, bits of string mapping a constellation of my possible whereabouts. It’ll have my old name, Julie Walker, and the date of my disappearance, October 18th 2016.
I tiptoe across the carpet. Lucy sighs in her sleep, her mouth slightly ajar. I bend down and kiss her head, breath in deeply, filling my lungs with her. She moves slightly, rolling into the pillow.
As I retreat to the doorway the room dissolves in tears.
From the other end of the house I hear Shane’s grunting snore. Will he roll over soon, reaching across the empty sheets, wondering where I’ve gone? Wake up and see our wedding photo on the bedside table, his boyish grin, unaware of the ghosts in my past.
My bag has been packed since I glimpsed Ruben yesterday afternoon. Twenty years have collected around his burning brown eyes, and yet I recognised him immediately. It’s an omen: time to run. Ruben wouldn’t come out of hiding except to send a message.
I hadn’t seen Ruben since 2016, when we were young, when he and I and Mitchell stayed up late cooking bombs in their dingy apartment.
We’d all met at university, in the socialist club. We shared a blunt anger at the world, a mixture of rage and resignation. Anger because Ruben and Mitchell weren’t allowed to marry, because being gay still meant being a second-class citizen. Anger at the people who told Mitchell he was mentally ill, asked him what genitals he had. Anger at the way society tried to numb us and tell us everything was ok.
But mostly we were angry about what was happening to the refugees.
“How is it that nobody gives a shit?” Ruben would ask, sitting in the flat surrounded by unwashed clothes and bent paperbacks. “They’re fleeing from war, and we lock them up like animals.”
Mitchell and I would nod vehemently.
“It’s totally inhuman. Men and women being abused, children committing suicide. And the media thinks that we should be afraid of them.”
Children no older than Lucy is now, behind barbed wire fences.
That was around the time when an egomaniacal millionaire businessman was running for president in the US, saying he’d build a massive wall to keep immigrants out. In Australia, both our political parties had long been aware that fear-mongering about asylum seekers won them votes.
Ruben and Mitchell got arrested at a march protesting the abuse of refugees. I was shaken around a bit by the cops and then let go. My friends stewed overnight in a dank cell, and by the next day had decided that peaceful marches were no longer effective.
Another of Shane’s loud snores rips through the silence. It’s a microcosm of a sound I remember, that the bomb made as it tore through white stone and neat lawn. A deep guttural boom which seemed to come from all around. The explosion was far larger than we’d intended. Little of parliament house remained in the smouldering morning.
Lucy rolls over, leaving Mr Giraffe dangling off the bed. In the other room my husband sleeps, perhaps plagued by dreams of work in the morning. This is real life, not just a cardboard cut-out. Not a disguise. All my love, my memories, my life. Here.
I unfold the letter.
The time has come. We wanted to march through the long night and break into dawn, but again we must run and hide. Remember the place by the railway – that’s where we’ll be. R & M.
With a click I close Lucy’s bedroom door. A lump fills my throat. Another piece of my life, severed. I hope Shane can carry on without me. I hope with me gone they’ll be safe. I hope my daughter knows I’ll carry her in my heart until the end.
I wonder whether I can be angry on behalf of someone else, someone who doesn’t ask for it, whose life I don’t live. What does anger do anyway. Can empathy become engorged to the point where it smothers the person it tries to understand? How do we help the voiceless people? The character in the story didn’t know, still doesn’t.
Follow the link to read the rest of the short list: http://needleinthehay.net/winner-announcement-all-night-march-award/