by Patricia Hanahoe-Dosch
When Trump’s impeachment hit the news cycles, I was trying to write about Lily, the main character, who is also the antagonist in a story I wrote several years ago. I wanted to explore her character more. At the same time, Trump’s impeachment hearings sparked a lot of my memories about Nixon’s impeachment. The opening scene here is based on the way I first heard about Nixon’s resignation. While it’s true that currently we are probably more divided and polarized politically than ever before, people forget just how divisive and traumatizing the end of the Nixon era was, too. I wanted to use that as a way of showing how such grievances, anger, divisions, and emotional trauma can affect the people around us. I wanted to hint at parallels between then and now without preaching about now. Sadly, I think many of the injustices of that time, sexism, racism, classism, etc., still exist. I wanted to reflect some of that in the story, too. I don’t think I even came close to accomplishing all this, but I hope this is a good story that reflects something about the human condition. Most of all, I hope you enjoy the story regardless of your politics, or anything else. Please listen: Lily wants to tell you her story.
Our camp counselor, Vicki, opens our tent flap and pokes her head inside. “Nixon just resigned!” she says. I think she’s crying. She’s sniffing a lot and her voice is all wobbly, but it’s dark, so I can’t see her face. She made us turn off the tent light and go to bed a while ago, or at least it seems like it’s been awhile. I can’t sleep.
“Oh,” someone says. It sounds like Marci, but it’s hard to tell in the dark. I don’t know these girls very well.
“Okay,” someone else says sleepily. I think that’s Jen.
Someone snorts a pretend snore. Probably Jaz. She tries to be funny all the time. Sometimes she is, but mostly she isn’t.
“We’ll talk about it in the morning,” Vicki says, disappearing. f
“Oh great,” Jen says.
A couple of girls start giggling. “Oh Nixon!” Jaz says in a false, romantic crush voice. More giggling.
“BOOOOORING,” someone says. Probably Stephanie. She says that about almost everything. I’m tempted to say she’s boring, but I don’t want to fight with any of these girls. I don’t like arguments. The only good thing about being at camp is getting away from my parents’ arguing.
There are six of us in this big tent. We’re in sleeping bags on camp cots, and though I have my pillow from home, I still can’t sleep well. I don’t like it here. There are too many people around all the time telling me what to do and when to do it. Vicki’s the worst. She’s always bossing us around. Some of these girls are bossy and mean, too. I mostly ignore them and they don’t like it. Marci and I eat together and pair up for the canoe rides and other lame stuff they have us do here. Most of these girls are rich, I guess, and think Marci and I are “losers” because we wear ordinary jeans and t-shirts instead of Calvin Kleins, or whatever. Plus, Marci is what Mom would call “chubby.” They tease her about her weight and me about my hair, which is short and brown and comfortable. They can make Marci cry sometimes, but not me. Dad always tells me not to cry or seem weak when I get hurt.
I know who Nixon is, but I don’t understand why he resigned or why that’s important. I heard my parents arguing about him. My dad said something about “a witch hunt” and “damned Democrats.” My mother shouted things like, “He’s a crook!” I hide in our huge attic when they start yelling at each other. The attic stairs are old and spiral like in a movie castle. I like to hunt through the boxes and trunks where I sometimes find all kinds of interesting stuff, like the small hunting knife I have tucked away in my sleeping bag. It was probably Dad’s. It was buried under a box of old papers, so I’m pretty sure he’ll never miss it. It reminds me of home and of hiding away from everyone in a place where I can be completely alone. It’s my talisman. I love that word. Mom used it once to describe the St. Christopher medal she always wears around her neck on a silver chain. She’s always explaining words to me. It’s what we do together, experiment with words. I want to be a writer, someday, I think, because I like words, especially when I describe something, like how a moth looks like a piece of the moon flying around our back porch, and Mom tells me, “That’s beautiful, honey. You’re going to be the poet in our family.” Of course, Dad always makes a weird snorting noise when she says something like that. Then he says something like, “I’m not going to pay for you to go to college to be a poet. You need to aspire to something more practical, like me. Be a nurse or something.” Then Mom usually says something like, “She could be an engineer, like you, if she wants to be. Just because she’s a girl doesn’t mean she has to be a nurse or some other stereotype you like to lump women in.” That’s how I learned the word stereotype, and a couple other words they both told me I’m not allowed to say until I’m a lot older.
“Impeachment,” she told me a few weeks ago, “is what we do to fire someone and take away his power so he can’t be stupid or mean anymore. Kind of wish I could impeach your dad,” she mumbled. I don’t think I was supposed to hear that part.
“Is Nixon stupid and mean?” I asked, not sure how anyone but his family would really know.
“Yes,” Mom said in that tone of voice which means she won’t listen if I argue with her. “He’s a power hungry, narcissistic, greedy crook.”
“Is dad those things?” I asked. She looked at me and sighed.
“Well, to be fair, he’s not greedy or a crook.”
I thought about power. I didn’t really understand, but she made me go set the table for dinner, so I couldn’t ask anything more.
I had to look up the word narcissistic in the dictionary later. It took me several tries because I didn’t know how to spell it.
I guess impeachment had something to do with Nixon’s resignation. Maybe giving up is better than letting someone fire you. I worry if that’s what’s going to happen to my parents. Maybe they’re just going to give up one day.
I try to sleep, but my birthday’s tomorrow. I’m going to be fourteen. I don’t think anyone here knows. I’m still mad that mom and dad sent me away. They called it my birthday present, but I know they just wanted to be alone. Sometimes they send me to Aunt Anna’s house for a weekend. Aunt Anna always mutters something like, “Why don’t they get divorced already?” after they leave, always just as she’s closing the door behind them. She divorced Uncle Al two years ago.
“Thank God they didn’t have kids,” Mom said then. “Kids make things so much more complicated.”
When they pick me up at Aunt Anna’s, they’re always nice to each other and smiling again. For awhile. The peace usually lasts about a couple of weeks or maybe even a whole month, but the yelling’s better than when they don’t talk at all. Then Mom will give me dinner and not give Dad anything, or just walk away when he tries to talk. She once said she was treating him the way he treated her, like when he spent the whole night reading the newspaper or watching TV. But this time I guess Aunt Anna didn’t want me either, so they sent me here.
Outside the trees sound like they’re moving. I can hear leaves rustling and twigs breaking.
“Who’s out there?” Jaz shouts. “I swear someone’s out there!” Then she laughs. “Just kidding,” she says, laughing.
“Shut up,” Marci says. “That’s not funny.”
I touch my talisman. It feels cold but solid. I once asked my dad what power was. “A knife or a gun,” he said.
“Like soldiers?” I asked. “They have power?”
“Yes,” he said. “Yes, they do. But maybe not enough.”
Mom yelled at him. “Don’t tell her that kind of nonsense,” she said. “Lily, power is having a voice, being able to make your own decisions. That’s what the Viet Cong fought for.”
“What are you, a Commie sympathizer now?” Dad yelled.
I wandered away to the attic. I thought about the word impeachment. Maybe that really was like divorce. One of the girls at school had to go away and live with her mother somewhere else because her parents got divorced. I don’t want my parents to get divorced, but some days, I want to impeach them, at least for a little while.
Tonight, all I can hear are the other girls’ breathing, and the wind outside in the trees, blowing the leaves around so hard they rustle and whisper to each other. Maybe that’s the sound of leaves shouting. Maybe that’s what fall really is—trees impeaching the leaves. Maybe I can use this knife to help the leaves by cutting off a few branches, make them resign. I think I’m never going to fall asleep, but then it’s daylight and the bell is ringing over in the big building where we eat. It’s time to get up.
Vicki takes us for a hike in the woods after breakfast. She’s in a bad mood, yelling at us about stupid stuff, like taking too long to eat breakfast. She talks really fast, so it’s hard to see which plants she’s pointing at when she says their names. “This is a lady fern and that’s hazel and that’s thistle and there’s some hackberry,” and so on. I’m not convinced she really knows their names. She could be making them up. Stephanie rolls her eyes and mutters, “Boooooring!”
I’m tempted to kick Stephanie. I want to know the names of the plants and trees. I want to cut some of them off at the base of their stems with my knife and take them back to the tent. I wish I could take some home with me but we don’t have a garden or woods or anything like that at home. The other girls are talking and ignoring Vicki, which makes it even harder to hear her. I take my knife out of my pocket and open it so the blade is out. I step off the path and reach down to cut a really pretty plant. It’s a type of fern, Vicki said a minute ago, but she wasn’t sure what its actual name is. I’m thinking I might look it up when I get home. Stephanie sees my knife and shouts, “Vicki, Lily has a knife!” like I’m scaring her or something. I’m sure she’s just trying to get attention.
“Shut up,” I say, ‘it’s just a pocket knife. It’s my dad’s.”
Vicki turns around and yells at me. “Where did you get that? Give me that knife right now. You could hurt someone with that.” She walks back toward me with her hand held out like she’s expecting me to hand it over. I don’t even think about it.
“No,” I say.
“Give it to me Lily, or the hike ends now and we’re going back to the Director’s Office. He’ll call your parents. Having a knife or any other kind of weapon is forbidden here.”
I turn around and run away. I run and run and run. The knife feels comforting in my hands. It’s still folded blade out, so it looks and feels like a real weapon. I think how I could stab anyone who tries to stop me. I realize this is what my dad meant. As long as I’m holding this knife, Vicki has to ask me to give it to her. She’s afraid to take it from me. She isn’t even running after me, I realize, when I stop to catch my breath. I have no idea where I am. I just ran and ran. I left the trail awhile ago. It’s quiet here. Some kind of bird whistles occasionally. I realize there’s nowhere to go. If I stay in the woods, I’ll be cold and hungry by night time. I don’t want to sleep on the dirt with bugs.
It takes me a long time to find my way back. I have to look hard for the leaves and plants I trampled when I ran over them. I learned that from a book I read last summer on how to camp in the woods. I had hopes then that Dad would take me camping because he bought a tent and talked about it, but he went with some friends of his on a weekend without Mom or me. At least I remember enough from that book to find my way back to camp. It’s starting to get dark by the time I get there. I sneak into the tent. I am still holding my knife out, in case some animal or something is in here because it is completely dark inside. I figure I can just hide out here and be asleep by the time everyone else comes back to the tent, and no one will wake me up or bother me until morning. Surely Vicki would have forgotten about it by then. It’s just a pocket knife.
And then I trip over Marci’s suitcase, and I drop the knife when I fall. My left hand lands right on the blade as I try to block my fall by putting my hands out. It hurts, bad, and my hand is wet with blood. I get up, fold the knife up and put it in my pocket, then go back outside and walk over to the main building. It’s dark, I have a hard time seeing the path, and I feel blood sliding down my arm as I hold my hand up, close to my chest. I don’t even have a towel. I need Vicki or someone to help me, and I have nowhere to go if the director kicks me out. I hate this feeling. I hate not having somewhere of my own to run to, a place where I can do what I want, or even just a place to sit and feel sorry for myself, and I promise myself I will find a way to impeach everyone I have to depend on. I’m crying now, though I’m trying to be quiet about it. Someday I will have power, I promise myself.
I walk into the building. Vicki and the director are standing in the hallway in front of the director’s office, talking to Aunt Anna, who looks really angry. I cannot imagine how they talked her into driving all the way out here. Why didn’t my parents come? Why did they have to call anyone? She sees me, and makes some kind of weird sound. The others turn around and look at me, too. “Lily!” my aunt shouts. I figure I’m in really big trouble now, but it’s not fair, and I’m not ready to let them all shout at me and make me do something like pack up my suitcase and go home with Aunt Anna, who doesn’t want me there. My hand is bleeding, and I’m not sure what to do, so I do the only thing I can think of. I pretend to faint. Except I turn just a bit to make it a little more dramatic and hit my head on the wall when I let myself fall. It hurts. I feel like one of those back porch moths must feel when they hit the bug zapper Dad hangs from the porch roof. I hear someone shout, “Where did all that blood come from? Why is she bleeding? What is wrong with you people?” I don’t remember much else except for a few moments in an ambulance when someone keeps telling me to stay awake, and I want to, but I can’t.
That’s how I end up in a hospital for three days with a concussion, and my parents have to come back from vacation, and the camp director visits because she wants to know how my hand got cut like that and where I got the knife from. She seems happy when I tell her I brought it with me, so then I say, “Wait, that’s not true. Someone gave it to me, one of the other girls, but I don’t want to get anyone in trouble,” but really, this is a great way to get one of those mean girls back, I think, especially Stephanie, who I’m thinking would be the best person to blame, and I watch her face get that look like Dad gets when he knows he’s gone too far in the argument and he’s going to have to sleep on the couch in the den, and I’m beginning to suspect maybe I do have a little bit of power, after all.
Pat Hanahoe-Dosch’s short story, “Sighting Bia,” was selected as a finalist for A Room of Her Own Foundation’s 2012 Orlando Prize for Flash Fiction. Short stories of hers have been published in The Peacock Journal, In Posse Review, Sisyphus, Manzano Mountain Review, and The Schuylkill Valley Journal. One of her stories was nominated for the Best of the Net award, 2018. Her nonfiction articles have appeared in Travel Belles, On a Junket, and Wholistic Living News.
Her poems have been published in The Paterson Literary Review, Rattle, The Atticus Review, Confrontation, Conjunctions, Rust + Moth, American Literary Review, among many others. A poem was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2014. Her books of poems, The Wrack Line, and Fleeing Back, can be found on Amazon.com or the FutureCycle Press website. She earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona and currently teaches writing and literature at a community college in PA.
Check out her work published online at http://pathanahoedosch.blogspot.com/