Stay Put

The line of trucks is continuous, and has been for as long as we can remember. My wife and I stay sequestered in our den, the windows closed. The creak of suspensions, rattle of engines, and squealing brakes infiltrate our home without rest. The noise is so ubiquitous it’s impossible to identify as belonging to any individual vehicle. Even the men, their olive green coats and mustaches trimmed with precision, seem to shout, not as one person to another, but as a disembodied voice broadcasting into the atmosphere. When one of them sees me in the window, I let the blinds fall and walk away.

Without electricity, we fall asleep at dusk. Misfiring pistons no longer cause us to flinch; the sounds invade our shallow slumber, to the point that I have trouble remembering what I’ve seen versus dreamt. My wife and I are very tired.

“Should we go?” she asks.

We tried to leave once. We made it a hundred yards up the road before a corporal spun us around and marched us home. “Stay put,” he told us. “This isn’t the time for relocating.” We swore at him, but he left us a loaf of bread and a can of beets anyway.

Much worse happened to our neighbors who tried to flee. To leave your home is to become the enemy. Better to be the parasite of an offensive host, than to cast out into the darkness and starve.

“It’s a remarkable feat of trust in the world,” I tell my wife, “that we don’t tie ourselves to the bedposts and light the house on fire.” I’d said the same thing the day we got word our son had been killed at the front.

A passing lieutenant catches my eye. I notice his torn coat and unshaven cheeks. Calling my wife over I point to the men shuffling past. Did they change direction without us noticing? Or does it even matter which direction they walk? I pull her close. As night falls a final caravan limps its way up our darkened street. Receding taillights, dull red and tired like the eyes of God, blink out once the last truck clears the hill.

[This story originally appeared in Menda City Review, Issue 25]