A series of short stories about the disintegration of America and re-organization that follows. The first tale is here.
The Milk of Human Kindness
Capt. Walters looked up from his desk as Ryan came into his office pulling off his gloves, and blowing into his hands. Snow melted from his boots as he stood in the doorway.
“Whatcha got for me,” Walters asked him.
“Couple a lezzies tryin’ to sneak in.”
“Okay. Put ‘em in Room Three. Everything still works in that one. Gimme a few minutes to finish this paperwork. Stay with them until then.”
It took Walters five minutes to finish up his weekly report justifying various decisions and dispositions of immigrants legal and illegal.
He then checked the computer for the camera output from Room Three, and was surprised. He saw two middle-aged women, which the black and white camera with its poor resolution was unkind to. He knew immediately what he was going to do with them. He picked up the phone on his desk and buzzed the room.
Ryan answered. “I want you to sit in on this one, Ryan. Okay?”
“Don’t say anything. Just observe.”
“Got it.” Ryan wondered what this was about then. Another teaching moment, no doubt, but why? Oh well, the captain could be whimsical but he was never capricious.
A moment later the door opened and Walter’s strode in.
It took a moment for his face to register on the women. The light went out of their eyes and their faces fell.
“Hello, Karen and Jane,” Walters said to them. “Please don’t worry. I’m going to give you what you want.”
The women were perplexed, as was Ryan who shot him a look of disbelief.
“It’s nice to see you again.” He remained standing and offered them his hand. They weakly shook it in turn being dazed with the encounter.
He sat down across from them with a computer on his end of the table. He picked up their various documents, forgeries really, and looked them over.
“You won’t need these,” he said looking up. He turned to Ryan and added, “I know these women, Ryan. Years ago, I guess twelve or so, they were my neighbors in Sacramento. Just a few houses down.”
Looking back to the women, he noticed their aging faces and hair. Both had once been blondes, and for lesbians, they had remained surprisingly trim. Karen was the feminine one, and Jane the butch, but you couldn’t automatically tell by looking. Both wore their hair short.
“Things must have gotten pretty bad to force you both out,” he told them waiting for a response.
Karen nodded. Jane said, “The neighborhood’s just a small pocket now of decent people, and the, the punks and lowlife come over the tracks and levee all the time to rob, steal cars, break in . . . We’re not allowed to own guns anymore. I mean, we never did, but when it got to where we were thinking maybe we should, it was too late. The police are entirely corrupt now, just like they were in Mexico I guess.”
“That’s why I left when I did,” Walters said. “I loved that neighborhood, that city. It was a pretty good place to live, but well, you know.”
“Anyway, I don’t want you to worry. I’ll find a place for you here where you should be all right.”
They remained confused and wondering. He noticed it.
“If you’re wondering why I should help you instead of sending you away since you’ve been caught doing something illegal, I’ll explain.” He cleared his throat adding, “You were good neighbors. Everyone knew about your, uh, lifestyle shall we say? I’m a Christian now as I was a Christian then. I don’t approve of such ‘lifestyles’, but I’m a realist, too. As long as you’re not obnoxious about things, live and let live.”
“But here in Idaho, New America, you might be thinking, people aren’t so tolerant, and most likely we’d try and keep folks like you out. Well, you’re right. If I didn’t know you it might be a toss up. Depends on your skills, age, and discretion.”
“I never knew what either of you did for a living, so how about telling me so I can get started?”
Karen smiled a little, “I was an office manager for an insurance company.”
“Good. That’s good. And you, Jane?”
“I was a girl’s gym teacher at a high school. Don’t laugh. Really, I know it seems stereotypical but, well, that because it is, I guess.”
“I’m not laughing, but you will permit me a little smile, I hope. However, that is more problematic for the reason you mentioned. That position will be more open to scrutiny here. Especially when you are known to reside with another unmarried woman. There aren’t many job openings for it either, and married women will be taken ahead of you every time, I’m sure. That’s just how it is. What else can you do?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s been so long. I don’t know what else I’d like doing or be good at.”
“Okay, well, I’m going to put you into the database. I’m sure I can get you, Karen, set up, and Jane, you’ll have to manage from there. How much money did you bring?”
“I won’t take it. I need to know where to locate you, what you can afford. The bigger cities are full, and housing is undergoing a boom in building and prices.”
“We’ve got seventy thousand New American.”
“I suggest you rent until you have a job.” Walters went on to give them a list of small cities and larger towns where they had the best chance of getting a start.
“Now, I want to tell you about Idaho and the Region. You chose to come here. It’s your job to fit in, not to ask others to accept you. When you get a place, keep separate bedrooms. Just for show, but keep them. Tell people you’re cousins if asked about your friendship. Make up some reason why you never married. Men, that is. You know, a series of bad relationships until you woke up and realized it was too late, and you didn’t care much any more. Whatever, but make up something plausible.”
“People are going to know at some point, but you need to give them something to tell the children. It’s better if the kids believe you suffered tragic love affairs than well, something else.”
“Go to church. Catholic might suit you best since that group doesn’t much care about personal lives, or pester folks about their devotion. Register with a parish, and show up at Christmas and Easter like most of them do. Give a little something each month. That’ll squelch speculation about you, too. I’m not making recommendations here. You have to do these things if you expect to get by.”
“People here have come from all over the country, forced out of their homes, places they loved, like you, and they blame certain kinds of people for it happening. People are very decent here, by and large, but they hate homosexuals for what they did to the laws, the schools, the entertainment, along with liberals and secularists. They won’t let that happen again. Not here. Leastwise, not for a long, long time. There are a number of sexual acts that are crimes here. No joke. And sedition. You can join a Party, argue politics and policy, but no more bashing the country. If you act like there’s something really wrong with the Region, people won’t want you around. We deport troublemakers back to where they came from. If home grown, we exile them.”
“You’re too old to do military duty, now, so you won’t be able to vote.”
“You must be discreet. I’ll give you my number in case you ever need help. You’ll need new papers and ID, you have to be registered in a few databases, and then you can be on your way. Ryan will take care of that, and I will see you before you go. Okay?”
The women nodded and smiled.
A little while later, Ryan told Walters that everything was set, and the women were ready to leave. He walked out to the waiting room to say goodbye. This time they were effusive in thanking him.
“You‘re welcome. I don’t know if you have any personal faith, but I must say that I think it was more than coincidence that brought you here tonight. You might have spent your adult lives thinking that Christians, the ones like me, had it in for people like you, but you might consider the possibility that people might really mean it when they say they hate the sin, but love the sinner. I’m not trying to make a big point here. You were my neighbors. You were good neighbors. That’s why I want to help you. I know what it’s like where you came from. I know what it’s going to be like where you’re going. You’ll do all right. Just don’t rock any boats. At this point in our lives, people our age, we just want to get by anyway. So, good luck and God bless you.”
Karen and Jane lengthened their departure. Outside the door was a strange new State, a new life full of strangers.
Ryan came up to Walters and said, “Okay, Captain. I’ll bite. What was it you wanted me to observe?”
“The milk of human kindness.”
“You and I, you probably more than me since you’re so much younger, well, we’re going to do a lot of cruel things by the time we’re finished. When the war comes, you’ll be called up. You’ll do things you won’t look back on fondly. It doesn’t mean you weren’t right, but doing the hard things, things that make others suffer — that doesn’t feel good either. So I want you to see that if you get the chance, not stupidly or recklessly, but just a chance, you try to do some good when you can. Something you can look back on and be proud of having done.”
“Those women, I know them. They won’t subvert the Region with the way they live. We’re always going to have such people around. Our own children sometimes. Who knows? There’s a certain level of variation from the norm that we’ll always have. We can be tolerant. We just can’t let people be stupid about it.”