When Push Comes to Shove
Dolores Harris, office manager for the Bellingham city manager, was released from detention by the NAR army two weeks after her incarceration. She was called to the entrance gate of the prisoner's ward and told, "Go and get whatever personal items you have, then come back. You're going to be released."
She blanched in shock. The advent of sudden freedom frightened her. People get used to everything. Immediate change is terrifying.
Dolores did as she was told, though, and collected her few belongings, clothing, and returned to the gate where it was opened. She came through and walked a long corridor formed by chain link fencing in the old factory building.
A large storage room had been built and she came to a counter by the door accompanied by her escort, a young female guard in army uniform. She handed another young woman behind the counter a slip of paper. That woman disappeared among the many shelves filled with file cartons. They heard her rummaging among the boxes, and then, "Found it."
She returned with a plastic bag full of Dolores' property -- her purse with all the various items it carried along with her street clothes, shoes, socks, and a coat. She was asked to sign for them on a tablet, which she did without comment or expression. Her two weeks in confinement had left her emotionally bloodied and bowed.
"There is a lavatory over there. You may change into your regular clothes inside," he escort pointed out to her.
She entered the cold tiled bathroom with its shining porcelain features and bright mirrors. She stood a moment, dazed and uncertain what to do, how to begin? She caught sight of herself in a mirror and saw a homely, pale faced, gray haired, weak and useless older woman, and wanted to cry as she had when first brought to the detention facility.
She wondered how she had ever considered herself a person of significance.
She made herself undress and put on her regular clothing, which were a bit looser now for having lost a few pounds during the fortnight she'd been in custody.
Combing her hair, she assessed her appearance again, but only saw a defeated stranger in the mirror.
Emerging from the bathroom, her escort retrieved the prison garb she'd discarded, tossed them in a bin, and guided Dolores out of the building.
"Your vehicle remains where you left it in the city parking garage near city hall. It should start, but if not you can call a garage or Triple A for help. Does your phone still have a charge?"
Dolores found it in her purse, turned it on. It worked and had enough charge for the time being.
The army woman handed her an envelope with papers inside. Here are your instructions on evacuation. You have three days to start South on Interstate Five."
Dolores numbly absorbed the information. She tried to remember where she was, where city hall and the nearby garage was. Her confusion led the escort to point out, "You'll be wanting to go that way, ma'am. It's only a few blocks. Good luck." She stood there for the next moment as Miss Harris made up her mind and began walking down the street.
The private shook her head. "God help her," she murmured before returning to the detention building and her duty station.
After walking a long block, she began to regain a sense of rhythm and familiarity in her stride. A sense of freedom began to awaken in her. She noticed the smell of fresh air and a slight breeze. The sunshine with a little spring warmth was welcome. She began to walk with purpose and longer strides.
When she reached the parking garage, she easily recalled that she always parked on the third floor. Finding her car, she opened and entered it, relaxed a moment to adjust to the sensation, then closed the door and started the engine.
Russell Porter got a call from his wife as he was going over accounts at his hardware store. The first few days of the occupation had been lucrative as people stocked up on emergency supplies and equipment either because they were being dispossessed, or because they weren't. After that, with 75% of the population gone from the area, sales slumped considerably.
Even so, he owned the building outright and without having to pay property, sales, or income taxes, he supposed they'd manage under reduced circumstances until the city gradually repopulated.
"Hi, honey," Russell answered cheerfully.
"Guess what? Dolores is back," she told him.
"Yes, of course. Right across the street. I just saw her drive into her driveway. I was going to go over and tell her about the cats."
"Okay, you do that. I'll be right home. See if we can help her with anything. See you in a few minutes."
He grabbed his light coat from the rack, left his office for the show room as he put on his jacket and announced, "Billy, I'm going home for the day. You close up for me, okay?"
"You bet," the young man replied.
He didn't have to tell him that his older employee who was on a lunch break was in charge. The only other man he'd employed, Jed Balin, a genial fellow in his forties, had been the only one among his staff ordered to leave. He'd known Jed was irreligious (most men are, he well understood), but he'd never thought he was too radical for the NAR, but then what did he know about most people?
Driving, at least, was a lot more pleasant since there was such little traffic on the roads; and for many, various traffic lights and signs were considered mere suggestions. Why wait at a light when one else was in sight? Perhaps the local police were still reeling from having their chief and subordinates arrested, and so many officers forced to leave town. He hadn't realized until lately just what a relief it was not have to fear being stopped and fleeced for silly infractions where no one was exposed to harming themselves or others. He wondered if things would remain like that or would new masters arise to annoy and harass people like him over trivialities?
He pulled into his driveway, parked and got out, immediately crossing the street to Dolores' house, assuming his wife, Adele, was already there.
Russ knocked on the door and heard his wife call out, "Come in, Russell."
He passed through the small foyer and saw his wife sitting on the couch with Dolores sitting in a chair across from her. The three cats, all tabbies, one orange, the other two gray, wove around her legs, rubbing against her, hopping into her lap to be stroked. People say cats lack affection but Dolores' appeared to have missed her.
"Hi, Dolores. How are you?" he asked.
"Okay. I've never been in jail before so I'm still processing the whole experience."
"Couldn't have been fun," he noted.
"No. It wasn't. It was a little bit interesting, though. You see people like you rarely see them. And now, they tell me I have three days to pack up and leave."
"Anything we can do to help?"
"Tell me where can I go?"
"Do you have any family? Friends in other parts of the country?"
She snorted a laugh. "Country! Ha! What countries now, don't you mean? We're not one country anymore."
Russ was chagrined. She was right.
"Well, I meant people in other states where you could go and stay . . . or live?"
"I have some friends in Seattle with the Peace Movement. I have no close relatives at all. I'm an only child. My parents weren't connected to their families very much. Do you know if I can go to Seattle?"
"As far as I know. The army has surrounded it but they haven't gone in like here and made anyone leave."
"I suppose it's coming to that. You're going to want a further destination, I guess."
"No, I wouldn't go there. You might try the Midwest like Kansas, Oklahoma, even northern Texas. They're growing areas. They need people with professional skills," he offered.
She nodded, absorbing the suggestions, considering the best course of action, but based on what? She had no idea.
"What do I do with my things?" she asked gesturing to indicate all her property and goods.
"Well, you could buy a trailer or a truck to haul it all. We could help you put it in storage or sell it, but there's not much of a market for it now. I say you ought to leave any valuable goods with us and we'll send them on when you get settled or sell them if you need the money. What about your cats? It will be very hard to travel with three cats, don't you think?"
She was stricken at the thought of parting from them again.
"I . . . I don't know how I could leave them again," she sputtered, her eyes watering.
He and Adele nodded in sympathy. His wife gently told her, "What if you took one and left the other two with us? We'd send them on when you're able to look after them again. They're all friendly with us now since we've been taking care of them."
Dolores reluctantly agreed that was for the best. They then arranged to have her general household goods put in storage and her most valuable items to be kept with the Porters.
After they concluded their detailed planning, Dolores asked Russell, "How come they let you stay and not me?"
He looked away for a moment, frowned, turned to her and said, "I think you have some idea, don't you?"
"You mean I don't fit in with them and you do."
"Something like that," he agreed.
She became stern and told him, "Does that bother you? These people invade our city, decide who can stay or go, just because. Just because they feel like it."
"It isn't about their feelings. It's about their idea of self-government . . . and religion, I guess."
"Religion. Hmph. So that gives them the right to come here and throw us out and take everything?"
"No," he agreed. "But from what I've seen, I think they believe that most people sold their birthright of liberty for a mess of pottage and traded it for tyranny, even though the pottage keeps decreasing."
"What are you talking about? What does that even mean?"
"A mess of pottage?"
"That, and liberty and tyranny. That's just words. Silly words."
"Didn't you used to use words like 'peace' and 'fairness' or 'diversity' once?"
She was stumped. She couldn't deny it. All silly words, when all she wanted right now was to stay in her home with her cats and be left alone.
She began to cry. "How could they do this to me?" Russ and Adele sat still, waiting for her misery to subside. Dolores looked up, tears streaking her face, "It's so unfair."
The Porters agreed. It was very unfair. Russ wanted to tell her that Jesus could help her with that tragedy -- of life being a very cruel thing at times, but knew she wouldn't receive the hope it would give her to turn to a higher power when all else had failed.
Three days later as her car was packed, her orange tabby, Popsy, inside a pet crate and ready to go, Russ and Adele leaned over the driver's side open window to say goodbye and wish her the best.
Dolores was tight lipped at the ordeal before her, but thanked them for their help as best she could, although she deeply resented their advantage over her.
Russ reached into his pocket and told her, "Look, there's something I want you to have."
He showed her a small .22 caliber revolver. Dolores recoiled.
"Don't be afraid. You might need this. I mean it," he told her forcefully. "You have no idea what might happen. Things are breaking down where you're going. You need to be able to protect yourself."
"I . . . I can't . . . I don't know. I . . . don't know."
"You can throw it away if you want. -- It's simple. It's easy to use. The bullets are so small it probably wouldn't kill anybody. It holds ten bullets. Point it, pull the trigger. That's it. The noise will likely frighten anybody away. Here's a box of bullets. It's easy to reload. You'll figure it out."
"Take it. You don't know when you might need it. Here."
He shoved the gun and a box of ammunition across her and stuffed them in her large purse.
"Hide it, but keep it near. Now you take care. All right?"
Dolores nodded, then she backed out of her driveway, swallowed hard and drove away trying to imagine this was simply an adventure she was going on. But Christ, she was scared.
Dolores was driving off to stay with an old friend from the Peace Vigil Movement (a dozen people in Bellingham, maybe two dozen in Seattle). Her friend's name was Ciel ( pronounced Seal), an older woman over seventy with long white hair that she wore loose as a sign of her free spiritedness, a proclamation of glorious age, and advertisement of herself as a magnificent matriarch.
That was Ciel's self-assessment, anyway. To most other people she looked like an old hippie mama one step removed from being a bag lady. She lived in a small house on a hill not far from the University of Washington. Parking in the area was always difficult but Ciel had no vehicle and so Dolores was able to park her small hybrid in the tiny driveway.
Ciel greeted her at the door in a peasant skirt and her best tie dye T-shirt bought a decade earlier at a Burning Man festival in Nevada. Dolores, for some reason, found her garb off putting although she received her hug as warmly as she could holding the cat crate with Popsy in it.
Upon entering, Dolores was stung was a slightly acrid and musty odor as she observed a greatly cluttered front room that had an old sofa, a pair of comfortable chairs and a coffee table, but all were covered in piles of newspapers, books, and magazines. Bric a brac filled shelves along the walls and on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. It was dusty, musty, and sour smelling.
Ciel transferred a few piles of stuff to new places to provide Dolores with a place to sit.
"Can I get you something to drink? Some tea, perhaps? I have this most wonderful herbal tea that a friend of mine blends for me."
"I'd love some coffee. I think the thing I missed the most when I was in detention was coffee. Good, hot and sweet coffee."
"I don't drink coffee. It's bad for people. All I have is tea."
"That's fine," Dolores smiled weakly. "Would it be all right if I let Popsy out of the crate? Are all the doors closed so she can't get out?"
"Yes. She won't do her, any business in the house will she?"
"Well, I have a litter box for her. It's a wonderful thing that's self-cleaning. All I have to do is plug it in."
"Oh dear. I don't like the odors of animals," Ciel blanched.
What have I gotten myself into, Dolores cried out inside.
"The box has a masking agent for any odor," she said hoping it would persuade.
"Well, if I must put up with it, then I must," Ciel answered and Dolores echoed the sentiment to herself.
"Okay, tea it is then," she said and turned to disappear in the kitchen.
Dolores called out to her, "I'm going to go get some things from the car?"
"Yes, yes," she heard from down the hall.
Dolores went out, got a travel bag from the trunk, her purse, and then hid the gun and ammunition in the trunk.
After coming back in, she let Popsy out who then wandered around the front room, sniffing and getting the lay of the land. She was a well behaved cat and didn't meow or protest with loud cries of discontent. Popsy was a good traveler. Dolores was proud of her and glad for the company.
While waiting for Ciel, she scanned the room, noticing how old and outdated most of the books and magazines were. Many were what some called radical publications. One cover from 2009 hollered that DDT was still a deadly poison never to be used again.
As she flipped through them, it seemed that every cover was a violent cry of warning about some modern convenience, medicine, appliance, energy source or food.
Ciel returned with steaming mugs and set one before her. Dolores let it cool before tasting. It was unsweetened, tasting a bit of leaves, twigs, grass, and rose hips. She smiled wanly at Ciel after sipping. It was a perfectly vile concoction. Ciel waxed on about the wonder of its anti-oxidants and cancer fighting properties oblivious to her guest, or even of Popsy wandering about occasionally weaving her way nearby and rubbing across Ciel's leg.
She never asked Dolores about her incarceration, her forced evacuation, any plans for the future. She prattled on about herself.
Finally, Dolores interrupted Ciel, "What are you planning to do when the NAR force us to leave?"
"The New American Republic. The army that's surrounding Seattle. They're going to make us leave the city."
"What do you mean? Why?"
"Don't you follow the news? Watch TV? The radio?"
"No. Those things are bad for you."
Dolores briefly wondered what the old woman did to pass the time?
"I told you how they put me in jail and made me leave my home on the phone. That's why I'm here."
"Did you?" she wondered, pondered it and said, "Yes, I guess you mentioned something about why you needed to visit me. Was that it? . . . No, I don't have Alzheimer's. I just forget things like that. Anyway. This is my house. I own it and nobody can make me leave if I don't want to.
"I'm not sure if they will make you leave. I heard that they didn't clear out the hospitals or old folks' homes, but if you're mostly healthy, I don't know what they'll do," Dolores told her.
"Who are they?"
Dolores spent the better part of an hour trying to explain it to her. Ciel had no computer or tablet, either, so she showed her on her own what she could about the NAR, it's army and what was going on.
Dolores settled in at Ciel's, sleeping in a guest room on the second floor of an equally cluttered space. She discovered what the sour smell in the house was. It was Ciel. She didn't bathe all that frequently and her diet caused her to pass gas. Well, why should she? She hardly went out and never entertained. She spent a good deal of time sleeping, though, so that accounted for part of how she passed the time.
She only went shopping once a week, paying a friend to transport her on various errands to different stores. For supper, she favored brown rice with soy sauce, mercilessly steamed vegetables, and a tofu hot dog or veggie burger. Lunch was cold leftovers of the same. She skipped breakfast.
Dolores asked if she might buy a few items to cook for herself and Ciel begrudgingly allowed it, although sure it was for things "bad for you."
Surprisingly enough, the Seattle authorities had been able to keep supplies coming into the city in a steady, regular stream. Vendors and sellers continued accepting their USA money without any problem. The NAR did what they could to facilitate order in the city's goods and services. There were panics here and there with buying sprees and hoarding, but in general, the city functioned close to normal.
Ten days following her arrival, the NAR announced the evacuation of Seattle/Tacoma area. The cities were divided into sections. The first section, about 100,000 people, scheduled to leave was given seven days to put their affairs in order and move out to Oregon.
Ciel didn't believe it. She was in section four. Each section after the first was given five days. General Bruster, the commander, understood a larger city made people's necessary business take longer to complete.
They had about 22 days to get ready.
"You have a son in California. Can't we go there?" Dolores asked.
It had taken a week for Ciel to begin to face reality as they watched the news unfold on Dolores' tablet, and she'd found Ciel's name and address on the list for section four. Dolores had begun to hate her and could barely keep her impatience in check.
A day earlier, Dolores had confided in Ciel how she had left Bellingham and how her neighbor had thrust a gun and ammunition upon her.
"You have a gun!?"
"Not on me," Dolores said, taken aback by Ciel's vehemence.
"You can't have a gun in my house."
"It's not in your house. It's in the trunk of my car."
"It's on my property. Guns are bad. No one should have a gun. You can't have a gun on my property. I insist you get rid of it or you'll have to go."
"It's not like I want to own a gun," Dolores declared and then added, "But it can't hurt to have one. Not with all that's happening."
"I won't have it. You have to get rid of it."
Dolores got up and left the house. She stood by her car for a few minutes wondering what to do? As frightened as she'd first been at the thought of having a gun, she was reluctant now to part with it. She realized that it was the only thing she had in the world that could protect her. She was alone; on her own. There were no police, no safe neighborhood to reside in, no gated community or security guardhouse or anything. There was just an army forcing them out of their houses, onto the highway. God knows what they'll be facing.
She made up her mind. She opened her car's trunk, found a sturdy plastic bag, put the gun and ammo in it, and then walked over to the house next door, hiding the package under a thick bush.
"I got rid of it," she told Ciel after returning inside.
"Good. That's enough of that nonsense, then. Can I get you some tea?"
Ciel had a son who lived in Arcata, California. They weren't close, but he agreed to take them in. Dolores was able to make arrangements to transfer Ciel's accounts to a bank there, but getting the older woman to understand that she could take only some clothes and jewelery was a hard slog through the dismal swamp of a disbelieving mind.
Nevertheless, their last day came. Dolores had retrieved the gun and hid it in her purse, storing the ammo in the trunk.
It was midmorning when they left Ciel's house and drove to the Interstate to go south. There was a checkpoint at the onramp where they were checked against a list, recognized as forced evacuees, and then a soldier planted a small device with an instant epoxy inside the trunk of the car; a tracking device.
They entered the highway and began their trek. Once past Tacoma, traffic became lighter than Dolores expected. All the exits and on ramps they passed had army vehicles stationed at them. When they passed through Olympia and Tumwater an hour or so later, traffic was sparse.
They had just gone by the small town of Napavine when they saw a car farther up ahead parked on the shoulder, emergency lights flashing, and two men waving for assistance.
As they drove closer, Dolores saw they were black.
"Pull over. They need help," Ciel told her.
"I don't know," Dolores replied.
"You must. They're people who need help. Pull over!"
Dolores obeyed. Maybe they could help them.
She pulled over to the shoulder and eased up a dozen yards behind them.
The two black men, one tall and thin, the other shorter and stockier, dressed in the current fashion of their subculture, approached them on both sides of their car. Ciel lowered her window, calling out, "What's the trouble? Can we help?"
As she finished asking, the taller man reached her door, leaned into the open window and suddenly put a knife to Ciel's throat.
"You move an' I kill her," he said looking at Dolores. "Gibbe ev'ythin' you got!"
Dolores reached into her purse, found her pistol, gripped it, pulled it out and began firing at the man, three, maybe four shots as he recoiled from the car as quickly as possible. Dolores then drove away as fast as she could, which isn't saying much for a small hybrid.
"Are you all right! Are you all right!" she yelled at Ciel who was gasping in a state of shock.
Ciel didn't respond. Dolores tried to look her over as she drove. "You're bleeding! You have a cut on your neck." She rummaged in her purse and found a pack of tissues.
"Here! Use these!"
Ciel was coming to her senses and grasped the package with trembling hands. Dolores pulled down the sun visor that had a small mirror on the inside. "Tell me how bad it is?"
Ciel located herself in the mirror, dabbed at the cut. It was a thin red line about two inches long, not at all deep.
"How bad is it!" she shouted at Ciel.
"I don't know. Not too bad. I don't know."
As she drove, she watched the road behind her to see if she was being chased, and scanning ahead for an exit ramp, wondering if she should inform the soldiers.
When an exit appeared in the distance, she decided to pull up to the army vehicle. As she did so, six men jumped out with their weapons at the ready before she'd gotten close.
A sergeant approached her cautiously. "Yes, ma'am. What is it?"
Dolores lowered her window. "My friend needs help. She was cut. Some men tried to rob us back there."
The sergeant turned, "Get a medical kit. Please step out of the car, ma'am. And you, too, ma'am, if you can," he told Ciel. The tissues she held against her neck were red.
A soldier had retrieved a first aid kit from their vehicle and approached Ciel. He rested the box on the car hood, opened it, and told her, "Here ma'am, let me," as he took hold of the bundle of tissues and drew it away to examine the wound.
The sergeant drew Dolores aside. "What happened, ma'am?"
She related the tale up to the point of where she used the pistol, hesitated, and decided to be entirely honest.
"You still have the weapon with you?"
"Please don't take it from me."
"No, ma'am, I won't. I just want to be sure you won't use it on us."
"I put it back in my purse."
He went over to the car, reached in, and removed her purse, looked in to find the gun, examined it and saw four rounds had been fired. He then opened the trunk, and began to place it inside. Seeing the box of ammo, he stopped, reloaded the weapon, and closed the trunk. He returned to his vehicle, got on the radio and reported what had happened.
"We'll have people looking for the men. I'm very sorry that happened to you, ma'am," he said then, "Private Ellis! How's the lady?"
"She'll be fine, sarge. Just a superficial cut. I'll stop the bleeding and tape her up, and she should be good to go."
"Very good. You can be on your way, then. I want to commend you, ma'am. You acted courageously. Well done."
Dolores was such a mix of emotions, adrenaline, and relief that she could hardly gather her thoughts.
"I could arrange an escort for you, if you'd like, ma'am. It will take some time before it gets here, though."
She realized the soldier was being considerate and helpful, but she didn't forget that he was the reason they'd had all this trouble.
Collecting herself, she replied, "No. I think it will be fine. I won't ever stop for any reason now until we get where we're going."
"Yes, ma'am. When you're ready to leave, just go ahead and drive a mile, pull over and get your weapon from the trunk. All right?"
She nodded. Ciel had been carefully bandaged and was ready to continue.
"Is there someplace with a bathroom?" she asked the sergeant.
"About five miles further on, there's a rest stop. We have personnel stationed there to provide for the safety of travelers. I'll let them know to expect you. You were very brave, ma'am. Good luck to you."
The radio squawked, another soldier responded to it. "Sarge, it's Command. They found the men who did it. One's got little three holes in him, but he ain't dead."
The sergeant turned to Dolores, "You only wounded him, ma'am, so you don't have to worry about being a killer or anything. Okay? Take care now."
Dolores and Ciel climbed into the car and drove away, continuing south. Nothing was said until after Dolores pulled over and retrieved her purse from the trunk. Sinking back into the driver's seat and placing it close by, she said, "This stays with me everywhere from now on."
Ciel simply stared straight ahead.