Mouse Takes a Vacation



Mouse Takes A Vacation

I didn’t go back to The Compound. After slapping Tom, feeling my heartbeat quicken at his stunned expression, I knew I needed to be somewhere else.

Instead, I went to visit my survivalist Dad in his underground camp in West Virginia. Sure, it was an odd choice given that I could have stayed with my lawyer Mom at her swanky Chevy Chase home, been treated with spa service and butler and cook service. But I think I needed a little crazy in my life to ground me or else I would do all of the crazy and that just wouldn’t do.

There was only one phrase to describe my dad’s reaction: tickled pink. He was worn around the edges. His hands shook a little and he seemed constantly nervous, checking the oaks and tulip trees as though there might be a sniper in them. He even checked my id to make sure it was me, but then added: “But you can fake an id, right?”

“Sure, dad. I do it all the time,” I said.

He chuckled. “That’s my girl.”

He fed me vegetarian chili with a ghost pepper that nearly burned my taste buds. He stopped eating meat after he read about an incident of a cow that had been euthanized and it ended up in the food supply and killed a dog. “What’s to stop it from happening to people?”

“Tell me about yourself,” he said.

“Not much to tell. I’m working for a covert ops group and now I probably have to kill you,” I said.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“About which part?”

“Ha!” he shook his head and ate hearty amounts of the chili. I figured he had an asbestos stomach.

“Are you happy, Dad?” I asked.

He shrugged and looked around. His dog, a funny mix between a Boston Terrier and a miniature Australian Shepherd appeared, wagging her tailless butt and whining. Dad handed her a bit of cornbread, which she eagerly ate.

“Happy enough. You have to guard against being too happy because then the Man wants to take it away from you,” he said.

“Who’s the Man?”

He shrugged. “Others. Everyone’s jealous of other people being happy.”

“Why are you here, Mary Elizabeth?” he asked before biting into a big chunk of cornbread smeared with salty butter.

“I needed to clear my head,” I said.

“And you came here?” Even he knew this was ironic.

“I need to regroup before I do something really stupid.”

“What? What is it that is really stupid?” he asked.

I stared at him a moment because I thought maybe he, of all people, might understand where I was coming from. “I don’t know. I just feel like I’m at a precipice and that there’s a really good chance I’ll fall in. And it makes no sense and I’m not sure of anything.”

“Hmm. Yeah,” he said staring at the walls that made me feel claustrophobic. “You know I used to be a soldier before you were born.”

I waited for him to continue.

“You see things. You see people behave in ways that you think another person should never behave, not toward other people.” He shook his head and looked down at his shoes that have holes in the toes. “You ever read The Heart of Darkness?”

I nodded.

“Sometimes things get just that messed up. Men get just that messed up. Hell, even women.”

“Are you?”

He laughed. “Not me. I am messed up, but not Heart of Darkness messed up. You know, it’s not normal to live underground and think the government’s out to get you.”

“So why do you do it?”

He shook his head, averted his eyes from me, and smirked. “Because if it’s not the government, it could be someone else.”

“So why take the risk?”

“Exactly. I guess somewhere inside of that hacker mind you are my daughter.”

“Yeah, but who’s my mother?”

He laughed heartily at that.

I needed just one evening of hearing my dad singing Pete Seeger songs and quoting Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” to feel ready to take on my life again. I worried though, for him, which he laughed off telling me that he had a lady friend, as if that made it all better.

end 3/1/2017

S. Darlington


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