Eve M. Kerigan
T here were 28 others in the place with me. I know because I counted them over and over. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 are sleeping, if you can call it that.
6, 7, 8 are rocking in place. Forward and back. Hypnotic.
9, 10. 11, 12, 13. 13 is a an unlucky number but I’ve always liked it.
14, 15, 16 are crying. 17 is trying not to.
18, 19, 20 are mumbling, names mostly, or just what’s left of thoughts, what’s left of memories.
21 to 25 are glazing over with hatred.
26, 27 and 28 are the ones I keep close. 2 because I love them & 1 because he, a weak and divided character, is the most fearsome of the group.
It’s more than 4 days since we got here, since they caught us. Before that, it was 2 days since we started running. Before that, it was 4 months of secrets and close calls. Before that, a lifetime of oppression, a century of subjugated will, an eternity of frustrated dreams and unexpressed desires. Almost everyone had become institutionalized. But not us. We knew it was our job to lead the mesmerized out of the cave and into the light.
We talked about things we weren’t supposed to talk about. We whispered ideas to each other at night, in bed, and then to friends, other people who had the same hungry look we saw in the mirror each day as we went to the bakery or the factory to do our prescribed jobs.
Everything was gray in these places. The sallow lights flickered on gray faces and gray uniforms blended in with gray walls. If you want to rule a people, steal their joy. After that, their grip on everything else slackens.
But we weren’t gray inside. None of us were.
Here’s how the rebellion started: Monica drew a picture of a flower with petals as yellow as her hair.
A dandelion is a curious flower. Everyone calls it a weed, but it is pretty and yellow, cheerful and determined to live and reproduce. Walk down a street in any city in the springtime and you will find, somewhere in the small cracks in the vast uniformity of pavement, the tendrils of a dandelion pushing through. Then, once it completes its bright and sunny phase, toward the end of its life, the dandelion morphs into a fluffy orb of seeds. Everyone makes a wish on these gossamer posies. Even the wind makes its wish and blows. The seeds fly off into the atmosphere, escaping their asphalt origins to plant themselves in distant fields.
Monica drew a dandelion and Marta and I saw this dandelion for what it was. It was a symbol for the soul in each of us pushing through the gray. So we decided to draw dandelions, too. And we kept drawing dandelions. We took these paper flowers and stole out after curfew to pin them to the doors of our neighbors.
The next day, at the bakery and the factory, we slipped drawings to others, friends who secreted them in the pockets of their gray uniforms.The day after that, dandelions were everywhere. It was a silent revolution brought on by the indomitable joy of an 8 year old child, the colors in a box of crayons and the solidarity of those of us who couldn’t bear to watch our children turn gray.
Soon, dandelion drawings were everywhere, spreading out and growing up the cinderblocks of our drab community in crayon, chalk, pencil and paint. For 4 months the movement grew and took shape. We became its leaders. We expanded our message, graduating from drawings of dandelions to more sophisticated posters captioned with written messages and slogans of revolt. We helped to organize certain clandestine acts of rebellion; filling The Party-Head’s car with flowers, painting over Party-commissioned murals depicting stoic workers with rainbows. Then, one day, Monica’s teacher saw her drawing a picture of a dandelion and, like a good Party Member, he went to the police.
We went into hiding.
My brother hid us first. He had always talked the loudest about wanting to defy The Party, wanting to change things. He always seemed so fearless in the face of their cruel tactics. So, naturally we sought shelter with him. He made us comfortable in a storage shed on his land. We roomed there with a pair of likeminded friends who were also being scrutinized. We arranged to share food, supplies and watch duties. It seemed a good situation until someone blew our cover and we had to run again.
We hid in the woods north of the city, creating a mobile camp, avoiding checkpoints and communicating with supporters by a series of signals over short-wave radio.
My brother was in communication with someone on the outside who wanted to help us. He set up a meeting.
At the last minute, we decided to send a dummy unit, some old friends from primary school who had a fierce commitment to the cause. They were captured and taken into custody. We never saw them again. Somehow my brother escaped.
When he was on the run, a small group of us surprised him as he stole down a quiet street one evening. We took him to a safe house. There, we made arrangements to get supplies and to communicate via telegram with an ally from the outside. My brother worked at the telegram office. He told us it was scheduled to be unguarded for 2 hours in the evening on the Saturday that was The Party-Head’s name day. Everyone in the city would be required to attend the ceremony. The timing would be tight but it was a perfect opportunity.
We formed a team. The first unit checked out the telegram office and it was clear. Then Marta and I took Monica to my brother and went in. Just as we began our transmission, the police raided us. How? We had been so careful…
They dragged us out and marched us through the square which was littered with dandelion drawings and gray faces. Then they took us to the basement of a municipal building that had been repurposed into a sort of prison. My brother shouted at a police man in gray who dragged Monica from his hands and pushed her, crying, into line with the rest of us. My brother looked scared, incredulous, gray. He continued his frantic yelling and another police man in a gray uniform hit him in the head with a gunmetal gray rifle.
And then we were in the basement, Marta, me and, Monica too. With us were the 10 who had helped us execute the rendezvous at the telegram office. And my unconscious brother.
It only took 2 hours of questioning for the police to find 10 more of our group and more have been brought in since. I am sure there will be more before long. Some arrived with wounds, bloody faces, broken fingers. Some came quietly. There are children and old people here. There are people I know and many I’ve never seen before. Are these strangers even really part of the movement? It doesn’t matter. Everyone is scared.
I sit here and stare at Monica’s tear streaked face as she sleeps fitfully in Marta’s arms.
I sit here beside my brother, who sleeps fitfully as well, but for entirely different reasons.
I know as I watch his face that he is the one who gave us up to the police as sure as Monica drew that first dandelion.
There is a type of nettle that resembles the dandelion’s greens. We ate dandelion greens in the woods when we were hiding. They are a nourishing food source when nothing else is available. We had to learn, though, to distinguish the green from its prickly, malevolent relative, the stinging nettle. When picked, the stinging nettle burns and swells the flesh with an instant fiery rash. If you can tell the difference, there is no danger, but if you don’t know the difference… well, you’re stung.
And now. What happens to dandelions in the dark? What happens when people decide a flower is actually a weed? They poison it. They eradicate it.
As I stroke my daughter’s yellow hair, the color of sunshine, the color of a bright flower, I think to myself, the seeds of revolution are like the seeds of the dandelion tuft. I close my eyes, make a wish and blow.
Eve M. Kerrigan is a writer of fiction, personal essays and screenplays. Her work has appeared in “The Oddville Press,” online magazine “Sociology of Style,” pop culture blog “The Narcissistic Anthropologist”, and on her personal blog “Tumsen.wordpress.com.” She is a mother-to-be and a caretaker of small animals and has recently moved back to Southern New England after a very long absence.