“Why is the president of the United States in our front yard?”
There was no dramatic shatter as the plate that my mother was drying fell from her trembling fingers. Instead, she kept a hold on it so tight that I could see the veins straining against the skin of her fingers.
My brother was hallucinating again.
“I’ll take care of him,” I told my mom, gently taking the plate from her hands and adding it to the pile of clean dishes on the counter. She looked at me, then at her empty hands, then mechanically picked up the next piece of flatware from the sink and started to scrub it with enough force to take the paint off.
“Joey,” I said, crouching down so that I was at eye-level with him, “Do you remember when we talked about how to tell what was true from what was not true?”
He nodded emphatically, but didn’t take his eyes from whatever he thought he saw outside the window. He lifted on small hand and pressed a finger against the glass.
“That man is true, sissy.”
I turned my head in the direction of his finger and felt my heart leap into my throat.
It wasn’t the President of the United States. The President of the United States had never inspired this much fear into anyone. It just so happened that the President was the only person that my little brother had ever seen wearing a suit.
The man was standing in the middle of our front lawn, staring at our house as if it was his one true purpose in life. Something small and black was clasped in his left hand. It was his proof of authority; in it was the sliver of plastic that gave him the right to do anything that he wanted to anyone that he wanted, so long as it was in the name of his current mission.
And now his current mission had something to do with my family.
“Take your brother into the back and lock the door.”
My mother’s voice was firm and calm, but her face had drained of all color. She pressed her hands against the skirt of the dress that I always joked made her look like Susie Homemaker. Her eyes flicked around the room faster than I had ever seen anyone’s move, and with a jolt I remembered that my mother had once been as far from being Susie Homemaker as a woman could be.
I did as I was told, steering Joey as calmly as I could towards the bedroom that we shared. I closed the door, locked it, and propped a chair up against it before the doorbell rang.
“Joey, stay here.”
He nodded and wandered over to the corner of the room where he kept his Hot Wheels. My brother might have been young, but he knew enough to stay away from the windows when mom went into her not-mom mode.
As quietly as I could, I slipped through the bathroom that joined our room to mom’s, locking the doors behind me. I threw open her closet and relieved the gargantuan gun safe of the handgun that she refused to tell me how she came by but taught me how to use, anyway. I relieved her best pair of heels of the bullets that she had nestled in the toes, and with the quick, precise steps that she had drilled into me ever since I was old enough to understand the magnitude of what holding a weapon meant, I loaded the gun.
I pressed my ear to the door of the bedroom just in time to hear a shout and a thunk. I took that as my cue to move.
“Where is your brother?”
I was so relieved to find that it was my mother asking the questions that I didn’t even question the blood-stained bowling trophy in her hand or the unconscious behemoth sprawled across out floor.
“In our room,” I said, lowering the gun so that it was aimed at the leg of the suited man. He didn’t look like he would be moving anytime soon, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
“He’s dead,” mom said shortly, taking the gun from me, “But there might be more of them coming. Get your brother and get packed. We’re leaving.”
“What do they want?” I asked, my mind already making a detailed list of the necessities one might need to take along while running from the government.
“I don’t know,” mom said, setting the blowing trophy down and running her hand across her forehead, leaving a scarlet stain, “And I hope that we never have to find out.”