Ch. 5: Fear of Russians (attacking Amerika). June 11, 1987.

Ch. 5: Fear of Russians (attacking Amerika). June 11, 1987.

A Chapter by Gee Roughin

The door once shut, a suburban night reigned invisible. Nothing moved. Her breath tufted fast in respiratory shorts as she heard her loafers dull out the concrete islands of her friend’s front walk. No other breath planed along the curbs inviting lonely cars and baked houses to be peopled. No breath except hers. Only neat grass, this lawn of sweet green cropped like a schoolboy’s haircut and reaching up to nose her bare ankles. She stopped on each round oasis of path, balanced on a foot. She tried to arrest every movement and sound just long enough to listen for something else. She didn’t hear it.

She reached the street. The sound of her own feet scuffing gravel roughed at her ears. She was getting further from the lights of her friend’s front porch. She walked as silently as possible, trying to listen as she stepped, shifting her head from side to side, always expecting to see something else, to hear something else. The fur of night wrapped up her body like a straight-jacket. It held her frozen against a whirr of fan, against the crackle of rubber spitting stones, against the shade of grey beneath her feet turning a degree clearer. It held her still before the senseless weight of metal that was aching past her dark suburban night. It sniffed the ground and inched past her as she braced herself against the hedge. It turned into the driveway just in front of Suzie-Q.

Now a clap of thunder surprised her. Suzie-Q jumped. She waited for the rain. Instead, all the street lamps went out. Never had she seen such a darkness, a darkness to be felt. Suzie-Q held dead still. She listened for her breath. Instead, in the darkness, the sky moved. A familiar sound surrounded her, like in the movies. She could not identify it, but she felt deaf and dumb.


Suzie-Q felt under attack and porous on every side. She wished she could turn the lights on. Unable to break the spell of vulnerability, Suzie-Q yelled into the mayhem, “It’s the Russians!” The thought excited her in its melodrama. She liked to let her imagination run wild. “They’ve already taken Capitol Hill,” she spoke softly into her microphone. “They are alleged to be rounding up Christians right now!” For a moment she was happy to be using the word “alleged”. Then she became afraid again. She wanted to run home, but it was too dark. Besides, she was just pretending.

Like a tin ashtray cupping the sky, something descended. Suzie-Q heard it echo and ricochet above her, above the invisible tent of night. Now Suzie-Q was running beneath the trim sky, under the lidded suburban sky. It couldn’t be her imagination rumbling and squawking like that while Suzie-Q ran and ran, sweating bullets, her heart kicking madly at her chest. The sky sunk. The rumble whipped through her hair.

In the pitch of night a rare branch whipped at Suzie-Q’s face. On uneven ground, her foot came down sideways and Suzie-Q landed face-down in the carpet of clipped grass. She tried to sink like the sky, while on the left and on the right rained down thunder like on Sodom and Gomorrah. Suzie-Q felt the earth spinning beneath her. It spun faster and faster. The metal hawks growled just behind her. The earth spun so fast Suzie-Q knew she would never fall off. She began to evaporate like mist into the atmosphere. She would be eliminated. The nuclear age would arrive in her wake.


Suzie-Q woke up in the corner of a five by seven gray cell. The walls were of cinderblock. The concrete floor sloped like her own basement. Above her, high above there was paneling. A bare white bulb hung by its cord from the center panel. Attached to one corner of the ceiling was a black box that she thought looked like one of the speakers to her father’s stereo system. There was no door.


Suzie-Q’s ankle throbbed. It was swollen and paralyzed like baked clay. She thought if she moved it it would crack. The feeling of paralysis whispered through her frame. Suzie-Q listened to it seeping, afraid to break its spell. Her bones were locked in. In the stiffness Suzie-Q felt the cold floor press up hard against the outside of one bony knee. The inside of both scraped up against each other. She shifted her position, trying to find cushion for the knobs against her thin skin. She didn’t. In her stiffness, every need whispered for attention. The weight of cold inattention blew urgently on her scant frame, revealing needs. From the sloping ache of her neck that strained towards the floor, to the seam of her jean shorts digging at her hip, Suzie-Q felt every discomfort. Suzie-Q felt arid and stiff inside like the four walls surrounding her. The emptiness in her soul seemed to mirror what was cold about her cell. She felt uneasy and at home.


Then Suzie-Q remembered a chapter she had read the week before from The Gulag Archipelago. She wondered what kind of torture might be the custom of her captor. Would she be prevented from sleeping for days on end? Perhaps she would be questioned and beaten. She did not like this thought, and she did not give it a home.


Suzie-Q realized that she had to go to the bathroom. This realization was not welcome either. She wondered how long she would be forced to wait. It dawned on her again and then sunk in that there was no door. In this way it sunk in to her that she was trapped. She could not meet her bodily needs. She was at the mercy of her unseen captor. She wondered if her captor could use as a form of torture the prevention of urination. She could not imagine how, but the thought panicked her. What if he could prevent her? Her mind went round and round this question, and she began to panic. She began to sweat, and to feel a horrible malaise in her stomach. In the moment of panic, Suzie-Q stood up and began to pace back and forth in her cell, trying to breathe the malaise away. Instead, she found that suddenly she was obliged to stand still because she could not see. The sweat spread all over her skin, to every patch. She continued to breathe heavily, still wondering what would happen if she were prevented in some cunning way from urinating. Since she could no longer see and considered that she was beginning to faint, she lay down flat in the center of the floor to let the panic attack pass. She continued to sweat and to feel very bad all over and to have dark clouds closing in on her vision for some time. It lasted much longer than she would have imagined it could. It lasted a little longer than she thought she could bear. It lasted longer than the time it took her to think of the Bible verse, “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”


It began to pass. When it began to pass, she had the thought that she should relieve herself right away to avoid further episodes of fear. Only uncleanness prevented her for the moment, but uncleanness was better than panic or being prevented. She rationally measured the floor with her eye in order to choose the lowest point. Having chosen her corner, she pulled down her shorts and squatted to urinate.


As soon as she had pulled up her shorts, she heard the black box crackle and pop. She sprung round to stare up at it. A mechanical voice arose from the black box.


“Feel better?” it asked.


Suzie-Q felt a pang of fury shoot through her frame. The unfamiliar anger was invigorating. Horrified, she started to form the words, “How dare you!” but felt them to be too weak. Like sometimes at the bus stop, she secretly wished she could curse. Since she couldn’t, she chose to stand on high moral ground.


“Yes, thank you. What do you want?” she asked politely.


“I want to know where the weapons are.”


She was right. It was the Russians. She saw clearly now that she would have to be strong. She would give nothing away. The life of her father and many Russian Christians depended on it. She knew he was referring to the Bibles her father smuggled into Russia. He had shown her the secret compartment in his suitcase, and the boxes full of Bibles in the Russian language. "The Word of the Lord is like a two-edged sword,” she said proudly, “but I don't know what weapons you are referring to!"


“Suzie-Q, what are you talking about?” said the box in an inhuman, crackly voice. “I don’t mean weapons with one, two or three blades, Suzie-Q.” There was a long pause, with crackly breathing. Then finally, “I think you know what I mean.”


Suzie-Q tried to think of what to say. She couldn’t imagine what to say. She thought the man hadn’t understood her Bible quote, but she knew it didn’t matter. Suzie-Q thought of the nuclear bomb shelter Alice had shown her that day, and of her whispering "guns and ammunitions." She couldn’t believe that the Russians needed those. The burning question was, how long would she be kept here, but it didn’t seem like a very courageous question. The box spoke again before Suzie-Q had decided what to say.


“Don’t you know what I mean, Suzie-Q?”


Suzie-Q felt annoyed. She liked the feeling, and quipped back, “I want to know how long you plan to keep me here!”


That made her feel much better, only the man behind the box didn’t respond. The box stopped crackling. He had turned it off.


She felt suddenly overpowered by loneliness. She wished the box would turn back on. Suzie-Q longed to hear it crackle and pop. She saw that she would grow attached to the box, and wondered how the man knew to turn the box off right when she was feeling triumphant.


She remembered how the man had known when to say, “Feel better?” She thought he must have a system for watching her, and could probably hear her too. She decided to speak to the box as if it could hear her, so that she would not grow attached to the crackly voice. To test her theory, Suzie-Q said out loud, "I wonder if he means guns?" though she meant, "I wonder if he means Bibles or guns." When there was no response, Suzie-Q sat down cross-legged on the cold floor.






The concrete floor was uncomfortable, and dug into her ankles and buttocks bones. The discomfort made her think about torture. She thought about the Latin American heretics who were apparently being tortured, and she wondered what it meant. Suzie-Q didn't understand. Suzie-Q thought first about the heretics going to hell, and she knew she didn't like it. Suzie-Q was especially uncomfortable with hell when she was experiencing any physical discomfort herself. She thought how her discomfort was temporary and mild, but the discomfort of hell was horrid and eternal. Suzie-Q was uncomfortable with the justice of God when she thought about how she would escape hell and other people wouldn't. Before the justice of God, thought Suzie-Q, one is paralyzed and helpless. She hoped secretly that the theologians were wrong, and that the doctrine of hell was only a test. She knew that the Love of God was boundless, and she wondered if God couldn't find a way to forgive all humanity in the end. Mostly, she preferred not to think about hell at all, as if hell were the undergarments of God, indecent to look at.


Suzie-Q wondered what kind of torture the Latin American heritics underwent, and then quickly felt the question to be indecent. She wondered who their torturers were. Suzie-Q couldn't imagine how her government could be involved in the torture and death of 500,000 people as her Dad had said that afternoon, even if they had dangerous ideas. She thought about how the first Pilgrims came to America to escape the Religious Wars, and how so many Protestants and Catholics and Jews had died of torture before the separation of Church and State, and how America had gone to war to protect Jews in Europe, and she didn't understand.


Finally, she decided that there had to be guns. She thought perhaps the communist Catholics were aligned with the Russians, and there was danger of their taking over America. Then she remembered her youth pastor Tex had called most of them stupid idealistic pacifists. She didn't understand why even heretical Christians would align themselves with Russians, since the Russians forbade religion and the Bible. She thought that perhaps the heretics didn't read their Bibles anyway. She was just imagining how Tex would have responded to this last thought with, "Ha, ha, ha!" when she heard the box crackle and pop.


"Ha, ha, ha!" said the box.


Suzie-Q felt a surge of warmth run through her. Then the little black box spoke.


“You are right, Suzie-Q. I was talking about the Bibles. Nothing is more dangerous to materialistic progress than religion. It puts scales on the eyes so that one cannot see.”


Suzie-Q gasped. “Calvin says the Bible is like a pair of spectacles!” she interrupted with fervency. “Without it, our vision is impaired! but with it, we can see that in our fallen state we are inherently evil and utterly incapable of approaching God!”


“The liberation theologians read their Bibles too, Suzie-Q, and they see differently. But many liberation theologians are idealistic pacifists, and they are crushed like ice. All the pacifists seeking materialistic justice are crushed like ice by your government. Capitalism is inherently evil, and anyone benefiting from it is blinded by greed. What do you expect us to do with your propaganda and lies? You preach security in the world to come, while you steal from the poor the little they have, condemning them to hell hereafter? You fear an invasion from the Russians, but this is only Hollywood's latest fantasm. Your own poor will rise one day, like the heretics you scorn, and take justice into their own hands."


Suzie-Q was furious with the righteous tone of her captor, but she didn't know how to answer his accusations. She thought that her youth pastor’s Every Single Argument sounded different to her now than earlier that day. "Only God is just!" she yelled half-heartedly. Then with more spirit: "But you torture and kill the Christians, and invade the privacy of your citizens! You've made a prison of Eastern Europe, and you persecute the Jews! Every communist country is a dictatorship, but here we’re free!"


"Ask the street bum under the bridge if he is free, Suzie-Q. Or the families of the disappeared priests."


Suzie-Q didn't know what to say. She thought that she was the captive and he was the captor, and that this was unjust. She knew that the Russians were not free. But her captor also seemed to understand things she didn’t, and she thought hard about the street bum not being free. She couldn't really believe that her government tortured and killed pacifists, but it looked like they were implicated�"even her Dad had said so. She didn't know what to think.


Sensing her weakness, the box repeated, "Suzie-Q, where are the weapons?"


Suzie-Q gave up. She said feebly, as her father had always taught her to, "I have nothing to declare."


Suzie-Q felt a cold draft of air blow on her. It was icy, and she began to shiver. The nape of her neck stiffened as if an icicle in the shape of a cross were stuck between her shoulder blades, the vertical rod jabbing up through her forehead. The draft seemed to come from all directions. The stubbly hair on her legs stood out at the end of pimply goose bumps. She had been pacing. She continued to pace, but now gave little hops and slapped herself with awkward, jerky motions through her thin T-shirt. She tried to relax her shoulders and melt the ice in her frame, but only became stiffer as she shivered. She hugged herself.


She believed she kept hearing the box say over and over in a grim, mechanical voice, “Where are the weapons, Suzie-Q? Where are the weapons?” but she couldn’t be sure. The winds of cold were blowing more and more loudly. They swept a dull, foggy paste into Suzie-Q’s ears. She kept slapping herself ferociously and straining to hear the box, as she paced now in a straight diagonal back and forth across her cell. The temperature continued to drop as the winds blew. Then the lights went out. Suzie-Q’s heart leapt and then sank very deep. She felt signs of panic. She stopped moving but she began to hyper-ventilate. Trying to ward off the panic, she sank down to the ground and continued to hyper-ventilate, hugging her poor knees in her hands.


To her surprise, instead of panicking, she began to cry. She sobbed in desperate, convulsive waves. She screamed as she sobbed, oblivious to decorum. She let it all out. Then she began to yell at the invisible box, without thinking, just screaming, “What a horrible thing to do! How can you be so cruel? I’m just a girl, you ought to be ashamed to be so heartless! I don’t deserve to be treated like this, do you hear me? Stop hurting me! I’m cold, and I want to go home! Let me go!”


Suzie-Q’s tears now came in a deluge. They poured and poured in buckets. Suzie-Q began to wonder if they would ever stop. She kept crying and crying and she began to fear that she would drown. “If I don't stop crying I'll drown in my own tears.” The back of her shorts were wet and icy cold. She slid her hands back down her wet legs, over her soaked loafers with their lacy socks, and spread them out flat on the ground beside her. The floor was wet. She glided her flat hands forward over the concrete surface and dipped her finger tips in the shore of salty tears. The water was warm. Still shivering, she was crouching with her face close to the pool when the light-bulb came crashing to the floor. Suzie-Q sprang up from the water.


Above her, a gray patch the size of the central panel had appeared in the ceiling. She saw clearly that the ceiling panel had fallen with the light-bulb, and that above it was the open air. Silhouetted against the night sky, through the open panel to its right, Suzie-Q could just make out the form of a Russian soldier. He was leaning on the butt of his machine gun. The soldier was looking down at Suzie-Q. Suzie-Q looked up at him in the eye. The Russian soldier was almost her age. The soldier looked down at Suzie-Q in the eye, without flinching. Then he raised the butt of his machine gun, thrust it back down on the ceiling panel to his right and the ceiling panel came clattering down. He turned to the left and knocked in another. Suzie-Q flung herself to the corner of her cell. At that moment another panel came falling down on top of her head and Suzie-Q passed out.


Suzie-Q woke up. She found herself just near where she had tripped so many hours earlier, lying on the sidewalk in front of her house. She stared at the sky and the tree beneath the sky, searching for her captor. As nothing was left but moist roots, she walked slowly across the front yard until she reached the door. She wiped her feet and walked through the door.






Suzie-Q was late.


Her father creaked meticulously from the living room, “What time is it?”


Suzie-Q jumped. Suzie-Q tried nonchalantly to pour forth emotion with her story. Suzie-Q’s nervousness was palpable.


“You’re not being convincing. You would really lie to me like this?” asked her father. He felt betrayed. Her father used that dull mechanical tone he reserved for feeling betrayed.


Suzie-Q was innocent. Her voice went up several notches. She
protested. But Suzie-Q felt guilty too. She knew secretly she had already been late before being captured. Suzie-Q couldn’t tell a lie.


“It’s true!” squeaked Suzie-Q. “I was already five-minutes late leaving Alice’s. I lost track of time and only looked at my watch at 10:22. I tried to leave right away, but Alice's sentences are so long! So finally I had to leave while she was still in mid-sentence, and I’m sure I would have been home at 10:34 if it hadn’t been for the Russian man, but then there were all those planes and I had to escape and I lost consciousness and I really was put in a cell by a Russian man who kept asking where the weapons were, but I refused to tell him anything about you or your secret Bible compartments. . .” Suzie-Q stopped to breathe. Her father’s face had the stupid look of rippled stone like when he was offended by falsehood, and Suzie-Q felt embarrassed for him, but Suzie-Q was too polite to realize she was thinking this so she felt embarrassed for herself instead. She began to whisper. “Truly it was a miracle, Daddy, and I didn’t give up anything, honestly, I didn’t tell them anything at all.”


Suzie-Q did not know how to interpret the long silence that followed, or the expression of utter confusion and suffering on her father’s face. Finally, he spoke.


“Are you finished?”


“Yes.”


“I cannot tell you how much this pains me. Suzie-Q, I don’t think you have ever lied to me before.”


“But I’m not lying!”


“Suzie-Q, look at me!” Suzie-Q looked at him.
“Suzie-Q, it’s 10:42. You walked in 3 minutes ago. You’re not even being convincing.”


Suzie-Q gasped. Then it started all over again. The short breath, the cold fingers, the paralysis. The fever covering over the cold, the sweat on every inch of her body, and finally the chill upon her wet skin. She stared at him, unable to believe that her eyes which could melt the cruelty of a Russian soldier could not convince her own father of sincerity. His coldness made her shiver again. She turned away, afraid.


“I’m afraid you’ll have to come with me. You know what has to happen now.”


Suzie-Q said nothing. Silent and angry, melting behind the steel her eyes had become, Suzie-Q followed her father to the cellar. Her ankle throbbed.


Suzie-Q’s father picked up a two-by-four.

“Bend over,” said her father. Suzie-Q bent over. “Pull your pants down,” said her father. Suzie-Q pulled her pants down. Her father began to hit her bottom with the two-by-four. One for each minute she was late. Then fifteen for each minute she had argued with him about being late. 62 blows.

Once, Suzie-Q tried to twist around and catch her father’s eye.


“Face down!” cried her father, without looking.


© 2011 Gee Roughin


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Added on October 19, 2011
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Author

Gee Roughin
Gee Roughin

Cairo, Egypt



About
Before spending seven years writing Paranoid Wasp, I studied literature at Wheaton College (IL), Yale University and the University of Chicago. I moved to Paris in 1999. In addition to ten years in Fr.. more..

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