A Story by Jynter


Stiff white hair jutted akimbo around the old woman's pale, lined face. She launched a languid attack, sliding a crooked hand over the annoyance, but the hair sprang back with a mind of its own. Her vapid hazel eyes shrank with helplessness. The plain blue dress puffed up at the shoulders as she hunched further down into the green sofa cushions. A long defeated sigh stirred the air.

Jan finished scanning the report and laid her clipboard on the shiny brown end table next to the russet recliner. She pursed her lips with concern. Green eyes resting gently on the tired pallid face, she said sympathetically, "Mrs. Howard, I'm afraid I do have some bad news."

"What bad news? Oh no-ooo." Depair fluttered inside the quavering voice. Loose diaphanous skin bunched and snapped flat over the nervous fingers that fidgeted in the
old woman's lap. "No. Please."

"You are on the federal watch list. I'm sorry. They went through your telephone records and found suspicious activity there."

"What?" The old woman blinked in confusion.

"Calls made to a Cynthia O’Rourke, in Minneapolis."

"That's my sister."

"Well, your sister is on the watch list and I'm sorry. Now you are also. Because you were in contact with her. I'm sorry."

Shaking her head with denial, Mrs. Howard mournfully objected, "Not Cindy. There's been a mistake. She lives in a nursing home. She would never do anything wrong."

Jan tapped a pink fingernail at the clipboard. "Shady Maple Village, yes. That retirement home is within one mile of the location of the arrest of a suspected terrorist. Unfortunately all the residents at Shady Maple were placed on the watch list."

Her hands began to tremble and the old woman's voice was shocked, "How can they do that?"

Jan murmured soothingly, "I know it may not seem fair. I'm sorry."

"And I'm on that list? Just for talking with my own sister?"

"It's the law now, I'm afraid. All of this is in compliance with the Super Patriot Act passed by Congress last spring."

Rubbing her thighs in frustration, Mrs. Howard demanded morosely, "Is that right? Do you think it's right?"

A deep breath pushed into Jan's lungs and sat there. She let it out slowly. "Mrs. Howard, I can't answer that question. It would be technical treason to do so." Leaning forward, she cast a long arm out and patted the fragile silvery fingers. "Criticizing the Act is a violation of federal law. You need to remember that. Please, remember that."

Now the old woman turned bitter. "It isn't right." Her body heaved and shook with anger. "This just isn't right."

"I know it's hard," Jan commiserated. "We all have to make adjustments. And that's why I'm here. To help acclimate you to the changes."

"I don't understand all this." Mrs. Howard shook her head and her voice went soft, "I just don't."

Letting her body relax in the chair, Jan dipped her chin. She said, almost in a whisper, "I'm sorry." She sensed that it would be best to back off. Mrs. Howard needed some time to regain her composure. Jan would give her all the time she needed.

The bright green lawn past the picture window sprang into Jan's eyes and she turned to look over the old console television at the beautiful day outside. For just one instant she could pretend that she wasn't inside that house. She could even pretend that the bright sunny day had happened long ago when she had been a child somewhere else and America had still been a place where freedom and liberty were more than just buzzwords. For just one instant.

"I'm sorry," Mrs. Howard said. "This isn't your fault."

"I appreciate that. I do."

Mrs. Howard's eyes glimmered with emotion. "It can't be easy for you either. Telling people . . . That they're going to jail." Her head bowed and a shudder ran through her body.

"No. Don't say that. That's not going to happen."

"I've heard all sorts of . . . People on that list. They just disappear."

"No. Nothing like that is going to happen to you."
The old woman's hands fidgeted nervously again as a confused stammer came, "I-I think I would die. If they came to take me. I'm almost seventy-three years old. Too old. To go anywhere."

"I won't let that happen. It's my job to make sure that does not happen."

"But why? If you work for the government? Why would you help me?"

"You have to trust me," urged Jan. "Please. What we do at the Department of Public Advocacy is disseminate information and also we expedite the amelioration of difficult circumstances like this. We can fix this and I'll show you how. Trust me."

A few seconds went by. "You remind me of my granddaughter, Elizabeth." Mrs. Howard offered a look of appreciation. "I believe you. Please. Tell me what I should do."

"All right. Now what we need to do is to get you off the watch list and get your citizenship reinstated."

"My citizenship?"

"It's been temporarily revoked while you're on the watch list."

"I can't believe that."

"It's not really a problem. All you're required to do is turn in one suspected terrorist. And you can get your citizenship back."

"But I don't know anyone like that."

"It doesn't have to be a terrorist. Just anyone that you suspect may be a terrorist."

"Anyone? I don't know."

"You'll have to come up with a name for Homeland Security. Technically, you can pick a name at random out of the phone book. If you honestly believe that it sounds like a terrorist's name that establishes reasonable suspicion in the eyes of the law."
A sad look dropped over Mrs. Howard's face. "I don't believe this is happening."

"I know this all seems a little harsh. But it is the law now."

A loud sniff came. Then the wide hazel eyes seemed to dim. "I-I watch the channel eight news every single night. I know about the Super Patriot Act of course. But all this? I had no idea this could happen."

"Unfortunately, any criticism of our government can be construed as a potential threat. Only approved media services have been allowed continue to operate in the United States...”
"But what about freedom of speech?"

"The other news services, their freedom of speech has not been impinged. They can say anything they want." Jan's voice dropped. "But now . . . They have to do it from the new facility at Guantanamo Bay."

"They can't do that." Mrs. Howard wrung her hands. She gazed around the living room with a confused look etched over her lined face. "This is still America. How can they get away with this?"

"The Super Patriot Act gives Homeland Security virtually unlimited power. To investigate, detain, and imprison almost anyone they want to."

"No." The old woman shook her head defiantly. "This is America. Someone will stop this from happening. The Supreme Court . . .”

"Six of the nine justices have been removed by order of Homeland Security. The three remaining are all approved judges. There is no one left to stop what is happening. I'm sorry."

Mrs. Howard squeezed her eyes shut and sobbed. A shimmering tear trickled down one cheek. "No."

"You have to accept what is happening. We all do."

"I just . . . I just want to be left alone."

"And that's what every American wants, Mrs. Howard." Jan readjusted the tan sweater down over her brown slacks as she selected her next words carefully. She had to make Mrs. Howard understand how important her cooperation was. "You have to learn to comply with the new federal edicts. We all do. That's the only way they will leave you alone."

The elderly woman shifted sideways on the couch, unbalanced. A gaunt white arm flopped out to brace her body. "What do I do?"

"Getting you off that watch list is the main thing. I've looked over your financials and I do not see any problem."

"My finances?"

"There is a twenty thousand dollar fee involved. Which is very reasonable considering the alternative."

"I have to pay so much money? To be taken off the list?"
Jan cleared her throat. "Most of that is for administrative costs." She knew this was the most difficult part for most people.
Overtaken by despair, Mrs. Howard sagged and a hand pressed at her age-speckled forehead. "I don't have any money. Less than two thousand dollars in my bank account. I don't have any money like that."

"Homeland Security has a note in your file." Lifting the clipboard, Jan turned a page. "They have arranged for your bank to extend a mortgage on this house. To cover that and any other charges incurred. All together it will come to something less than thirty thousand."

"I can't afford to pay interest every month. I barely have enough to survive now."

"It will be all right," Jan said gently. "Whatever you can't pay will be taken from a second mortgage that initiates automatically in case of default. You see? They've taken care of everything."

"It's wrong. That sounds like extortion. It isn't right."

"You have to understand, Mrs. Howard. That money will be used to fund the work of Homeland Security. Try and think of it as your contribution toward the war against terrorism." Jan looked at the entryway and the front door of the house. "Their representatives will be here shortly. Do you have a phone book? You have to pick out a name for them."

"A supposed terrorist? I won't do it."

"Please." Jan had to get Mrs. Howard ready before they got there. If the woman argued with the agents, she knew full well what might happen. "You have to give them a name. And you have to sign whatever they give you to get off the watch list. If you don't cooperate . . ."

"They'll drag me off to prison? I don't care!" Mrs. Howard bowed her head. She began weeping.

"They'll be here any minute, Mrs. Howard. Please. Don't you understand? They follow us. Any home I visit. They are right behind me. It's my job to prepare you."

"You-You're no different than them, are you?" Mrs. Howard rubbed her eyes and sat blinking. "Leave me alone. Get out. Let them come and take me to jail. I don't care."

Jan stared for a few moments. Her voice was tired and bereft of emotion. "You won't go to jail." Trembling hands pushed the light bangs away so Mrs. Howard could see the ugly red scar. "You will be declared a subversive. And they will cure you."

The old woman reeled in shock. Her jaw dropped and she sat there panting. She sobbed softly, "No. Oh, God no."

Spotting a small phone book on a ledge beneath the coffee table, Jan took it and flattened it open on the sofa. "Pick one," she instructed. A whimper fluttered and then the old woman dropped a finger somewhere on the page and pushed. Jan wrote the name, Ralph Peterman, down on a form and left the form on the table. "Just give them this." She stood. "And please, Mrs. Howard. Don't give them any trouble."

"They did that? What did it do to you?"

Jan started for the door. She moved through the entryway before she turned back. "I don't really know. I had a family." Grasping the brass doorknob, she pulled the heavy door open. Outside, a black sedan sat parked next to her silver Mazda in the driveway. She recognized the pair of Home Security agents sitting in the front seat of the sedan. Granger and that clown Phipps. Two of the few that had enough sense to wait outside until Jan was finished.

She moved out onto the stoop. Her voice rose shrilly as she called back to Mrs. Howard, "I can't even remember my own children's names. Don't let them do this to you. Please." She closed the door again. Her hands, they were trembling. And she could not remember why.

© 2011 Jynter

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"Unfortunately, any criticism of our government can be construed as a potential threat. Only approved media services {have been allowed continue to operate in the United States...”} you seem to be missing a word in there . . . fix it whatever way you choose

it is a good story, it was so descriptive in the beginning that I was a little unsure, I have dreams sometimes, this reminded me of those

Posted 13 Years Ago

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Added on April 4, 2011
Last Updated on April 4, 2011



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A Story by Jynter


A Story by Jynter