ARK-ANGEL…

9 Jun

 

 

Jose shut the door, double-checked the locks  and ensured  the bolts were firmly in place. Secure in his own mind the door was locked, he then walked around the house shuttering the windows. The windows were iron-barred on the outside. The purpose of the inside shutters was to ensure the house was impregnable. He’d a family to protect – a wife, his two children, and both sets of grandparents. Although the security was claustrophobic it was necessary.

Jose was doing the best he could.

He peered through the blinds of the last window. The light of a Police vehicle flashed in the street, striping him in color and washing the room in blue. The local cops were no doubt arresting one of the delinquents, that now formed the majority of what had once been a family neighborhood. A place where families could grow and children flourish. A neighborhood filled with friends and neighbors rather the hoodlums, drug pushers, prostitutes and all the other scum who’d usurped the value of family.

The house secured, he walked into the family room where his family sat watching television. They’d become used to his nightly ritual. Paid  no attention as he went from door to window, barring and shuttering. It had become mundane, ordinary, something that needed to be done. The world was a terrible place, they had to take precautions. Rather like keeping milk in a fridge to prevent it from deteriorating, the locked doors of their home prevented the mold and mildew of an aberrant society.

*

Jose’s parents had bought him to the country years ago. Taking great risks to cross the desert, they’d worked their way up in a society that didn’t care if they lived or died. Looking like all the other immigrants who’d filtered across the border, nobody paid them any heed, and so were allowed to scrape an existence from the barrel of society.

Growing up he’d watched his father work every menial job in the book to furnish the second-hand kitchen table with the bounty necessary to sustain an ever growing family. Work was work, the medium that allowed his father to enjoy the love of his wife and children. He’d inherited his father’s values and having mastered the new language at a young age, had found his way into a trade school and qualified as a mechanic. Jose was the best mechanic at the local Mercedes dealership. Customers asked for him by name. Sometimes it seemed as though everybody needed a little Jose in their lives.

Hard working, yet unambitious, he’d squirreled away his wages in the hope that someday his children could enjoy the luxury of the German vehicles, he never could. It had to happen. This was the land of hope and dreams, milk and honey. What could possibly go wrong?  As long as they tried their hardest, did their best, and did unto others as they expected to be done themselves, life’s cards would eventually turn in their favor. Critical values that would help his children, to navigate a path through a true and steady life.

*

It had all started to go wrong when the local armaments factory had closed down. Tanks and trucks required to crush the threat of impending Communism were no longer necessary. Peace was flooding the world, however, in its wake, whole communities were being washed away.  No longer able to afford their homes and mortgages, the newly unemployed had moved back to wherever it was they’d originally come from. Having nowhere else to go, and with a decent paying job, Jose and his family had stayed.

They’d watched the gradual demise. The houses that had been neatly painted were now peeling and derelict, the well kempt lawns overgrown and ravaged. Squatters had moved into the vacant properties and the Police, whom they never called upon in the past, were now regular neighborhood visitors. The loss of income and slip into austerity brought with it, everything he’d steered his whole life away from. His children were now forced to grow up among the addictions of a world that was literally slipping into hell. Syringes on the street were nothing uncommon. Cars with fogged up windows were parked on the sidewalk, as women with nothing left to sell but themselves, plied their trade. In the past there’d been music and laughter in the streets, now there were gangs and gun shots.

His children no longer played outside, and the walk to school was an accompanied car-drive away. Children were escorted by parents to the school entrance, before being allowed to enter through metal-detectored security. It wasn’t the life he’d hoped for, but there was nothing he could do.

When the neighbors started to move away, was when he’d first started to install the security measures. Baking in summer sunshine he’d fastened bars to the outside of the windows. Drinking the iced-lemonade his wife brought to him, he’d watched the hoods, and the working-girls cruise the side walk. No hellos, no neighborly chats. Just mute threats and disdain, for a man that continued to live the dream despite the nightmare.

*

“Have you ever used one of these before sir?” The assistant asked.

Jose eyed the gun on the counter, “No sir.”

Jose stood in the gun shop surrounded by rifles and the ephemera of self-protection. Glass cases filled with weapons squared their way around the shop. Accompanied by the salesman he moved to each, feeling the weight and balance of the various models. Coming to a consensus, a revolver and a box of cartridges were placed in front of him.

“Easy as falling off a log. Just point and pull. This is a nice pistol. You won’t regret buying it.”

Jose paid in cash. The attendant smiled as he closed the register.” Don’t seem much of that anymore Sir.”

He placed the gun and the bullets in a paper bag and wished Jose a good day. When a man needed a pistol to live in the greatest country on earth, what the hell was the world coming too?

*

Maria, his wife of thirty years, had cried when he showed her the gun. What about the kids? Why couldn’t they move?  Why did they have to stay?

Where were they going to go? It wasn’t just this neighborhood it was the God-damned city. It was sink or swim. Only the strongest would survive and Jose was a swimmer – his father had taught him that.

*

Weeks later whilst performing the evening ritual he noticed a glow in the sky – bright oranges and reds against the street lights. There was a smell of burning in the air and he could see people running up and down the road in confused panic. Gangs of youths were tipping over cars, smashing windows, and emptying the liquor store across the street. Jose saw a cop-car scream to a halt, scattering the mob that’d been helping themselves to that which wasn’t theirs. He saw a policeman fall to the ground, heard the whine and crash of bullets.

“Jose. Come quickly,” his wife called. He pulled down the shutter and rushed to the living room. “My God, they’re destroying the city,” she screamed.

On the television screen was an aerial view taken from a helicopter. It showed neighborhoods in flames, smoke billowing across the city-scape. Rioters ran through streets pursued by policemen.

 “What are we to do?”

Children and grandparents looked towards him. He was their only hope, their only lifeline in this sea of anarchy. He thought quickly. They couldn’t go outside. They were safest in the house. The door was bared and the shutters down. Nothing could happen to them.

*

Louds bangs and screams emanated from outside the front door. People were banging on the shutters. The mob was outside.

*

Rápidamente , quickly into the cellar.” Jose shouted. His wife gathered the children as he assisted the grandparents who suddenly developed new life in old bones. The house had been build back in the early fifties and completed with a full basement. At the time it had been advertised as a family safety unit, and came equipped with cupboards for provisions, room for beds, and even a bathroom. The biggest advantage to it was the airtight, steel-door that was supposed to be effective against nuclear attack. It was the 1950’s, there was a red under every bed, one couldn’t be too careful.

By the light of a naked bulb, crying children and scared grandparents huddled together. Safely ensconced behind the steel door Jose reassured his family.

CARAJO de MADRE – he’d left the gun in the bedroom!

He kept his ear to the door – heard the crash of windows – heard the shouts. He felt somebody tug on the handle to the cellar, but there was no way they could get in. In this moment of sheer mayhem, he could be sure, that no matter what was happening outside, his family were safe in the small brick lined room.

As the evening wore on, the family eventually drifted off to sleep. Jose was left alone with his thoughts. Earlier in the evening he’d heard more voices in the house, but those had petered out. The shouts, screams and wail of sirens had finally died down. Jose snuggled down next to his wife and tried to sleep. Unconsciousness ambushed, him and he slipped into a dream-filled sleep.

*

There was a loud crash and Jose startled awake. His wife put her hand on his shoulder to reassure him. It was just one of the children. He stood up and went to the door. With his ear to the cold steel, he listened intently.

Nothing.

There was short-wave radio somewhere in one of the cardboard boxes and Jose dug through the detritus of Christmas decorations and old baby clothes. Finding it, he fingered the on-switch. The radio came alive. The warm fuzz of the modern age – the static dispelling all thoughts of abandonment. Turning the dial he searched for anything that might be indicative of something.

 An emotionless voice crackled through the weather band.

“The authorities have announced that the violence and riots in the River-District have been repressed. The Fire Marshal has also informed us that the multiple fires caused by burning petrol stations, although not yet out, are under control. Citizens are to exercise extreme caution and to remain in their homes. Marshal Law is in effect. Looters and rioters will be shot.”

Jose stared at his family. His family stared back.

*

After spending another night locked in the cellar, Jose decided to open the door. With his father holding a baseball bat, and his wife a stiletto-shoe, he slowly loosened the bolts. The smell of burning was all pervasive. The house was destroyed. Furniture had been smashed, and the front door hung on one hinge. Children’s clothes were strewn across the floor, and anything of value was gone.

*

Jose and his family stood on what remained of the porch. The neighborhood was obliterated. Stick-built houses smoked, and the remains of torched vehicles stood abandoned in the street. A giant pall of black hung over the city and somewhere in the far distance they could hear the wail of a siren.

In a landscape akin to an apocalyptic aftermath, Jose surveyed what once had been their home. He put his arm around his wife and held her tight. With both his and her parents, plus the two children they stood like survivors adrift in an empty ocean. The cellar, like a lifeboat from a doomed passenger liner, had kept them afloat in a sea of uncertainty. Jose looked toward the sun, rising above the shattered neighborhood. Everything had changed. It was brand new day in a new and uncertain world.

At least they still had each other.  

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