Fiction · 11/18/2009

Dogs and Refugees

They came at night, with long black guns, while she slept beneath her mosquito nets — stretched on her back with a type of abandon that would soon be lost to her forever.

In the morning, it was over and she crouched in the stairwell, listening to grown-up whispers, knowing that something had changed the world, but still not sure what it meant. The story emerged in fragments — prisoners, bodies in ditches, President Mancham fleeing the machine-guns in a silver jet bound for London.

Her parents’ friends knocked softly on the door, their eyes wet, their faces older. Throughout the day, they kept replaying the lost President’s favorite song, very quietly, in the living room; a song that it was now treason to listen to, a crime possibly punishable by death. She hummed the song to herself, feeling it lodge eternally in her mind and later on, in places devoid of lizards and lagoons, she would sing it sometimes, fiercely, her thin voice cracking on the high notes, both fists clenched.

The friends huddled, sipping Scotch, and talked about where they would go – and soon their yachts would be plunging away from the islands, their prows dipping, pointed at the east coast of Africa. The houses they left would be seized, their cars towed with chains.

The girl moved among the friends, touching their bare brown arms, memorizing their faces. Most of these people they would never see again, but some of them would turn up occasionally in odd corners of London — the same people, but somehow different, like black and white photographs of themselves. That was always the worst of it, she would think, finding them like that in England; so cold and pale and fully-clothed. It was better never to see them again, to imagine that they had found a new island near the equator, and that they were happy there, lazy on the beach again, waiting for the girl and her parents to come.

So in the days that followed, she sat quietly on the sea-wall with her dogs, because school was closed, the yacht club was closed, and it was dangerous, people warned her parents, to leave your house at all. Driving attracted attention of the grimmest kind.

The friends were already leaving, some without saying goodbye, but she didn’t know that yet, just as she didn’t know that soon her dogs would be howling at the sky behind a neighbor’s house a few miles down the road. Her parents had been granted asylum, permission to enter England, and she stared out over the beloved sea, wondering if she could glimpse this new land on the horizon.

But, though she gazed earnestly, she was always facing east, always looking steadily in the wrong direction. England, to the bitter north, would be hard beneath her feet soon enough, and she would watch her parents cringe in its thin chill drizzle. Her mother would drift through their cheap rented house in colorful shorts and bikini tops, and her father would insist on wearing sandals. They would drink hard and their fists would eventually find each other’s faces, and life would be anoraks and low gray skies and shivering. They would go to Brighton, the beach beloved by Londoners, and sit in the car, looking at it, and cry.

But she didn’t know that yet; she didn’t know how a revolution could change more than the government. She didn’t know how it could change the people who were left singing the old President’s song, how it could strip your life away, turn you into someone who was always a little too cold, change your friends into memories dissolved in the sea.

The closets were being emptied, though, and the suitcases packed with useless things. To England they would go and later she would leave her parents there with their damage, their stubborn sandals, and go further West, to America, on her own, her body accustomed to long sleeves and jackets. She would move a lot, always looking for a beach that didn’t bring tears to her eyes and she would think about getting a dog, though it would never happen.

Not knowing any of this, but perhaps because it was inevitable, she shivered slightly in the soft, moist sunlight, tangled in her parents’ hope that the world might send anti-Communist guns to save them. But her revolution was just another revolution in another small, hot country and few people outside its borders noticed. So, unsaved, she sat on the sea wall with her dogs’ warm faces pressed into her lap, dangling her bare feet over the edge, still blessedly unable to imagine a land where people wore socks and couldn’t smell the sea.

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Yvette Ward-Horner lives in the Rocky Mountains, where she is working on her first novel. Her life was once changed by a revolution. Her work has appeared in Clapboard House and Writer’s Bloc (Rutgers). Find her online at yvettewardhorner.blogspot.com