The weight of him in her arms was almost too much to bear, but the thought of placing him down, of letting him go, was unimaginable. The shifting of feet in front and from behind creating a distracting rhythm to take her out of her mind. Taking her away from this place and time. To bright colored clothes hanging on a line. To the smell of overturned earth and manure. To sounds of songbirds and buzzing of dragonflies. The shuffling of feet sounding like her pants rubbing together as she walks up the back stairs to a small clean kitchen. The walls full of plates and bowls and mugs and cups and glasses. Pot on the stove on a slow simmer. The smell wafting through her. He shifts and whimpers as she shuffles forward. Arms like lead she tries to adjust but the person behind her pushes her forward. No resting here, no stopping now. She steps forward and he quiets in her arms as they continue to walk.
The landscape is foreign and she can’t place what state they are in anymore. They will stop when the last of the sun is gone and will rise again when the first of the sun is seen. She’s lost count of the days. At some point a woman handed her this boy in her arms. Handed her the boy at the break of day with no words spoken and the woman just sat on the road as they began walking again. She walked away from this woman and heard the shouting behind her but didn’t slow down, she didn’t turn around, and was 100 yards along when the crack of the gun broke through the silence and a scatter of soundless birds flew through the sky. The boy started to cry and she tried to quiet him as she moved along. Tears welling in her eyes as a new burden she didn’t ask for is placed upon her. The weight of him beginning to press on her in a way she could never imagine.
It seemed harmless at first when the census rolled around and the new digital format also included an optional DNA gathering kit free of charge. Connect to your Family was plastered on the front of the kit. Annie tossed the kit on her kitchen counter and laughed out loud, why the fuck she would ever want to connect to her family was beyond her. Didn’t she move across the country to lose that connection.
“It’s not your immediate family that I’m interested in.” Lauren sighed to Annie. “It’s further back. It’s weird that you have no connection to your heritage at all.”
“It’s not that weird. Tons of people don’t know anything about their heritage and survive just fine. It just doesn’t interest me.” Annie walks to the fridge pulling out a bottle of juice and pouring herself a glass. “I don’t want to think about the past anymore. I just want the future.”
Lauren picks up the kit, “I’m doing one. I think it’s fascinating. I think it’s important. I don’t know, to know where you come from? I think it’s empowering.”
“Guess it depends on the results, right?”
At night she gives the boy her ration of milk and soaks pieces of the moldy bread in the milk for him to suck on. He is gaunt but looks healthy. He’s got big eyes and thin soft hair, just beginning to curl. She feels the heat of eyes on her and instinctively bears up, awaiting confrontation.
“I just wanted to offer you some more bread.” his hand extends. “You’ll need more if you are going to keep up and carrying him.”
She takes stock of the man sitting near her. None of them make eye contact anymore. No one wastes breath or energy on each other. They are islands of survival. She notices the tears in his eyes as he looks at the boy and she knows that he was a father. She nods and takes the small piece of bread from him and greedily eats it. He smiles at her and begins to open his mouth to introduce himself but she shakes her head violently.
“I can’t. I can’t know you. I don’t want to know you. I can’t lose another… just don’t.”
He quietly nods and returns back to himself. She begins to sob internally and the boy’s eyebrows mimic hers and she reassures the boy knowing that she already opened a door that she is going to have to walk through eventually.
“What the fuck?” Annie busts through the door to their office/guest room, “What the actual fuck? Did you see this?”
Lauren is typing furiously on her computer, headphones on, not hearing Annie enter. Annie, carrying her laptop pushes Lauren aside and points at the laptop.
“What’s up?” Lauren shouts as she takes off her headphones.
“They are rounding up people in West Virginia. Something to do with illegals- but Jimmy is on the fucking list. JIMMY.”
” Jim … our Jimmy? Jimmy from college?” Lauren takes the laptop scanning through the article. “One sixteenth… what the fuck does that mean?”
“Anyone with more than one sixteenth of what they are calling illegal blood is being detained by ICE. That’s what I’m fucking… fuck.”
“How could they know? One sixteenth? How can you prove something so small.”
“Those fucking kits Lauren! I told you- I am so fucking glad we didn’t do them. Shit can you imagine? Fuck… Jimmy….”
“Oh. Shit. Shit Annie. Fuck.” Lauren stands looking at Annie. There is a moment of silence as Lauren works through trying to pinpoint Annie. “Annie. I’m so sorry.”
Annie dumbfounded looks at Lauren, “What? What Lauren?” Annie moves back as she connects what Lauren is implying.
“I wanted to surprise you with the results. I thought if you could see where you came from you… I don’t know, would be proud and we could celebrate it.”
“No. No Lauren. You didn’t.”
“I wanted us to know to share with our children…”
“NO! NO Lauren! NO! Don’t. Don’t mention children to me right now. Don’t you fucking dare.”
“Annie. Annie. I never imagined…. I didn’t know.”
Annie slowly backs from the room, her mind racing. They live in Colorado. That was West Virginia. They have legalized pot here for Christ’s sake and this wouldn’t happen here. Annie pulls down her bottle of whisky and pours a shot. It couldn’t possibly happen here. Right?