When her brother-in-law called sometime after midnight, she knew it was serious.
It was an eerie coincidence, Carrie thought, because she had actually been sitting for a couple of hours in the attic (after the kids had finally surrendered to sleep) and tried to get some drawing done. It had not amounted to much, of course, so she had felt like distracting herself by leafing through Dave’s old comics and fantasy books. It was a vain hope but maybe she would even get an inspiration that would kick-start her tired brain.
The attic was storage to mostly their own junk, and some of Carrie’s childhood paraphernalia from Scotland and Ohio, but otherwise it had absolutely no identity of its own; it was the same measurements as that in most other standard houses in the drowsy Yuma suburb.
But Carrie loved it. Here she could be free, or imagine that she was free. Which sometimes was the only thing she had going for her. But tonight it had been mostly imagination; that she had not thrown away her college degree and hit the road and done other things she’d rather forget.
That … maybe, somewhere in one of those alternative worlds in Dave’s dog-eared James Hogan paperbacks, there’d be a woman called Carrie Sawyer Reese, or something similar, who was pushing 40 and whose name was often mentioned in some online column or other. ‘ … Avantgarde of independent female artists … graphic novels … forging their own path … the death of the superhero genre vastly exaggerated … ‘ And so on.
At least, in that alternate world of her imagination, it was like that.
In the here-and-now world, she heard the phone and was about to climb down to the hallway and sneak into the living room to take it. They still had a landline but very few people ever called it. One of those very few would be David Reese.
Jon had reached it before everybody woke up, and her autistic son who didn’t like the dark would take two hours to go back to sleep. Carrie felt she had been holding her breath. Jon got it. Fine. Everything is fine.
But then when she was about to close the hatch again she could hear him exclaim, “Stay where you are. For Christ’s sake. Don’t go out there—not with the kids.”
Carrie held her breath. Dave was in Mali. Or was it Burkina Faso this time? What was happening?
She packed her pencil and Bristol Board away. The paperback, Paths to Otherwhere, she hesitated about. But she knew she wouldn’t really have the headspace to read it, it was just nice to sit with it and remember what Dave had told her about it.
Where was he now?
Carrie climbed down the ladder and didn’t fold it up. She also left the hatch partially open. No need to make any more noise until she was sure the kids, especially Michael, would keep sleeping.
In the living room, she found Jon sitting on the couch, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, holding the phone in his hand even though he had obviously hung up. The TV was muted but showed a rerun of the ABC interview with Donald Trump, one of many recent interviews Jon had been following carefully. He was excited about politics for the first time in years, even joking about it. ‘It’s going to be fun, you’ll see.’
But Jon’s gaze was distant, like he wasn’t watching the interview, or anything else. “It was Dave.”
“I guessed that,” Carrie said. “How is he?”
Jon shook his head. “They are in the hospital. Some militia attacked. It’s a kind of siege, they can’t get supplies, anything.”
He looked at his wife. “They say that won’t stop until the other guys move out of the area. They know this hospital—the town—it’s important. So it’s a kind of ransom situation, I guess. But they are running low on power, food,”–he shook his head again and turned off the TV “–water.”
Carrie asked some follow-up questions, but it was more a way to keep herself calm. She couldn’t remember anything about the complicated web of conflicts in the Sahel where Dave had gone with his little NGO to patch up people and hand out necessities. She wouldn’t be able to remember it after this night anyway — who shot at who, and why?
All that mattered was Dave.
“What did he say he was going to do?” Carrie’s voice was thin. She looked away from Jon and outside. She noticed there was a light on over at Beth Hanson’s. There were also several big cars parked outside, and she knew that if she opened the window, she’d hear the music clearly. Good thing, they had fixed their windows, so it was all shut out. For their neighbor’s sakes, too, of course. They had an autistic boy who was very loud. People understood that. But they also expected things … fixed.
Jon didn’t look at her either. He was still staring at that hollow point in space, where all your attention went and stayed every time you got a call like that. Like, when Carrie’s brother had died. Or when Jon’s father had called about their mother, that they had finally found her in a ditch in New Jersey, and he called two hours later and said that it was a mistake.
Jon said nothing. He just got up and went to the hallway. “I’m going for a walk.”
Carrie got up, too. “Tell me.” She heard a sound from Michael’s room and immediately lowered her voice.
“Dave is just jittery,” Jon said. “But the UN soldiers will come and chase those assholes away. They always have.”
“Are you sure?” She caught up to him and held him close. She wanted to see his eyes when he said it, but he wouldn’t look into hers.
“I’m sure,” Jon nodded, “Dave just wanted to call while there was still power.”
“Why are they doing this?” Carrie felt his hand on her waist, but not firmly, as was normal for her husband. She, for her part, held him tight. “It’s a hospital! People will die there if they don’t have power, water … “
“It’s war.” Jon slipped out of her embrace and snatched his jacket from the hanger in the hallway. “Dave will call again.”
As he was about to go outside, into the night, Carrie held the door. “What-what can we do, Jon?”
Finally, he looked her in the eyes. “We can keep hoping. There is nothing else.”
CARRIE & JON, 20 NOV 2015