The cemetery beckoned Deborah’s mother every year about this time, but Deborah didn’t know why. She suspected, but her mother wouldn’t tell her.
“It’s enough that you know your nanny rests in peace here,” is all she would say, “until the right time comes to tell you.”
Deborah reminisced. Her beloved grandmother was so intelligent, so beautiful, and so kind. She wouldn’t have hurt a fly.
The weather was cold even in the noonday sun, and Deborah wondered why they couldn’t come to the cemetery in the summer when it was warmer. Her mother placed some flowers beside the headstone, and as she leaned over, Deborah could see tears in her reddened eyes.
Deborah’s memories of her grandmother were dreamlike because she was so young when her grandmother disappeared, but she remembered vividly the last time she saw her Nanny. It was her favorite memory from childhood.
“Mother, what happened to Grandma?”
The older woman remained silent. She wanted to tell her daughter, but she couldn’t. Every time she tried, she choked up, and the words wouldn’t come out.
Deborah propped up the red flowers and ran her fingers over the dates on the stone marker. She longed for one last conversation with Nanny. Death was so final, especially for one so young. The date on the tombstone was only a few weeks after that special event in Washington, D.C. Deborah remembered her grandma that day as healthy and vibrant, laughing and singing as she pushed Deborah in the stroller.
Now fourteen and a young woman, she believed she could handle the secret her mother hid in her heart. She was old enough to think about serious things and determined not to let another year pass without knowing the truth.
She turned to her mother sitting beside her, but at that moment, the stricken woman bent over and turned away. The young girl lovingly touched her mother’s shoulder. “The last time I remember seeing Nanny was when we went to Washington, D.C.”
Her mother’s face turned to Deborah, and she held her pointed index finger up to her lips. “You mustn’t talk about that day. The drones hide in secret places,” and she sternly admonished her a second time, her words clipped with fear.
But Deborah didn’t care who heard. She wanted to speak her heart. “That day was my favorite day as a child. You, grandma, and I were together. I don’t know where pappa was, but the three of us were there, and I remember the music, the beautiful singing, and everybody praying.”
Deborah stopped speaking as if a new revelation gripped her. “Mother, we never hear beautiful music anymore.”
Resignation crossed her mother’s face. “You mustn’t ever talk about that day again, you hear me, Honey?”
The fragileness of the moment beguiled Deborah. Discouraged but unwilling to admit she had been cheated of the truth once more, she would try again later. The two returned to their tiny one-room house that looked like every other house on the street. The houses were so close together everyone knew everybody else’s business. Several times each day, drones scoured the sky looking into windows for something, although nobody knew what. Sameness was important. Nobody wanted to stand out. Nobody wanted to be noticed. Nobody wanted to be seen or heard.
Deborah remembered her grandmother loved to read. She remembered the books that lined the walls of her living room and bedroom. Nanny was the most intelligent person she ever knew, yet somebody took her away. How could someone so amazing just disappear? Nanny never did anything wrong. Why wouldn’t her mother tell her? Deborah had even scoured the Internet, hoping to find her grandmother’s name. But it was like she never existed.
January 6, 2021, was only nine years ago, yet there were only a few articles about that day on the Internet. How could there be so few references when Deborah remembered the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people walking beside her in the stroller?
Deborah knew what the government said—many people had died that day, all at the hands of “Trump supporters and right-wing religious fanatics” who took over the Capitol. Because of the widespread destruction and damage, the government hauled many off to jail.
Was her beloved Nanny one of those eyewitnesses arrested? How could that be when Nanny wouldn’t even kill a spider?
Besides, they wouldn’t have gone to the event if there was any danger. Nanny was an American patriot and wanted to be there that day. How could Deborah learn what happened? Did her mother even know? Or had she been brainwashed to forget? Deborah knew those things happened routinely. It was called re-education.
As Deborah watched her mother twist and turn in bed, uttering groanings too deep to understand, the young girl went through everything in her mind she could remember starting with January 6, 2021, and the days and weeks that followed.
It wasn’t long after that that her dad went off to war. According to government reports, he was a hero, but Deborah didn’t believe those reports. Why didn’t he ever come home? The government said America was winning the war, but how could anyone know? No one knew what happened outside the country. She hadn’t seen her father in years, but occasionally, her mother would receive a letter declaring he had won another medal for his heroism.
Deborah didn’t care about medals. Her mother would scold her, “You have food to eat, a roof over your head, and clothes to wear. What more do you want?” And then, emotionally spent, her mother would stomp off.
Deborah felt sorry for her mother. At least Deborah was honest with her feelings; her mother just believed her own lies. But she could never come up with a good answer to her mother’s questions. Yes, they had food, clothes, and a roof, but Deborah felt like a person with no past and no future. Is this how she wanted to live the rest of her life?
The two-week winter break would end soon, and Deborah would have to return to school. But the nightmares were unrelenting and made it difficult for her to focus in school. She would see herself in the stroller among the thousands of people on that wide roadway, swept up in the music, the celebration, and the wonder of the events that took place on that special day. And then everything would go dark. Two of the dearest people in her life suddenly disappeared.
What happened? None of what the state-run media said was as she remembered. But, she was only a young child that day; maybe she was too young to remember.
Deborah walked over to her mother as she rested on their small bed. Mother probably wished she would turn out the lights so she could sleep. But Deborah was determined to find out what happened.
“Mother,” Deborah asked, “do we have any of the books from Nanny’s old house?”
Mother sighed. “Even if I had any, I wouldn’t show them to you. You know books have been banned unless they are state-approved.”
“So her books are not state-approved?”
“I didn’t say that,” her mother snapped.
“Why can’t I know what happened to my grandmother? Why?”
Her mother sat up in bed and glared at Deborah. “Your grandmother was a domestic terrorist. She was sent off to prison and died. What more do you want to know?”
Deborah didn’t like her mother’s rebuff. “Don’t you care about my feelings? I loved Grandma, domestic terrorist or not.”
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” her mother scoffed.
Deborah glared at her. “You don’t really believe that, do you? Nanny was so smart, compassionate, and—she loved Jesus.”
Mother’s eyes moistened. “Don’t say that name, or they will come and take you to a re-education camp.”
Deborah retorted. “Some things are more important. You’ve allowed the government to take your soul. Fear is your constant companion. Nanny would never let that happen.”
Mother leaned into Deborah and whispered. “And that’s why they hauled her off to a re-education camp.” Mother’s countenance fell. “I’ve lost everyone important to me. I’d die if something happened to you.”
“Please, Mother,” Deborah insisted, “just show me one book of hers. Just one. I can hold the book to my chest and feel Nanny’s presence in my heart.”
Her mother glanced around the small house and whispered, “Unplug everything, the computer, TV—better yet, cover them up with towels. Close the blinds. And we must do it quickly before the nightly drone stops by and hovers in front of the window.
Quickly they concealed anything that could send or receive information, and Deborah followed her mother as she walked over to a small closet in the corner of the room. The older woman slid the door aside, knelt down to move some boxes, and then stacked them on top of each other. Where the boxes had been, several loose tiles appeared.
A small hole emerged. Deborah gasped. “I never knew there was anything underneath the tiles.”
Her mother retrieved two books—a family album and a Bible. “At least I have these. Our social score would drop to zero if they discovered these in my possession. You wouldn’t be able to go to college. They would force us to live on starvation rations.”
She handed Deborah the book with photographs.
Deborah opened the photo album and saw pictures of when she was little, along with her pappa and mom. Her mother was so beautiful, and her grandmother was stunning. Deborah sat back and cherished the family memories. She gently touched a photograph of her father and grandmother. She whispered under her breath, “What happened to them?”
Deborah continued to pore over more photos, noticing something she didn’t expect to see—wealth. Grandma’s house was very large.
Unexpectedly, Deborah remembered things she had forgotten. Like her grandmother playing the piano, the rides they took in Nanny’s car to the park, and the ice cream store they would visit when they left the park. What happened to that world? When had she last tasted ice cream?
Sadness overcame Deborah. She set the family album aside. What had started as an exciting adventure into the past became an overwhelming lump of sorrow in Deborah’s throat.
“Can I see Nanny’s Bible?” Deborah asked.
Her mother handed the old book to her, and Deborah ran her fingers along the frayed edges of the cover. Had she seen one of these before? Deborah closed her eyes—and remembered. “Where is that book you used to read to me that had Bible stories?”
Mother shook her head. These are my only two books—your Nanny’s Bible and these family photos.” Her voice quivered. “Deborah, only a tiny bit longer. It’s getting late, and the drone will be coming by at any moment.”
Deborah blurted out, “What good is it if you don’t read the Bible? Or even look at these photographs? You can’t enjoy them if they’re hidden in a dark closet.”
“They are so precious, Deborah. I don’t want to risk losing them. They would take these from me if they knew I had them. Or worse.”
Deborah opened the Bible and found a note inside.
“Oh, the note,” Mother exclaimed, “I forgot about the note. Please read it.”
Deborah whispered the words to her mother. “Dear Deborah. God told me someday you would find this Bible. The demons will flee if you call on the name of Jesus. Seek the truth, and never give up. Love, Nanny.”
Deborah swallowed hard and handed the note to her mother. “Mother, something supernatural happened on January 6, 2021, which changed America. Why didn’t the people who were there speak up? Why didn’t they tell the truth? Why did they let the news media spread lies?”
Deborah’s mother lowered her eyes. “Because if they did, they would have been arrested, like your dear grandmother. She spoke up. She spoke the truth. She knew what the CCP had done in China. That’s why she took extra pamphlets to share with others. Nobody thought the CCP would take over America, except perhaps a few conspiracy lunatics.”
Deborah thought about the CCP pamphlets her mother and grandmother handed her that day. She remembered circling the letters “CCP” etched in bold letters on the covers. Of course, as a child, they were just letters—nothing significant or earth-shattering. But because Nanny had handed them to her to hold, she felt important. Never could she have imagined the dire warnings in those words. If only somebody had taken those warnings seriously.
Deborah grabbed her mother’s hand. “They were warning the people, weren’t they? They knew what was coming, those people in the booths.”
Mother nodded. “We must put these books back and open the blinds,” Mother said. “We can’t wait any longer. It’s late.”
Deborah wrapped her arms around the Bible and imagined she could smell the faint scent of her dear Nanny. She breathed in deeply. “I want to sleep with Nanny’s Bible.”
“If they see you with that …” her mother’s voice trailed off.
“It’s the Bible, Mother. They will not see it. God will protect us.”
Mother bit her lip and hesitated, and for the first time in years, Deborah saw hope in her eyes.
“I believe you,” her mother said. “I want to trust God. If only I had more faith.”
Deborah and her mother clasped each other tightly. Then Deborah released her hold and said, “I remember something Nanny once said, ‘Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’”
Her mother nodded.
“No fear,” Deborah said. “No fear.”