Earlier: our armored car grunted just outside the embassy gates, and an emaciated woman lifted her depleted infant’s arm to wave at us. The cost of my suit could have kept them luxuriously for a year.
The electronic gate screeched its welcome.
Now, I steal softly into the embassy. The fumes from the shredders spiral into the lobby – a heady combination of seared secrets and rancid oil. Echoes answer my footsteps. The local staff departed yesterday, shaking hands, tucking crisp twenties into socks, taping them to torsos. Anything to avoid a bulging-pocket betrayal. They dispersed, reappearing briefly at the remaining grocery stores in the antique metropolitan labyrinth, carrying their treasures home.
The bombs burst in air again, twenty miles north; human rights groups worldwide hiss Raytheon. My job, to quiet the screams. To pacify. To dispute, disagree, disavow.
One more statement, before the flag comes down.
The reporters file into the room like defeated sheep at Eid, eyes rimmed with the crust of duck-and-cover nights. We seek to eradicate terrorism, to promote stability, to profess our enduring friendship. Like a prayer. Unanswered. No questions.
Happily, colleagues had answered the call for unfinished snack drawer items. Now, my representational table boasts:
- Thin Mints, one melted unitube
- Ritz Crackers, two boxes
- Hillshire Farms products, one block cheddar cheese, one miniature jar pineapple mustard
- Moderately stale Halloween candy
- Twelve 8-oz. bottles of water embossed with embassy logos
I don’t even see it disappear.
By midafternoon the public address system crackles into life, belatedly announcing 300 protesters waving signs in an idiom unintelligible to most of the expatriate staff. Their chants reach us inside as a faint symphony: a fugue in the key of starvation, with desperation variations. The Imperialist Bastard March. The numbers grow. Swell. Press against the walls.
The security officer’s casual-not-worried call to the local police. Unanswered.
A Molotov cocktail, lifted in a toast, before it’s hurled.
The surge of now thousands of bodies, the grumbling grunt of an under-grouted wall.
Imploring contacts on emergency channels.
A distant roar… rotors…?
I implore my estranged Creator:
Please, let those helicopters be ours…
Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in over thirty literary magazines, including, most recently, Arachne Press, Luna Station Quarterly, Ripples in Space, Write Ahead/The Future Looms Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Turnpike, and Storgy.