Leticia sits at her kitchen table, drinking coffee, curtains parted, watching the dirty dawn brightening between the bare limbs of the Rodneys’ elm next door. Light falls as harpoons and elevator shafts, laying out on her front lawn like butchered meat in a bazaar. A flock of ducks give in, charge toward ghosts over the horizon, tiny violins playing encores over sleeping towns. Leticia closes her eyes, lets coffee steam caress her face, lets the moment linger, lets her mind join the fleeing flock, no boundaries, no commitments, complete freedom.
Soon, she knows her husband, Damon, will stir, groan like a bear coming out of hibernation, empty his bladder, make his way downstairs like an avalanche, pour himself a cup of coffee and turn on the morning news.
The last thing Leticia wants is more warnings about the truth on the loose, to see its decades-old, bedraggled mugshot shown every hour on the hour, to listen to the new lies.
Ever since it was revealed the truth had not been lost at sea decades earlier (as previously reported), that the truth had not dropped out of the public eye to form a cult and become a reclusive yogi (as some had speculated), that the truth had not committed suicide because Silas Marner died of typhoid in Polynesia while searching for it (as some had romanticized), the truth was everywhere. Complete media saturation. And Leticia’s husband, like everyone else, gobbles it up. He, like everyone else, believes the truth has changed. Time locked away in a super prison, buried deep under steel, concrete, electromagnetic shielding and earth has made the truth dangerous. They say one look from the truth can cause you to burst into flames. They say if you were to ever hear the truth speak you will explode. They support this all by showing live, aerial footage of the truth’s escape route: whole towns burning, black silhouettes staining concrete, more concussion blasts echoing in the distance, more flames boiling up on the horizon, pushing ever closer to dense populations.
Leticia can never bear to witness it for long, and she always turns away to go wake her daughter, Miranda, for school.
Leticia has too many memories. Her father always told her to tell the truth, and for the most part, she had. She remembers when the truth was beautiful, when it almost hurt her eyes to look into its light. She remembers the way she drew pictures of the truth, remembers how the truth was her secret boyfriend, how she spoke to the truth when she was alone in her room. And now, few question this change. They say you cannot recognize the truth, that it is a shapeshifter. They say the only one you can trust is the face and the voice on your TV screen. They say everything else is suspect.
When the story initially broke, it was revealed that in the wake of JFK’s murder LBJ had been the one that launched a top secret dragnet to capture the truth, while temporarily under martial law, in order to keep the truth out of the hands of the Russians. Very few remember that the truth was not incarcerated for a crime, but it was buried in that super prison for the country’s so-said safety. But somewhere along the way, the viewing public missed the sleight of hand—the way the news painted the truth in uglier and uglier hues, the way they made the truth out to be a deviant. Now, the only thought that remains is the truth needs to be hunted down and eradicated in order to ensure our safety.
The day before, after Leticia had turned away yet again to wake her daughter, she heard Miranda stirring, talking to herself through her bedroom door. She could not make out what was being said, but when Leticia opened the door, Miranda was full of questions. Leticia had worried about this from the start, wondered when children might talk amongst themselves, wondered when the psychic backlash of her father yelling at a TV screen might fuel her daughter’s anxieties.
Leticia told her daughter about her relationship with the truth, how it was a beautiful thing, how the truth must have been like Houdini, coming and going as it pleased from the super prison, for the truth had never disappeared from her life, even during the decades it was said to have been incarcerated. It was always there. A treasure, a comfort. Leticia told her everything she knew of the truth, but fell short of saying don’t believe the TV—she did not want her daughter to be turned on, reviled, called a liar. Leticia made Miranda promise to keep quiet, to fall in line if she was asked to. At the end of the day, it would be their secret. As history would change directions, they would chronicle the truth in their hearts, would whisper it to their sons and daughters and granddaughters and grandsons, would grow it for generations and generations, a secret weed that cured sight and mind against the sensory assault all around us.
Leticia opens her eyes, her mind returning from its flight with the vee of ducks, sips her cooling coffee, expecting her husband, Damon, to come down the stairs, but instead sees shadows scurrying across the patchwork of light on her front lawn outside her window. She hears something like chains rattling, then sees an armored battle ram come into view, accelerating past the Murphys house, aimed at her front door. From behind the battle ram, more shadows disperse in every direction. On the rooftops, Leticia can now make out snipers. Overhead, a helicopter’s blades ricochet throughout the neighborhood like a racquetball rally without end. Leticia turns on the TV and sees live footage of her house, surrounded by SWAT, National Guard and police.
Damon groans like a bear, charges to the banister and asks, “What’s going on?”
Before Leticia can answer, a stern man’s voice cuts through the din, “Come out. We know the truth’s inside. You are committing a crime by aiding an escaped fugitive.”
“What’s he talking about? The truth was last seen burning through the South like Sherman’s March to the sea! How did it get here so fast?”
Damon begins to weep and crumples to the floor.
Leticia makes a run for Miranda’s room. She hears gunshots as she enters the shadows of the hallway, followed by a stiff reprimand from the stern man, “Hold your fucking fire.”
When Leticia opens the door, Miranda’s bed is empty and her window wide open. Leticia panics: searches her closet, under her bed. Nothing.
“Don’t move another step, little missy. That is a dangerous criminal you have there,” the stern man instructs from the frontside of the house.
Leticia jumps out of Miranda’s window, onto the back lawn, in her bare feet, rounds the corner of the house at full speed, only to see a muzzle flash before she hears the report, like a supernova ripping out of the darkness of the universe.
“I said hold your fucking fire!” the stern man screams into the megaphone.
Leticia crouches over Miranda’s body, still holding onto her open sketchbook. Blood pooling, Leticia recognizes the truth in her daughter’s line work on the blood-spattered page, the same beautiful face she remembered, the same almost unbearable light, the same light that now leaves her daughter’s eyes and blinds Leticia’s with tears. Wild animal sounds of grief and anger rip out of the darkest place inside her chest. Her hand dripping with her daughter’s blood, she smears it across her face. She stands facing them all, her body shaking, her fists knotted, daring anyone to look away. With one look of her truth she could burst them all into flames. With one sound of her voice speaking her truth she could explode them all.
Ron Gibson, Jr. has previously appeared in Stockholm Review of Literature, Cheap Pop, New South, Jellyfish Review, Whiskeypaper, The Bohemyth, Easy Street, Noble / Gas Quarterly, Harpoon Review, Spelk Fiction, Entropy, Anti-Heroin Chic, etc… forthcoming at (b)oink, apt, and Glove Lit Zine @sirabsurd