“Come on with me and let’s walk down to the end of the block,” Tansy urged grimly. “There’s something you outta see.”
The quiet residential neighborhood spilled out onto a commercial corridor with a corner market at the intersection. A thoroughfare full of shopping plazas stretched in one direction; boutiques and restaurants lined the other. Up and down the street, crews of city workers were hanging gray banners from the streetlights. One tall building after another unfurled huge rolls of fabric from the rooftop to the ground. The post office and bank had decked their front entryways with gray fabric.
“Are those gray-toned American flags?” Charlie asked with a frown.
“Uh-huh,” Tansy confirmed. “Remember how Friend said the Interim Government wanted to make a public gesture of atonement?”
A quick whip of wind punched the gray-toned stars and stripes. The crews scrambled to catch the unsecured fabric as it billowed. Bits of street grit flung up into their eyes. A shiver darted through Tansy. Charlie and Zadie gaped. The overcast sky snatched the sun into hiding. Color vanished. Drab grays remained. Charlie’s heart sank like a stone. Wordlessly, Tansy steered them to the corner market’s racks of daily newspapers and tabloids.
Interim Government Unveils Gray Atonement
Friend Issues Public Apology for Losses
Charlie flipped the paper over, ignoring the glare from the cashier. The lead story reported that a gray flag of contrition and regret was being hoisted across the capital to symbolize the Interim Government’s commitment to the people and repudiation of the terrible actions of the previous administration.
“As if he wasn’t part of that regime,” Charlie muttered under his breath. “All of them had a hand in the policies of the past.”
“Yeah, well, they’re covering their butts,” Tansy pointed out.
“Friend has called for a period of public mourning nationwide,” Zadie read over Charlie’s shoulder. “Government buildings will display the gray flag, businesses are encouraged to hang gray banners on their buildings, and people are invited to wear gray – dark or light – to join in this symbol of national unity.”
“In Hitler’s time, the flags were red,” Charlie commented acerbically.
Zadie frowned at him.
“I think it’s a moving gesture,” she countered, her eyes moist. “There have been losses.”
“Of course there have,” Charlie argued, “but this? This is ridiculous.”
“Why?” she challenged.
“Because . . . because,” he struggled for the words, “it’s sheer propaganda and empty gestures.”
“Not to those of us who lost someone,” she snapped back.
“Then how about yellow for dandelions? For life, for the things we believe in,” he bickered. “Not the color of ashes and death.”
“You’re such a control freak,” Zadie hissed, lowering her voice. “You just can’t stand that you’re not in charge anymore, that people are making decisions without approval of the Man From the North.”
Charlie stared at her in disbelief. All he’d ever used his Man From the North alias for was to tell the stories of resistance and write what everyone thought, but no one dared to say. The firebrand essays stirred up courage and held out hope. He’d ignited the smoldering pile of frustration into a blaze of revolution . . . but he was no more in charge of the movement than he was in control of an earthquake. He followed the lead of the thousand sparks of resistance, amplifying the rising chorus of dissent. Zadie’s accusation hurt. He turned away in irritation.
Zadie ignored him and asked the cashier where she had gotten the gray flag hung in the window.
The woman shrugged.
“Some government worker came around handing them out. Supervisor thought it’d be best to hang it up. It’s official.”
She shot Zadie a significant look. The past ten years had taught people to be cautious about questioning the government. Not even the burst of the Dandelion Insurrection could counter all the instinctive head ducking and hunching of shoulders. Charlie watched the exchange sadly. Tyranny and fear left deep scars on the psyche of a nation. Healing would take time.
“You can buy one of the new flags,” the cashier suggested pointedly. “We got some for homes and individuals. ‘Course, we’ll be outsold by the Boy Scouts and cheer teams. Interim Government’s gonna let them sell ’em as fundraisers as a way to give back to the people.”
“And mass market the new propaganda,” Charlie muttered under his breath.
Zadie overheard and elbowed his ribs. Tansy grabbed them by the shoulders, thanked the cashier, and steered the pair out the door before a lovers’ quarrel erupted.
Charlie itched to write a ferocious denouncement of the campaign, but the fire in Zadie’s eyes stopped him cold. He scuffed the concrete moodily on the way back to the house feeling boxed into an uneasy corner of silence and implied consent. Zadie’s accusation stung . . . he wasn’t a control freak, why couldn’t she see through this despicable ploy?