The snow thickened, cast into frantic swirls like schools of fish trying to dart free of ocean nets. Through the flurries, a figure in a long dark coat paced the whitened sidewalks of the National Mall, her shoulders hunched up to her ears. Her arms clenched tight against her sides and her hands shoved deep down into her coat pockets. The wind flipped her dark curls wildly, but, lost in thought, the woman merely tossed them out of her eyes. She stared up at the snow with a clouded gaze.
Zadie fumed as she strode through the snowstorm, trying to churn her anxious thoughts into a flame of warmth. Charlie was still talking to that patronizing moron of a senator. She’d stalked out in disgust, muttering to Charlie that she’d meet him back at Tansy’s. She had to get some air before a scream of frustration burst out of her throat like dragon fire. These politicians sat in cozy little congressional offices, making deals with each other while families struggled to keep the heat on, the roof overhead, food on the table, loved ones out of prison, debts and bills held at bay, and the thousand tasks of a movement slogging forward despite the obstruction and delays of chubby little men in suits and well-heeled heartless women.
Who are we without the lies we tell ourselves? Zadie thought bitterly. Our values of equality and justice were myths. Our pride, false. Our ideals, hollow and unrealized. Every great accomplishment we crowed over turned out to be an illusion built on a foundation of bones. Every victory was soaked in an unspeakable bloodbath. Our pomposity erected monuments to our self-deception, celebrating the dead instead of caring for the living.
The problem with being in the capital, Zadie realized, was that it allowed politicians to forget the faces of the people. At the far end of the Mall, veiled in snow, Lincoln’s large and iconic gaze towered over the upturned agony of the humans below. Marble columns and business suits clouded the eyes from the grime and misery of the rundown, forgotten, and neglected corners of the nation. Sterile statistics stood in for the wailing grief of mothers who had lost their children. Politicians never had to see the desperation of people denied homes or healthcare. Lobbyists did not evict families with their bare hands; they left the tossing out of pillows and photo albums to others. Zadie longed to haul the Congress members by the scruff of their suits down into the gutters of the nation. Her fists clenched in her coat pockets. She yearned to throw the whole lot of those closed-hearted, stubborn mules into the heart of the misery their policies created.
She had lost patience with the pretty niceties of national delusions. The reality stung like a festering sore. She wanted to roll up her sleeves and scrub out the gangrene. She was willing to tear up patriotism along with the flag and use it as tourniquets to save her fellow citizens. What good was all our posturing and lies? Better to tell the heart-breaking truth, to let us gag at the sight of ourselves, to mourn our brokenness, to drop our jaws in horrified shock at the people we have become.
A cluster of snowflakes slipped down her collar and she flinched. Go home, she told herself as she turned her feet in the direction of the subway station. Draw a hot bath. Make tea. Remember all the people working for change. Remember the saving graces and good hearts.
She muttered these instructions like a mantra, biting down on her bitterness, desperately trying to cut through her mood before it immobilized her. Despair was a treacherous slope, muddy and slick, pocketed with hidden cliffs. Zadie trudged through the storm, trying to remember spring, cherry blossoms, bright blue skies, and the exact color of dandelions against the green grass.