Friday, June 25, 2010

When Her Father Called From Prison

June, 1975
Philadelphia, PA

Jean Wyatt was watching the riots on television when her father called from prison.

"Jean, you've gotta come bail me out, honey."

The rain was pounding and pounding, and the old house was groaning under it. She'd put out buckets and cups and jars all through the kitchen and the living room to catch the leaks, but it was impossible to get them all. The house was over two hundred years old, it'd been built by her great-great-something grandfather, but it was finally buckling under Philadelphia's endless rain.

Her father's voice was calm, like it always was; but Jean felt the old familiar panic and took a few breaths to quiet herself. She fumbled for a cigarette.

"What the hell? You're in jail? What are you doing in jail, Dad?"

He didn't answer immediately. Behind her the news announcer said: "Commissioner Daley has said that police have cordoned off the area around Freedom Hall and are using rubber bullets and tear gas. Arrests have been made near Logan Square and the Oregon Center. United Nations troops..."

"I tangled with one of those damn commies, honey," he said at last. "I got him, too."

"...assisting Philadelphia police. There are reports of military action..."

Jean dragged on her cigarette and forced calm into her voice. "What do you mean you got him, Dad? Did you kill... ?"

"Yeah, I got him. What was I gonna do, he was all set to shoot me."

"But Dad..."

"Now you listen to me, honey. I was in the war, I know what the rules are. Sometimes you have to get them before they get you. I'm alive, aren't I? Some of the guys I was standing next to, they weren't so lucky."

"But Dad..."

"They were shooting at us, honey."

"Dad, I told you not to go out there."

"Sweetheart, I fought for my country twenty years ago and I'll fight for her today. They can call those troops 'peacekeepers' all they want, but they're the same damn commies we were fighting back then. Just because they won the war doesn't give them the right to come marching in here and meddle in our affairs."

Jean thought, I can't take it, I can't take it, not again. He can't do this to me... She forced that voice into silence. She focused on the news instead.

"In other news, President Kennedy met today with President Nixon. Nixon's visit marks the first time a president of the Free States has visited the United States. After meeting for half an hour, the two presidents issued a joint statement expressing sadness at the riots and violence in Philadelphia, a city which, they say, holds a great deal of shared history and importance for both the Free States and the United States. President Kennedy added that the US military and police forces were cooperating with UN peacekeeping forces to quell the violence and..."

"Sweetheart, are you still there?"

"They said Nixon and Kennedy are meeting today, Dad."

"What, you're listening to the news? Nixon's the reddest commie on the planet, and he's got the UN in his pocket. Kennedy's a good man, but he knows he has to meet with Nixon or there will be 'peacekeeping' bombs dropping on Washington. Anyway, come on honey. Turn off the news and come bail me out."

She tried one more time. "Dad, this isn't like the war. You're not a soldier. This is riots. And you're not a policeman. If you shoot someone, they're going to get you for murder. Did you really kill somebody?"

"I did. And I'm not glad about it, but if I hadn't, you'd be getting a call from the morgue instead of the police station."

Jean sighed. "Ok, Dad. I'll be there as soon as I can."

She drove through the rain, a muddy rain coming in off the Atlantic, so thick that Mt. Penn was invisible. The radio said that thirty-six had been confirmed dead in clashes with the UN peacekeeping forces.

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