Author : Janet Shell Anderson

I don’t like the severed heads.

Well, nobody does.

I like evenings along the Potomac, down near where my father worked; a civil engineer in the White House, he designed the new deep shelter and the tunnels. But I mostly stay in Silver Spring or Rock Creek Forest now. It’s the severed heads jammed on the White House fence I don’t like. Pretty ugly.

Sometimes I fish the Potomac, but you mostly get carp and Benny says they’re full of worms. I eat them anyway when I’m hungry. We hunt down Rock Creek Park a lot.

No one has burned down Rock Creek Forest yet because the word is it’s too dangerous to go into the woods even during the day. I go down that way all the time. Benny has work that way. We’re not afraid.

I was born over near Washington Avenue in Silver Spring when that was a nice place, although we had lots of old ranch houses around and old people who gradually disappeared. The condos were nice. The armored cars and heavy tanks only came by once in a while when I was a kid, and I used to ride horses in Rock Creek Forest halfway down to what used to be the zoo before they sold all the animals.

I like sundown over the Potomac. The river’s really wide right here near the Old Lincoln Memorial Bridge, and the big gold horses that guard the bridge shine in the late light. Virginia’s a whole other world; only the military goes there. They say swastikas are everywhere across the river like there used to be when my grandmother lived in Silver Spring in the old days, back in the Post War. They don’t mean anything. Every faction has its hate symbols; we’re all used to it.

Benny walks beside me; it’s August, really humid. The river glitters red and gold, and there’s a heron out near Roosevelt Island. Benny does rough work, although mostly we stay off the scans and nets as much as possible. He’s twenty. I’m fourteen.

I see a swirl in the water, and it’s a carp. I see minnows too. A frog jumps in. They sing a lot in the spring but now, not so much.

I don’t have any plans. My grandmother grew up thinking she would be deported because they were all reds, then pinks, then some kind of greens, but she never was. My mother and father disappeared, and now there’s just Benny, who looks after me, and Fluffy, my enhanced Norwegian Forest Cat who weighs three hundred pounds.

My hair is white as snow from the chemicals my mother put on it to make me safe, and my skin is white as snow, and most of the time I don’t look like a female, so I’m pretty safe. Benny doesn’t look like a female either.

He looks like an assassin.

My mother wanted me to be an attorney. Benny says that’s about the same as an assassin, but you don’t need good eyesight or steady hands. Easier for that heron to be an attorney than for me.

Hey, I’ve got a tug on the line and don’t care what Benny says, I’m going to build a fire under the cherry trees, the ones left from the cherry borers and last summer’s burning, and cook the fish.

All the troops are over at the White House right now, so they won’t care. The red sun stains the west walls. I can see that even from here.

Man, listen to the locusts sing. Hot weather. Rain coming. Purple clouds just on the north horizon out toward Silver Spring. Sun red as fire. Just half of it above the hills over the river. Mother used to say, “I don’t like to see that evening sun go down.” I don’t know why.

The White House walls are red as the sun. I don’t go there anymore. Benny goes there for work.

I don’t like the heads.