chanter_greenie: a Pringles can with the words 'you can't write just one' written across it (drabbles are like pringles)
[personal profile] chanter_greenie
This fic hit me on Friday morning and would not leave me alone till it got written down. I wasn't expecting Michael to put his two cents in, but he has.

Warnings for hints at the overall tone of this universe's America, quite a bit of mental cursing, and altered Cat Stevens/Harry Chapin lyrics.


Michael knows what he's getting his older daughter into when he gives her an Army surplus shortwave rig as a birthday gift. At least, he's pretty sure he does, what with one thing and another.

Kendra's got a head on her shoulders, a head like his own; she's after the truth of a situation more often than not. Not that she's into ferreting out details just for their own sake; she isn't. Nosiness without a reason isn't her style, that much has been plain for a decade or more. But she wants the pieces to fit, wants to know where she and most other people stand. Considering the world they live in, this isn't always easy, or advisable, or even possible. Michael's sure that Kendra's as aware of this as he is; he spotted her shrewd eye years ago, matched it to his wife's and his own with no trouble at all. But the thing is, Michael spied the innate, brassy strength in Kendra pretty early on too, and that worried him as much as it made him proud. Still does. His oldest kid doesn't always keep her head down and her eyes averted, and there's enough of both her mother and himself in her that she can't, won't, shut her mouth on all her objections all the time, especially when they're righteous and somebody else is involved. Her blood's too hot, and maybe the home lessons they passed down by example took a little too well. Sometimes mint likes to run rampant in the soil, put out runners and take over. Michael loves his oldest child, but she makes him nervous. For her sake, not his own.

And the cat's in the cradle
and the silver spoon,
Little Boy Blue and the man on the moon.

Michael knows the sort of trouble people can get into for listening to certain radio stations. Not that there'll be a firing squad waiting for anybody, but he's seen broken windows a time or two, heard plenty of questions and gotten word of plenty of fines. Get caught with a setup tuned to something in a certain vein and you can be ticketed for a mouthful of legalese, and from all the stories, the price of one of those tickets isn't trivial. People might get watched for a while, lose a job, get a reputation that doesn't do them any favors. Sometimes there are vans that come rolling down the sidestreets, big, boxy, unmarked grey things with twenty-foot loops of aerial balancing impossibly on their roofs. People call them different things, the censors or the big-ears or the signal police. Some people say green police, especially if somebody in their family fought in Europe back along the line, like Michael's own father did. They're rare, usually, but they're around, and everybody knows what they're listening for.

Michael makes himself trust to Kendra's sensible side when he gives her that radio. Even then, he makes sure he tells her to be careful. He can't not tell her that, common sense or otherwise. He's still a dad, and she's still his daughter, and he'd sooner get himself in hot water with the green police or some other branch of government than see her walk into something by sheer force of silly eagerness. She's already got a muttered reputation as a shit disturber, a restive type. She can't afford a misstep. He knows it, and he's willing to bet she probably does too. It comes down to balancing her inherited need for the reality of things with the care everybody learns like walking. She needs to know. It's better if he gives her the means to find out than have her go looking on her own. Michael's pretty well convinced himself of that much when he drops his birthday present in her lap the day she turns eighteen. The instructions he tosses on top of it are in his handwriting. That part scares him, but his self-concern is nothing compared to the nerves he's dealing with on his daughter's behalf. He doesn't say 'Watch your fool self, kid', but he figures the adjective gets across pretty loudly anyway.

Is he damning his firstborn? He hopes to God the answer is no. But he owes her as much of the reality of things as he can give her. Keeping her from something vital for people like her, people like himself and his better half--that's just a disservice to somebody good. And Kendra is that, if the stories about Manny Del Reyes's kid that went around a few years ago have any truth in them. Michael saw his girl's blackened eye, got her refusal to give details on it full in his face, noticed her hands shaking like a couple leaves for a full three days after she first walked in with the shiner. He bets the answer is yes. It's not just that story either; Michael's got his kids' personalities pretty well pegged. Try living with somebody for eighteen years. Then try combining that living time with raising them. You get savvy. He's seen her speak up, heard her questions, watched her stirring up dust and done the best he could to keep trouble off her back. Kendra's got both heart and a heart. She's earned her reputation as a troublemaker, but she's earned it for the right reasons. That's pride talking, but it's fear too.

The kid was just like me.
The kid is just like me.

For all Michael knows, his own best is the best she'll get in this situation. She deserves a few explanations. Anything less and he's a bad father. Not that he doesn't want to protect her, but you can only fight so many battles for somebody else before they start to resent you. Or you start to get disgusted with yourself for coddling them. Maybe both. She wants the broad brushstrokes out of reality, she's old enough to appreciate what they mean, and he has a method for getting them to her. It's the best he can do, in a couple senses of the phrase.

It's sure nice talking to you, Dad. It's sure nice talking to you.

It's March when one of those boxy, hoop-topped, damned unmistakable grey vans rolls into their neighborhood again. It's been years since one wandered down their street; usually they stick to the main road. Nothing to see here, nothing to see or hear, move along. Michael can hear its wheels almost as easily as he can see its progress. He's at the living room window, breath frosting the glass as he watches it trundle down the nearer crossstreet, and though the aerial doesn't turn, he still half-expects motion in the gloom. The way those things move, you almost expect eyes to follow you. What's in the back of his head is, I really hope Kendra hasn't got her radio on.

Then the phrase is in the front of his brain instead, because motion he gets. The thing's rolling into a right angle turn, the streetlight's glinting off its front window and grillwork, and that antenna loop almost looks like an eye for a second, staring straight at him, before he's backed away from the window and made a sharp-swerving turn of his own. Stairwell. Staircase. Kid's gotta turn that thing off. She's dead if she doesn't--shit, I put her in jail, didn't I? I put my kid in jail. There's a lump building in Michael's throat. He ignores it.

He doesn't have to knock. Her door's wide open. She's lying on her bed, barefoot, pajama-clad and attentive to the low mutter from--yup, he knew it. Michael's hands go cold as his gaze zooms to the radio's display. It's glowing faintly, showing 6165 0333 UTC / 10:33 PM and illuminating his kid's intent face. He stops inside her doorway, shoes practically slamming to a halt on her carpet. He doesn't care about that part of it until later. My little girl's dead if I don't--

"Turn that thing off, now."

It's not a snarl. It's not a yell. But there's force behind it, and the kind of urgency that usually only comes out of him when saying things like 'a tornado's been sighted a mile away, get downstairs' or 'don't put a match near that, it's got gasoline all over it'. Kendra's absorbed, plenty so, but that gets through to her. His kid's not entirely a fool.

She outright jumps and almost falls off the bed. "What? What's the matter?"

What's the matter, she says. Michael almost laughs, almost hits himself in the face. "Turn it off," he says again, and then, "and for Chrissakes, look out a window or something. Off, now."

She listens. She's glaring at him, but thank God, she does it. Then she gets up and crosses to her window. Michael resists the urge to breathe a sigh of relief as the amber light blinks out and the radio display goes dark - not time yet, not by a long shot. They still might've tracked the signal to this house. At the window, Kendra's attitude is dropping like a brick and she's dragging in a breath of her own.

"Is that thing...?"

"Yeah, that." He pauses, mentally knocks the sarcastic note out of his voice, starts again. "I didn't mean to get mad, but you had to turn that off. You know why."

"Yeah, I--yeah. Holy man, I didn't even know!" Michael can see her start shaking. It looks like she's forcing herself not to shrink where she stands. Hell if he's not proud of her all over again, despite himself. "What should I--what am I gonna do? What're we gonna do?"

Well, he did call himself a square peg in writing. Figures she'd make the leap to saying we. Smart kid he's got. Michael almost laughs again, stops himself.

It's not his place to make this decision for her. He made that admission the day he gave her the radio. "Just be careful, kid," is all he eventually says. It doesn't feel like enough, but it's literally everything truthful he's got. "Be really careful."

"... Born careful, wasn't I?" That's a lie, and it's laced with shaky bravado enough to cut steel, and it's so much his own humor he could cry. He doesn't, but he does watch the green police from over her shoulder until they've rolled down the length of the street and onto another. Taillights have never looked so nice.

I heard you're coming home, girl.
I don't know when.
We'll get together then, Dad. I know we'll have a good time then.

Then she's gone.

Part of him, he thinks, must've been half-expecting her to go for months. Why else would he feel so little surprise about it? If he thinks back, he can probably track down a dozen tiny hints he never put together. Sure, there's shock all tied up with a lot of other emotions he doesn't usually admit he can feel so vividly--fury, frustration, sorrow, terror for her--but it's really not as strong as the others. He must've been expecting this, someplace deep down.

She isn't the first to leave, and he doubts she'll be the last in Galena to make the run. Doesn't stop his heart damn near ripping apart for missing her, the dumbshit ballsy kid. Figures she'd need something better badly enough to leap for it. There's no note, and that's just like her, too. He couldn't have said everything in some typical dramatic note on the kitchen counter either, if it was him running for the border. Better to either spill the whole thing or not tell anybody, and not talking's safer. Less collateral damage if you try for maple leaf country and you're caught in the attempt.

What I'd really like is to borrow the car keys,
see you later Dad, can I have them, please?

Her family picture's gone, picked clean out of its frame. The smallest suitcase from the hall closet. All the underwear from her drawer - his wife checks that one. His kid's got sense, the idiot. The rings she never takes off, her watch, her favorite sweater, her coat. Her radio. Figures. It's October. Kendra's nineteen.

Michael doesn't know what his other two kids will say. He's half afraid to look their mother in the eye. The guilt roiling in his gut's almost enough to make him bawl.

Hell if he isn't proud of his oldest, though, in amid it all. God, keep her safe, she's just like me.

The kid is just like me.


Footnotes are marching:

*Vans like those depicted did go about in occupied countries during World War II, seeking radios receiving clandestine broadcasts.

*The Green Police was a nickname given to the German Order Police, also during World War II. The Order Police were closely connected with the SS, and included a dedicated radio guard intended, among other things, to halt reception of foreign broadcasters.

Kendra's side of the end of this fic and more is coming up soonish, unless somebody else decides to get chatty. :)

Feedback

Date: 2013-06-17 07:37 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This is creepy but with a note of hope. I look forward to seeing more.

Re: Feedback

Date: 2013-06-17 09:01 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
>> That was the intent, honestly. Glad it came across. <<

Yay!

>> Does it make me a shameless self-insert type to say that Michael has elements of my own father in him? <<

No. Most writers use bits of themselves and people they know to anchor characters. I do it all the time. Almost none of my characters are analogs of myself, but almost all of them have something in common with me. It's harder to connect without that.

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