She sat in her car in the parking lot at the Lowe's Home Center the morning after the election and tried to find a shape to the thing, tried to understand how it was possible for so many people to knowingly do what they'd done.
She hadn't felt like this since she was a little girl, back when the Northridge earthquake rolled under her house. No, not rolling. Lifting the house and dropping it, over and over again. Filling the darkness with the noises of a hundred angry ghosts throwing around the furniture and breaking all the glass, knocking the fish bowl off her dresser. The sounds of her parents calling out to her from their bedroom so far away. The walls bending. The crack that shot across the ceiling like dark lightning. The white light of the transformer exploding outside her window.
It was the end of the world.
And even when the shaking stopped and the only noises were the chorus of car alarms and the bare feet of her parents running toward her room, climbing over fallen bookcases and broken lamps, even then there was the fear, no, the certainty, that it would start again. And there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Sitting in the parking lot now, she understood what she was feeling then. It was the discovery that civilization was as fragile as the fishbowl on her childhood dresser, liable to casual destruction and arbitrary death.
And now there was this new world. If the sun had risen in the west this morning, she couldn't have been more surprised or fearful than she was in the aftermath of the action taken by so many of her fellow citizens.
She felt numb when she went to bed, but now the Novocain of shock was melting and the pain grew behind her heart. She couldn't open her email and didn't dare look at the internet. So she took the broken spring, the one that snapped the day before when she was opening the garage door, and drove to Lowe's to get a replacement.
But when she got there, she wasn't able to make herself get out of the car. She couldn't face the idea of seeing other people, looking at them for signs...in the eyes, at the corner of mouths...that they'd had a part in this terrible unraveling.
So, she sat there, looking past the steering wheel, through the windshield and toward the mountains.
She thought about a boy she went with in college who she would have stayed with if he hadn't been so cynical. He said he wasn't cynical, he was just being realistic.
"People are people, they've been acting this way for a very long time. The evidence is in."
She refused to hear her species maligned in such a smug fashion.
"Well," she told him. "I stand with Anne Frank. She said, 'Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.'"
"Not much of a defense when you think about what happened to her."
"Her words live on."
"I bet she'd have traded being a martyr for a chance to go to her senior prom."
"Don't make jokes."
"It wasn't a joke."
They broke up between sophomore and junior years.
And now she sat in a Honda Civic with a broken garage door spring in a broken country. The nightmare hadn't ended. The nightmare was about to begin. She closed her eyes, put her hands over her face and cried. Wept. Sobbed. Till her nose was plugged with snot.
Anne Frank believed in the basic goodness of all people...or so she wrote. Maybe she wrote it just to see it on paper, just to make the wish tangible. Had Anne written those words to keep from going mad? Did she write them because what was happening was simply impossible to understand? People don't do things like this.
She looked up, through the sparkling distortions of her tears. She looked at the row of metal light-poles marching away from her and watched them change. She watched them become the golden lights along the Keizersgracht canal, just coming on at dusk.
There was a girl by the canal, standing in front of the patisserie on Huidenstraat. A girl in a pretty party dress and the coat she'd borrowed from her older sister Margot. The girl was waiting for a boy to take her to a dance. The best, most exciting dance ever. He was late, but he would be there soon. She was certain of this.
Alone in the Honda, she yanked tissues from her purse and pressed them into her eyes. Then she blew her nose and looked out across the parking lot.
The canal was gone. Just cars and people now, people making their way toward the automatic doors of Lowe's. Some of the people, many of the people, had items in their hands. Light fixtures, lengths of pipe, segments of fallen gutters. Things that needed to be repaired or replaced. They brought these items with them just as she had taken the broken garage door spring with her; to make sure the replacement part was exactly what was needed.
Now these people, with their florescent tubes and wounded power tools and crippled lawn mowers, marched toward Lowe's, like the faithful approaching a holy shrine, in the desperate hope that they will be made whole again.
She got out of her car, took up the broken spring, and joined the other pilgrims with their relics.
Joseph Dougherty is a writer living in California.
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