Time to Pack by Andrena Zawinski

            Zoey lifted the bicycle from the curb where she had taken a spill startled by the military jeep so close to her rounding the corner. Cold steel pressed against her forehead, her eyes traveling up the barrel to a finger on the trigger.

            Her in-laws’ housekeeper, Carmelita, dashed into the street screaming at the National Guardsman in Spanish that the young woman is the daughter of an important Nicaraguan official, calling out his name and position. Pretty much a stand back order that worked. They were on  patrol for locas, they said, since President Somoza was to dine at a nearby home.

            Carmelita picked up the bike and led Zoey into the garage where she, still quite shaken and rubbing her forehead where the muzzle had made an indentation, flopped into a lawn chair between José the chauffeur and Beatriz the cook—their eyes locked on the afternoon’s telenovela installment, Beatriz patting hers dry with an apron corner, José shushing the caged parrot squawking, “Viva la revolución!”

            Once Zoey calmed down, she retreated to her room, one her estranged husband once shared with his younger brother growing up in Managua and where their son now slept soundly in what was his father’s crib. As a guest there she was being used as an intended lure for their son back into his familial fold, but she didn’t care. She cared more for adventure opening up before her, even if wrought with unexpected dangers and consequences for innocent actions.

            The next afternoon, her mother-in-law, La Doña, arrived with a seamstress and gift of an evening dress custom-made for Zoey to wear to the Presidential Palace that evening. There was also a beautician who struggled with an updo on her baby fine hair and manicure of her chewed fingernails. She never questioned things—whether a trip to a hut at the edge of a lagoon for tripe soup, pigs and chickens running amuck, or to bargain for gold filagree earrings in the city mercado, even if she only knew how to say ¿Cuánto cuesta? and numbers.

            That night, as she and her in-laws and other guests entered the ballroom reception, two security guards forcibly escorted a disheveled and drunken woman in an Academy Awards style gown, up the staircase and away from the growing throng.

            “The president’s wife, Hope,” she heard others whisper back and forth, raising eyebrows and shaking heads.

            La Doña spirited Zoey briefly out into the garden, away from cameras flashing. Then back in the ballroom, as they sipped champagne, the lights went out on a communal gasp. When lights came back on, everyone—including the president’s bodyguards—was on the floor and under tables except for Somoza and Zoey who nervously laughed as someone snapped their photo. It was time to go.

            That night, as she tossed in and out of sleep with the air conditioning on the fritz, she sat up in bed to a rumbling, thinking it another tremor from the nearby volcano. It was not. Instead, heavy footsteps, coarse mutterings, wafts of cigar smoke came from the main salon. She switched on the intercom, but she couldn’t make out much with her phrase book Spanish, having had little opportunity to practice with other than house staff, others bent on showing off their English and quick to comment she spoke Spanish like a peasant. She tried to make sense of things, only catching words like el dictator, asesinato, revolución, Sandinistas—her signal, especially after the intercom crackled and buzzed, to turn it off and crawl under the sheets.

            The next morning, as she was coaxing the turtle from the garden pond with some raw meat, her father-in-law, El Señor, appeared towering above her. He warned the snapper could take off the tip of her finger in a split second were she not careful. Then he huffed that he knew she listened in the night before on the intercom, emphasizing these are dangerous times as he nodded toward Concepción’s volcanic smoke rising in the distance. And with that, he reached into his suit jacket’s chest pocket, pulled out a one-way plane ticket to Miami, tapped his finger on its departure time for the next day, and in a low but firm grumble said: “Time to pack.”

About the Author

Andrena Zawinski is an award winning social justice poet and fiction writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has authored four full-length collections of poetry and a debut collection of flash fiction, Plumes & other flights of fancy (2022 Writing Knights Press). Her flash fiction, all steeped in memoir, has appeared in Flashes of Brilliance, Unlikely Stories, Panoplyzine, Ginosko, Windward Review, Midway Journal with a Best Small Fictions nomination.

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