Eternal vigilance is a heavy burden to bear, one requiring the Apprehension of the subtle as well as the brash.
Sometimes the threat isn’t as obvious as we anticipate.
Drifting back to fond memories of spring, a time both temperate and full of promise, releasing a labored breath, his shoulders slumping forward as his weight settling beneath him in the La-Z-Boy. Itching at the stubble on his chin thinking about the road leading to the door of his castle. Thoughts of exercising rights, the convenience of his peace of mind, and long sightlines. Years of growth bringing the forest thickly around his homestead, both a chore of maintenance and blessing, making access for others land difficult. Through the window in front of him, he could clearly see four hundred yards out to the county road. Safety came through this type of isolation, and vigilance.
Indifferent to the woods, or the long drive, winter continued haranguing his home. Howling with freezing winds and buffeting cold trying to pry away his privileges. Watching the road, and the gale of snow drifting across the fence, Ron began drifting, permitting his memory to recall warmer times. Temperate days of Spring when life was full around him.
Back in Spring, the air was soft, his birthright was secure, his vigilance was sufficient to maintain what was his. Days when his strong back and wiry hands seizing the inalienable rights of all free people; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The Creator had granted him a safe home, a loving wife, and the means to fill his days with bountiful love, an abundance of food, and sports on the television. Protecting these gifts was his duty and his privilege, even if it was the government’s remit. Although he never enjoyed days of milk and honey, he knew satiety.
He used to say to the college kids working at the mill during summer break, “a man tends to his own. If you draw yer own water and hunt yer own meat; ain’t no one never gonna leave you hungry.” Being educated types they laughed, correcting his speech, but Ronnie would just shake his head and say, “if you is just listening to them words use gonna’ miss the message.”
Evenings between work and dinner would be spent preparing. The basement turned into a workshop of a multitude of tools, all with the singular purpose of holding on to the rights bestowed upon him.
“Ronnie, dinner’s on,” his wife’s voice rang from the kitchen.
“In a sec’,” calling back to the open door at the top of the stairs.
“I’ll put a plate over, to keep it warm. Should I start,” she asked, without considering actually doing so.
“Won’t be long,” drawing the arm of the press towards him: setting the projectile into the casing and then crimping the brass tight against the bullet. Checking the tolerance of the shell and setting aside his calipers to polish and then placing the completed round into a clip. “Thirty and done,” he said with a satisfied air.
Upstairs, shoveling his dinner, nodding his head as though praying silently through a stuffed mouth. Somehow still acknowledging gratitude for the bounty surrounding him. “Lovely meal, Ma.”
“There’s more, gravy too if you’d like. I’ve got more peas on the stove and there’s chicken in the warmer.”
“Mmm, I’ll get up. Any for you?”
“Carrots and a slice of dark meat if you would,” she said looking out the window into the evening light. “The apple blossoms are starting to look good this year.”
“Sure do. I could smell them during morning chores. I’m going out back to shoot tomorrow, you should come with; them blossoms smell best with a little dew on ‘em.”
“I’ll make up lunch from the leftovers.”
“I’ll, wash up after the ball game? That young feller is pitching tonight, sit in with me?”
“Of course,” she said setting dishes in the sink and fetching her knitting for the night, trying to ignore the dry scratchiness of her throat.
Ronnie swinging a thermos in his left hand, a small selection of tools and ammunition clips jingling like a sack full of treasures in the other, while his rifle was slung over his back.
The perfume from the apple tree lingering between Rosie and Ronnie as they walked quietly in the warming dawn. Contented, drinking in the tranquility of their bucolic enclave, the long drive stretching behind them to the state highway bordered by mature trees. Proceeding to the back section overlooking the low scrub bush dotting the small ravine that hosted a makeshift range.
Amid the retorts of rifle fire, the shattering of glass, and the rattling of tin cans, the shared sandwiches of sliced chicken and cups of hot tea. “Have a go luv?” He asked, offering the rifle.”
“Mmm,” she replied. Looking down range, she asked, “are these new?”
“Yeah, Eddie suggested I try them. Calls them “Varmint Grenades”, tin and copper core; they pull apart on impact. Try that li’l half stump ov’r there.”
Rosie squeezed a couple of rounds into the stump, releasing the clip, clearing the ejection port, and setting the rifle down said, “we going to town Tuesday to vote?”
Walking through the grass slumping over from its own weight, Ronnie thought, surveying the property around him, “don’t see much point. That one fella is just the same as the other.”
“It’s just a couple of votes; what, there’s somethin’ like two or three hundred million voters in America, you really think that our votes is gonna count for much? That’s like less than one percent.”
“Much less,” Rosie agreed, rubbing her neck and welcoming the relief from the hot tea from her sore throat.
“They don’t mind us anyway.”
“They’re too far removed from us real folks.”
Examining the stump, “this’ll keep them varmints away.”
“All sorts,” Rosie agreed. “How the boys feeling about it down at the mill?”
“Bastards,” taking her hand and walking back to the rifle, “I’ve been meaning to tell you luv, Rick is cutting shifts at the mill; orders is down and costs up. Doesn’t want to but them bosses ain’t making the profits they’s used to, so they gotta do somethin’.”
Gently squeezing Ronnie’s hand, “we’ll be alright, it comes and goes. I’ll plant more garden and get a couple more breeding chickens.”
“Varmints won’t take what’s ours luv; you rest assured.”
“Of course,” a small cough itching in her throat. “Maybe we could use the extra meat.”
“That’s not the sort I’m worried about.”
“I know,” she replied, thinking about making a doctor appointment once Ronnie’s shifts were restored. “But I still like it when you’ve been hunting.”
“Maybe I’ll get tags for both boar and elk for next Fall.”
“Summer’s always better for us Rosie.”
“Yeah, it is.”
He was so confident. He’d always say, “the future belonging to those who take it.” Once you took something you’d have to protect it, by rights he could protect everything of his: his family, his land, his liberty, and his livelihood. Reloading ammunition, keeping his water well clean, hunting for various game in the surrounding woods, and Rosie tending the garden; not only supplementing their livelihood but as an expression of worship. A steadfast reverence to the liberty carrying a potpourri of apples, lilac, perspiration, and fresh soil; wings of bees and the calls of eagles singing verses of praise.
Shifts at the mill continued fluctuating with the fortunes of the company slowly eroding. Working hard was all Ron knew. Working hard keeping his supervisor ‘sweet’. Working hard on the line. Working hard to always be the guy accepting more duties. Working hard at never saying ‘no’. Eventually even all the weekends at the gun range, all the barbeques, ball games, and beers became meaningless. All the hard work folded into thin envelop, a firm handshake, and an apology from Rick, “it’s not you. You’re a good man, but some foreigners can do it cheaper and society wants a bargain.”
After washing up from dinner he said, “mind if I turn the game on while I clean these pistols?”
Wiping her nose on her sleeve, brushing the pinkish mucus away with a tissue, then folding the dish cloth, “sure. We don’t have much dinner left over for your lunch tomorrow, I could pick a few apples from the tree—you won’t finish work hungry.”
“I got no work tomorrow Rosie; Mill’s been closed. I’ll have to find other work in town.”
“Looks that way, Ricky gave me two month’s wages. That’s somethin’ I suppose.”
Nodding she said, “you’ll still need lunch,” closing her eyes to soothe their burning, “maybe I’ll have an apple now too.” Behind a rattling cough she asked, “should I make a couple pies for tomorrow?”
“Maybe Eddie can use me at the hardware or I could help out at the range.”
“He’s always been good to you,” she said coughing and wiping her nose again. “And you know those boys well enough.”
“You should get that checked Rosie. Maybe come to town with me while I go see Eddie? We could grab a slice of pie afterwards.”
“It’s just a cold.”
“You sure? Seems like its rougher than that. Maybe a ‘script will help.”
“Just a cold, gone in a week if left alone; seven days with medicine.”
“But maybe Doc—”
“It’ll pass,” her voice cracking as she brought hand down firmly on the kitchen counter. “Don’t you start with me Ronald! The doctor won’t say anything, just go home and get some rest. No sense wasting money we don’t got.”
“Keep an eye on it luv, it seems like you’ve maybe had it for a spell now,” Ron said with a concerned but retreating tone.
“Should we watch the candidates debates tonight, rather than the game?”
“Nah, it won’t make a difference. My mind’s done made up, I ain’t likely to vote anyhow.”
“I suppose, it’s just talk, it never amounts to anything.”
“They’re just about looking out for themselves, and their friends, we’re a long way away.”
“I’ll make pies instead, while you watch the game.”
“Maybe I should take a couple of them pies down to Eddie when I talk about some work.”
“I’ll bake them up in the morning; you can take them in warm.”
“Thanks luv, draw you a bath?”
“I’ll get it after I’m done in the kitchen, you go watch the game. Before you head out in the morning do you mind checking the fences? Something is getting at the eggs and we’ve lost three hens this week.”
“Three? Jesus—That’s terrible. I’ll do ‘er first thing,” he said and then without giving another thought to fences or politics, he opened a beer and fell into his La-Z-Boy watching the sports flickering before him.
Eddie greeted Ron warmly the following morning, chatting about usual circuit of sports, the mill, and life, “Rosie is well, she’s got one of them summer colds, it’s hangin’ on like the stink of dead possum.”
“That ain’t right; she try drinking gun powder and honey? My ol’ lady swears it’s a lie, but my grandad used to add black powder to his soup every Friday, he was as strong as a two-horse team.”
“Did it work?”
“The honey or grandad’s?”
“The powder, I got lots of that around and Rosie’s soups so good, she’d never taste it.”
“Well, I ain’t never known him to be sick a day before he died, but grandma never did let him smoke in the house neither.”
Laughing and forgetting about the fences, Ron and Eddie shared the pies, discussing politics, the economy, and the possibility of Ron helping out at the range. “Did you see the news, government saying they’re creating more jobs?”
“I’ll believe it when I see it. The media is just as bad as the politicians. Selling what nobody needs, profiting from loss.”
“There ain’t nothing honest no more.”
“Just us. Guys like us trading an honest day’s work for honest pay.”
“Or trading honest pay for something you can build with.”
“Reminds me, I should get some more sandbags, reload packs, and a spool of wire or two.”
“Cash or on account?”
“On account of them politicians tryin’ to take what’s mine.”
Slapping Ron on the back and laughing, “sure, work it off? Between the shop and the range, I’ll find ya’ some hours. Them boys at the range always laugh at your jokes, and you know a thing or two about a firearm too. That ain’t gonna hurt none neither.”
“Obliged, my second amendment keeps my lands varmint free.”
“Keeps me in business too, but you won’t hear that on CNN though.”
“Must mean it’s true.”
“Still nothing for folks like us to do.”
“It sure ain’t.”
“Nights are cooling down some, Autumn won’t be far; how you fixed for tarps? The ones you got gonna keep your wood dry?”
“Nah, better throw one or two in with the lot; a man could always use another tarp.”
The additional wages from the mill lasted longer than Ronnie’s desire to look for meaningful work. He began spending more time at Eddie’s; discounts at the hardware and some cash at the end of the week, justifying his entertainment. Even time spent collecting brass and empting garbage baskets on the range provided a social aspect that was lacking at the mill. There was always a brother in arms with a welcoming ear, “fer all folks like us have done. . . and what do them rats in the D.C. give us back? Just what they can’t use or don’t want.”
“You ain’t wrong, Ronnie,” a bearded face peering down range would say.
“This isn’t bad though. Eddie’s a good man, never gets me punching a clock like at the mill,” Ronnie would reply; the distance between volunteering and working withering weekly until all he brought home was boxes of supplies and packaged foods.
Coming home at the end of one day seeing Rosie shivering in blankets. “You OK love? We really ought to see Doc tomorrow.”
“I’ll get dinner, just after a rest a spell,” she said softly.
“Rosie, it’s freezing in here, you ought to have the stove going.”
“Too tired to cut wood,” she sighed, her eyes flickering timidly.
“Ain’t there none cut,” he asked to his silent wife. “I’ll get some and boil you some water, you rest up Luv. Won’t be long.”
Kicking a partially frozen rotting apple while walking to garage. There were dozens on the ground, “I should have picked ‘em from the tree. Rosie might have sold some of her pies at them markets. Not that anyone goes no more. No one buys local. No sense of pride, when imports are cheap.” Transforming his frustration into kindling, he continued chopping wood as a warming sweat poured down his back. “Can’t have my Rosie in a cold house all day, I’ll bring up a good stack to the house and she’ll have plenty of fire while I’m at Eddies.” Surveying the split wood with a returning pride, warm sweat cooling across his exposed neck, he rubbed his back and began loading his arms, “this’ll do ‘er for a bit.”
Rosie was resting quietly under blankets while Ron built the fire; the final notices for the phone sitting among old newspapers, found a new home under a lattice of kindling and small pieces of wood. As heat was radiating through the room, Ron set the kettle and began searching the pantry for tins. “Eddie said there’s talk of a new Walmart in town, they’ll need guys to help construction, maybe they’ll have some jobs after they open too. We might both get on there. I could run the sporting goods section with all the time I’ve done spent at Eddie’s. Maybe we can get a second mortgage to see us through. Rest yer eyes luv’, I’ll fix dinner.”
Crackling fire in the wood oven answered him as Rosie sat facing into the growing flames.
“Rosie, you feel like soup and tinned beets? You’d think that banks would help, aren’t they all owned by them Chinese companies? They’ve bought everything else up ‘round here, you’d reckon they’d want proper farm land too. Wasn’t that fella we elected was putting an end to all that. Government for the people, more like a tyranny of privilege if you ask me.”
When his wife didn’t answer, he made dinner, and then trying to rouse her he noticed her stubborn cold rebuffing the fire’s heat. “Oh, no Rosie, don’t you—”
An hour later, knocking on the open door drew him from his solitude. “Ronnie, it’s Doctor Ashton here, I’m coming in.” Flicking the light switch up and down, looking around at the flickering candles, “are you alright? Where’s Rosie?”
Motioning his arm towards the couch, Ronnie said, “yeah, I’m fine. I don’t think Rosie is too well though, couldn’t get her warmed up. She’s sleeping now, but feels cold. Power’s off, just got heat from the fire and stove too.” Shrugging his shoulders, “it’s them banks. Still have a hand pump for water, small blessings.”
“You said she’s unwell, how long has she been like this?”
“Asleep? Don’t know, she was awake when I came home, we chatted some; then I went and split some firewood, and started dinner. You know, that sort—”
“Ron, I’m going to need you to set that shotgun on the floor,” motioning at the firearm laying across the man’s lap.
“I ain’t givin’ up my guns doc.”
“Just set it down and help me with Rosie.”
“I’m protecting her.”
“I need to lay her down, Ron. Please.”
“They’re coming to take it from me.”
“Take what Ron,” Ashton asked looking around. Threadbare furniture could be seen in the flickering glow of the fire, odors of stale dust gave apathy form and depth. “Who’s taking what?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” he said shaking his head and caressing the shotgun. “Ain’t nobody takin’ nothin’.”
“I have to take Rosie to the hospital,” Doctor Ashton said. “I need your help. She can’t stay here.”
“I can’t pay for no hospital visit, not until Eddie gets me more hours.”
“This isn’t something that can wait Ron. Rosie isn’t going to be visiting, Ron—she’s—”
“Look after her doc, I can’t do it no more.”
“I tried, but she needs more. She needs—”
“I know what she needs. Look I’ll call you when you can come and see her. You’ll need to make. . .arrangements. You understand that right Ron?”
Silently nodding, “you know I ain’t that bad Doc. I can make arrangements, like you say, you know like dinner and what not. I can fold the laundry ‘til Rosie is better.”
“Ron,” Ashton said resting his hand on Ron’s shoulder, “I’m going to set the firearm across the room, OK? You’re going to let me, right. Then you’ll get up and help me with Rosie, alright.”
“You’ve always been a good fella Doc; I know we ain’t never been close but—” he said nodding. Loosening his grip on the shotgun, and handing it to Ashton, Ron helped wrap Rosie’s cold body in a tarp and then load it into the doctor’s car.
“Look Ron, I have to ask you if you’re OK.”
“I’m alright doc.”
“What are you going to do now? Do you have any plans?”
“Now? Like you mean tonight? I’ve got some more them guns to clean up, maybe reload some shells after dinner, I’ll take that storm candle downstairs. You know, that sorta thing. Wait to hear about Rosie, let me know when you know somethin’, I’m some worried.”
“Ron, Rosie—Rosie isn’t—she’s more than not well. She’s gone, you know that right?”
“I guess I’ll just reload more and just wait ‘til I can get Rosie.”
“Reloads? Let’s not reload shells by candle light, OK?”
“Keeps my mind busy.”
“You been shooting much lately Ron?”
“Nah, not so much, saving my rounds, just building more. You know, get ready for them. Eternal vigilance. It’s our duty.”
“Yeah, to stop the tyranny. It’s the tyranny that will take it all from us.”
“Ronnie, vigilance requires looking beyond what you can see through a scope.”
“I’m pretty fair with fixed sights too doc, don’t try me. Maybe not as good as when I was younger, but still good enough defending my own. You ain’t doubting me, is you doc?”
“I’m not here to take anything Ronnie from you.”
“I knows you ain’t, but they are. They’ll come and I’ll make my stand, I’ll be ready.”
“Ready for who Ronnie, who’s them?”
“Ready for them varmints.”
“You know, the tyranny of the few. Them varmints is coming. One day they’ll be here, they’ll kick down my door, to take what’s mine, but I’ll be here. They’ll send the sheriff first, it’ll look different, but it’s all the same.”
Rubbing the side of his face, the doctor thought about Ronnie. All the years they’d known each other. “Sherriff Tanner is going to have to drop by, he’ll have some questions, for you; about Rosie, but he won’t be here to take anything. OK?”
“Tanner is a good man, we played ball together in school.”
“I know Ron, we all did. Ron?”
Closing the back of Ashton’s station wagon, the chill of the night air confronting the lethargic sunrise, Ron began rubbing the stiffness of his spine. Looking around the farm yard, smelling the cold, damp autumn air, Ron continued the ongoing inventory of possibilities. The stand of trees that would impede rapid progress but provide cover for an assault, blind spots behind outbuildings that would conceal marauders until they had to charge across open grounds, exposed electrical wires that could be severed but hadn’t provided power for weeks, and the cellar that would simultaneously trap him and secure his last stand.
“Why didn’t Rosie come see me?”
“D’know, she said it wasn’t serious, she was getting better,” shrugging his shoulders and holding up his hands, “no insurance, it’s not like we—it was just a summer cold.”
“Summer was months—I’m sorry, we could have—” Ashton shook his head, and held his right hand out to shake. “I’m sorry, I’ll send Tanner out, he’ll just need to finish a report. I’ll get Mary to send some soup, or a casserole. Keep your power dry OK? Things will get better.”
Nodding again, “Tanner’s alright; just so long as he ain’t got no warrant or writ or nothin’. This is still America and you can’t take my rights. He can come ‘round to talk ‘bout Rosie, but he can’t be takin’ nothing.”
Ashton stood looking around him, the collection of misery; sagging fence wires, barren trees, some surrounded by partially rotting, frozen fruit, and an anemic wisp of smoke barely escaping from the chimney. “Ron, Sherriff Tanner is just doing his job, he’s a good man and our friend, you’ll be alright.”
Sherriff Tanner came and went. Doctor Ashton never did call, he couldn’t, Ronnie’s phone had been disconnected longer than he knew. It was the Sherriff who told Ronnie everything about Rosie, “Ronnie, you let Ashton know when you want to have a service, and he’ll let the coroner’s office know. OK? Maybe the church can help you out? Should I ask the priest to come ‘round?”
Sitting in his La-Z-Boy, itching at the stubble on his chin, the road before him was clear. The air was still and the world quiet. No dust rising off the roads further away either, but the tyrants could still come at the night. “It’s OK Rosie,” he said looking around at the arsenal assembled in the quiet living room, his night vision headset, “I won’t let them take our home. We’ve got rights.” A few hours’ sleep before sunset and then he’d patrol his fence. “I’ll set some wires, some game traps too, maybe catch some dinner. They ain’t taking nothing from me, from us.”
Walking around the room, lit only by the smoldering wood in the fire, he stopped at a photograph of Rosie, brushing the back of his hand against its frame, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance Luv; I’ll take next watch.”