by Nora Shychuk
The streets were ghosts. We walked, our footsteps loud and echoing on the concrete. Signs spilled out of garbage cans, a few were still staked into the ground. Messages. A light rain streamed down the lenses of my glasses. Wet air clouded my vision. I wiped them on my scarf, brought them up to my eyes. In moments the lenses blurred again, the streetlights a smear of white. With every step I smelled the grass, the mud.
The barriers were still up, the dividers too.
We had not planned on coming here, but driving south on The Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Andy turned to me and asked to stop after he saw the exit sign. We had never been before.
“But it's midnight,” I had said.
He smiled and told me it would be an adventure.
When we parked the car, we noticed the police. They blocked off the streets, their car lights flashing without the blaring sirens; it seemed wrong, the noise of light but the absence of sound, of alarm. As we neared, we were colored in a red and blue haze. I walked up to an officer's window.
“Would it be okay to leave our car and walk around?” I asked.
He looked at his watch. It prompted me to look at mine.
“One in the morning,” he said.
“One in the morning,” I repeated, as if verifying time itself. “We're driving across the country.”
He looked past me. Something in his gaze caused me to turn, to follow his line of sight. They promised me something—those eyes—their wideness, their life.
“You're in the shadow of the Washington Monument,” he said and pointed. “Best seat in the house.”
When I looked back to him, he smiled.
“Your car should be fine. Towing effect starts at six.”
And then, as if he read my mind, he told us to cut through the park, stop halfway in the middle, and look left. We'd see it, there was a gap in the trees.
We saw more signs on the way. One, framed in moonlit raindrops dotting the tips of grass, rested face up. I walked off the pavement, feet sinking into the soggy earth. I bent over the sign and waved at Andy to follow. Before I knew it, I had picked it up and continued walking.
The sign said: I'm Marching So My Daughter Won't Have To.
Underneath the black, block letters were two tiny hand prints in blue paint. I decided to carry these words for the woman I did not know. I would carry them to our destination. I imagined her voice saying: I'm Marching So My Daughter Won't Have To.
The sky above us was no longer the navy midnight sky I had come to know on many restless nights. It had shifted to an almost crushed, nebular purple, with wisps of clouds hanging low. I thought if I reached up, I might touch them. It was very late.
We were alone on the streets. The city itself, save for scattered police, slumbered. We were nocturnal, our eyes held open by mechanisms. I felt the metal clasps on my eyelids, pulling back. I thought of the exposure therapy scene in A Clockwork Orange. We would not close our eyes or go back to the comforts of bed. We would walk.
The reality did not match up with my hopeful fantasies. I thought, one day, I'd come here. In the future. Andy on my right, a couple of kids on my left. I imagined us going from crowded site to crowded site, waiting in line with sunshine hot on our shoulders as we marveled at the architecture, our collective history, the memorials, the marble columns, the statues of honored men. Instead, we were in the dark.
It was a night that spoke — and it said something simultaneously beautiful and heart-breaking. The purple sky, the clouds I could touch, the monuments, the raindrops tapping on the concrete like a type of ticker. Almost there. Tick. Keep going. Tick. I tried to let the calmness subdue me, the quietness comfort me, the peace renew me, but then I heard the voices. Not just of women, of their chants and marching, but of those ghosts, echoing from the past, shooting through that veil of ages and spiraling down to me. The promises, the fights, the freedoms. I heard them first beneath the Washington Monument as whispers, but they were drowned by the policeman.
So they gained traction. They shouted. I felt their breath. I looked to Andy to see if he heard, but he did not. The drumbeats knocked at my brain and I heard the cavalry, the war song. The whips. The speeches. His voice rose; he had a dream and it was realized. Then came the Space Race and Roe v. Wade and towers collapsing and the audacity of hope and the new voices, three million and counting. They rang in my ears.
I almost walked past it, but Andy stopped me. The voices fell to an immediate hush. They disappeared like ghosts do.
The White House was dark. From what we could see, only the top row of windows gave off a soft, golden glow. As we stood still, the rain quickened, the air grew heavy. Tears pricked my eyes, the clasps ripped my lids. My glasses fogged again and I let them be. I looked down to my right hand as it gripped the wooden stake attached to that sign with the blue hands. I held it so tightly my knuckles tried to rip out through my skin. I received the phantasmal message. I stuck that sign in the dirt, upright, in the direction of the house. I felt a ring of truth, a shot of power and heat.
I'm Marching So My Daughter Won't Have To.
But as we walked away, the rain fell with purpose. When I turned to look once more at the sign, the message was already beginning to run.
The words would be gone by morning.