By Kaely Horton
Just before the reenactment was due to begin, eight-year-old Bailey put up a fuss. She balked in the kitchen doorway, her thick brown hair threatening to burst from its braids, her streamer dragging across the linoleum like the scruffy pink tail of a kite. Sunlight poured like lemon juice through the window. Her siblings clustered in the kitchen in matching blue and gold fealty badges heavy against their collarbones, fists gripping the splinterlike ends of streamers.
“I don’t wanna.”
Bailey’s parents exchanged glances. Her mother, Diana, crouched in front of her.
“Bailey, sweetie, this is important to being a patriot. Are you a patriot?”
“Of course you are. Now hurry. We’ll be late for the king’s speech.”
“But normally he’s the president.”
Diana’s eyes wandered across the kitchen. How to explain it to an eight-year-old? Her gaze fell on a tiny, blue-flowered ceramic vase on the windowsill, lit by the lemon juice.
“When I was a kid,” she said, “we got to wear these beautiful blue outfits every day. And we gathered in the town square every night and swore allegiance to our king.” She smiled, remembering. “The other children and I went to clubs after school to make things for our kingdom—aprons, gloves, vases.”
“That sounds terrible.”
“No! It wasn’t. It wasn’t at all.”
“Let me handle this.” Bailey’s father, Greg, glared at his youngest daughter. “Young lady, you pick up that streamer right now and get going. You hear me?”
Fifteen minutes later, they were part of the blue cramming the town square. Streamers danced conductor rhythms as cheers rang over the tangled roses in the middle flowerbed. They could barely see the stage at the end of the square, or the man who stood indigo against the podium. Bailey kept her elbows tucked in so no one would knock them. The roar of the crowd was like the traffic of some unending highway.
Diana and Greg greeted friends who had lived with them through the old regime as Bailey’s older siblings stood stoic, twitching their streamers halfheartedly. They were used to this ritual and viewed it as a temporary disruption of their usual lives. Her streamer stick tucked between both hands, Bailey listened to the rush of talk between the adults above.
“Do you remember the song? ‘To our leader be ye true…’”
“And the parades in the square…”
“Kids today don’t know. They just don’t understand what they’re missing.”
“Of course,” a brunette woman who had joined the adults said, “it’s better that we have a democracy now.”
An awkward silence fell across the group, followed by a few half-hearted murmurs that yes, of course, it was better. But wasn’t it also good to have this reenactment every year? “After all,” Diana said, “history needs to be remembered.”
A ripple of applause moved through the crowd, gaining volume as it spread. By the time it reached the Hermez family, it was a thunderous roar that drowned everything. Bailey winced and stuffed her palms against her ears. Her father’s hand gripped her shoulder, tight and trembling. “Clap,” he ordered her, and she did.
“My fellow citizens!” the indigo man roared into the microphone. “What a delight to see you all on this Day of Remembrance.”
The crowd whooped. Bailey slammed her hands together.
“Through our faithful reenactment, we introduce new generations to our heritage. Even as we move forward, we must honor what we have been.”
“He said have been, not were,” said the brunette to Diana.
“So, were is an expression of something that exists squarely in the past, whereas have been…”
“Would you shut up, Nellie?” Greg said. His voice was sharp. “It doesn’t even matter, okay?”
The ringing of the crowd drowned out further conversation. Bailey’s palms tingled, no, stung—stingled. A new word! she thought triumphantly, and kept clapping. Her streamer fluttered against her ear, trapped in the rhythm of the applause. The people around her clapped, raised voices, laughing, and Bailey laughed, too. She understood now what she hadn’t before, what her mom had tried to tell her with the ceramic vase. It was good to be part of something, part of a crowd that could carry you. Bailey felt safe, cocooned in the applause. Her heart drummed with purpose. She clapped along with her parents, her siblings, her community, and felt whole.
The adults above her shifted to make way for a stranger, a tall man in brown.
“Nellie Graves?” the man said. “I must ask you to come with me.”
Greg looked at Nellie and then away. Bailey heard a sharp intake of breath from her mother.
Nellie glanced around the crowd as if looking for an exit path. The bodies closed around her, oblivious, facing front.
Her gaze fell on the little girl with the stingling hands.
“Keep clapping, Bailey,” Greg said. His hand rested against her back. “Face the stage.”
Bailey clapped. She stared through the cottoned knees toward the stage. Her heart was still pounding, but it meant something different now.
Movement rustled behind her, and when she looked again, Nellie and the man in brown had both disappeared.
Diana sagged against her husband. “Why did she have to ruin it?” she whispered.
“Shh. She didn’t ruin anything. She’s gone.”
“I just wanted to remember.”
“It was my childhood.” Diana didn’t seem to be talking to Greg anymore. “Why couldn’t I just be happy remembering it?”
Those words of dismay saved Bailey hours later when Greg found the ceramic vase smashed to pieces in the lemon light. He crouched against the linoleum and picked up one of the shards. Bailey would have gotten a spanking, but Greg remembered Diana’s last words in the square, and the tiniest bit of uncertainty crept into his mind. So he threw away the shards and resolved never to ask either his wife or his daughter, because there were some answers he just didn’t want to know.