Natalia spent most of that night crying. Her world had suddenly been turned upside down. Papa and Mama Venechek were being taken away from her. They were being moved to Texas, a whole world away. Once they were gone, she would no longer be able to go down the street and steal cookies as they cooled on the table. All she had loved would be gone.
Story time was going away. Sessions of listening Papa talk of the old country, before Lenin and Stalin. They remembered the Czar. Papa had been successful under the Czar, and rich. But that was all in the past. So was listening to those stories.
Why did the world have to always go crazy? Why did it always have to find ways to take away the things and people she loved? It just wasn’t fair. None of it.
She finally drifted into an uneasy sleep, filled with strange dreams and nightmares, around midnight. Nightmares of horrible men, marching like military soldiers down the city’s streets, rounding up all the Jews and families like hers. They were being herded through the streets to covered trucks and loaded onto them according to age. She watched as Shasta and herself were loaded on a truck with all the girls their age.
Momma and Daddy were loaded onto trucks that were filled with men and women who had all been separated. She was scared. What was happening? Why were they being loaded up?
The trucks started moving. They were leaving the city. As she watched, the scenery around her changed. She was still in the back of the truck, but everything became grayer, darker, less happy. She felt the truck jerk to a stop.
Then it began moving again. As she watched out the back, she saw a high wire fence with a heavy, high gate go by. It reminded her of the work camps Papa had once told her about. Had this been the way it felt for the German-Americans and Japanese-Americans who’d been rounded up during the last war? Had they been put through this kind of indignity?
They were unloaded and she watched as the boys were taken away, the men too. A few minutes later, she heard gunshots. She was terrified. All she could think of was that she needed to flee. She needed to get away from this place. She needed to find Momma and Shasta. She needed.
She woke up screaming. She was shaking and covered in sweat. Momma was next to her. “It’s OK, Nattie. You’re fine.” Her voice was a whisper, so soothing. “You’re safe. No one is going to do harm to you.”
She looked around, dazed. “Daddy. Where’s Daddy?”
Momma had not let go. “Shhh. He’s safe. He’s in bed asleep. Why?”
She realized that she was home, in bed. She began to cry. “Oh Momma, it was horrible. I dreamt we were being loaded up and sent to a camp by mean, evil men. Daddy and all the men and boys were sent off once we were there and shot. I kept looking for you–”
Momma hugged her. “Ssshhh, Child. You’re safe. That isn’t going to happen. We live in a great country. Wisdom will prevail, I am sure of it.”
She stopped sobbing and dried her eyes. “Momma?”
Momma smiled reassuringly. “Yes Nattie?”
She trembled. “What’s gonna happen?”
Momma looked away. “I don’t know, Baby. I just know that we won’t go through what you dreamed. Cooler minds will prevail. Besides. Daddy can fix whatever it is. And so will Uncles Fred, Chuck and Greg. Together, the family will overcome this. I promise. Now, go back to sleep. I will stay here until morning, if you like.”
She nodded. “Only till I go back to sleep. I think I’ll be fine after that.”
Her heart had stopped racing. She was calm again. Her breathing had returned to normal. In no time, she was fading back to sleep.
Valeria looked down at her daughter in concern. She had not seen Natalia this frightened since they began those stupid drills in school. It was just plain silly. It scared the kids needlessly and made them search for enemies everywhere. Now, they were making everyone suspect.
All this hunting for communists was stupid. And to zero in on people who were of Russian or Jewish background was very reminiscent of what the country had done to those who had been of German or Japanese background during the last war. Nattie was right. But they had upped the ante.
Now, they were hunting anyone who disagreed with them or wanted any kind of social change. It wasn’t about just protecting the country. It was about cleansing the country of all their opposition. Even if that opposition was in their own party.
Those who were hunting were drunk with power. They saw enemies everywhere. It was as if they were trying to become the country’s answer to the Communist Party. Yes, it was like they wanted total control, but covered it in a candy-coating of patriotism and Democracy.
She watched her daughter sleep, soundly now, and wondered if her daughter might have glimpsed where this all could be headed. Or was it just the product of an overactive imagination? She would ask Michael. He would know.
She watched over her daughter for a couple more hours, then went back to bed. Michael rolled over. “Is everything alright?”
Valeria nodded. “I think so. It was just a bad nightmare. She’ll sleep now.”
Michael chuckled. “You say that as if there is any other kind of nightmare. What was it about?”
She sighed sadly. “She dreamt we were all being rounded up. Kind of like the German-Americans and Japanese-Americans were in this country during the last war. Only it also had elements of the Holocaust in it, where you and all the men and boys were taken and shot. From what I deciphered of her screams, she was trying frantically to get Shasta’s attention as well as mine.”
Michael sat up and put his arms around his wife. “I know she got your attention. Did she wake Shasta?”
Valeria shook her head. “No. Luckily, Shasta slept right through it all.”
Michael hugged her close. “You know, she isn’t far from the truth should things get any worse. If those who now have free reign ever begin to get overly power-mad, they will begin such cleansings. And no one will be safe. Not even the staunchest Republican.”
Valeria looked over at him. “Do you think it will?”
Michael shook his head. “No. Americans won’t stand for it. Besides. They have a war to fight. They can’t afford to trim their potential pool of soldiers down too much and expect to win anything. Besides. There was too much resistance for this scare to continue for long. And we have too many outside enemies for them to focus on imagined ones on the inside.”
Valeria laid down, kissing her husband good night. Tomorrow was a new day. She hoped that these nightmares would not plague Nattie very long. The poor girl would not be able to handle them much more.