Protect. To defend or guard from attack, invasion; shield from danger
I am in the third grade and terrified the Communists will come and find me. I imagine lines of soldiers marching up our street, disappearing into one of the dips and reappearing just before the bend. Hup, two, three, four. Guns and gold buttons, glinting in the sun. On tv, I watched the black-and-white clips of Nikita Khrushchev pounding his shoe on a table, shouting,
“We will bury you!”
Khrushchev and President Kennedy are fighting over missiles in Cuba. Our navy is trying to protect us, but we don’t know yet if it can, so our class is in the middle of another bomb drill, where we have to march to the putty colored wall, line up facing it, drop to our knees, curl them under our bodies and fold our arms over our heads. Everyone is in position. Waiting. I sit up. My teacher peers at me over her glasses and nods.
“Mrs. Blackburn, if the bomb comes, shouldn’t we be in the basement?”
“The school doesn’t have one, Louise. Now put your head back down.”
I do as I’m told.
I envy the other kids whose last names start with R, like Karen Rice. If my last name was Rice instead of Yeiser, I would be nestled between my classmates, our bodies touching one another, instead of being stuck out here on the end, next to Christina Wysocki, with cold air nipping at my skin through my white cotton blouse.
Protect. ADT: America’s Leading Choice for Home Security! We’ve protected over 5 million
On a night in mid-November, 1986, my estranged husband has our boys for the weekend, so their bedrooms are empty and the house is quiet. Before dinner, I set up a temporary living space in my bathroom for the two new kittens I rescued off the street earlier. Kitten chow, fresh water, old towels and a litter box. Every time they move, the bells on their new collars ring. My
boys will love them. I close the bathroom door and go to bed early with the moon on my face.
In the middle of the night, when I stir to scan the room with sleepy eyes and turn to fluff my pillow, I think I see a man standing at the foot of my bed. This man must be a dream, so I bolt upright and open my eyes wide to look harder. He is real! I start screaming.
An explosion when he springs at me, smacking his fist against my nose and cheekbones. Bone on bone. Crack! crack! crack! My hands are useless in my lap. When I quit screaming, he stops hitting me, throws me to the floor, drags me to the other side of the room, next to the bathroom door, and lifts my nightgown, touching and prodding, lying on me, as I try to focus on
a shoe under the bed. When did I buy a red shoe? The carpet is scratchy against my face. I feel my left eye swelling. Then it closes. I taste blood.
When he is finished, he tells me not to move for thirty minutes. He also tells me that if I call the police, he will come back and hurt my children. I say nothing, until I notice the bathroom door is open, and I realize I never heard the bells.
“Sir, did you hurt my kittens?”
He doesn’t answer me. A car door slams. I don’t know where he is.
I lie there as long as I can, before I tear through the house to the laundry room, noticing my sliding glass door that leads to the backyard is still closed, the only door to the outside that has not been wired by ADT, which must be why my brand-new alarm system has not gone off.
In the laundry room, I lock the door and press the PANIC button. Press press press press press. My phone rings, but I won’t leave the safety of the room to answer it, so the ADT people know this is a real emergency, not the usual false alarm.
I wait forever for the police to come. When they finish with me, instead of an ambulance, I am locked into the back of a police cruiser to be taken to the hospital.
Protect. This word first appeared in 15thc Middle English, from the Latin word “protectus,” which is the past participle of “protegere,” with “pro”, meaning “front” and “tegere,” meaning “to cover.”
In 2008, I live with three English Mastiffs, over 500 pounds of protection. Charlie is the largest and takes up the entire couch. At the vet’s office, I move chairs, pets and people out of the way because he requires so much space to turn around in, to squeeze himself into a corner onto a scale: 220 pounds.
It is past midnight and I’m sitting on a stool pulled up to the kitchen counter, clicking away on my laptop, writing, when I hear a door slam. The slam sounds close, like it always does. I turn and look at Charlie to watch his head snap up. He looks enormous when he is alert, his body pulled up erect, ears raised, poised to spring. He looks at me.
“Let’s go, Charlie,” I say, climbing off my stool, while he eases off the couch. I hold his collar, while he walks with me.
This is Charlie’s job and he seems to understand. We move as a unit through the house, checking rooms, hallways, bathrooms and closets, his shoulder maintaining steady contact with my leg. There is no one there, of course. There never is anymore, but I am unsure of that until we get up and thoroughly check the house. My ability to say, “Oh, it’s probably nothing,” vanished in a November full moon, if it was ever there in the first place.
Louise Yeiser McAlpin, MFA in Creative Writing (Carlow University, Pittsburgh and Ireland), has been published in Modern Witches, Wizards and Magic (Kerlak, 2005), Six Sentences v1 (McEvily, 2008), and online at Tuesday Shorts, Six Sentences, Flashquake, Flashshot, Pen Pricks, Long Story Short and Boston Literary Magazine. She has collected an oral history of heroic mastiffs, published online at “A Good Look at Mastiffs.”
Photo by Alyssa, used by permission. See more of her work here.