Flash: Running Out of Fear

Photo by Kari Sullivan on Unsplash

“Why are you running?”

“What, hmm?” Dazed from working your second job, you look up at your coworker sitting across from you on the assembly line.

“You, I saw you are running for office when I passed the Board of Elections today. Why are you running?”

You shrug, “Someone needs to.”

“Oh, it is one of that ‘girls should run for office’ things you talk about all the time.”

“Partially.” You pick up doohickey B, hold it under the oil jet for a second, then slide the doohickey into object beta. It moves in cleanly. About one in ten objects have the hole in object beta drilled wrong, which is why this job was still a human job instead of a robot job like the stations immediately before and after your team. “And it is ‘women,’ not girls. Children can’t run for office. And I would like it for woman to retain full adult citizenships, so, yeah, women need to run for office.”

“Stupid.” Your coworker shakes his head. “Just get married and live off the husband.”

“At our wages?” You ask. “That is another reason. I’ve talked to my legislators, visited them at the capital, wrote them and emailed them about wage inequality and the crack-down on creating unions fighting for workers getting a reasonable wage, and they don’t care.”

“And you think if you get in office, you can change that?” Brad snorts in disbelief before tossing one of the object into the recycling bin that was badly drilled and grabbing the next one coming down the line. “You and what army?”

“Yeah, not likely, anymore than me getting elected.” You turn a grimace into a teethy challenge, “but if I manage to get elected on the wage platform, won’t that scare the politicians?”

“You will be a complete wrecking ball.” Jennifer laughs from where she sits beside Brad.

Joe finishes off your team in charge of putting doohickey B in the right place during second shift. He doesn’t talk much. Unlike the rest of you, the job is a challenge for him. But he does it earnestly, and maybe a little better than you since he doesn’t get distracted with boredom.

“I will need to be.” You push back a thought of the threats the union organizers got when they tried last year to bring things to a vote. Everyone got shoved off to third shift, written up, and just out-and-out fired “for cause.” You had kept quiet because you were still pushing your last kid through high school.

“Problem?” Of course Brad noticed your no-fear expression falling into the shadows of reality.

You get two more objects assembled and tossed one aside where the drill had only gone halfway down before answering. “The third reason I’m running.” Your voice is soft, but the machinery in the area had gotten quieter over the years with the additions of robots. They can’t handle the vibrations of loud noises; made them glitch more. By the time the sound drops enough to stop creating hearing damage, there won’t be any humans left on the plant floor.

“What’s that?” Brad probes.

“The third reason I’m running, why someone needs to run.”

“I’m all ears.”

“Don’t be an ass.” Jennifer tosses a bad object into the recycle bin on their side of the line to loudly bang against the wall beside him.

“No, really, I’m all ears.” He smirks my way. “Lay it on me.”

“She’s fighting.” Joe answers before I respond.

All of us glance toward him before returning our eyes to the line.

“She’s fighting because the bad guys are hurting people.” Joe smiles his gentle, innocent smile, but, for once, his eyes are too-knowing. “The bad guys want people like me to go away. She is a hero and fights for people like me and Jennifer.”

“Joe,” you say softly.

“You are imagining stuff kid.”

“No, he is not.” Jennifer cuts Brad off. “You don’t think those in office are trying to erase my rights, my existence, every day?”

“Brad,” you try to head off the ongoing war between Brad and Jennifer. “They aren’t wrong. I’m doing this because I am tired of seeing my friends live in fear. Hell, I am tired of living in fear. And I will not have my children live in it, if it within my power to prevent that from happening.”

Brad rolled his eyes. “There is nothing to be scared of.”

“You mean like the emails I am getting once a week threatening to get me fired for daring to run against the establishment. You mean like the people who chased Biden through the desert with guns. You mean like people getting tear bombed at peaceful protests. You mean like women losing the right to their control their bodies and their futures.” You calm down enough to smile sadly. “You mean like me coming out to find a flat tire after speaking at a candidate forum.” You shake your head. “Dear sweet summer child.”

“You got attacked?” Brad asks in shock.

Jennifer winces and Joe keeps is head down.

“My car had a flat tire.” You shrug. “The police said it was from a nail in the parking lot, nothing to worry about. Set me back money I don’t have to buy a new one.” This time a doohickey hits the recycling bin, the plastic had air holes that hadn’t settled right. “But if someone did it deliberately, that was a huge mistake.”

“They tried to make you scared.” Jennifer said, nodding her head. “Can’t know for certain, but it is possible.”

“And I don’t run in fear, only out of it.” You refuse to acknowledge the tremors in you. You’ve studied enough history to know riots have started on legislative floors, duels and assassinations are a thing. Sure, the chance of it coming back to bite you is low, but it wasn’t zero. You were fairly certain the nail was just a normal thing, mostly. And the emails are just business as normal, since normal had added terror to politics. Your last baby was off on a life of their own staying with an older sibling in a different state. Local politics shouldn’t reach their ugly hands out to hurt them. Now you needed to act before those ugly hands reached too far.

Fear wasn’t an option for action anymore.

(words 1,059; first published 2/23/2024)