William A Gardner
Fiction with a Theme
Flash fiction, or Scenes of Life and Travel
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The Killing of Capitalism (Ch 5)
Athena's parents were waiting up for her at the entrance of their Georgian style house tucked in the woods not far from Richmond, Virginia. She had grown up in this house and always loved to return and spend quiet time with her parents, or attend family gatherings when the old timbers and bricks echoed to the sound of children's laughter. On those latter occasions there were always candid discussions of politics and world affairs, punctuated by laughter and the rolling of eyes upon hearing the latest peccadillo of some politician or society person. There was a bond and closeness between Athena and her two brothers that reflected a warm and refined upbringing in a house full of love.
Athena had left Edward's alternate row house in New York with Ngoro, exiting by the back entrance and walking several blocks before hailing a cab. Fortunately she had packed light. Ngoro had the cab drop her outside Grand Central Station before heading off to his UN-subsidized condo. She caught the commuter train to Washington Union Station and then the metro to her normal stop. There she picked up her car and headed south on I95. It was a long drive to Richmond and she was tired, but she had no enthusiasm for spending the next day or two in DC dealing with teachers' unions. Albert's presentation still disturbed her and she wanted to think it through and get her father's thoughts. It was after eleven when she finally pulled up to the house.
"It's wonderful for see you," said her mother, giving her a large hug. Alenka was in her late sixties, clear eyed and sharp with a no-nonsense manner. She still wore her hair long and tied back although streaked now with grey. Athena's thick auburn hair came naturally. "You must be tired after your drive. I've made up the bed in your old room. Here, let dad take your bag. Would you like a snack and some hot milk before bed? Danny has been so looking forward to seeing you. He's in bed and asleep at this hour."
"Glad to have you home," said her father in his usual laconic fashion. He looked her over and the sparkle in his eyes said all that was necessary. "You are looking well," he remarked before disappearing upstairs with her bag. Athena dutifully followed her mother into the warm kitchen where a kettle was boiling and a tray of cookies decorated the cooking island. She could feel the stress of the day melting away and the tiredness catching up to her. She tried to hide a yawn with little success.
"Thanks for all this, mum. I'm really glad to be home."
"Not so glad as us. With your brothers away it can get lonely although Danny has kept us busy the last few days. But we're glad to have him with us for the Thanksgiving holiday," she added quickly.
"I've missed him too, mum." There was a brief silence, a gap where feeling requires no words. "Now, how about the warm milk you promised. And I can't resist one of your homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. There goes my diet." Her happy chuckle was picked up by her mother and they hugged again, laughing together in the old familiar kitchen.
On her way to bed she stopped at the door of the bedroom that used to belong to her brother, Ivan. Slipping in she stood quietly beside the sleeping form of Danny for several minutes before leaning over and kissing her son on the cheek. The old anger rose in her stomach and familiar images of retribution ran through her mind. Cold or hot, there would be hell to pay. Some day.
The next morning after a leisurely breakfast and spending time playing with Danny, she found her father in the greenhouse. He was a solid sort of man of medium height with grey, thinning hair, , clear brown eyes, and a strong jaw line that suggested purpose and determination. His skin had a Mediterranean look that reflected his Greek origins.
"Still raising your orchids, I see," said Athena, leaning over to view the buds on one plant.
"I keep busy," her father replied in a non-committal fashion, hardly looking up from his task of re-potting an older plant. "How is DC?"
"Same old stuff. We are still working on the new educational gender-neutral curriculum recommendations that also emphasize climate change problems." She shrugged, wanting to talk about other things on her mind. "Thanks for looking after Danny for a few days. I hope he hasn't been too much trouble."
"Has he had any violent episodes?"
"No. The pills appear to be working." There was a pause as he looked up from what he was doing. Then he stripped off his gloves. "Let's walk in the garden," he said, putting his arm around her shoulders. "I can show you our new cherry tree. We're looking forward to wonderful blossoms in the spring."
Together they ambled through the garden. The leaves on some trees were turning red after a couple of light fall frosts. The air had that fall scent of leaves and decay. There was yet to be any snow. Her father pointed out various plants that were doing well, or poorly, and spoke of the challenge of growing organically. They came to a stone bench beside the pond and sat down. A small fountain on the edge of the pond caught the sun and sparkled. The sound of splashing water was comforting. They sat for a moment, quiet.
"So, why are you really here," her father said quietly, looking into her eyes. "We didn't know you were coming until you called yesterday. How long will you stay?"
"I need to get back to DC tomorrow. As to why the unexpected visit, there was an incident, a complication." I wanted to ask your opinion." Athena knew her father had been a diplomat and respected his thinking. She suspected that he had done more than simple diplomatic tasks but this had never been confirmed. Her habit of keeping things to herself was learned from him.
"There is this group I work with... outside of work. It's kind of secret. I can't tell you about it." Athena paused, gathering her thoughts. "Well, one of the members at our recent meeting claimed that all the western governments are broke and the global financial system will likely collapse. I always thought that the big global problems were climate change, environmental pollution, inequality and nuclear conflict, not financial collapse. What do you think? I know you keep contact with some of your old friends in government."
"I do," he replied, pensive, looking out over the pond. A frog croaked and Alex's eyes cast around until he spied it sitting on a rock. "Just what are you looking for?" he said finally.
"Is a financial collapse possible?"
Alex kept his voice neutral. "In a sense, yes, it's not impossible."
"Not impossible?" Athena blurted out. "Are you kidding? What does that mean?"
She had been concerned about what Albert had said. Now she was really worried. She hadn't accepted the idea as being real and expected her father to deny the possibility, but now she had to face the reality. Her fear turned to anger.
"How the hell has this been allowed to happen? And how do you know this and haven't told me?" The questions, propelled by fear and anger flew out of her mouth like little sharp knives. She could see her father wince as they hit home. Then he shrugged.
"Well, who knows for sure. Listen Asteri," he said using the special name from when she was young. "Such a collapse is almost impossible. So why create more stress by worrying about unlikely events. It'll just create more worry. You have enough of that already."
Athena knew he was talking about Danny but still felt uneasy. Her father hadn't actually denied the possibility of serious financial problems. She suspected that he know more than he was saying."
"If such a thing could happen, would it happen soon?" she blurted out, her mind racing. "How can I..."
"Listen," said Alex, interrupting her. "Countries with their own currency don't go broke like companies or people. They just print more. That's just what they've been doing, and calling it quantitative easing to avoid upsetting people. Of course it causes inflation but as long as they can hide it and keep it from getting out of hand... well, they can keep the game going for quite a while. That is especially true here in America since our dollar is the global reserve currency."
"But what should I do?" Athena felt a sense of desperation and looked to her father for some hope, some guidance.
"Just sit tight and do what you're doing. I'll make a few inquiries. Meanwhile do your job and take it easy. Come and visit more often. You know there's always love and safety here for you at home." He leaned over and gave her a long hug. "Now, let's go in and see if your mother has some lunch heating. By the way, please don't speak about this to your mother, brothers, or anyone for that matter." He took her shoulder and fixed her with a sharp gaze. "I'm serious. I don't want to worry your mother."
The remainder of the day and evening were spent chatting with her mother, walking the gardens with Danny, and a quick visit to a local friend from their school days. The next morning after breakfast she announced that she had to leave. Danny was upset of course and her mother asked when she was coming back for a longer visit. Athena ignored the question, looking up to examine the storm clouds gathering to the west. After a short farewell she slid behind the wheel, waved again, and drove off. She could see Danny in the rear view mirror waving and holding his grandma's hand. An image of Danny as a young healthy boy standing in a field of spring daffodils came into her mind. Another life, she thought. Then unbidden tears blurred the road ahead. She blinked to clear her sight, focused her thoughts on the road, and turned up the radio to drown out her thoughts. A few minutes later the rain started. Large drops spattered on the windshield. Even the sky is crying, she thought. Then her thoughts turned to what had been said about a global financial crisis and Athena could feel a rising discomfort, a feeling that all was not right and there was little or nothing she could do about it.
Shortly after Athena disappeared down the road, her father went to his computer and brought up an encrypted video link. A logo with the stylized words El Camarilla appeared on the screen and a voice asked why he was calling. "What is going on with Edward's group," he said firmly with a tinge of frustration. "I thought they were focused on pushing the climate change and academic socialist agendas? Why are they talking about financial collapse?"