TOPPLED by Julie Zuckerman

TOPPLED by Julie Zuckerman

The crowds coursing the streets below Marjorie’s apartment cheer and chant, and she hurries downstairs. Withered wives and working girls, wheelchair-bound and beach-bronzed beauties, one of the most spectacular sights she’s seen in her 68 years. They beckon to Marjorie, but she hesitates, grounded in place. Her uneasiness hovers around her like a swarm of midges. The most beaten down have ascended on the capital, together with bejeweled matrons of Madison Avenue, minivan-driving moms, and those in thread-bare, torn coats. With each stride, they discard the delicate attributes absorbed since birth, casting aside mantles of caregiver, nurturer, defender, peacemaker, forgiver, family gluer.

The words Wait! I’m coming stick in her throat. She forces one giant gulp of air into her lungs and steps forward into the surge. With each stride, she is fortified, the cloud of midges thinning. Her guilt and worry float skyward, popping like bubbles.  

Like Miriam the prophetess with timbrels in hand, the women flock towards freedom. Their songs scuff away eternities of subjugation and restraint. It’s a spontaneous outpouring of sisterhood that transcends politics and unites them on a chromosomal level; no planning or secret social networks were necessary.

The men, smug in their constructs of superiority, do not see them coming.

This is not the Women’s March of 2017, which was cathartic, yes. But barely a blip in the battle.

A reverberation ripples through the crowd, a breathless, hushed moment, followed by an eruption of thunderous, whooping cheers. Marjorie stands on her tiptoes to see the DC skyline forever changed: the ultimate phallus, the iconic Washington Monument, topples. The mechanics of how this is happening, the intricacies of the organization, or whether a vote was taken are questions she can ask later. It’s a prodigious moment; every neuron in Marjorie is wide awake, electric, prickly with possibilities she’d never imagined.

They swarm the Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Smithsonians. Once, she revered these institutions, the massive memorials and erections of glory, the cherry blossoms, the reflecting pools. The first text she receives is from her sister: the same thing is happening simultaneously in every state capital and major city around the world. From her daughter, in every place of business and in the armed forces. And from her daughters-in-law, in every home.

Near the war memorials – Vietnam, Korea, and the vainglorious World War II construction – Marjorie experiences a bodily sensation of being rent in two, the Red Sea splitting inside her, painful and cleansing at once.

In the shadow of Lincoln, she weeps with a fierceness that hasn’t flared since her mother’s funeral three decades ago. Today’s torrent is different, a mixture of euphoria and awe, a twinge of exhilarating terror, amazement that life can still surprise in a good way. Someone offers her a tissue, a hug, and takes her by the hand to keep walking.

She is one of the lucky ones – never raped or molested, or subject to overt brutality or degradation due to gender, race or sexual preference. But a lifetime of slights, catcalls, indignation, covert biases, crude jokes, and commands meant to chip away at self-worth and keep men in positions of power are enough to fuel her rage into a colossal conflagration.

Only males under the age of 5 will be spared. Marjorie’s mind flits to her ex – she’s long past hating him, but: hah! – and then to her two grown sons, which is more complicated. With each passing year, she’s understood her sons are average, more takers than givers, molded in their father’s image. Her eldest hounds her to get more exercise. He chucks her zero-fat yogurts, determined to be the arbiter of her health. His younger brother cares more for his cars and gadgets than his children. On occasion, they are kind, but their attempts bring her little comfort. She feels more kinship with her daughters-in-law. With every woman walking beside her. She doesn’t blame her boys for any real evil in the world, but she will not miss them too much.

Once a year, Marjorie will spill out drops of wine with her pinky to remind herself that oppressors and their bystanders also deserve compassion. But now, she closes her eyes and gives thanks she will never be controlled again. The freedom to be fully herself is exquisite; she’d not known the extent of her hunger until today. She tilts her head to the sky and spreads her arms like an eagle, ready to soar.

Julie Zuckerman's debut novel-in-stories, The Book of Jeremiah, is forthcoming from Press 53 in May 2019. Her writing has appeared in Okay Donkey, Crab Orchard Review, Salt Hill, The SFWP Quarterly, Ellipsis, Sixfold, Five:2:One, The Coil, and The MacGuffin, among others. A native of Connecticut, she now lives in Israel with her husband and four children. Find out more at or on Twitter: @jbzuckerman.