Here’s a piece of short fiction I wrote a while ago now. It was originally posted onto the /r/writingprompts subreddit in response to to the following: ‘A former, now elderly totalitarian dictator meets with the leader of the opposition group that deposed him many years ago.’ There are only two sentences left in here that I am totally happy with. Y’all try to guess which ones. xx -E
A hospital ward, afternoon sunlight streams in through an open window; curtains flow in the breeze, their rail holding a bag of saline solution which is slowly draining into an arm.
‘You know, there was a time I wished death upon you.’
The man in the cot by the window does not respond, he may be asleep, his illness would certainly excuse him that and besides, the heat is stifling, air conditioning is a luxury only affordable by city hospitals. Here they fill the wards past capacity and only change the diapers of the incontinent twice a day. Being beside the window is a luxury reserved for those who greet the nurses with money or to those whom death will greet in short order. The man has no money to his name, not anymore.
June. The sugar plantation grew opium and the police knew not to ask questions. The man smoked a cigar, ‘For my dearest friend. – Castro’ His own country made cigars too, of course, but this was more. A promise.
A mosquito buzzes. A radio, half tuned to static, plays the charts. The woman speaks to the motionless man in the cot by the window. He may be dead already.
‘I voted for you, you know. I was a student, dumber than I had any right to be and you sounded so good. The People’s Party, I must have thought you represented me, and you were so much younger than the others, and you spoke so well, you were very attractive then.’
The man doesn’t respond, the woman notes the time, takes a pill, continues.
March. A travelling cinema showing American movies arrived in a small town. The boy in the audience pretended to understand what they were saying and made up his own story to match the screen. Before the film in colour there was one in black and white; there were planes flying and things blowing up and men shooting guns. War in the far east. The boy was excited.
‘Did you always mean to?’
She sounds accusatory, hopes perhaps to inspire guilt, to inspire conversation, it is not forthcoming.
‘Was Marx translated when you were young? I remember reading him, or trying to read him, I don’t remember if I even finished the book anymore. It felt exciting, felt new, felt naughty. Books with no clear owner, late night conversations over coffee. I suppose if those had ended with democracy it might not have been me, the excitement never really stopped.’
A cigarette is lit, smoke rises to the ceiling, a little leaks out the window aiding the clouds that are beginning to form. Rain is forecast for later and the roof sags in anticipation.
February. Gunfire could be heard from the parliament building, the man’s mistress was visiting. He was not to be disturbed and nothing of importance happened, the doors to the balcony had been boarded up and he cried.
‘My father was killed. The gangs did it apparently. The police didn’t investigate because we had to work with them to make the country a better place. “Why couldn’t there be no gangs at all?” My daughter asked. I said I didn’t know. Jonás said they’d got to our families and she wasn’t safe. We let her go, then you made me let go of him. He wasn’t a terrorist; you were the only one who was scared.’
August. A boardroom, a meeting. The man said that the party had achieved so much in the last five years, imagine what it could do in the next. Nobody suggested that they not lose the next election but everyone agreed that the others had a negligible chance of winning. By the time the next election arrived he wondered if its cost could be justified.
‘They wanted to kill you, I told them not to. It wasn’t the right thing to do. I should have known you’d run. I think I regret it sometimes. were you ever sorry?’
The man lies with his back to her, she does not see his face. A nurse looks into the ward for a moment. Outside, rain starts to fall.