by Daniel Waldman
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Thirty minutes later, there’s a brusque knock on the Speechwriter’s cubicle wall. He swivels around and sees three men in military police uniforms. “Come with us, Mr. Speechwriter,” says one and yanks him out of his chair by the arm.
The Speechwriter tries to stand, but one of the other police grabs his other arm and they drag him out of the cubicle. He wants to ask what they’re doing, but he thinks he knows and really hopes that by staying quiet they’ll let him go. He doesn’t want to make matters worse by talking.
When they get to the hallway that leads out of the field of cubicles, they put something over The Speechwriter’s head. The Speechwriter hears a dull thunk and a sudden thump in the back of his head causes his body to go limp. He loses himself in the cloudy blackness.
* * *
I’m in a cell. It’s about the same size as my cubicle, but instead of a desk, phone and computer, there is a short metal bench and a hole in the floor. The cell stinks of sweat and urine and feces. Scratches and black marks cover the walls. I lie down on the bench on my side, squeezing my knees to my chest so I can fit my entire body onto it.
I shiver and my jaw chatters. My eyes and temples throb dully. I probe the spot on my head where they hit me. No blood, but there’s a large bump that makes the throbbing even stronger when I press on it too hard. The ceiling is dirty and moist, stained from years of leaks.
No words there either, I think. All I need to do is cooperate, then I can get back to writing the speech.
But a long time goes by. I can’t tell how long, but I’m certain I won’t be able to finish the speech in time. I drift in and out of sleep. I feel my head and the bump has gone down a little.
Someone comes to my cell and says, “The Police Sub-chief will be here soon.” Then he spits in my direction. “Trash like you. You deserve what you get.”
More time goes by, but I don’t sleep. I can hear the Leader’s voice in my head: “We have to make this world right for us. We have to make the world just.”
I just want to go back to my cubicle to capture his words, now that I can hear them again.
Eventually a man in a blue pinstriped suit and the golden emblem of the Whole sewn on his chest pocket comes to my cell, accompanied by three large military policemen.
“Police Sub-chief,” he announces, a fist pounding his own chest. “Here to take your confession.” He produces a recording device from of his pocket. “Will the Prisoner stand so he can make his confession?”
I don’t understand. I don’t know who he is talking about. I am the Speechwriter. Surely he knows this. Surely he knows that I have a speech to write.
He repeats, glaring at me: “Will the Prisoner stand so he can make his confession?”
“Me?” I squeak.
“Yes. You are the Prisoner,” he says emotionlessly.
“I am the Speechwriter,” I mumble. My throat is horse and dry.
“You are no longer the Speechwriter,” he says. “You are the Prisoner.” He pauses. “Will the Prisoner now stand so that he can make his confession? We do not have time for this laziness.”
“Come closer to the bars,” he commands. I hobble towards him.
“A member of the Whole has reported you for using the mother-given name of the Researcher. This is a crime against the Whole. Does the Prisoner admit to using the Researcher’s mother-given name, and will he accept the consequences of his actions?”
“I didn’t!” I say, hoping that the Sub-chief will believe me. “That’s a false report.”
“No matter,” he says bluntly. “Using a mother-given name is a crime against the Whole, and the Whole can’t be too careful. Therefore, does the prisoner admit to using the Researcher’s mother-given name?”
“I do,” I say quietly, seeing no point in arguing. I almost say that it was the Researcher who first told me his mother-given name. I almost talk about our private meetings. But I can’t bring myself to say it out loud.
“Does the Prisoner admit that by using the Researcher’s real name, he has declared himself an enemy of the Whole?”
I am silent. I am the Speechwriter. How could I be the enemy of the Whole when I am its voice?
“Does the Prisoner admit to being an enemy of the Whole?” he persists.
“I do not,” I whisper. “I am the Speechwriter. I am the Whole’s voice. I am the Leader’s voice.”
“To repeat: You are no longer the Speechwriter. You are the Prisoner,” he says. “Does the Prisoner admit that by using the Researcher’s real name, he has declared himself an enemy of the Whole?”
The words “I am not an enemy. I am a voice” come out easier, louder.
“Stand back,” he commands. I step back. “Farther,” he says.” I back up until the backs of my knees touch the metal bench. I hear a buzz and the cell door swings open. The three large military policemen enter, batons raised. They grab me and start thwacking over and over. I drop to the floor and cover my head with my hands. The batons crush my skin wherever they land.
“Real names are an abomination to the whole!” shouts the Police Sub-Chief. “The Prisoner has used a real name and is an enemy of our great nation. He will be punished for his misdeeds.”
The beating goes on and on until my eyes swell almost shut, and welts and bruises paint my body. When it’s finally done, I lie there, listening to my own wheezing breath. Even the slightest movement makes the rest of my body contort in response.
I make every effort not to move, though the cold concrete floor makes me shiver. I’m sure several bones are broken. I count the seconds it takes to inhale, to exhale. I think I hear the forest somehow, the crickets, the birds, the low hum of organic life.
I hear my mother’s voice, and now her words are clear: “This is your time, Aaron,” she says. “This is your time.”
It hurts to smile, but I can’t stop myself. I may never hear the Leader’s voice again.
Copyright © 2017 by Daniel Waldman