They watched the uprising on the phone, while eating apricot pie.
The Allens were finishing dinner. Lucia Allen took an apricot pie out of the oven and set it on the stovetop. “You’re ready.” She smiled. “Nice and golden.”
Psychology TodayYou’re a typical example of Western ignorance with your head stuck between, what do you call it, your buttocks,
Hey, Mirahave you heard about what’s going on in Bolano?
Did you know, Judd, that the head of Oslav Velm’s Security Squad was driving drunk in broad daylight and killed our neighbor’s eight-year-old daughter? A Federal Judge found him innocent. Did you know that Velm’s nephew ordered the demolition of a children’s hospital to build a private trapeze park? And all the children, mostly pediatric cancer patients, were declared successfully cured and sent home? Two journalists wrote about it in the papers. One was never found. The body of the other floated up the riverbank three months later. There is no justice in Bolano. No justice and no mercy. The people in Bolano, Judd, are like paper dolls. Disposable.
“And then you rode home in the backseat of my car, under the pile of mom’s dry cleaning.”
“Shut up. Or I’ll tell them what you do in the backseat of your car. And in the backseat of everyone’s car.”
“Shut up, Jeremy.”
“Stop it, both of you,” Judd said. “Why can’t you treat each other with respect?”
One day, Jeremy thought, I am going to do something, build something or invent something or both. I could invent a way to grow food on a roof of a car. Maybe you would turn the engine on and carrots would grow. No, not carrots, corn would be better for the ingenious regions, I mean indigenous. Mom would prefer carrots, though, because of her diets. I would take a stand against something, or for something, no, definitely against. Sophia would stop saying that I’m a follower. What’s she smirking at? She is dumb.
I should be nicer to Jeremy, Sophia thought, even though he is a whiny shrimp. He had a rough year in high school, but he is a good person. He didn’t tell Mom and Dad about the party and even helped me to mop up the bathroom, after my douchey friends made him do the moonwalk for a beer. He is loyal. I’d take him to a revolution. No, I wouldn’t. He’d annoy the hell out of me. What is it about brothers?
Sophia picked up her father’s phone and looked at the tiny Bolanians, frozen, arms mid-swing and mouths mid-sentence. She didn’t want them to stay like this, so she pressed play.
“Is this happening for real?” she said.
“Yes, honey,” Lucia said, “from what we know.”
But we don’t know, Lucia thought. It could be staged, a trick by the media to increase advertising dollars, a plot orchestrated by the CIA, or even an inside job, by that dictator himself, to increase his popularity. Isn’t that what happened in Mexico?
“It’s hard for us to know what is really happening over there,” Lucia added.
The lights flickered, once, twice, and went out completely. It got dark and quiet, no hum of the dishwasher, no light from the microwave clock, only the soft glow of Judd’s phone. The house held its breath, like a kid playing hide and seek.
“Stay calm, everyone,” Judd said. “We have candles and a flashlight in the garage.”
Judd got up from the table and walked down the basement stairs, hands propped up against the walls. Dark air thickened to the consistency of sour cream. Where were the candles? Were there batteries in the flashlight? His family back in the kitchen needed a handy man, a man of action. Judd found a flashlight in his toolbox—it worked. He would walk back up the stairs, raise it above his head, and say something funny. Let there be light. He’d say that; they’d laugh.
Judd walked into the kitchen, flashlight raised. Let there be . . . But the lights came back on. Lucia put her hand over heart. Jeremy snickered. Sophia pushed her plate away.
Protesters were using the catapult against the Unity Squad, launching frying pans, bicycle chains, garden rakes, beer bottles, toasters, and things that looked like dental chairs, but were espresso machines, into the encirclement of helmets. Every third time, the catapult jammed. A volunteer from the crowd would have to climb up its stem to fix it. From the ground, the famous Swedish professor was explaining the basics of the Newton’s laws of motion through a loudspeaker.
A man in uniform pulled a man in a wool trapper hat down from the catapult. The protestor had the body of a twelve-year-old boy. The Unity Squad soldier dragged the boy by his leg and someone from the crowd grabbed the boy’s arm, stretching an already thin body like string cheese. A Nike sneaker fell to the sidewalk. A woman screamed.
“They killed my brother,” shouted a man in his twenties, in an army jacket, with dirty blond shoulder-length hair and a broad lumpy nose. “I will avenge him! Death to oppressors, thieves, and vandals!”
“Wait,” someone said, “Golik might not be dead yet.”
“I don’t care,” cried Golik’s brother. “Death to them anyway.”
Someone was covering a body on the ground with a patchy quilt. Others gathered, laying blue dandelions and lighting candles. A woman with short gray hair began to sing “We Are the Champions” in a shaky falsetto and other voices joined, off key and in thick accents.
Across the square in the Presidential Palace, Oslav Velm was having dinner with his son.
“Gorgius, could you please pass the lamb chops and the grape jelly?”
Oslav was hoping to have a nice dinner. Find out how the math test went and ask Gorgius to rethink the elephants for his upcoming sixteenth birthday parade. Oslav had suggested a military variety show, with tanks and fighter jets. Gorgius said he wanted a burlesque Buddhist carnival. Now closing Baran Square for the parade would require extra military forces, which would cost a fortune. And his son was wearing harem pants, purple with gold embroidery. He had tattooed a sea turtle on the back of his neck. With these ongoing protests, when did he even get the tattoo? Was it possible to hate your own child? Wasn’t there a mechanism in nature that prevented it?
This dinner was as nice as sticking a hand into a meat grinder. Your own hand, obviously; someone else’s hand would be a different story. Oslav was not going to lose control. He was going to do what that book had said: acknowledge his son’s feelings.
“Gorgius, the anxiety you are experiencing is completely natural.”
Gorgius shoved the silver platter of lamb chops across the table, knocking over a carafe of lingberry compote. Oslav got up, picked up the carafe, and dabbed the stain with a dinner napkin. He had sent the help away earlier so they could have a private dinner, father and son bonding. But they were not bonding and Oslav’s forehead was sweating. He should yell for someone to turn down the heat.
“Anxiety?” Gorgius smirked. “I feel ecstatic.”
Gorgius picked up the saucer with the grape jelly and balanced it on his head, bursting into bouts of intolerable laughter. He dumped the jelly on the tablecloth and began to mash a potato roll into the puddle. Oslav had the urge to reach across the table, grab his son’s ear, and smash the little bastard’s face into the mess. The staff would applaud him. But the staff was hiding behind the heavy crimson moth-eaten drapes and the table in the grand dining hall was too long for Oslav’s arm. No, he was going to stay calm.
Gorgius stabbed the mutilated bun with a fork. “This is what they’ll do to you, Father, when they break in.” He pushed away his plate, got up, and walked to the balustrade around the fireplace.
“Gorgius, please do not give sardines to Darwin. You know that the fish-tailed owls have sensitive stomachs. And could you put the vase down? It’s an antique.”
“You’re so fucking materialistic. It’s pathetic.”
“Please don’t use that kind of language. If your mother were here, she would agree with me.”
“But she is not here,” Gorgius said.
Acknowledge his feelings, Oslav thought.
“It’s natural that you feel resentment toward me, Gorgius, given the circumstances.”
“Mother is not here because you chopped her head off!”
“Gorgius, I’m willing to discuss this with you but only in a non-confrontational manner. I had to make a difficult decision in a morally complex situation. You do not need to scream.”
“Whatever. I don’t care.”
He is only a kid, Oslav thought, a scared kid. He needs me.
“Gorgius, would you like a scoop of vanilla ice cream with your apple crumble? It will all blow over. They will chant a few slogans, burn a few storefronts, throw a few bricks, and go home. They will bury their dead. I will give the order to turn the electricity back on. And everything will be back to normal.”
One day, Gorgius thought, in a place that isn’t here, there will be water without banks, sand between my toes, and the warmth of someone else’s lips. Lips like keepsakes.
Marina Petrova’s work has been published in The Blue Nib, The Pinch, Empty Mirror, The Conium Review, and The Brooklyn Rail. She received fellowships from MacDowell and The Mineral School. She lives, works, and tries to keep writing in New York City.