FOR WANT OF A NAIL

Posted in Rants on January 17th, 2013 by Ed

(January 16, 2033. A fire-lit cabin in the hills of Brezhnev City, Stalinton – formerly Boise, Idaho. A man sitting on a shattered milk crate looks older than his 53 years. His rumpled, malnourished grandson sits at his feet.)

"Grandpa? My friend Sergei says that this used to be the most powerful country in the world. Is that true? I thought it sounded silly."

Grandpa looked around cautiously. They are alone. "Actually, your friend is right, Vlad. It used to be called 'America'." His eyes glimmer briefly. "Now there's a word I haven't heard in ages."

"What does it mean?", the child asked.

"No one knows. Some say it's an Injun word meaning 'God's chosen people.'"

Vladimir is more confused than enlightened by this information. "Well if America was so powerful, what happened? Today one of the Petrov girls died during Orderly Socialist Playtime, and teacher said to be careful with her body because her parents might want to eat her. Why do moms and dads have to eat their own kids, Grandpa? Are you gonna eat me someday?"

"Heavens no!", Grandpa chuckled. Oh, the things kids say. Who was that man with the TV show about kids saying funny things? Now it's gonna drive me crazy, he thought. Colored fellow, with those delightful sweaters. Hmm. Oh, no matter. He gently chided himself for thinking of frivolous things. Think about something important, you old coot. Like where you're going to find enough turnips for daily meal tomorrow. Vladimir's ribs are showing, for god's sake.

Ah, God. Another flashback. How long since he was banished from these lands?

"I don't get it," the boy insisted. "This country doesn't seem powerful. What happened to it?"

Grandpa inhaled deeply. How much can a child understand? He isn't old enough. But if you don't tell him, old man, then who will?

He paused to consider his words. "Vladdie, a little more than 20 years ago, America was a wonderful place, full of more people than you could ever imagine. And 53% of them were the best people who ever walked the Earth. But back then countries used to choose their leaders. Isn't that something? Imagine if you got to pick the Great People's Secretary! Well if people can pick their leaders, that means sometimes people will pick a bad one. And that's what happened."

Vladimir struggled to process this. "What was his name?"

Grandpa suddenly looked pained. "You already know his name, child. You say your Patriot's Loyalty Oath to his picture every morning."

"You mean…Father Obama?"

The name sends shivers down his spine. Or maybe he is just cold. So cold.

"Back then we called him 'President' Obama." His face was taut with the tension of a man forced to recall an ex-wife or a particularly obstinate bowel movement. "We the People" – gosh, what a phrase! – "gave him power. And then he became a tyrant." The child looked confused again. "A tyrant is someone who takes all of the power for himself."

"Is…is Father Obama a 'Tyrant' then?"

"He is. He certainly is. That is why we must till the mung bean fields for him every day, dawn to dusk. That is why he took our cars and melted down the metal to make rings for gay weddings. That is why every year the child selected in the Lottery is fed to dogs at the Coliseum for his amusement."

Just then, the old man noticed that his fist was clenched tightly.

Vladimir paused, unsure if he should go on. Hesitantly, he said, "If he was bad, why didn't you pick a new one?"

"BECAUSE!", Grandpa roared. He even startled himself with the outburst. He forced himself to relax. The fire was getting low now. "Because he changed things so that we couldn't." He anticipated the next question. "We tried to stop him. Oh how we tried. We fought a war, a war that is not taught in your history class. Many people died. Millions, maybe. Your Uncle Vernon died in the Patriotic War, as did…" A long pause. "…as did your Grandma."

For a moment there was silence. "I suppose you want to know the rest of the story, sonny. That's OK. Don't be shy."

"I do, Grandpa. If there was a war, why did you…" He regretted the word choice. "…why did the people lose?"

It is not an easy question to answer, even though Grandpa and everyone else who remembered the War knows exactly why. Some memories are too painful to relive. It was like being hypnotized and having memories of one's own circumcision extracted from the subconscious and played out in vivid Technicolor.

"We lost," he began slowly, struggling to choke down the Slurpee of pain and anguish he was being forced to drink, "because our guns couldn't hold enough bullets." This, the boy seemed to understand. Certainly he was familiar with guns, what with the People's Security Police on every block. "Their guns could hold 30 bullets. Ours could not."

The fire was nearly extinguished now. The boy began to rise to find another chip of dried ox dung to burn. Suddenly, Grandpa continued. "Your Uncle Vern died not too far from here. I was with him when it happened. The Blackshirts were attacking our humble village and we were giving 'em all they could handle. They sent a flock of their trained Death Beagles after poor Vern. He was a great shot though. He picked 'em off, one by one. But then…then he pulled the trigger and nothing happened except a little 'click'. He had shot 15 of those evil monsters, child, but there were 15 more. First they gnawed out his eyes. Then, as they were trained to do to all heterosexuals, they bit off his genitals. He was still alive to watch those trained dogs remove and eat his intestines, occasionally pausing to attack the driver of a non-hybrid car. It was…the look in his eyes was something I will carry with me forever."

It was now completely dark. The daily Match Ration was gone; there was no way to restart the fire. "Grandpa? Would Uncle Vern be alive today if his gun held 30 bullets?"

"He would be. Yes he would be."

"Grandpa? Would…would America still be alive too?"

This was the deepest cut, like a cut that is so deep that you look at it and say, wow, that is way deep.

"Yes," he muttered, barely audible. Then they sat in silence looking at the extinguished fire, a subtle metaphor for the extinguished nation for which he grieved silently and always.