As more of a refreshing exercise of contraction than a self-demonstration of strength, the man flexed his triceps as he pushed himself back from the railing. Away to his left on the bridge, a few hasty autos competed with the steady whistling of the breeze. He inhaled fresh autumn air and opened his eyes. The river was still there, beneath and before him, slowly churning along that winding loop around the central city. Further away, over the tree-covered hill, the high tower of the main administration building stood proudly against the cloudy, gray sky. Another colorful leaf, blown from a younger birch in the park, bounced playfully off his ear. Momentarily glancing over his right shoulder, he observed the leaves joined once again by a swirling shower of small, fluffy snowflakes. His eyes drifting downwards, he saw the slush was beginning to stick on the bike path, with its green hue blending and fading with the surrounding red bitumen and the white lines of orderly division. An esplanade light flickered. And, tightening her grasp on his arm, a woman, a younger woman, wellborn and alluring, spoke again.
‘You could always decide over dinner,’ she said. ‘You have no schedule to keep, regarding those now distant matters. Or have your thoughts condensed already? Once again? Or nothing?’
‘Dinner, tonight or tomorrow or even later, may change my resolve, but I think I have decided now,’ he replied.
‘And it’s something between all and nothing?’ she questioned.
‘True,’ he said, pausing to fully look at her face. ‘I’ll give them something softer and perhaps more enlightening than mere pablum. For now, I suppose. All that is happening affects them as much as us. More so in many ways. But they and their part are rather distant, as you correctly put it, at this point. I consider their overall level of reception as well.’
‘For those who still can and do read?’ she asked. ‘The few?’
‘Far fewer than I would have liked,’ he said. ‘In their place, a host of timid watchers. To view is to see what is shown. To read is to see what is and what might be. To think.’
‘So much— All of those things you discussed at the forum, they all weigh in your mind, don’t they? As it concerns your past,’ she said as her hand smoothed the fabric of his jacket over his shoulder blade. ‘You, bless you, still feel a shepherd’s responsibility.’
‘In a way, yes,’ he said somewhat slowly as his vision caught a lumbering ferry as it emerged from beneath the bridge. ‘I always did what I could. I still do, I will do — for now, a little while longer. To continue to speak to deaf ears. But another Shepherd once advised, in situations like this, it is better to shake off the dust and move on.’
‘As you have done,’ she noted. ‘To borrow my father’s nautical phrasing, which you too know, you have transferred the flag. And we welcome it here, an addition of value unlooked for. A delight even. But far away, what is their resistance? What explains their aversion to the obvious?’
‘Reluctance,’ he said, thinking of the matter. ‘Not fear, per se, or ignorance. Certainly not wicked malice. It is and is not born of a kind of defeat. They linger in a truly forgotten past because the doing so comforts them. As bad as it all is, it will have to worsen before they understand. Rather, before they can bring themselves to admit they understand. Even then, the great question remains as to whether, so admitting and understanding, they may bring themselves to action.’
‘As you, our voice, and so many others have, and have been for the longest while, urging. There is a measure of ignorance, if not of outright idiocy. They continue to ignore —from the same root— the proofs, the examples, and all available lessons.’ She was making determined eye contact with him, a growing habit. He liked her company for many reasons.
‘With you as our prosecutor, we all stand convicted,’ he said, returning her near stare. ‘Our discussion today ran along similar lines I have discussed with them before. Not trusting enemy information for one thing. Especially not to trust it as a lone arbiter while shucking aside all other news and voices and palpable evidence. The few get the importance, but the many still do not. For and to them, while perhaps little is lost in the way of translation, there is a certain immateriality concerning my attempts. Or anyone’s. Pupils who steadfastly refuse the lessons.’
‘And what lessons!’ she exclaimed with a sudden voice to stir the swirling petioles. ‘Within a war no less.’
‘The list I mentioned this afternoon, the long or short of it, came to me almost as I spoke. One seldom gets the chance to see one’s own near future playing out in a realistic, informative fashion. One man’s house is much the same as another’s, in this country or that; bombardment ruins them both. The population of a town, or a region, or even an entire nation, may find good cause to voluntarily uproot and relocate somewhere safer and somewhere they might find a better, viable fit. The martial demonstration, of the traditional explosive variety, and of that newer unrestricted nature, serves as a universal warning.’ He trailed off, extending his head towards hers, a natural urge and motion in mind. His kiss landed gently upon the tip of her nose.
She held her position though she uttered a low giggle. But she also held her determination. ‘This country and that,’ she said, ‘both under the same spells cast by the same lowly magicians. Revolutions masked by phantom riotous nonsense, a mere six years apart, were the devices of the same enemy. Do they choose not to see the plain similarity? The exactitude?’
‘Far away, they, trapped even deeper in their past, even as now mythologized, prefer to concentrate still —after all that has been laid bare— still on the riot, the nonsense, and the grand distractions of the enemy. Again, faulted or otherwise, they maintain reluctance.’
‘And you will maintain your generous defenses, won’t you? She smiled, leaning back slightly and resting her arm once more on the cold steel of the railing.
‘привет, вы, джентри!’ a deliveryman hailed as his bicycle zipped by, momentarily parting the leaves and flakes and leaving a faint track of green through the accumulating wet powder. His transient passing took a more permanent toll on the noblesse couple.
‘For now? If in a depleted fashion,’ she clarified.
‘For now,’ he concurred; ‘the fleeting words of a man departing, moving on.’
‘As you move on, belletristically speaking, as you, learning one lesson, removed physically, so let us move on towards that cafe. Let us shake off this dust.’ She began to pull and guide him down the path which eventually emptied into the entertainment district surrounding the stadium. ‘I too have decided. And do not question me, but buttered crab meat paired with pumpkin soup is in order this evening. Warm food and warming wine in answer to the falling snow.’
‘The soup—’ he began. ‘So, warmth upon warmth, a taste of the zealous culture. For my part, I appreciate it. Cold, dark, though with a new friend, and though of an imprecise time, the change is made. The trade of dejecting dust for revivifying snow — a deal! With wine.’
‘Deo vindice,’ she said, ‘et vinum consolatio.”
Safe within a fortress of harmonization, they walked into the deepening night carefree.
Perrin Lovett is a novelist, author, and small-time meddler. He is a loveable, unobtrusive somewhat-right-wing Christian nationalist residing somewhere in Dixie. The revised second edition of his groundbreaking novel, THE SUBSTITUTE, is available from Shotwell Publishing and Amazon. Find his ramblings at www.perrinlovett.me. Deo Vindice!