Of Men and Monarchs

E.G. Wonsktein

Issue 43 * Spring 2021

1. The funeral-goer.

On his lapel, an orchid. His suit, agreeably black, the margins of his trim form, from toe to top, cut with awful symmetry. Temples grey, his shave close, the funeral-goer smiles warm and wan, not broadly; shakes hands, just enough firmness to reassure, just long enough to kiss the life away.

His title is vice—Vice Chairman of Somethingorother—to a nation prominent enough to be known, wealthy enough to count among those of the first world, its colonial pretenses long forgotten. Industrialized, his homeland is known for a naturalized commodity once grown elsewhere.

Yes. Good of you. So soon—too soon. My deepest sympathies. He delivers the lines sincerely, expected but not, somehow, out of rote, impossibly, specifically for just this dignitary, sadly passed.

And did you know him? See him at Algiers, a young man then? Yes, how well he handled that incident. It might have gotten out of hand but for the supple diplomacy of the dearly departed. At the ceremony, the funeral-goer is called upon to say a few words. They satisfy all, one recalled; the next day they disappeared without a whisper.


2. The M.P.

On his head, a dead rat—or so the papers have it. Memes skewer, yet he rises, a steady ember in the uprush of a brush fire. Who are these people, ask the journalists, who so revere his boisterousness, his degeneration into scatter-brained offense?

Interviewed, the adorers are all old, lipstick purpled by the vagaries of fading complexions. Many bold dresses in passé styles. Mountainous hair glued in place by ozone-killing "product." He tells it like it is, they say.

The M.P. never has a choice word for anybody, he says, then slights his opponent, a nation, a faith. By any estimation, they must be dealt with strongly. It's the only way. Claims to love everybody equally well. At home, a row. Pots and pans are thrown, vases smashed. The best of the nation's retail lay in ruins now. Nothing to see here. Move on. Fake news.

She, interviewed on morning shows, claims it was nothing, a misunderstanding about his wife. A disagreement about the status of their marriage. She refers often to "them." Damage control.


3. The sage

From her perch on the ancient bridge—not the bridge the Romans built, but some certain crossing of the past, some minor ford-made-stone—she notes the green pallor of the river. Again, the smell. Perhaps one day it will run clear. In her mind, she sees the plain as the green sward it once was, and parliament in ruins, as will be.

Being here means everything. Last night, she slept some. She has gotten used to being mute. Silence becomes her. The M.P.'s ubiquitous, puffy face jeers from newsstands, a mosquito blood-plumped, fattened on the veins of this temperate island.

She has a room in a temporary shelter in a temporary land whose permanent obsession is the erosion of its traditions. She thinks the words, thinks the ironies through. Tonight, the shelter will serve curried rice; the funeral-goer will visit in lieu of the aging monarch whose dogs' needs will somehow keep her away.