PROPAGANDA

© 2008 by InSilverShadows


I

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Jude McKinley despised the fact that sex, delightful as it was, had a purpose and that that purpose was to procreate.

If it weren't for that harsh detail regarding intimacy he would have been a far less stressed-out man. Jude McKinley was a handsome man of forty-plus-one years (as he thought that saying 'forty-one years' made him sound old) and a washed-out sort of palette of pale golds in his hair, crystalline blues in his eyes, and a swath stripe of pink across his high cheekbones that came partially from rosatia and partially from absinthe. He had a sharp face and square build and had been quite tall before an accident he didn't bring up had rendered him paralyzed in the legs and confined to a wheelchair.

Mr. McKinley's friends didn't have much to say about him as he didn't have any friends. He was a solitary man who had made the mistake sixteen years earlier of falling in love with a woman whose league he was far out of. When he'd finally succumbed to his desires enough times that he might as well have married her, they were wed in Orkney and returned home to Aberdeen a happy, raucous Scottish couple. Three weeks later, she told him she was pregnant, and that was where all of Mr. McKinley's problems had begun.

His son's name was James Gregory McKinley, of fourteen-plus-one years. When he'd been born he'd hardly been heavy enough to count as a whole baby and was so sickly that there wasn't a night in a year that Jude's poor wife didn't go to bed with acid reflux. As a toddler the boy had battled constantly with an alternating cycle each year of scarlet fever, whooping cough, the flu, and one year a fantastic bout of diphtheria which landed him inside all winter to wistfully look out the fogged-up window to the street below where the boys were hammering each other with snowballs with rocks in them.

"Can I go down there, Mother?" he had asked, his six-year old eyes wide and round and blue and just not persuasive enough.

"No, James," she'd said gently, rearranging his covers, "you're sick and you have to get better.

"But Mother—"

"No 'buts'," she said firmly.

Presented with such a situation and an identical one every winter after that, James began to shy from human company entirely, and once he'd gained a right large collection of books, he started poring through them. James loved books as most of his old friends had loved cakes, snowfalls, and when the young woman down the street would walk outside in the wind and her skirt would blow up to show her salmon-colored panties. By the time he was ten, James was much more intelligent than his father and much more callous and caustic as well. The Scottish accent only made his sarcasm all the more bitter and along and it was more than once that James corrected his father's grammar and political views.

This made James turned to a quiet kind of smug pride and his father turn to the absinthe. When James was eleven and Jude was at wit's end, cruel fate struck and his wife died suddenly of influenza. Jude wasn't sad, at this point in time he only saw her as the no-good reason he now felt old and fatherly and miserable. But without her to mediate, James spent more than thirteen hours a day locked in his room with his nose in a book. As soon as summer ended James was off to boarding school to both of their delight.

James sat now staring out at the spring leaflets, hating the end of term. The train back to London whirred slightly, jostling every now and then, and his school friends in the compartment were busily chatting about what they were going to do over holiday.

"We're thinking about going on holiday to America," said Madison Godfrey next to him, a slender boy with freckles who should have been born a girl and was teased constantly for supposedly being a homosexual. "On one of those steamer ships."

"Don't do that, Maddie," joked Toby, their handsome, athletic, popular ringleader, "it'll get blown up. There's still U-boats floating around after the war, I'm sure. Stay home, cry, and cover your head." He grinned mischievously, a grin that reflected that he was the only popular one of all of them at school, and he was for some reason existing as the merry leader of their motley band.

"Don't joke!" squealed Maddie, "it's not funny!"

"The war is over," drawled a smooth English accent that belonged to a tall youth with a face and manner just as smooth as his voice, "the Germans surrendered, Maddie, and all the Amis went home." He smiled a sly but charming sort of smile, "I would know. London was the place that got blitzed, no?"

"Damien, just because you spent three weeks in the Underground when you were thirteen doesn't make you any better than the rest of us," said James mildly, sitting up and shifting around, "In Maddie's eyes, Liverpool got it just as bad." He smiled a thin smile that bared thin teeth. "Everywhere got it just as bad."

The war had been a sort of ethereal thing to most of them. James lived in Aberdeen, the only Scot of the whole group of friends, and hadn't felt anything of the whole war except for panicky news reports about German air raids coming in dramatic staticky squeals over the radio. Damien lived in London, and he had half-slept through the Blitz because he'd spent the few nights before out with girls and Scotch.

Toby smiled a lean, athletic sort of smile, "Enough about the war," he said, "the war's over and that's that, it's been over for a year or two anyways. Enough we shouldn't have t'think 'bout it any more."

Toby the great peacemaker. Toby the ringleader. Toby who got along with everyone. That was Toby. James quietly envied his friend for his ability to solidly end any conversation, even if he had to use the last resort of making the conversation suddenly about himself, which James was counting down for under his breath.

Toby's lean grin stretched, "My family's going away," he said, "we're going to—"

James smiled to himself. So predictable. "London. We know. To spend Christmas with your beloved grandmother."

"Perhaps you'll see Damien there," Maddie chimed in brightly.

Toby laughed. "Doubt it. He'll be out with the girls the whole time I'm there."

Damien smiled placidly, glancing up from the book in his lap and pulling off his reading glasses, "naturally."

Toby laughed riotously and the compartment door slid open. In bumbled a boy about their age with a flop of silky brown hair and big eyes and a vague look that wasn't helped along by the droop of hair in his eyes from his rush. He grinned, revealing a slight gap between white teeth, and flopped into the seat between James and Maddie.

"You get lost on the way to the water closet, Alec?" teased Toby.

"No, but I did stop to look at a lovely book of pictures one boy had in his compartment," said Alec with a dreamy swagger of his whole body, "they were pictures of Scotland and Ireland, James. You would have liked it."

"I've seen plenty of Scotland, Alec," replied James, glancing up at him, with a grin. "I am from there, if you'd believe it."

Alec smiled at his gentle sarcasm. "They were all in black and white, you know. I wonder if someday people will be able to take pictures in color. I'd love pictures in color. Maybe the picture-box would capture what color the sky really is."

"The sky is blue, Alec," said James. "And it's called a camera, not a picture-box."

"But colors are things people made up. For all we know, what we think is blue could very well be purple, or green, or orange." He thought for a moment and smiled up at the overhead luggage, "I like purple."

Alec was a dreamer in every way that James was not. James quietly envied Alec's rampant imagination the same as he wished he had Toby's ability to change subjects masterfully and Damien's ability to be nonchalant about everything going on in Europe, Germans and all. James was also quietly envious of all of his friends' plans for the Christmas holiday. Maddie was going on holiday in America, Toby got to spend holiday with his family, and Damien would have a hormonally satisfying Christmas no matter what. Any girl would sleep with Damien in a heartbeat. James, on the other hand, was despised by girls and despised them equally. He didn't like girls, whether they were smart or dumb, because dumb girls couldn't carry a conversation and smart girls made him scowl whenever they would say something he couldn't match in wit. James wouldn't even consider to blame himself for girls' aversion to him. He had a sharp face and his father's blue, heavy-lidded eyes, which gave him a sleepy look of boredness all the time at the same time they were sharp and intelligent. He was scrawny, too, and clothes hung on him slightly, because it was more than once he'd skipped dinner in favor of literature.

No dinner meant less time with his father.

James disliked many things, and his father was even higher on the list than girls were. James wouldn't share with anyone the reasons why this was so, but an observer could quietly tell a few things about their relationship:

One, that James thought of his wheelchair-bound father as an arrogant complainer who spent his days ranting about politicians who would never statistically become great, and who was bad at both math and science and the art of war and was only good for the occasional caustic comment about one of the three—

Two, that James believed Jude McKinley was a hollow shell of skin and face and his entire insides had turned to scotch and absinthe from how much he drank—

And three, that he also believed he was much better than his father, in terms of intelligence, personality, direction in life, and in biting wit. In all those meticulous categories, particularly the bitter wit, James excelled. No one could snap sarcasm faster than James McKinley, not even his own father, though Jude had had his few moments of triumph.

James dreaded holiday. It was three long, tedious winter weeks of fever, ache, wet cough, and nightly dinners with his father. He had taken upon himself at the age of twelve the responsibility each year to carefully select a tree from the grounds and help the housekeeper fussily decorate it. James disliked his predictable, distinctly book-shaped presents and would open them quietly on Christmas morning, painstakingly add them to his shelves, and spend the rest of Christmas day in Mass pretending to sing hymns. James thought that perhaps for one year his careful plan to celebrate Christmas without his father would not be interfered by the man rolling in with his wheelchair, in a drunken fit.

He sighed. Then again, that was what he thought every year.

Alec turned to look at him at the sigh. "What's wrong, James?" he said, lifting his eyebrows.

James sighed again, rubbing a hand over his eyes, "going home for the holidays," he said simply. His friends all knew how he detested going home for any sort of break from school, especially for Christmas.

"You could come stay in Somerton with me," Alec offered lightly.

James considered how easy it would be to just get on the wrong train in London and going with Alec instead of boarding the train back to Glasgow where he'd be picked up by the butler and taken back to Aberdeen. It would be simple and effortless and James was sure both he and his father would be happier that way.

"I can't impose on your mum," he said simply, not sure why he was turning down the offer.

"My mum wouldn't mind. I'm sure I've written to her about you at some point. You are practically my best friend at school, after all."

James shrugged. "It's fine, Alec," he said, in a final sort of tone, sitting back in a final sort of way. "I can stick it out. If I tuck my father in with a bottle of absinthe, he'll be out for the next day or so, and I can keep giving it to him."

"Oh, James, don't say things like that about your family," said Maddie, "he's all you've got anymore."

James gave Maddie a crippling glare. "Don't say things like that about things you don't know about, Maddie." The emphasis on the other boy's name effectively ended the conversation for a few minutes, until Toby struck it up again.

"James, I'm sure holiday won't be so bad," he said, in his horribly cheery-optimistic way. "Maybe you'll find a book in that library of yours that you haven't read yet."

James leered at him, "please, Toby."

"I don't think there's a book in all of Scotland that James hasn't read," said Damien smoothly, preening himself in his reflection in the train window.

"I don't think there's one in the whole world!" giggled Alec. "Imagine that, if James had read every book ever written. Or if he had a library full of them, that stretched all the way to the sky, and to get to the books he'd have to ride a lift that didn't have cables or ropes, it went up all on its own."

"Alec, you're just ridiculous sometimes," huffed Maddie, but he was smiling, and he ran a hand through his hair. "And who would even want a library of all the books in the whole world?" He wrinkled his nose.

"People who read, maybe," said Toby.

"I hate books," said Maddie. Blasphemy, thought James.

The train rolled to a shaky stop in London two hours later, and the boys parted at the platform, hurrying to catch their trains home. James boarded the train to Edinburgh after bidding goodbye to his school friends, and busied himself the entire ride by reading the aircraft recognition pamphlets and anti-Soviet and anti-Fascist propaganda. He avoided any food he was offered as it always made him sick to his stomach, and when the train stopped, he put the pamphlets back—in the right slots, of course, and took a moment to put a lost one back in its proper place—and found the small car, where the butler was waiting. Francis Borough was a tall, thin man who had been with the McKinleys for years and whom James also despised, nearly as much as he despised his father.

The butler swooped off his hat. "Master McKinley."

James answered him with a glare, and clambered into the small black Morris Minor, settling into the backseat with his schoolbag and small trunk.

"Had a good term, did you?" asked Borough dully as he climbed into the passenger seat.

"A fantastic term, Mr. Borough," said James, without looking at him, staring out the window, "and I should like to go back as soon as I possibly can."

"Master McKinley, it thrills me to hear how school excites you so. I trust your schoolmates are well?" This was the same clipped conversation they had every year, and the butler's tone was dull and bored as the car began moving.

"Fine," said James, putting his chin in his palm and staring out the window. "Just fine. Master Ainsley swallowed a cork by accident this term because he wasn't paying attention to what he was doing. They rushed him to the emergency room in the hospital in town, and make him cough it up. Quite exciting."

"Thrilling. And your pneumonia?"

"Three weeks in the infirmary."

"You feel better now then, do you?"

"I did until a few moments ago. Mr. Borough, I always feel sick around you," said James, acidly.

The butler sighed, clenching his jaw slightly. Every year, the teenager tried his patience more and more. "Pardon me for asking, Master McKinley but how long does your holiday last?"

James shrugged, pretending to be nonchalant so that the butler would have nothing to use against him later. "A few weeks."

In reality he wanted to groan and claw at his face. Even a few weeks was much too long, but cars had never had much sympathy for James. The Morris Minor bumbled roughly down the Edinburgh streets, out to countryside, and on to Aberdeen.

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A/N: To anyone who has peeped at mine and Banane's dual account, you might spot some familiar faces. ;) They're being recycled. Do know that I have permission to use them from dear Banane. Damien and Alec belong to Banane, but I have permission for them as well.