"I like not your cold justice," he walked beside me, pontificated as a player, "out of its eye always gleams the executioner and his cold steel."
He tossed in his hands—as a player, too—rubber balls. Black and white. He was not very carefully dressed; ripped jeans and a black shirt. He would have to be careful if the Reapers were out today.
"I hate him."
"Oh God, shut up," he rolled his eyes.
"Shut the fuck up," he threw one of them high up into the air, "you're always talking about it."
"The War. The War. The War," he caught the ball dexterously, "shut the fuck up. It's over, already."
I fell silent.
"And your fixation?" he spun it on his finger, "it's starting to worry me."
My fixation. My idée fixe. As your fixation with everything else worries me, my dear.
"How can I stop talking about it? It's all around us, everywhere. Even as I turn my head, it grasps the corner of my eye."
Twisted Crosses. On that day—year—of celebration, those flags were draped over every balcony.
He snorted. "A century already. Nearly all the vets dead."
"Good on them."
But I shall not tread thither. For therein lies madness.
"They fought it so you wouldn't have to," he wheedled. "So you wouldn't have to worry about this shit."
I focused on him. "So we should just forget about it?"
"Yes. Why not?"
"Because those who don't remember history—"
"Bullshit," his eyes narrowed. "All the guys I talked to—they didn't want to talk about it."
"I'm not saying we should live in the past," I explained.
He ignored me. We had entered the square, and he had begun to practice.
"But we shouldn't be amnesiac either," I concluded.
He was lost in concentration. I watched him juggle—black, white, black, black, white. Me, lost in an amnesiac world. No sense of the epic or heroic.
"In the spot of darkness there is always light."
"Yin and Yang."
He dropped the balls in irritation.
"Don't quote your banned shit at me," he snapped.
"I'm not. It's—"
"Can it. Don't want to hear it."
His harsh tone jarred me. I blinked; the vision had been broken. I watched him gather the balls up.
"Look, I understand," he said as I turned away, "your type's always obsessed with this thing."
"You gamers. You're just like actors. You have to get into character, or something."
"It's only a game," I said softly.
The square was stuck right in the center of the worker's city. It was more of an opening, really; it existed only because nothing could be conveniently built there. A few mangy foodcarts lingered on the edges. The 'scrapers leered overhead. And the juggler had been working the spot since early morning.
I guess the slipstream of insanity still runs in my blood, deep...
The music came from miniradio by his foot. Only intermittently.
"Nobody believed in a War that could last six-hundred years (627 to be exact). But is this not also what the ancients believed?" she raised her arms to the firmament. "With regards to the One-hundred Years War?"
"Who knows what the ancients believed," the juggler quipped. "They believed the Moon was made of cheese or something."
She pouted at him. "Shut up."
"Would that it were," he laughed, "then we wouldn't be stuck eating this—carbohydrate crap all the time," he made a funny face. "Leftover wartime rations, I swear."
She made to stomp away.
"No—wait—" he moved to intercept her and the balls dropped all around them. "Damn."
She was dressed not quite as a student, nor quite as a secretary; and yet she still attended the night schools. Through her miniskirt and heels—she was still an idealist, she believed. A small number on her wrist gave away what she really was.
One of the balls rolled under her foot and she stopped. "What is it?"
The juggler caught her arm. "Are you going to the concert tonight?"
"No?" he teased, "ain't they required?"
She didn't answer.
She frowned. "I can't stand that awful Karajan."
"Oh, that's tough," he took his hand off her, "he's here for keeps."
"He conducts like a maniac."
"Like a conqueror."
She turned away again.
"Aw, Marie," the juggler said, "you're still down about Udo, aren't ya?"
"You know it."
She bent down and picked up a ball. White.
"Udo." She played with it thoughtfully. "Have you seen him today?"
"Yeah. He was super depressed."
"He kept talking about the War."
She glanced at him. "What did he say?"
"You know how they talk, these gamer types."
"How they could've won."
The juggler lowered his voice to a whisper. "Moved their ships from the Pearl Harbor. Nuked us in '42…"
She made a face. "Don't be ridiculous. The nukes didn't come into it until '45."
"Put more BP in the development, then," he raised his voice. "Gut them earlier. Zombie goats. Poison all the fishes so all the Russians die."
"Stupid," she threw the ball at him, "that's not part of the Game."
He caught it. "I hate it."
She blinked. "What?"
"It's so stupid. Don't you see?" he kicked up a ball with his foot and caught it. "What's the use? It's all over."
She shifted. "Don't say that."
"It's okay. We can say whatever we want here," he began to juggle again. "Nobody gives a fuck."
He seemed a bit sad.
At the table, the young boy finished his problem and looked up triumphantly.
His mother took a moment to answer. "He has a Game today, remember?"
"Oh," the boy was crestfallen. "Can I go over and watch?"
He brightened up. "Can we listen to it on the radio?"
"It's not being broadcast."
"Can we just turn it on?"
His mother sighed.
The boy refused to give up. He hunched over his work and began the next problem anew.
He just wished and wished until it was almost true, until it was almost like he was there, watching over their shoulders. The board, with all its continents and seas. He had seen it once.
It was at times like these he really wished for that T.V. They were always talking about it, they were always going to come out with it, year after year after year (he'd heard from his friend that some of them actually had it, some of those guys up on the surface). They said it was like so you were actually there. You could actually see things you'd never seen before. It could show you. Like colors—he's seen red of course, and plenty of grey... But blue, only in people's eyes. And that only once or twice before. Like that man from the surface, that came to their house once...
He got lost and he dreamed until gradually he forgot about his brother and his Game.
Would I lie to you, honey?
Would I mislead you, honey?
The old man spat. "You know why they like him?"
"Huh?" his companion looked up.
"Why he's the Commander's pet?"
"Because he's stupid."
"Exactly. He's not quite good enough, that guy," the old man nodded. "He plays as hard as he can, as skillfully as he can, but he just can't damn win. No matter what he does. No matter what the dice comes up with." He hacked again. "They like him because he doesn't have to pretend."
The two oldsters were playing their Game with bottlecaps, on an old checkerboard. They had a hell of a time remembering which bottlecap was which piece and often argued about it when the afternoons grew long.
"While if they got someone as you or me…"
"It has been written." The old man pounded the table."If that sonofabitch would take the time to pick up any strategy manual—" he moved a heavy-artillery-cap,"—then he could win! No problem!"
"I'd like to see that," the other chuckled, "watch the look on the Commander's face when he figgered he was losing."
"You think he's ever lost in his life?"
"Someone needs to open that kid's eyes," the other mused. "Tell 'im what needs to be done."
"Nah. He'd be executed."
The other nodded in semi-agreement; he was absorbed in his tiles now, and let the conversation fade. They had the radio on in the background. It sat on the balcony rail and blasted martial music—or something else—into their ears. But both of them had stopped listening long ago.