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Fiction: The Commissar

The Commissar sat upright at his desk. He regarded the wide expanse of polished wood in front of him. The desk was clear except for a plain gray metal lamp, a telephone and a pad of paper. He looked up across his office. It was positively spartan. There were few file cabinets that he never opened himself. To his left a picture of the General Secretary on the wall. There was a flag in the corner behind the Commissar. Across the desk from him were two plain wooden chairs with no cushions. Beyond the chairs was a stand from which hung the Commissar’s uniform cap. The floor was dull and bare. It was a utilitarian space, save for the desk.

The desk was magnificent. It was mahogany, elaborately carved and polished to a high sheen. The Commissar often admired his richly wooded reflection while he worked. He loved the desk. He loved it because he appreciated beautiful things, however bourgeois they may be. He appreciated the skill of the craftsman who made the desk. He found himself imagining the craftsman selecting the wood. Imagining the hours carving the flourishes in the legs, the staining, the polishing. How many hours, days or weeks did it take to make this desk? It was the Commissar’s only indulgence in his office.

He reached out and rubbed his fingertips along the edge of the desk closest to him. Did anyone at the General Staff office know about the desk? They surely did. The provincial Governor admired it when he visited. The Commissar offered the desk to the Governor declaring that it was too opulent for the Camp and it was more suited to the Palace of the People. The Governor declined the offer. The Commissar was stone-faced and expressed his disappointment that the Governor didn’t want the desk; but he smiled deep inside his soul glad that the Governor didn’t agree to take the desk. The desk pleased the Commissar. The Commissar didn’t allow himself many pleasures.

The General Staff? They didn’t care about his desk. Did they? He’d visited Headquarters. The offices there were positively opulent. The Commissar wondered if one day he’d be on the General Staff and have a splendid office. Would he take this desk with him? No, he would not. He wouldn’t want to show evidence of his attachment to any object. Attachment to possessions was a counter-revolutionary impulse. He suppressed his attachment to the desk. He thought it was likely that he would have a nicer one if he were appointed to the General Staff and would never give this desk a second thought.

He turned and looked out the window at the low buildings of the Camp. Subversives in drab uniforms were marched under guard towards the fields. Although the Camp was formally called a “Regional Workers Re-education and Preparatory Facility” there was no re-education or preparation going on in the Camp. The reactionaries and counter-revolutionaries interned in this Camp were hopeless. They could never be reintegrated into decent society. They would work or die here. In fact most would work and die here.

As the Commissar gazed absentmindedly out the window there was a sharp double rap at the office door. He immediately recognized the speed and strength of the knock as that of his ADC.

“Come!” The Commissar ordered after quickly adjusting his posture in his chair.

His ADC opened the door with his right hand. Under his left arm were nestled a stack of plain folders of various thicknesses. The small severe-looking ADC strode across the office and positioned himself directly across the desk from the Commissar.

“Today’s final assessments Comrade Commissar.” The ADC looked the Commissar straight in the eye and waited for the slight nod from his commanding officer before placing the folders on the smooth top of the desk and gently pushing them across to the Commissar. When the folders were positioned in front of the Commissar the ADC took a backwards step and fixed his eyes on a bare patch of wall above and behind the Commissar.

The Commissar reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a small pair of wire rimmed glasses. As he placed the glasses on his face he unlocked a side drawer of the desk and removed a small inking pad and stamp.

This was always the final administrative act of the day. His review of the “assessment” folders. The Commissar and the ADC had developed this routine that was followed day in and day out without variation. The assessments weren’t really assessments. They were the death warrants to be executed the next day. Some days there was only one folder. Other days there were as many as one hundred. The Commissar recalled that the most in a single day was three hundred thirty-four. The original number for that fateful day was three hundred and thirty-three. When he saw that number printed out the Commissar thought that the repetition of the number three was numerically disturbing. While knowing he shouldn’t be superstitious he suggested to his ADC that he must have forgotten one file on his desk. The ADC’s measured demeanor broke for a split second before he swiftly left the Commissar’s office and returned a moment later with the “forgotten” folder. The Commissar wasn’t sure why he suggested that one person be added that day rather than one be postponed to the next day.

Then the Commissar realized why he always added to the list and never subtracted. He didn’t want to seem as though he wasn’t zealously exercising the will of the Party.

The Commissar placed the inking pad and stamp on the desk to the right of the folders. While he did this he visually counted the folders. Fifteen today. Most of the folders were rather thin. He carefully opened the first folder with his left hand and saw the summary sheet. The summary sheet was neatly typed and smelled faintly of glue. He noticed that some of the glue affixing the photo to the upper left corner of the sheet had protruded from the side of the photo and was congealed on the paper. In another day that little node of glue would cause the summary sheet to stick to the inside of the folder.

The Commissar thought for a moment that he might use his fingernail to remove the excess glue. Then he thought better of it. He never actually touched any of the pages inside the folder. He only handled the folders themselves. In these cases the folders were temporary vessels. The paperwork would be left in the folders for a few days. After a few days the paperwork would be removed from the folder, bound together, then stacked in a plain brown box and put into long-term storage. The folder would get reused.

This rather odd office procedure was ordered by the ADC to the rest of the Administrative Staff. The idea of this procedure did not come to the ADC on his own. He developed the process after a conversation with the Commissar. The Commissar noted that there wasn’t any need to waste folders on these reports when they were just going to sit in boxes. The ADC in an effort to conserve office resources determined that not only should the folders be reused but that the thinnest and cheapest paper be used for the assessment reports.

The ADC’s vigorous pursuit of cost-savings and efficiency pleased the Commissar when he learned of it. The Commissar mused to himself, on more than one occasion, if the ADC had ever tried to understand what might have motivated the request. It was doubtful that the ADC ever had. The Commissar’s request, insofar as the ADC was concerned, was just another way the Commissar was conscientious in doing the business of the Party.

The Commissar glanced over the first summary sheet and then took the stamp in his right hand. In a well-repeated motion the Commissar ever so slightly tapped the stamp to the ink and then lightly stamped the box at the lower right of the summary sheet. The stamp touched the paper with just enough pressure for the stamp image to lightly show on the paper without the ink penetrating to the page below. With the tips of the fingers of this left hand the Commissar closed the folder and slid it off the pile and across the desk towards the ADC, who immediately picked up the folder from the desk and waited for the next.

The Commissar repeated this process fourteen more times.

When he had all the folders in hand the ADC thanked the Commissar and withdrew.

The Commissar replaced the stamp and pad in the drawer and locked the desk, removed the glasses from his face, and sat back in his chair.

He alternately smiled and grimaced to himself at the thought of what he’d just done and the pathetic process he had implemented to salve his infrequent guilt. He’d stopped signing the death warrants only a week into his command here. He’d suggested to the ADC that a stamp with the words “By order of the Commander, Region 58 Workers Re-education and Preparatory Facility” would be sufficient to fulfill the final administrative step in the gruesome path to death for so many. The Commissar would not have kept the meticulous records if he’d not known that the Party, for reasons passing his understanding, wanted to keep meticulous records of every subversive dispatched in the name of the people.

The Commissar was an educated man and he’d realized the remote possibility, very remote possibility, that the People’s Revolution might one day be overthrown by some other Order. That Order might want to punish those instruments of the Revolution who survived. The Commissar thought himself a survivor and took some precautions against a highly conjectural future where he wasn’t at the top of the ruling class. This process with the folders was one of those precautions. No signatures. Stamps could be used by anyone. No fingerprints. He never touched the reports. Reports typed on cheap paper that would yellow, fade and deteriorate in time.

These steps might not actually help him if the time ever came. Then again, they couldn’t hurt.

The Commissar sighed and pushed back his chair from the desk. He stood and straightened his uniform. He brushed invisible detritus from himself and his reflection in the polished desktop caught his eye. He admired the beauty of the desk again and smiled in self-satisfaction of possessing it.

The Commissar walked across his office, placed his cap on his head, opened the door and exited the office. He walked out of the Administration building acknowledging only his ADC and the guards at the main entrance with a short half salute.

The Commissar walked towards his quarters and was given a wide berth by all in his general vicinity. Not once did Commissar think about his duties on the walk. He took in the warm sun, green grass, full trees and fresh air. They were beautiful and he appreciated beautiful things.

A great lie

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader commends to you Big Stupid Tommy’s latest. Clicky here to read it. The open: I met Sir Anthony Hopkins the other day. I was putting gas in the truck, and wondering at the “Jesus will return, repent your sins” post-it note somebody had stuck on the gas pump at the BP station, when a man wandered around the rear end of my truck.

Read it…

Carry on.

Fight! Fiiight! Fiiiiiiight!

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is hardly able to contain his laughter…

HELSINKI—Members of the Group of Eight, the forum for the world’s most powerful industrialized nations, held a special session Tuesday to discuss how best to prod the European microstates of Lichtenstein and Andorra into fighting.

The G8’s proposal, which seeks to pit the small, landlocked principalities against each other in military combat, was reportedly drafted after the leaders of the eight nations had grown bored with their recent negotiations over international energy tariffs.

“After much careful deliberation, we have come to the consensus that the nations of Liechtenstein and Andorra need to just man up and fight, ” said U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown during an afternoon recess. “All of the bigger countries want them to, and everyone agrees at this point that it would be quite lame if they didn’t. Therefore, I would advise Liechtenstein and Andorra to grow some balls already and get on with it.”

“Seriously,” Brown added. “Fight.”

According to French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the group has scheduled the Liechtenstein-Andorra military conflict for tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. sharp, provided that neither country “pusses out.” Sarkozy also assured reporters that, if Liechtenstein and Andorra were to engage each other in battle, they would almost certainly find themselves in improved diplomatic relations with members of the G8 for years to come

Via The Onion.

Your Maximum Leader is putting money on the Andorrans. Those wimps in Liechtenstein are soft.

Carry on.

Barack’s First Night

President Barack Obama stared at the ceiling for a moment. Then he glanced at the clock next to his bed. 1:07. AM. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. He reached for his robe. He looked back at Michelle, now asleep, as he fastened the tie around his waist. He walked slowly across the floor to the door. He went particularly slowly. His foot probed for creaking floorboards before putting down his whole weight. He reached the door and opened it enough to allow him to slip into the hall without letting too much light into the bedroom.

He stood in the hallway. He looked to his left, then his right. No one.

He needed a cigarette. He walked down the hall to a small desk. In the topmost drawer he had placed a packet of cigarettes earlier that night after coming back to the White House from the last of the seemingly endless parade of inaugural balls at which he and Michelle we expected to make an appearance. He and Michelle had said goodnight to the various staff on hand so late. He would have to get used to the fact that there were always people around. They might be out of sight, but they were never far away. He would also have to come to grips with how he would impact on the lives of the White House staff. If he kept waking up in the middle of the night and wanted something to eat or drink would someone have to start being on hand to help him to the refrigerator or stove? As he walked down the all towards the door to the Truman balcony he thought that there was probably someone on call all night anyway. But if he made a habit of walking around late at night they would probably have to bring more staff on the night shift. He hadn’t contemplated that before.

At the end of the hall he turned towards the balcony door. He had started to brace himself for the cold. Damned dirty habit he had. And now the forty-fourth President of the United States of America, the first black man ever elected to that office, the most powerful man in the world was going to stand in his pajamas, slippers and bathrobe on the Truman Balcony of the White House in 10 degree weather to smoke a damned cigarette. What the hell had he been thinking when he agreed with Michelle that he either stop or only smoke outside? Jeez. They might have to rethink that promise. He rubbed his forehead. How many promises was he going to have to “rethink” in the coming weeks and months?

“So are you beginning to wonder why you even wanted this job?”

Barack Obama stopped before opening the door. Without turning he smiled and said, without turning to face the oddly familiar voice, “No. Why do you ask?”

“Because I stood where you are standing now and rubbed my brow like you just did and started to wonder why I wanted the job.”

President Obama turned around and found himself standing face to face with the thirty-seventh President of the United States.

Richard M. Nixon looked pretty good for a man that had been dead for over a decade. His hair was thick and dark. He didn’t look too aged. Indeed, he looked like the man he was back in 1967. There was a faint shimmering around him. An aura that seemed to fade from light blue to light gray and back again.

“What the hell? I must be dreaming.”

“You’re not dreaming young man. Heh. Excuse me, Mr. President.”

“If I’m not dreaming then I’ve gone crazy before I’ve even started the job. Because I know that you are dead.”

“Yes. I’m dead alright. But I am taking a momentary leave from my heavenly reward to come down and give you some advice.”

“I need advice? From you?” Obama rolled his eyes and smiled widely. “If I need advice from Richard Nixon in my dreams then the whole country is a lot worse off than I thought it was.” Obama looked into the spectral Nixonian eyes and snorted, “You know I have a damned good cabinet. They are there to give me advice.”

“Bah!” Nixon spat. “There was only one member of my cabinet whose ideas were worth a damn.”

“Oh! Lemme guess,” President Obama said grinning. “Henry Kissinger.”

“No. Earl Butz.”

“You’ve got to be kidding… I thought…”

“Of course I’m kidding. You can’t afford to be that gullible. You are the President of the United States young man.”

Obama took a few steps forward, closer to the apparition. Nixon was dressed in a light gray wool suit. His tie was wider than the fashion now, but right in place in ’67. His wingtips seemed to shine. Obama reached towards Nixon and his hand passed through the image.

“You still aren’t getting it are you young man?”

“I don’t know what there is to get. I am asleep next to my wife and I am having a crazy fucked up dream about talking to Richard Nixon.”

“No. You are not dreaming. I had a similar talk with a dead President when I was in the White House. My talk was with President Roosevelt. Theodore, not Franklin. You couldn’t get Franklin to come back here… He’s too busy cavorting around with all those cute girls that want to thank him for Social Security-this and fighting the Nazis-that. He’s getting more Free French ass than DeGaulle.”

“What?”

“Sorry about that. I got a little side-tracked there. It just burns me up that Franklin is up to his eyeballs in grateful horny French women and there isn’t one Goddamned hot member of the Silent Majority coming around me wanting to jump my bones… So to speak. Well… I was saying that I had a few conversations with Theodore Roosevelt after I became President. TR stopped coming around once I seemed to get the hang of things. But it didn’t go as well as I would have liked. You know that though.”

“So let me get this straight,” Obama inquired. “Theodore Roosevelt came back to give you advice; and you are coming to give me advice?”

“That is correct.”

“So who gave Bill Clinton advice?”

“Jack Kennedy,” Nixon answered.

“Jack Kennedy acts as an other-worldly advisor for Bill Clinton and I get Mr. Watergate himself? Does God hate me?”

Nixon grimaced at the mention of Watergate. “No. The Lord doesn’t get involved in this type of stuff. Dead Presidents coming to give advice to living Presidents is a program that John Adams started for James Buchanan. Adams was the first one to come back, since it was his idea. Adams figured he could impart some wisdom and thoughtfulness to Buchanan and save the Union. But it didn’t work out. Buchanan is a moron and Adams is an arrogant prick. The two didn’t get on very well. Washington stepped in and saved the day by advising Lincoln. Military advice mostly. Lincoln was grateful. He turned out okay didn’t he?”

Obama couldn’t believe what he was hearing. As he was getting more agitated he started scowling at Nixon. “So Bill Clinton gets John Kennedy. Lincoln got George Washington. Who did Reagan get? Thomas Jefferson?”

“No. Reagan got James Madison and Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge doesn’t say much so he was there for moral support mostly. Madison was really helpful on that “New Federalism” stuff.” Nixon paused. Then as an afterthought added that, “Jefferson volunteered to help Franklin Roosevelt. I believe Jefferson only visited twice in all that time FDR had here. Jefferson is too busy with… Erm… How do I say this without offending you?”

“Oh my God,” Obama exclaimed. “You mean…”

“Yes. Jefferson gets a lot of ‘brown sugar.’ He loves it. He always has two or three beautiful blacks around him. I think he was trying to hook up with Eartha Kitt last I heard. His stamina is amazing. Almost Kennedy-esque actually. I suppose you can indulge those things when you are Thomas Jefferson.”

“My predecessor, George W?”

“Franklin Pierce.”

“Who?”

“Exactly. You don’t want some ignorant bastard coming giving you advice do you? Should I leave and send Millard Fillmore or Chester Arthur back here to talk with you?”

“No. How about Washington?”

“He will not leave his farm now. He says that he is the damned Father of the Country and after helping Lincoln he has done his bit.”

“FDR?”

“Too busy screwing Free-French babes. I just said that. Are you listening?”

“Kennedy?”

“Hangs around with his brothers Joe and Bobby on the beach nailing hippies and going sailing. They keep passing Marilyn Monroe around. He only will come to talk to ‘kindred spirits’ he says.

“Lyndon Johnson?”

“He is a grade-A suck-up to FDR. Spends his time trying to impress FDR with all his ‘Great Society’ crap. He is also a little hen-pecked since Lady Bird showed up. You don’t want him around.”

“Reagan?”

“Busy with Chuck Heston and all his Hollywood buddies. He is new in the neighborhood. Give him some time.”

“Eisenhower?”

“He and Jerry Ford are trying to teach Harry Truman how to golf. Ike’s patience wears thin, but Jerry is a good man and will bring Harry along. They will be predisposed until they get Truman to shoot a scratch game.”

“Lincoln?”

“He hides out with Washington. Abraham likes to lay low and read a lot. He hides out with Washington because he doesn’t like being hounded by all those people who want to thank him for saving the Union and freeing them. He also wants to keep away from Mary as much as he can. She is a crazy bitch.”

“So I get the only man to resign the presidency to come back to act as my advisor because all the good guys are busy. Are you sure there that you all aren’t a touch racist? Maybe you want me to fail because I am the first black man to win the office?” Obama was indignant thinking of the implications of what he’d just said. There were plenty of living racists to deal with. Now he had to consider the dead ones too.

“Honestly,” Nixon began, “there are a number of racists among the group. I am not one of them. Slavery was and racisim is the great moral failing of America. I don’t want to see you fail.”

Nixon appeared to take a deep breath and he turned away from Obama and looked out the window towards the Washington Monument. “I don’t want to see you fail. I failed because of my own hubris. My failings were avoidable if I hadn’t been blind to what I was doing. You and I became president at a unique time in America’s history. Deeply unpopular wars were underway abroad. Deep discord infected everything at home. I had a chance for greatness. You have a chance for greatness. You and I share times more similar than you think. I can help you if you want my help. If you don’t… Well… I can go back and leave you be.”

Obama pondered what Nixon’s ghost had said. Somewhere deep inside Obama’s mind he could feel that what Nixon had said rang of the truth. Obama spoke deliberately to Nixon. “No. You can come back later. I might need your advice.”

Nixon turned back to face Obama. “Of course you will need my advice. I know you weren’t going to ask the living guys for their opinions. The older Bush is a nice guy – competent. His son… Well… Clinton is too busy with himself to give good advice. And Carter is a sniveling idiot.” Nixon smiled. “You need me. You want my advice. You want to patch up America’s alliances around the world. I can help you with that. You want to set us straight at home. I can help you with that. I did those things, but no one remembers because of my failings.” Nixon paused. “I’ll leave you alone now young man. I’ll be back later.”

“Before you go,” Obama added. “I’ve got to ask something. How did all the dead presidents end up in Heaven? I would have thought that some wouldn’t have made the cut.”

“I can’t specifically tell you how,” Nixon said with a grin. “But if you know what is good for you I’d get chummy with George Romney’s boy – Mitt. He’s got a lot more going on for himself than you imagine.” Nixon smiled at Obama. “Now go have that cigarette and get some sleep. You’ll need your rest.”

“Thank you Mr. President. I’ll do that,” Obama started to extend his hand to shake Nixon’s. Nixon smiled but stepped back knowing that he didn’t have a hand to shake.

“Good night Mr. President.” And with that, Nixon faded away.

President Barack Obama stood staring into the space where Nixon had been. After a moment a member of the household staff appeared from a side door.

“Is everything alright Mr. President? Can I get you anything?”

“No thanks. I’m fine. I was just going out on to the balcony for a cigarette. It has been a long night.” Obama sighed.

The man smiled and replied, “Yes Mr. President. It has been a long night. And tomorrow is another day.”

Barack Obama stepped out onto the Truman Balcony and smoked his cigarette and went back to bed.

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