A Time For Greatness

 
 
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Overture

Beware the ides of March, the old man thought.

He stood briefly, pinching the withered tip of a fat, chunky cigar between his fingers. He followed through with a deep pull, and his throat responded with a sputtering, coughing fit.

He spat woodsmoke and spearmint Listerine.

The green of spring was blossoming everywhere: new, perennial life sprung forth from winter’s icy grasp. The trees sang with the voice of the wind — its breeze beat woodwind tunes into the blue skies, dissipating into marshmallow clouds.

And yet the steps weren’t steep. At all. If he was going to drive nine and a half hours to end his life, shouldn’t the action be met with a more stable, thematic resonance? This shallow bay of concrete was too simple. Moments like this begged for a stairway to heaven.

Though if he was being honest with himself, what he really needed was Emily. He choked the still-smoking, virile cigar, throwing it to the pavement with disgust.

Cars bleated, surgically attached bodies asleep on their horns, while pedestrians milled about sipping Starbucks. Everything was so ordinary. And here he stood, on the biggest, most virtuous day of his life. He should feel free. He should feel beautiful; he should feel sunny and bright.

Instead, he felt needle-pricks of numbness; he felt ginger-ale streaming down his pant leg. He felt the saddest music in the world, and his spirit fluttering away into the clouds. He was the former King of Faerie, dammit. This should all be beneath him.

Every life has to end, but so few of them get to choose where and when that occurs. This is a privilege, he thought to himself.

That didn’t make it any easier.

A young man on a bicycle sped past, hairless legs spinning the chain, tires looping like 45s. A chorus of birds sang from their perch on a tall oak tree. A middle-aged woman in a ‘Wrecking Ball Tour’ Bruce Springsteen t-shirt waited for the bus, her ears plugged into her phone.

Maybe he shouldn’t do this. Maybe the world would continue spinning if he took himself back to his two and a half story little suburb bungalow to put on a classic Stones record — Exile on Main Street — and tuck himself away from the world. He could bunker in with a thousand awful cans of Chef Boyardee and all of his records and wait out the end of days.

He knew that was a delusion. Events were already in motion, and everything was so much bigger than just himself. Payments were finally coming due. And besides, it wasn’t like he had all that much life left to live. His energy was drying up and his friends were dying. Emily was gone.

He approached the doors, hands tucked neatly into the pockets of his burgundy windbreaker. He found himself appreciating the little things, revelling in the details of those final moments: the wood, the stone, the architecture. The clack of heels on the marbled floor. The warm, neutral scent that flooded his nostrils.

A young woman sat at the counter — she couldn’t have been more than twenty-one, twenty-two. A child, playing her tiny part in the narrative of history in a too-formal blue dress. Her blonde hair was cut into a short bob.

“I’m here to give myself up,” the old man said through tobacco stained lips. “It has been too long, and I am too damned old for any of this.”

The woman — or girl, really — gave an odd, almost playful Duchenne smile. Her brow matched the curve of her lips. “Um. I’m sorry sir, but what is it exactly that I can help you with?”

He sighed. “I… huh.” He paused thoughtfully — the words weren’t coming as easily as he had hoped. Sixty years to prepare, and here he stood, choking on alphabet soup. He took a deep breath. “Can I ask you something?”

She met his gaze and nodded. “Of course.”

“Are you familiar with the opera Die Feen?”

The girl shook her head. “Um. No.”

“It means The Faeries,” he said. “Although I suppose that might be kind of a limited way of looking at things. Especially when we consider how hard it is to exactly tease out what it means to be a ‘faerie’.”

The girl blinked.

“But people don’t listen to opera these days. So, let’s take the frame a little bit further, okay?” He spoke purposefully, finally hitting his thematic stride. “Fiction, in general, posits that fairies and men, the both of us, are one and the same. That’s what tends to occur in storytelling.” He paused to clear his throat. “Not directly, mind you — it’s merely a suggestion by the makeup and the structure of the story. Any story. By the blessed, holy process of anthropomorphism. Because why else would we care, right?” he laughed. “And now I’m rambling. I know. I’m sorry. Just… bear with me, won’t you? Humour an old man?”

“Um,” the girl said.

I am Arindal.” He laughed. “That’s about all there is to it, if you want to distill it right down to its essence. I am the Prince of Tramond himself, in this particular case, because I began to ask questions that I wasn’t supposed to know the answers to; I began to question what lies beyond the minute realm of the world as I was prescribed to perceive it. I began to worry about what lay below, in the realm of the humans, and my dear Ada paid the price for it. I forgot all about that which matters above. Because that’s all that faerie is — it’s a higher plane of being, with a different set of answers to the all-too common questions. It’s knowing and being something else; it’s not a story to do with elves, or magic. Faerie is a state beyond the questions we want to know the answers to.

“And Wagner played that out for us, in virile, operatic tones. Because that’s what we need to do, young lady. All of us. We need to remove ourselves from our simple, closed-off little worlds, and assess the universe accordingly. We need to ask the big questions, and we need to be ready to respond when those same questions are posed directly to us. Does that make any sense to you?”

The young woman blinked again — her beautiful blue eyes reflected the Nivea-glossed naiveté of youth. “I’m sorry, I…” she stammered. “What exactly is it that I can help you with, sir?”

The old man deflated, slowly, through his nostrils. “Of course,” he said. “You’re absolutely right, miss. I’m sorry. I may have got carried away. Maybe more than just a little bit. Because this isn’t my story — it’s something bigger and messier than all that. I’m not Arindal. Not really. I’m just an actor, filling a role — a piece of the larger narrative that arcs through all of time and all of space. And King had it wrong. It doesn’t arc toward justice. Nothing does. That’s my, or rather, our necessary role in the narrative of all things: to bend the hands of the universe. To keep things moving in the direction they ought to.

“And God, oh God. We have certainly made a mess of things. When you leave the responsibility of social order in the fragile, flawed hands of mankind, you’re going to wind up with eggshells in the batter. I’ve committed a heinous act against the forces of the universe, my dear girl. An act that I am finally required to pay my penance for, because this loop of judgement and self-doubt is finally coming to a definitive close. It’s all over for Lady Liberty. I have come to confess my sins.”

The man smiled, tears forming in the corners of his eyes. The world around him went silent as those horrible, simple words — the ones he’d been waiting his whole life to say — finally came forth into the terrific bloom of spring.

“I did it,” he said. “I murdered the President of the United States in cold blood. May the gods above have mercy on my soul.”