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by Joe Cărtărescu 10 months ago in politics · updated 10 months ago

Unity! Unity! Unity!

Photo by Gary Butterfield on Unsplash

The marigolds stopped growing. The dissonance of endless repairs made her feel like a prisoner. The Sun was obscured by smog, but the weather report said there wouldn’t be any Toxin-13 particulates, so she decided not to wear a mask, although she still brought one with her as a precaution. There were times when it still hurt to breathe; the smog-filled air reeked of smoke and fumes and she tried her best to enjoy breathing in these supposedly “harmless, inorganic fragrances” (per newspeak parlance).

Eve stood on the platform waiting for the train that would take her to her university. Almost missing the train, she entered it just as the doors were about to close.

Ivan had few conscious memories of his grandfather. Perhaps it was something peculiar to Ivan’s psyche that out of a vast museum of predominantly vague and sketchy memories, only the more negative ones stood out in comparatively sharp relief. One of these conspicuous, haphazardly framed, impressionistic memories was of his grandfather hurting one of Ivan’s left toes with a door that must have been pushed open while Ivan, for whatever reason, happened to be in its way.

Surely it was just an accident and not intentional. The sharp pain evoked bitter tears and anguished cries that seemed to irritate Ivan’s grandfather who walked away, most likely eager for solitude in which to read a book or newspaper. Yet perhaps to Ivan, his grandfather’s indifference must have added insult to injury, further provoking more of Ivan’s querulous cries and remonstrations.

At least six years later, Ivan would try standing against the wall adjacent and perpendicular to the apartment door’s left just as his mother’s boyfriend, Bob, was returning home from work and about to open it. Bob was unaware of the trick Ivan had played; and Ivan cried out in alarm, and presumably even some pain, fearing he would be crushed by the door.

Ivan grew up resigned to the bitter realization that he would never reach the intellectual heights of his grandfather; nevertheless, he finally made it into university. He was sitting down in a class in which all you had to do was meditate and then write down your innermost thoughts and reflections. Ivan wanted to recover repressed memories while trying to meditate. So far, he was only able to explore memories he already knew he had.

This was his first semester and he had no idea what to expect from his next class. It would be a lecture on Shakespeare's Hamlet, yet he had neglected to do any of the prescribed reading. It has something to do with chaos, lies, and betrayal, Ivan thought just moments before the meditation was over. Our world seems fairly safe (in spite of all the pollution), at times even anodyne. And my family claimed to have lived through an infernal harlequinade of tyranny, fear, and caprice. They implied that socialism could easily turn into hell given enough time and narcissistic maniacs. Now they’re dead and I’m here to see the new world they could only dream of.

_ _ _

Fifteen minutes early, she walked confidently into the classroom; and although no one said anything at all, it was clear that they were all astonished by her daring and rebellious attire: frayed marigold jeans, a sparkling turquoise sweater, a pink scarf, and sky blue high-heel shoes. Years ago, after atomic bombs detonated in Atlantida, the global temperature had gradually decreased again. Man-made pollution and volcanic dust caused by cataclysmic earthquakes didn’t help. The global supply of oil had dwindled to such a low level that the ability to heat water, buildings and homes or supply people with computers and i-Phones was non-existent. After the collective suicides, mass homicides, and executions, the humans that remained adapted to their new living conditions.

Eve was treated with unremitting scorn, condescension, silence, and envy by her classmates because of her consistently high marks and the close friendship she had with her literature professor, Doctor Lucien. Eve looked at the writing on the board: “Why is this country fast-paced and ultra-competitive?” followed by “There is even more competition in communism.” She had no idea what to make of that or what relevance it had for today’s lecture (and she assumed it had something to do with a previous lecture); yet she found herself unable to suppress a quiet, nervous chuckle. This drew attention from everyone in the room who glared at her with silent hatred as she uncomfortably attempted to continue reading Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Just as she was about to resume reading, Ivan entered the classroom for the first time. Eve had been hoping it would be Professor Lucien instead, since it was about thirty seconds before class was supposed to start and he was usually early. She was wearing a heart-shaped locket he gave her, and she felt its rough, faux-gold embroidery with her fingers.

And there he was. “My name is Doctor Lucien. Most of you already know me from other literature courses,” he said without even once glancing at Eve.

Ivan ignored Doctor Lucien’s sedate voice, allowing himself to be distracted by lingering reflections from the previous class’s “meditation” session. Ivan remembered his mother telling him that when he was a toddler, there was a time when Ivan and his grandfather walked outside not far from their apartment building, and for whatever reason, Ivan got really angry and bit his grandfather’s hand. I don’t remember doing that.

“Each class will start with a discussion about Shakespearean ethics, which imbues his Hamlet and which you may perceive as rigid or open to interpretation. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, if Hamlet just killed himself, the play would be much shorter and far less interesting. But Hamlet seemed to claim that some inherited injunction stemming from 'mystical morality' stopped him from killing himself, yet clearly it didn't stop him from killing others. So perhaps Shakespeare, consciously or not, illustrated that mere suicide ultimately destroys future art and vitality, while murder actually does not. ”

His words felt like cold water and Ivan reacted. “That sounds absurd.”

“Why?” Lucien asked.

“Well, here’s the way I see it: If you kill yourself, you’re just making that decision for yourself and no one else. Maybe it’s extreme and self-destructive, but at least you’re not making that decision for anyone else, just yourself. It seems like it would be much more destructive to decide other people’s fates like that, especially if you kill purposefully, with hatred, direct intent, force . . . I mean, if you kill someone who is not physically and violently attacking you or anyone else, that should be seen as a much more grievous act than suicide. Most legal systems wouldn’t punish attempted suicide, at least not anywhere near as severely as they would punish attempted murder.”

“That’s definitely an interesting perspective. Why didn't Shakespeare just have Hamlet kill himself and no one else?”

Eve raised her hand. “Every citizen has a responsibility to the collective, and suicide completely negates that. It’s cowardly. At least if you kill someone, you might actually be serving a worthy cause--”

“You actually believe that?” Ivan blurted out.

“Now I don’t want to say homicide is okay,” Lucien said. “But there have been political movements and revolutions in which violence was a very effective strategy for the overall success of a group’s aims. Ivan, you should know this better than anyone.”

“I guess we’re gonna have to agree to disagree.”

“I don't want to kill anyone, except those who talk about the law of attraction . . . That was a joke. I hope you all did your reading because this will be the easiest test you’ll get all year. Write a few pages describing how what you’ve read so far makes you feel, what it reminds you of, almost anything as long as you can demonstrate that you’ve done the reading. And sorry — this isn’t an open-book test.”

_ _ _

Eve invited Ivan to the student lounge after the exam. The lounge was safe and protected from harmful pollution and radiation. “Don’t tell Lucien, but I kind of like what you had to say in class,” Eve said.

“Really?” Ivan replied, pleasantly surprised. “Thanks, but I haven’t even done any of the reading yet. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that suicide is worse than homicide.”

“My sister committed suicide. She was raped. I always thought she should’ve lived and wrote about it. If she didn’t die, she would’ve lived to see all rapists receive minimum ten-year prison sentences. We are constantly encouraged now to go to the hospital and police right away, to tell people about what happened as soon as possible, to observe and take note of as many details as possible, to avoid being alone with people we don’t know and trust well enough, to report things early. I really feel that society has improved in some ways, but . . .”

“What?” Ivan found her candor unexpected and intriguing.

“I think some things are worse now,” she almost whispered. “Anyway, I nearly forgot, I have to see someone today. Something really important.”

Eve got up, leaving her beer half-full, and walked away. After he drank his beer, Ivan tasted her beer and discovered it was dealcoholized.

The sun was setting, and the usually murky smog-filled sky was temporarily adorned with striking magenta and clementine hues. He walked to the bookstore. Upon entering he noticed titles such as Exposing the Capitalist Religion of Ayn Rand and Why Communist Atheism Matters.

“Do you have Shakespeare's Hamlet?” he asked the woman working at the bookstore.

“Maybe, although you should’ve already bought it by now. I’ll check if it’s still here . . . Why yes, the last copy.”

She handed him Hamlet, and before he went to pay for it, he remembered a novel that he tried to read when he was a child yet never finished—the beginning of a book that seemed to evoke fear and awe for some unreal world. “What about Atlas Shrugged? Do you have it?”

“By Ayn Rand? Why would you ask such a question?” No wonder he’s all alone.

Ivan paid with cash and took the bus home. Since he started university, the long trip home was his only time to ruminate and woolgather. The more Ivan mulled it over, the current state of things was actually perfect. Anyone accused of rape or molestation is automatically sentenced to a minimum of ten years in prison. The more evidence (especially physical and DNA evidence) collected against you, the more time served in prison. Inmates are placed in solitary confinement with psychotherapy for a period of time if they rape or violently assault any fellow inmates or guards. All prison inmates have to undergo some psychotherapy that includes trauma-based psychoanalysis that recovers and integrates childhood memories. Daily meditations are mandatory for everyone. The prison diet is low-carb and/or virtually carnivore and completely devoid of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Ivan had been thoroughly enjoying his Criminology courses a lot more than the literature course which he chose to take as an option.

_ _ _

Eve walked slowly toward Dr. Lucien’s office, butterflies in her belly, not to mention a developing embryo. The door was open and she saw that he was talking to a student. When she heard Lucien say, “The truth is there are two powerful yet illusory opiates: theism and statism; I prefer neither,” she couldn’t resist interrupting:

“So why do you stay here?”

“Oh, sorry, Larry, I think we’re going to have to continue this discussion another time.” Lucien looked at his watch.

“What about those test results?” the hapless student persisted.

“Just study more, read the dictionary, and sooner or later you’ll find your calling. Goodbye.”

The student left his office; and Lucien querulously harangued, almost in an insane whisper, “You can’t go around saying things like that! Why would I leave? I am admired as an intellectual and a scholar here. I can’t give up my dream job and risk my life. For what?” He looked up into her eyes. “What’s wrong? Aren’t you grateful—”

“No . . . I’m pregnant,” Eve said.

“Sshhhh…” He rushed to the door and looked outside to make sure no one was eavesdropping. “This place could be bugged.”

“I don’t want this for my child!” Eve yelled.

“No . . . You won’t keep it. Don’t worry, I’ll help you get an illegal abortion.”


“Yes, I will arrange everything. If you don’t go I will destroy your life and your family’s lives as well. Go home.”

She ran out of his office knowing she couldn’t live in this city anymore.


About the author

Joe Cărtărescu

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