The Iron Writer Challenge #169
2016 Summer Open Challenge #6
The Paul Arden Lidberg Challenge
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Richard Russell, Steven Harz, Bobby Salomons, Alex Grabovski, Malissa Greenwood
A program for the 1939 World Series
Mao’s personal copy of his Little Red Book
The Staple in the Chairman’s Finger
Sasha Grafit (also known on Facebook as Alex Grabovskiy)
“We will arrive in Wuhan in 47 minutes, chairman.”
The train gently swayed as if to agree with Yang’s prediction.
“There will be no disturbances until then.” came the command.
Yang bowed retreating through the polished wooden door. His departing footsteps were swallowed by the hushed roar in the connecting hallway. Another door was opened and the chairman heard a brief moment of laughter from the restaurant car. Then his door slid shut with a heavy click; a faint odor of pungent cigarettes–the sharp smell of the ones with his face on the pack –had managed to slip through in the last moment.
In his comfortable, cracked leather chair the chairman squirmed and sniffed the second-hand exhalations. He detected something exciting as well — ginger and sesame oil – his favorite cucumber salad would be served at dinner, when he returned to the train. If he didn’t finish the meeting with the bureaucrats quickly the salad would turn bitter and unfresh.
He lit a cigarette, one from a pack with the picture of a giraffe. His tonsils throbbed with pleasure and submitted to the overpowering smoke of the Turkish and Virginia tobacco blend. He scratched the scaly skin of the mole on his chin and looked at the pile of correspondence that had been on this table for the past few hours, since the mail collection in Xi’an.
He ignored the garish boxes wrapped in silk and scented ribbons and reached for the one wrapped in plain brown paper with the foreign writing. There was a Norwegian customs stamp.
Inside the package, he was startled to see the first addition of a book he had written long ago, the one made cheaply and quickly when he was young; it’s cover was a faded orange now. He cringed as he remembered the many botched symbols and inky errors that the cut-rate press had allowed into the hasty printing.
Out of its pages fell a letter folded many times to fit. The writing was Sung-Jing’s beautifully horrendous attempt at Mandarin: the characters were all crooked, and the whole thing was written in a nearly illegible childish scrawl. He struggled to make sense of the incongruous characters: “If you gotted this paper word it meant I dead.” He dropped the letter.
Inside the box was a pamphlet with robust American men running with their strange whiskers on the perfectly trimmed grass in a stadium and the number 1939. He took out, with shaking hands, a strange metal contraption that resembled an elongated bird beak. His finger slipped comfortably into the groove between its upper and lower jaw. He pushed the top and felt nothing, but when he pulled out his finger a shiny metal clip was embedded neatly in his nail. Another one of Song-Jiang’s weird doodads from her world travels, the chairman smiled even as a heavy emptiness formed in his chest.
He pushed the button for the intercom with his bloody finger: “Yang, you will please serve the salad now.”
A Key and a String and a Kite
As I suppose Columbus had in his pocket while he sailed the ocean blue,
I try to locate your whereabouts with a polished brass pocket compass.
As Sonja Henie spun, with gold around her neck, I skate swirls around your memory
while staring at her on the silver screen, letting you know that you’re
“One in a Million” and not anyone’s “Second Fiddle.”
As I’ve seen Gandhi wear, while nonviolently battling the Brits,
I attack old photos of us through round lenses and gold frames.
As I use my vintage red Swingline Tot Stapler to reattach the pages of my father’s
1939 World Series program, his first without the beloved Gehrig and his deadly disease,
I also staple together map pages showing where we’d started and where I am now without you.
As I’d learned da Vinci designed, along with his helicopter and scuba gear,
hanging on my wall and awaiting your return is an all-too-painfully accurate clock.
As with the 267 pieces of propaganda published by the People’s Liberation Army,
and contained in the dog-eared Little Red Book nestled inside Chariman Mao’s olive uniform,
I navigate through past tattered love letters, now propaganda in their own right.
As we were taught that Hancock used to wield his name across the Declaration,
on my desk is a pen that I’ve used, too often, to denounce my own independence.
As we know Franklin flew when he discovered electricity,
I have a key and a string and a kite that I send up each day,
like a beacon hoping to be struck and set fire to,
so that wherever on earth you are
you will know I’m still here.
He sat down next to me with a gentle thud, staring as the horses approaching the starting gates, ignoring my piercing gaze. He was older, weathered face and formal dress – just like about everyone else around.
“Could you be any more obvious?” He grumbled.
“Sorry, I just wasn’t sure.” I said.
He turned his head, a half smirk that lasted no longer than a second.
“Rookies.” He reached into his pocket, “Here.”
A small envelope – very fine of crisp beige paper so thin it was almost translucent.
“I’m guessing that’s the news then.” I said and nonchalantly tried to slide it into my pocket.
A hand firmly grabbed my wrist.
“Open it.” He said.
“This one needs some explaining.”
The crowd roared as the gates opened and beasts of game thundered by. I opened the small envelope and stared at the photo.
“Sonja Henie?” I said, a deep frown forming.
“You understand why this needs explaining now?” He said.
“She’s the mark?!” I hissed.
“No – the lead.”
“He’s been reaching out to sports figures that compete internationally as moles. Either makes them sympathetic to the cause or slips them fists full of cash. Lets just say Intel found some interesting things in this broad’s belongings.”
He paused for a moment and looked at the stub in his gloved hand, horses half way down the track. It surprised me to find a fellow agent gambling on horses.
“Mao’s personal copy of his little Red Book.” He made eye contact for just a moment.
“Christ, she’s full blown commie.”
“That’s not all we found. It’s in the envelope.”
I reached in and wriggled my fingers around, I touched something made of a stiffer paper and pulled it out. A program and tickets for the 1939 World Series. I looked at him.
“Don’t you get it, rookie?” He said, “That’s her contact. One of the players. A fellow sportsman, another goddamn red, right in our midst. That’s your mark.”
“I see.” I said sliding the envelope into my breast pocket.
“Congratulations, kid. You’re going to the World Series! All you have to do is follow her and wait for her to meet the bastard, probably somewhere in the stadium. Then, make your move.”
“What if she starts screaming?”
The horses crossed the finish line, my contact rose up, looked at his bet one last time before throwing it up in the air into and endless storm of stubs – a whirlwind of disappointment. Agents ought to know better.
“Goddammit! You never goddamn win!” His face was red with anger.
“What if she screams?” I said.
“When I take care of this guy, what if she starts screaming?”
“I don’t know! Bring a stapler! Nail the bitch’s mouth shut! You’ll figure something out! Besides, she won’t scream. She knows you’ll shoot her too.”
He turned around and walked off – he was right. She wouldn’t scream and I wouldn’t hesitate. I never did.
It was already close to midnight when I pulled up to the storage facility. Less than twenty four hours ago I had found out that my beloved Aunt Eloise had died and named me responsible for her estate. I had always loved Eloise. Even after her mind started to go, I enjoyed listening to her crazy, imaginative stories.
I walked into the building and approached a security guard seated behind a front desk.
“Good evening ma’am. Do you have some identification?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah, I have an ID,” I began ruffling through my handbag, “but I don’t think I’m on your list or whatever. My aunt just died and I’m in charge of her estate.”
The guard looked at me flatly, still holding his hand out.
“What is your aunt’s name?” he asked after I had given him the ID.
“Eloise Hannigan. She left the key with the lawyers, I have it right here…” The guard looked at his computer, back at me and then back at the ID.
“Ok Miss Hannigan, I’ll buzz you though.”
Well at least I wouldn’t have to worry about robberies, I thought as I opened the thick metal door and started down the corridor in search of unit 143.
I inserted the key into the old lock and lifted the rickety garage style door. I’m not sure what I expected to find but what I saw was somewhat surprising. Instead of the typical unorganized clutter you might expect to find from a ninety-five year old woman, it was set up like a tiny living room; a loveseat, a coffee table and an end table with a lamp all positioned on one wall and a neat row of boxes along the other wall. Placed on the coffee table was a shoe box with an envelope leaning against it.
I dusted off the old loveseat and sat on the edge before gently opening the lid of the shoebox. I began taking out the contents, admiring them one by one. It was an odd assortment – an autographed program from an old World Series dated 1939; a gold medal from the 1936 Olympics in Bavaria; a picture of Aunt Eloise with a beautiful brunet, ‘Sonia Henie – 1940’ scribbled on the back; a little red book with Chinese lettering wrapped in plastic with MOA printed on it; a stapler, which with a button on the bottom that when pressed sprung a knife out the front.
“What on Earth?” I said out loud and moved on to the letter.
“My sweet niece Alley,
Inside these boxes you will find many stories. But of all my adventures and all my memories, this box holds my very favorite. I am entrusting it all to you, so that you may write my story and carry on my legacy. ”
Who was this woman? What had she seen and never spoke about? Or tried to tell me but I had brushed it off as an old senile woman with an imagination.
I took a look around the storage unit and realized, I had several boxes to help me find out.
The Fate of a Quisling
It had only been a few months since North Vietnam overran Saigon. Nothing much had changed for Hung Chiem in the mail room except for the repressive feeling of angst which pervaded the entire office. The new Communist party managers watched everyone very closely, but they hadn’t had time to screen for dissidents.
Hung admired his original copy of the 1939 world series program hanging above his desk. Baseball was the greatest game ever invented, he thought. He dreamed of going to America and attending a real big league ballgame. His co-worker, Phuong, approached Hung, “You better put that program out of sight. That’s enough to get you killed, you know.” Hung looked surprised, but responded, “It’s okay, Phuong. Don’t worry about me.” Phuong smiled. “We’re going for lunch. You coming?” Hung turn off his desk lamp and they all hurried off, laughing and joking.
A few days later the Communist party official from the local office came around to question all the employees in the building, and sure enough, the world series program was noticed. “You like American baseball, um let me see, Hung?” he queried. Hung was very clever and had prepared for this eventuality. “Sir, please understand the situation here. Before we were freed from the capitalist regime controlling us, this poster was merely camouflage.” Hung took the poster down and tore the program out of the frame. Hidden behind it was a very worn-out copy of Chairman Mao’s little red book. Hung handed the book to the official. “Look at the handwriting in the book. This was Chairman Mao’s personal copy. He gave it to me when I met him a few years ago. I was in China for a Communist rally when our paths crossed. I could hardly believe he really talked to me, a lowly mail clerk, but he was proud of my low position and sought to encourage me.”
Of course, the inscriptions in the book were forged by Hung, but after Hung suggested that efficiency could improve in the mail-room if the other capitalist workers were replaced by loyal Communists, he was given clearance to keep working in the office and promoted to head of the mail-room. Subsequently, his old co-workers were fired and some were arrested.
Within a few months, Hung became very frustrated at work because the Communist co-workers didn’t recognize his seniority, so he had no real power at all. Not only were things worse at work, but he also had become a pariah among the non-communist, nationalist crowd.
Depressed and dejected, Hung meandered down the street in a drunken pity-party one night. Several of his former co-workers passed by, stapling anti-communist bulletins to signs and store-fronts in the dark. One of them commented to the others, “Hey look, it’s Sonja Henie!” Then they jumped him, screaming, “Traitor!” and “Turncoat!” They violently beat and kicked him until he was bleeding and unconscious. Next, someone took the staple gun and stapled a piece of paper that read, “Quisling” to his forehead.