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dear god, i know that it has been a long time since we last spoke- or rather, since i last spoke and you again ignored my desperate plea to bargain, but now i only ask that you grant me one favor. they told me that i am to go under the blade right after fredo, who’s wailing like a sick dog two doors down and i don’t know if you’re hearing negotiations from fredo as well (i bet he’s praying for the cavalry, that pitiful, stupid fool) but we know that fredo is not asking for the right things. unlike him, i know that i am going to die, and i know that if you exist i am going to see your unimpressed face of judgment soon, and i am only afraid of what comes after in terms of what my death will mean to everyone on earth. will you let the world remember me? will you make sure they know i played a key role in the revolution? will you guide them to publish history books that praise my name as the man who took the fall for his cause and his beloved Leader? will you-
excuse me, another bird has just flown in here and died. they are starting to pile up in the corner. it appears that my cell is the prime spot for these winged bastards to so rudely tumble and take their last breaths. if this is a cruel joke on your part-
(i wish fredo would just shut up. his screaming is giving me an awful headache.)
dear god, just let it be quick. they are taking fredo, now. that guard, the big one who always smells of cheese, is dragging him down that long hallway. he is still screaming. i have decided that when i go i am going to be composed. i will savor every step down that last walk. i am going to enjoy the few seconds i’ll have before they finally sever my greatest asset from the rest of me. i am not going to scream like—
fredo has stopped screaming.
the dead birds in my cell- i now see their appearance here was not to mock me, but pure symbolism! they are me, dying in a cage when they were meant to soar.
is someone coming for me? is there a weakness in these bricks? you can’t give me a sign and not show the way- tell me, what am i to do? help me, please!
i am starting to think this is another cruel joke. there is no way out of here. we are seven floors up in a dense prison tower of iron and misery.
i think that you have never liked me. or perhaps, it’s not so personal, and you just don’t like humanity, and i am only an unfortunate number in that collective disgust. i have figured you out, you smug, silent being.
(god, if you can hear me, just let the world remember me-)
(i wish i could just get it over with, get it over with, get it over with-)
it’s too quiet now. where is the guard? what’s the point of making me wait?
(get it over with, get it over with-)
here he is, finally, the cheese-smelling man. he’s blushing, like he knows this is some horrible inconvenience on my part (as if i might yell at him like some uppity, untended hotel guest) and
says fredo broke the guillotine on the way out of this world with his thick neck. they will be coming back for me, tomorrow, at sunrise. he apologizes for the delay.
what are you telling me? is it not time for me to go?
(is Leader coming?)
Leader should be here soon.
(where is he?)
tell me- were you really there when i was growing up in the country? Mother said she prayed for you to watch me as i came and went from our farm to my little schoolhouse. but i never felt you. there was red dust i used to track into the house when i wasn’t thinking, and Mother so often reprimanded me for it with her soup-stained wooden spoon, and i used to pray that spoon would break. (it never did- thanks a lot.) i feel like i felt your so-called great presence once, the first time i joined bodies - made love - knocked boots - (is it rude to say fucking to god? would that be like an inventor being offended by his own invention?) with a red-haired woman in the middle of nowhere. (what was her name?) i think the closest i felt to your omniscience was reading about all the ideas of liberty, love, the pursuit of happiness, democracy, autocracy, hypocrisy. it made me want to become something. it made me join the revolution with Leader.
(what’s he doing now?)
we were suffering, in case you didn’t notice. we needed a Leader.
(it should have been me.)
no, i don’t mean that.
(why wasn’t it me?)
Leader isn’t perfect. he has an ego and an agenda (so do i). he is smart (but i am smarter). all i lack that he has is charisma, because you know and i know that i couldn’t persuade a goat to spit. he also has a boring, tragic backstory. he watched his parents executed by the Regime when he was five, was adopted by the officer who ordered fire, physically and mentally abused by that same officer for his “ungratefulness” towards his authoritarian savior, got sent to a labor camp when he was twelve to learn proper respect, came back shell-shocked seven years later with an insatiable need to turn over the entire status quo, killed his high-ranking, adoptive father, and has been a wanted, revolutionary outlaw ever since. that, and Leader is handsome and people are biased towards that sort of thing. at least i actually read the books concerning the matters that Leader inserts himself into.
(but it should have been me!)
i got him out of jail, i wrote his speeches, i gave him advice, i told him who to trust who to keep and who to cast out and he thrived, and he posed and he preached and he left me behind, and even so! when the police found our function and came for Leader, who stood in the way so he had time to escape? who got caught and sentenced to death on the same day? who is waiting now for a dull, bloodied blade to end this sick cycle of self-hate and regret?
(of course i am the answer, thrown in this blasted cell with these damned birds and an incompetent executioner who can’t even cut through a thick neck)
this is all some cruel joke, isn’t it? i know that i am meant to be more. i cannot end as some footnote in a short chapter when i am owed the whole damn book.
no, no- forgive me. i’m being ungrateful. i’m sure when i meet you tomorrow at sunrise we’ll have a long talk about this selfish little rant, but i assure you i was always honored to be Leader’s right-hand-man. i know my sacrifice is important, and necessary for the revolution to go on, and i know they cannot save me. all i want is to be remembered for my efforts. that’s all.
(dinner time? what’s the point, they’re killing me in a few hours, anyway)
there’s a note under the plate, here. Leader’s handwriting.
(has he heard? is he coming-!?)
(we will remember you)
…“we”? as in, just himself and our comrades? from his perspective?
(we will remember you)
it’s so… simple. general. objective. didn’t they know i wasn’t just fighting for the country, but for humanity itself?
(we will remember you)
what will they remember? how i looked short next to him? how i always appeared happy to serve Leader’s naive politics? how i never accomplished what i was truly meant for? who would they tell the sad, censored story of my life to?
i am getting out of here. i don’t need you to help me.
(another damn bird)
stupid fredo and his thick neck! if he had been more considerate, i would’ve been dead by now.
(these bricks won’t open up, and even if they did, the free world is 7 floors down on the other side)
(a cruel joke)
oh, Mother, you’re here! her spoon flicks red specks onto the floor. she’s telling me i should know better.
of course! i’ll break myself and push through that small window-
(but i am 7 floors up)
Leader crouches beside me, his mouth muttering a thousand words i cannot hear. what is he saying? there’s another way?
so i’ll dig through this hard floor until my fingers are broken away and i fall through!
(but i am 7 floors up!)
i can see fredo’s head peeking at me from the hallway. his thick neck gushing on the floor (stains like the red dust)
he says, “I’ll remember you, Joaquin.” and laughs, gurgling and sick.
i would be less offended if you truly did hate all of us. at least then, Leader and i would have ended up here together. i would’ve even offered to go first. i would have welcomed him from the other side. we could have bonded here.
but he is not here. i am. he is going to live on, because of me. he is going to get an autobiography and speeches and documentaries and an office once he wins this whole conflict. even i am able to admit that he is going to change things.
was i really only meant to be the sacrifice so he could go forward?
Mother raised me to trust you. and i know i’ve strayed from the strict practices of my youth but at least answer me that. was i really meant to die here as a waste of potential, like a bird never meant to-
(forgive me, god, for i am impossibly stupid)
i have just realized that the answer was in front of me all along.
Mother taught me to sew once. i have never used it.
the threads from my prison suit and this shattered rib from that little pigeon should do. (thank you, for providing them)
(but it hurts, it hurts)
i only have an hour or so before the sun will rise. just let me finish this one last task, and i swear on my Mother’s head i will never ask you for anything ever again, and we can avoid each other like amicable enemies willing to keep the other's worst secret.
out, flap! up!
(god, it hurts)
go! keep going! to the sunrise!
Mother was right, she was right, you were always here. you were always looking out for me. forgive me, i will never doubt you again.
i finally hear you! a great, earth-shattering voice all around me, it cracks like thunder, it rips through me like lightning, you truly do show yourself to those willing to see.
i am flying. i am on my way to become everything i was meant to be. the world is going to receive me again, reborn and reanimated, and ready for my true impact. my second chance. i will be remembered!
(look at it all!)
the blushing, pink sky!
the rolling, green hills!
the spiraling, grey concrete,
my familiar, red dust.
the feathers are dancing up and down my bloody arms. the sky is starting to turn pink. won’t be long now.
(pile your clothes, then the birds)
(push yourself up, and out the window, and squeeze)
(hold your breath)
(twist your arm don’t rip the feathers!)
(the window is too small)
(bite your tongue bite your tongue bite your tongue)
(bite your tongue bite your tongue bite your tongue)
Desirée Winns (@desireealwayswinns) is a rising senior studying international relations at the University of Central Florida. She was born in Japan and grew up in Tennessee and Germany. She aspires to become a diplomat and an author. When she's not writing, Desirée enjoys planespotting, traveling, trying new foods, watching movies, composing music, and overanalyzing everything. She is currently writing her first novella.
Jewel Capili (@jewelarianna.19) loves baking and reading and good music. She also enjoys learning about ancient history and is currently studying physics because she will not give up on the idea that it might take her to space one day. If the whole astronaut thing doesn't pan out, she will content herself with finding creative ways to travel around the Earth instead. Her favorite TV show at the moment is The Expanse, and she likes vibrant colors (which you won't be able to tell from these illustrations).