BOOTLICKER

Spring

2009-10-11

"Winter keeps getting longer over here."

Bertrina Humphries and the Minister for Malasrion were amongst the dainty flowers of the Sherpie estate gardens.

"It's absolutely freezing," Humphries appeared to be wearing about three animals as she squinted at the flower-adorned fountain they stood by, not wanting to miss the possibility of seeing the twinkling streams of water solidifying into tiny little shoe-lace icicles.

"It must be the desert." The Minister was equally as despondent, his eyes fixed to the horizon, watching the rains soak the concrete town in the next borough. "The Parliament dries the bones out. The desert air is so dry."

"It's not even in the desert."

The Minister moved uneasily.

"What's the matter with you, Remesko?" Bertrina issued a column of steam into her hands. "You know everyone thinks you've gone insane. I'm starting to think there's some sort of ghost that inhabits whoever inherits the dictatorship of Nela. You knew about the assassinations, didn't you."

The Minister could hear the rains echoing off the prefabricated skyline. The water seemed to dissolve into the black clouds belching from the distant angular silhouettes.

"Who was it?"

The rains. The black clouds. Will there be lightning?

"Is it another abortive revolution?"

Very wet.

"Minister! It's that damn Secret Service outfit of yours, isn't it? You can't control them, you know - you send them out to take photographs, they get surrounded, and then it's knives out when you're up against the Gremanese!"

"I did it."

"What?"

"It's my doing. I ordered that the operatives assassinate the Gremanese High Command."

"You are insane. I can't believe this. The rumours are true. Daydreaming through your office windows, weeks of rearmament paperwork undone - I think I'm going to be sick."

The Minister took off his bowler-hat and ran an un-gloved hand through some thinning silver hair.

"Why the hell would you order the assassination of the Gremanese High Command? You showed me the photographs! Dredged ships in the South Sea fitted with tracks and wheels! Guns fitted to fire shells the size of horses! Why give anyone a reason to use such weapons, let alone the Gremanese?"

"Do you know how old I am, Bertrina?"

"You're eighty-six, Minister, you probably have dementia."

"I do have dementia. I've had dementia for half a decade, I've been lost to the world for weeks at a time - I wake up in a different state hospital ward every few months."

"So you ordered the killings because you were mentally deranged?"

"No."

"What? How sick are you?"

"I am eighty-six years old, Bertrina. I had a wife, once."

"You're not even with it right now, are you?"

"I grew up in Greater Jou, and I married a rich oil-baron's daughter. My family made a lot of money as a result, and I met a lot of people, it was like an enormous storm that swept me up. I remember how I started working for the Government for my father-in-law, the big marble hallways and gold-trimmed quills - but all of that was a blur in comparison to what I had with my wife, I regard it as totally unimportant in comparison. What makes me feel sick is that I don't remember her name. I remember everything about my job, all the important men I worked for, but I can hardly remember anything about my wife. I can't remember anything I cared about. I think she left me. It'd make sense for her to leave me, given what I do remember about our marriage.

"As the years passed it became increasingly obvious to us, and those around us, that my wife and I were having difficulties having children. We went to a doctor, and he performed an expensive operation on my wife to remedy the biological incompatibility we possessed. My wife suffered a miscarriage as a result of the surgery. Some months after fell pregnant. We shared nine months of exhaustion, anxiety and expectant joy, and then my wife gave birth to her only child.

"From the very moment she was born, she was dying. Doctors were swift and unrelenting to diagnose our daughter with heart, liver and lung failure, and predicted she would have weeks to live. She lived for a year and two weeks. My wife cried for a week leading up to, and on our daughter's only birthday, a celebration our families marked with obviously outward black irony. Our daughter was detached from the room-full of hoses and wires used to support her failing internal organs in her last month of life, and with gaunt faces we moved all the soft toys we bought in false hope around our child and pretended she was coming home to stay.

"I remember her whispy dark hair and brown eyes. The memory I will forget last is the moment my infant daughter looked at me and transmitted to me that she knew she was dying. She aged one hundred years in only one, and every emotion she conveyed to me with her eyes spoke silently of a deep, deep hidden meaning shared between our family that was never meant to be. It is a wrongful thing to know that an innocent baby can know its life is abortive. I believe my dementia began then, and it is only now that I have begun to become aware of its effects.

"I ordered the assassination because the situation I found myself in fifty years ago is no different to the one I find myself in now. Jardenia is the baby who understands it is going to die. It was born of a cold scalpel-wielding hand that resists fate, that twists at my mind and drives me ever closer towards insanity. Better the apocalypse now than later. I want it over and done with."

Sherpie found Bertrina and the Minister in the small courtyard a while away from the main gardens, both staring at the rains pounding in the horizon.