Ben Williams
























By Ben Williams © 2005

On a particularly cold Thursday the edict was announced. It slid through the channels of the congress silently, skipped from hand to hand amid stacks of paper, beneath pen and seal, stood for vote behind one hundred articles, and passed hidden in supercilious verbiage well crafted for so surreptitious an entry to the law. The members of the parliament nodded agreeably, another great day of lawmaking had ended, and one by one they removed themselves from the fine circular room with the coffered dome-perhaps the finest architecture on the island, and one thing to thank the conquistadors for-to delight in the fine evening that already had swept pastels through the clouds and blown the sea-air through the palm fronds.

Standing by the door in his gray uniform General Alonzo was the last to leave. He had tarried to greet the Ambassador Super (an obsequy he was fond of) and left with an air of complete satisfaction-not even the Ambassador Super, a man prized for his comprehension by many international circles, had protested the Act's passage; in fact he had encouraged it. Only six had voted against it, and now the General had a pretty good idea who they were.

General Alonzo hitched his jacket button closed and noted with gravity the breakers that were streaming in from the headlands as he made way to his car. It was always being remade, this island, he thought to himself, and he knew it was time for it to be remade again. He combed out his mustaches with his hand, as was his habit, and began his way home.

Once he had reached the town, and cut into the lea of the approaching storm, he had his driver drive down the Esplanade slowly, letting the children gaze at their reflections in his fine black car and letting the beachgoers cross willy-nilly. He liked to watch the parasols stretch their shadows across the stone street from the tables where the tourists would spend a few hours, or to notice the islanders hanging in darkened doorways watching him with interest-they know, he thought-with their mangy dogs lapping in the heat long tongues to sponge up the road-dirt, or the swimmers running in, grabbing their towels, glimpsing the flattened waves piling round the headland perhaps, laughing in the wind as their T-shirts snap like kites, with the couples pulling the sand-crusted limbs of their blonde babies, faces lit with the day's fading sun and the salt-piqued air. Tomorrow all this will be gone. It will be like the time when the armada came, the people will run to the buildings, the beaches will lie empty, only the imprint of his soldiers' boots will cover the berm for the tide to swallow, and the harbor will lie in ruins. He had his driver pull over, he wanted to look at the harbor, see it, see its workings, the very machinery of peoples' lives that tomorrow he'd wrench open, twist up, and leave broken for the assemblage of his men. He watched the fishermen linger along the docks checking the moorings, the masts bobbing above them, shaking halyards and creaking ropes against the swell. The boats jostled and whistled, the stays snapped and the halyards chinked, like a herd of stayed horses-the herd of his cavalry-anxious at the bit; as if the vessels sensed the coming wind eagerly with a lust for their design.

The diesel ferry would be captured immediately, and spared if at all possible. He had given the strictest orders not to let the ferry get destroyed or off the island, and had also stipulated four boats to be commandeered for purposes of shipping supplies after the coup had begun. Yes, this harbor would see some action again like the old days, yet there'd be tanks instead of cannons this time. What luck!

He bid drive on, and his driver obeyed with a tip of his splendid cap, pulling out slowly into the hubbub of the preparation that besets any island in the approaches of a hurricane. Of course, it would not hit until tomorrow, around noon, but already the people had taken heed, and the Esplanade was not its usual nimiety of lights and music, but was muted with wooden shutters, upturned chairs and chained tables, between the eateries still catering and the stores who had mostly brought everything inside. There was nothing quite like an island before a storm, the General thought, when the air is fresh, the waves push people out of the sea, into long sleeves and long dresses, windswept hair; it's all quite lovely. And the romance of the impending danger in so beautiful a place; that something so delicate could be rendered so brutal a beating; it's breathtaking. They reached the roundabout at the end, and sped up toward his home.

It was a night of celebration, and the general feasted accordingly. After a three-course dinner with quail and caviar, lamb (an envied rarity on the island), cheese and apple tarts, he took to his chambers with one of his girls. He spent the night lustfully, but was careful to get enough sleep to rise early and be on his balcony by morning, overlooking the harbor from the eastern point of the island, where, in a number of hours, the coup would mark its onset. His men had their orders, yet he was to meet with his colonels this morning for last minute affirmations. Everything should go as planned.

It was very windy on his balcony, even in the lee of his building uncontrollable gusts would whip his dressing gown undone, and he decided to take his breakfast inside. He dressed himself while his orderly prepared his eggs benedict and was ready to greet his colonels as they arrived. He bid them sit down, and give their orders to his orderly.

"I trust you came hungry? I asked that you not eat, but arrive promptly here at ohsixthirty, and I expect you have done so?" He knew this rhetorical question would oblige them his request, whether they were hungry or not, and so offset his misgivings about eating in front of people. If anyone wasn't going to be eating at the table, it would be him!

He began on his eggs benedict while the soldiers ordered their omelets, and watched the white lines stretch out across the sea, way out beyond his balcony where it turned dark blue. He watched a gull struggle in the air, sidle up, and strain almost motionless, before tumbling down in a terrible arc, somewhere out of sight. The wind tapped distant, erratic rhythms on the window. It was picking up, in a few more hours they would start.

"The emergency protocol went through, as you know, the tanks should already be prepared for the hurricane, everyone is in place, the airport is sealed, I really don't see the need for this meeting, do you? So we might as well enjoy our breakfast together, no? You gentlemen should be happy. In a matter of hours, you will be generals!"

The colonels looked over at him as one by one the orderly placed their omelets in front of them. Neither made a motion to eat.

"Now come gentlemen! Gomez is a fantastic cook!" He put down his knife and fork, a troubled frown dawning across his brow.

"I am sorry, General," the first colonel replied raising the gun, "but we are already generals!"


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