CITIZENS IN ARMS
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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