Monday, 15 December 2014

Laundry List - Friday Flash

He’d always had beautiful penmanship. His mother had inculcated it in him at the point of a scourge across his knuckles. Reiterated by the Monks who were his teachers at the school, though they hit harder with their rattan reeds. They broke knuckles, yet still that could not stem the flow of calligraphy. Curlicues, flourishes and twirls, anything to banish the dread straight line of a letter. Even though Bibles and prayer books were all mass printed these days, still he was demanded to learn the ancient skills of writing for parchment and scrolls. “Fire and soul” that was the holy grail of scrivening, though to his mind it was unclear what promised land it begat. 

Perhaps his mother had been farsighted when she had invested her meagre savings in a fountain pen all those years ago. For he had secured an administrative job in the Civil Service. A precious sinecure in these days of dearth and scarcity. An ornate script for sparse times. Yet he was no longer scripting proclamations of the latest rationing ordinances. It was a different sort of quota he was fashioning in Baroque swirls and convolutes. A winnowing at the point of his nib. 

It would have been faster to use a typewriter, but his superiors were paranoid about leaving traces behind. Carbon papers and the ribbons themselves could be deciphered for their tidings. He did wonder if this hinted that they knew their supremacy would come to an end and were already taking precautions to entomb their actions. He pressed the blotting paper, another potentially incriminating humble mainstay of his work, down on to his finished page. He examined it and saw his words reverse imprinted. Their beautiful cursive flow had become blotchy and tumescent as the paper had absorbed and diffused the pressure of his carefully calibrated ink. 

Two copies of every list. One for operational use, one as a record until presumably the operation had been completed, when both would be set fire to. No lasting traces. Immolation, the same fate as for those listed on the paper. In this new incarnation of his job, he really was like the scribes of old transcribing copies of the Holy Writ by hand, junking any that were not divinely flawless.


From the interrogations, Señor Nunez begat Señora Ordonez begat Señorita Guillen to their inquisitors. And all their names were on the list in his beautiful swooping script. A single letter hard to read might mean someone innocent was taken for extra-judicial sentencing. Although the children on the list must have been innocent at the very least. The Junta were playing judge, jury and executioner. But only he could play god through manifesting mercy. With a few missing strokes of his pen, he could perhaps save a name or two, leave them off the list altogether. His hand was cramping up. There were so many names to write these days. He stopped writing to rest his aching wrist. He held up his half inscribed sheet of paper. He’d always had beautiful penmanship. 


Taken from the Flash Fiction collection "Extra-Curricular". Available in print and e-book from Amazon, CreateSpace and I-Tunes.


7 comments:

Hawksword said...

Beautiful handwritten scripts such a contrast to the fate of those listed. Chilling.

Helen A. Howell said...

I've always admired calligraphy writers, his beautiful writing might with his expertise save a few unfortunates - such a sad tale, one with beautiful handwriting should be the instrument of so many's demise.

Happy Christmas Marc, may you and your family have a lovely time. ^_^

Tim VanSant Writes said...

What a shame to put his art to such a terrible purpose. Nice work.

Claudia H. Blanton said...

very interesting story, and creative use of this almost lost art - love it!

Larry Kollar said...

I like that after all the vicious things that had been done to him in his childhood, he's inclined to drop a few obviously innocent names off his list. I was expecting (and sort of hoping) to see him somehow using it to exact revenge, but I like this ending better.

Katherine Hajer said...

Meanwhile, over in England, a mild-mannered bureaucrat is piloting his three-wheeled car over to a widow's apartment, while he hums along to "Brazil" on the radio...

Terrible thing to have no real say over the use of one's talent -- his doctoring of the lists impresses me, but I suspect he's taking a very big risk. As his own penmanship attests, it's complicated.

Icy Sedgwick said...

I love the idea of taking things back to handwritten lists, particularly in this age of digital hacking. You can't hack a list unless you physically break in and steal it...