Rumors from the Castle
In the morning, the sad little dictator’s bodyguard brushes his thick mustache with the brush his mother gave him as a present. From one of the shops in town, your father liked this kind, she said.
All of the sad little dictator’s guards have the same kind of mustache, they all wear jackets that button up to the collar.
The sad little dictator’s bodyguard is in love with one of the sad little dictator’s chauffeurs. They communicate through a series of hand gestures. Their hands, like this, mean I am off duty at one, mean meet me on the other side of the walls.
Their hands say: Someday, someday, someday.
If the sad little dictator’s bodyguard and chauffeur are discovered, they will be executed. Their mothers do not want this for them. Their mothers urge them to find nice girls and marry them, start families. Their mothers say: forget love.
Their mothers say: What is love?
The sad little dictator’s bodyguard has been his bodyguard for years, ever since before he was the sad little dictator, when he was still the sad little heir. The bodyguard isn’t allowed to speak to the sad little dictator; there are people who do that for him. There are secretaries and nurses and advisors and go-betweens, and the bodyguard’s oak of a body between them all and the sad little dictator.
The bodyguard has perfected a way of standing that makes him seem larger than he is, almost ursine. He stands bearlike beside the sad little dictator at public events, usually they are parades, the sad little dictator likes parades with waving banners and honking cars and shouts, shouts, shouts. The sad little dictator waves his hand back and forth, back and forth. The sad little dictator doesn’t smile. Neither does the bodyguard.
When the sad little dictator’s father died, the lights in the castle were turned out for three days.
For three days, the bodyguard stood in the hallway outside the sad little dictator’s rooms. The advisors came by from time to time to offer encouragement, they told him now is a tumultuous time, they told him hold steady, hold steady.
Sometimes, the chauffeur the bodyguard is in love with drives the sad little dictator into town. The bodyguard sits beside the sad little dictator and any assortment of chattering advisors.
He tells the chauffeur pick us up at this location in one hour. His hands say I miss you like the moon misses the sea.
The chauffeur says one hour. His hands say and I am the tide.
He turns the car and drives away, back up the long hill to the castle. The bodyguard watches the exhaust plume from the tailpipe.
The advisors take the sad little dictator around the town. The bodyguard follows at a respectful distance. He feels the heavy weight of eyes.
Once, the bodyguard saw a movie about a bodyguard. The movie ended like this: With the bodyguard leaping in front of a bullet, with an extended cry of no, with a grey grave marker, with a black screen.
When the movie was over, the bodyguard stroked his thick mustache, wished for a shave.
The sad little dictator takes a lover in town. The bodyguard waits outside the hotel where they meet. The staff has all been threatened with death if anything happens to the sad little dictator. The staff walks, the bodyguard thinks, on eggshells. One of the maids brings mints outside, one for the bodyguard, standing beside the white stucco wall, one for the chauffeur in the idling black car.
She says thank you when they take the mints.
You should say you’re welcome, the bodyguard says, but the girl shakes her head, rushes back inside.
The girl is small and young. To the bodyguard, all girls seem small and young. He wonders if this girl is the kind his mother wants him to marry, a nice girl, she always says, a nice girl.
The bodyguard’s mother has a television and a radio. One of them is always playing. When the bodyguard comes home to visit, she says look at you, she always says look at you.
She feeds him stews and buttered breads.
She asks him of rumors from the castle.
He says: You know I can’t tell you that, and she laughs in a girlish way.
He says: Mother, are you happy?
And she says, yes, of course I am, I’m happy, and they quietly finish their stew.
Cathy Ulrich never makes stew, but she has a great recipe for a potato soup. Her work has been published in various journals, including Juked, Invisible City and Adroit.
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