August 20, 2015 Comments Off on Laundry Lists By Marc Nash
He’d always had beautiful penmanship. His mother had inculcated it 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 bone, yet still that could not be allowed to stem the flow of calligraphy. Curlicues, flourishes and twirls, anything to banish the dread straight line of a letter. 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 inking 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 concerned about traceability. Carbon papers and ribbons 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. 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.
Under torture, Señor Nunez begat Señora Ordonez begat Señorita Guillen to their inquisitors. And all their names were on the list in his elegantly 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 acting 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 paused to rest his aching wrist. He held up his half inscribed sheet of paper. He’d always had beautiful penmanship.
© 2014 Marc Nash
Marc Nash has published four novels and four collections of flash fiction. He has also worked with artists and designers to turn his work into uniquely digital forms of literature. He lives and works in London. Visit him at the Sulci Collective.