Iv was here.
How can you tell?
This is his signature.
What do you mean?
All doors have been removed.
He looks around. Yes. It seems so.
It is so. I've seen this twice before in the last couple of months. We couldn't get any visuals, though. Nothing over the air. No dish, no crew, no cameras. We were moving too fast. We weren't prepared. I wrote it up and sent it in. I guess you didn't read it.
Read? he questions.
She looks at him, but only briefly. She then gestures with a gloved hand, a leather glove with a fleece liner, leather creased and soiled, fleece escaping from the glove at her wrists. A cold wind is blowing. She has gestured at a mountain of charcoal and ashes that are in the square, blackened wood part of it and still smoldering. They are standing at the southern edge of the square. It is a very wide square and it is the center of town. The wind is blowing ashes and spreading them over the town, half the town, for the wind comes into the square from the east, and in that entrance it is simply a cold wind, but after passing through the square, in a westerly direction, its departure is a soot-thick wind with flecks of gray. Gray ash is in with the black ash. It looks as though the wind is carrying snow. But there is no snow, and there are no clouds in the sky. Piercing sunshine is coming down from the sky, but only on half the town, the eastern half. The western half isn't receiving any sunshine. The western half is receiving an ash-laden wind that is dulling the sun.
Each and every door in this town was brought here and torched, she says. Her gloved hand is still indicating the mountain of ashes and burnt wood. Her other hand is gloved as well, but that hand is gripping the straps of a nylon daypack. The daypack hangs from her hand at her side. She is wearing cargo pants.
All the exterior doors and interior doors were methodically taken from their hinges and brought here and stacked, and then set afire, she tells him.
He asks: Why?
Because the women and children, and then the men, when they return, what men are left, will set to work replacing all the doors.
Yes. That's understandable.
And before the doors are replaced, there will be cold wind, and maybe snow, blowing through these houses and shops and buildings. The windows, though, are still in place.
I see that, he says, and then asks, Why weren't the windows smashed? That would've made it worse.
Because when you replace windows you replace them with glass. Old glass and new glass look pretty much the same. Whereas a new door and an old door look different. Even when replacing an old door that was painted with a new door that's freshly painted, there'll be a difference. It will look new, until it ages. All the doors in this town will have one thing in common. Painted or unpainted, they will all be of roughly the same age and they will serve to remind everybody of this event—the day Iv and his army arrived. So, every time someone opens or closes a door there will be this story, the story of Iv.
Why not torch the town like other armies do?
Because a new town will then have to be built. The old town will disappear and it will be forgotten. What is not seen is forgotten, and the more something is seen the more it is remembered. Iv left the town standing, so a new town doesn't have to be built. It is simply a town without doors. But of course its population has changed—men dead, women widowed, children orphaned. Human tragedy, though, is not unique. But the business with the doors—that's unique.
She continues to explain, for she is the old hand, the journeyed one, the one with experience and with a weathered eye. He is the rookie in the field, a cub as it were. He is from the head office, where his domain is a studio that has a number of cameras that focus on his face five nights a week, and he has been sent out to the field on a special assignment, an "exclusive." His gloves are brand new, as are all his vestments.
These streets ran with blood the day before yesterday, she says. But that is not new or original. The doors, on the other hand, bear Iv's indelible signature. It's his autograph. Iv, above all else, is a student of history. He wanted to leave his mark. He wanted people to remember him. But it's a little more sophisticated than just that, for if opportunity prevails and Iv returns to this town at some later date he will be hailed as a hero and welcomed as a guest, for he left the populace their town, and in this way a sense of generosity and benevolence will endure, but at the same time there will also be an aura of power and ruthlessness that accompanies his image, so even though welcomed as a "guest," people will fear and hate him. The town's doors will open for him, albeit with a footnote.
The man from the head office, the cub, the one who brought the camera crews, nods to indicate understanding. Presently the camera crews are busy filming devastation. It is only he, the cub, and the woman, the woman with the weathered eye, who share these moments of reflection.
Also, the woman says, Iv's way of doing things facilitates looting for his soldiers, but with a moral twist, for after the doors have been removed and are burning in the square, there is then an "open" feeling, as in "open season," for it is a town without doors. It's like the town is saying, "Walk in and take what you like. What's mine is yours." The looters are "guests." It's like removing trespass and violation and theft—and guilt—from the word and idea of "looting."
Did they rape the women?
They didn't need to. They never do. And that, too, is part of Iv's brilliance—no raping. Thus another form of benevolence is bequeathed, which might be construed as gentlemanly, as in honorable soldiers—international rules of engagement heeded, war crimes charges avoided, transgressions against humanity moot. Instead, Iv and his troops simply move on to the next town and purchase whatever pleasures they seek from those in that town who are willing to sell them, of which there are many. After all, Iv and his boys, and some girls/women as well, carry currency, the currency that was taken from this town, as well as others, the currency that came from the door-less bank and door-less homes and door-less shops, and of course from the pockets of the dead on the streets. And the joke of it is, the joke among Iv and his conspirators, as I've heard it told: "The dead have no use for money. At the bank we filled out withdrawal slips."
With this, the cub and the weathered-eyed woman chuckle, and this sharing of mirth is no accident, for they are both media people, albeit from different registers, but nonetheless of the same coinage. It is their job to report, and in order to report they have to understand, and in order to understand they have to remain unbiased and impartial, or at least maintain that vestige. They have to couch what they say into a microphone in a manner that will be interesting, and interesting means entertaining. Mirth can help to distance them from feelings and emotions. A well placed joke has the potential of dismissing contemplation, and it's great for embarrassment as well. Mirth in the field is essential, for it is a survival technique that helps to preserve sanity, or its semblance.
But the genius of this, she says, and waves a gloved hand to indicate what surrounds them, is that by leaving the town pretty much intact, Iv has allowed the town to "rebuild," or as Iv's public relations people phrase it: "refresh itself." This means that the economy will recover within the foreseeable future. Thus, donations, loans, and investments will pour in because results will be forthcoming in the short term. The word "opportunity" will be on people's wetted lips. This square, for example, will become a multistory shopping mall, and nothing in the world is more soothing than shopping. "Prosperity" along with "optimism" will triumph in the verbal arena. Even the idea of "happiness" will enter into dialogue, for a good economy, otherwise known as a high volume of buy and selling, is so often coupled with happiness that one almost feels that happiness can be bought. A society that embraces shopping embraces happiness.
All that needs to be done to start the ball rolling, she says, is to put up some doors.
The cub says, I wonder if I can buy stock in this.
You probably can, if not today, then certainly tomorrow.
The cub smiles.
There's another aspect to this, the weathered-eyed woman says, that I've failed to mention for reasons that have to do with its magnitude, for it is so far reaching that you first need to know the circumstances and dynamics of the situation before you can understand this other aspect. Are you prepared for this?
I hope so.
She looks at him to see if he is employing mirth, but finds no evidence of jocularity on his face, a face that is both fatherly and trustworthy, a wedge of innocence availing as well, for it is a face that people welcome into their living rooms at suppertime via a flat-screen TV. It is a face that won't spoil their dinner.
Within the realm of human nature, she begins, there will be people in this town, as in all towns, who will take sides, and as is so often the case there will be two sides: anti-Iv people, and pro-Iv people. Some people will say that what Iv did was good because it benefited the town—shopping, investment, fast food, and so forth. Others will claim that Iv butchered the town and nothing in the world can buy back their loved ones whose lives were cut short by means of brutality. In essence, a two-party system will evolve, after which a multi-party system might occur by way of offshoots. Thus, power will be created because power comes from struggle: winners and losers, dominance and dominated. This will be called "freedom." As an addendum: "freedom of choice."
The cub nods sagaciously, which really fits his demeanor.
Simply stated, the weathered-eyed woman says, Iv is manipulating history, and he is doing it in such a simple manner—removing doors and burning them. Extremely effective and extremely efficient. He must have gone to graduate school to have learned this.
She pauses, which lends emphasis to what's coming next. The cub waits with a glee of anticipation.
This, she says, and waves her gloved hand, will go down in the books, or more accurately in the media, as a stroke of unmitigated genius. In the parlance of current speak: Very Cool.
The cub nods, and then says, I think I'm getting an angle on this.
The weathered-eyed woman continues, The camera crews going through the town right now and then returning here, to the square, where both you and I will do audio, a back and forth, the lenses, me: "the rough tough woman in the field," and you: "the analyst with news-coverage pedigree that radiates a paternal concern for what's taking place," will show and tell the world something so interesting that they, the world, will want to see it again—and again and again and again—and we, the media, or more correctly the "back-in-the-studio media," will accommodate this. I think of this phenomenon as something like a candy fix. You keep coming back to it, because it is sooooo sweet.
The two of them smile, mutual mirth bubbling.
You see, the woman says, the beauty of visual reporting as compared to written reporting is that a written story cannot be repeated every fifteen minutes like a visual story can. You can't keep writing the same story every half hour and expect people to read it every half hour. But a visual story carries the exquisite potential of "replay." Oddly, particularly in the case of tragedy, people don't tire of this. Tragedy can be replayed for days, weeks, months. Actually, it can be replayed for years.
They smile again, delight dancing.
In one sense, she says, Iv has created history, and we in turn accommodate it. In another sense, Iv has left us something, and we, by reporting it, create history. In either case, we are presented with this gift, and we are obligated to pass it on to the world. Moral justification for this is termed a "learning process." Supplied with information, people will learn about their world. This phenomenon is known as an "informed public." Furthermore, history is not only created, but is passed on, or taught, which of course allows history to continue. Actually, history remains history only if it continues—only if it is passed on, only if its story is repeated. The supposed reason we do this, aside from entertainment, is so that we don't make the same mistakes again, the mistakes we made or the mistakes others made. This is known as a "learning curve." It's signature registers in the prophecy: "What has happened, can happen." In sum, it claims: "learning from mistakes."
Again, she pauses—for effect.
But, she now intones, history does not bear this out—logic does not match reality.
A moment ensues, as if contemplation were at work. But not for long.
What is clear and indisputable, though, the weathered-eyed woman says, is that Iv's gift, the gift he has left us, will pass through our lenses.
She raises a gloved hand.
History will be made—and so will our careers.
Michael Onofrey grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in Japan. His stories have appeared in Cottonwood, The Evansville Review, Natural Bridge, Road to Nowhere and Other New Stories from the Southwest (anthology, University of New Mexico Press), and The William and Mary Review, as well as in other fine places.