“Let me start,” I prefaced, “by making it utterly clear that my husband is a hero.” I patted Walter’s hand and he smiled at me, the broad, uncomplicated smile of the angels. “He placed himself beneath what, at the time, everyone thought was the greater good, and in the service of that greater good he gave up everything he had. That’s heroism.” Hyland shrugged. “Don’t look at me like that,” I chided, “just listen. It’s related, I swear. How could we not think it was the greater good? We’d been hearing about the conflict in Kalamachi for months when suddenly the event that started it was presented to us right on our television screens. Good gracious, if someone described the content of that video to you in a work of fiction, you’d put the book down and never pick it up again. It was that bad, and it was everywhere. You couldn’t turn on the news FOX, CNN, MSNBC, without seeing the ‘Kalamachi Clip’ over and over again. It drove Walter up the wall, let me tell you. He complained that it was indecent, that honest Americans shouldn’t be forced to see such horrible displays of cruelty day in and day out, but somehow he couldn’t get enough. The analysis, the endless talk of ‘just war.’ He watched so much that he knew the names of all the correspondents. Sally Braveheart, Geoffery Heels, and Flora Ikobo discussed at length the unquestionable necessity for this war. I was suspicious of this well-groomed threesome. My parents had raised me to believe that war never solved a humanitarian crisis, but Braveheart, Heels, and Ikobo convinced Walter that this would be fast and painless, and then, somehow, he convinced me. It seemed straightforward – take out the dictator, end the crimes, introduce democracy. Simple.”
“Sure,” said Hyland, “My dad told me about the war in Kalamachi. We had to save the Kalamachians. I don’t understand how this-”
I interrupted him, “Walter gave up his comfortable job in IT to join the fight to take out the Kalamachian dictator. I was so proud of him, but I was also terrified.” I squeezed Walter’s hand and enjoyed his face for a moment. The angular jaw with his just-visible end-of-day stubble, the nose that on any other face would be much too large. My heart ached to think that he wasn’t standing here right now. “It seemed like an unavoidable truth that Kalamachi needed American intervention. It still didn’t sit right with me, but I dismissed my misgivings as simple fear for my husband. A life was a small price to pay to save those poor people from their horrible dictator. We had no children to take care of, so he was a perfect man to send overseas. I could still feel his last kiss on my lips when Walter’s helicopter into Kalamachi was shot down off the coast. When I got the letter I didn’t leave my house for a week. In that week I lost the twenty pounds I’d struggled for years to get rid of in the years prior, but it didn’t matter. All I had left of my husband was a medal of honor he never wore and Braveheart, Heels, and Ikobo’s fervent message that he died making the world a better place.”
Hyland’s expression changed. A mask of sympathy appeared on his face, but it was thin. I could see victory in his eyes, but I didn’t know why. I’d gone too far now to turn back, however. I needed to get to my point! I looked Hyland in the eye, “Did your father tell you about the Kalamachi Clip scandal?”
Hyland’s mouth spread into the grin of a housecat with a cornered mouse. “You mean those wild claims that the footage was doctored? Yes, he mentioned it.”
I was shocked. “They weren’t wild claims! Once someone suggested that the film could be fake it was examined by analysts around the globe. There was widespread agreement! The dictator’s lookalike confessed to being made up and filmed and many of the blood splatters were clearly identified as CGI! They found copies of the original, undoctored video on the computers of Y-Matrix, the weapons manufacturer! People have marveled at the sloppiness of cleaning up the evidence after such painstaking care was taken to manufacture the video. Your dad didn’t mention the settlement for fourteen billion dollars? That Sally Braveheart, Geoffrey Heels, and Flora Ikobo all worked for Y-Matrix before it went under? I mean, of course they denied knowledge of the fake video, but they always do.”
Hyland chuckled and his expression softened. Of his impressive repertoire of terrifying looks, this was the worst. “Sweetheart,” he murmured, “You shouldn’t let yourself get so worked up about these conspiracy theories.”
Then it struck me – of course he was happy. I had become the gibbering idiot he wanted me to be. Corporations made business models by lying to the faces of good Christians to start devastating wars, but it didn’t matter. The truth didn’t matter if you couldn’t convince people of it. What did this have to do with anything? My vision blurred and came back into focus. I couldn’t feel my left hand. I glanced down at it, but there was no time. I had to save this. I silently thanked God that I could still feel my right hand in Walter’s. “They did it for profit, Joseph! An entire war, hundreds of thousands of casualties, and it all fit entirely within the bounds of the free market.”
Hyland started to speak again, but I ignored him. I couldn’t hear him, in fact. There was a ringing in my ears. Itzal Tour Guide was next to me. Walter was there, too. I gripped Walter’s hand as hard as I could, and I spoke to Itzal, “Itzal, tell the Cleaners they can’t grow their business if they keep oppressing potential customers. It’s” I faltered, trying to catch my breath, “The further you go, the more you alienate people, the more you’ll find the customers you already have leaving you.” I sucked in air again. I was having trouble forming words “Izz,”, “It’s”, “I’m not threatening you, I swear. It might not be me leading the boycott, even. I can only hope it will be just a boycott.”
Hyland was shouting distantly, a vaguely discernible figure in the light. “But it,” I started, “It…”. I only seemed to be able to move one side of my mouth. My one good eye looked out at the figures crowding around me. Strong hands reached under me and lifted me from the chair. Walter was taking me. He was saving me. I felt confused tears of joy, failure, and fear on my right cheek. I had done everything I could. Now I just had to hope they got the message. It will happen, I thought. You can’t oppress people forever.
“Oh, Walter.” I moaned.
Splendid little Dickensian swoon, Boz!