The Follies of Marx

July 3, 2013 in Leviathan Universe, Nelly by nelly

The Nowhere and Unknown collection is going to centre in a particular universe. I’m going to begin at various different places, perhaps in different times (perhaps not), and with different characters. And as we go along, maybe they’ll meet up and this will go from a bunch of unrelated stories (in the same world) into a single story stream. Or perhaps not. I want to grow this story as we go along, so make sure you always let me know what you think!

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Ever since she was a little girl, Seohyun always set her alarm half an hour earlier than she needed it to go off. She liked waking early in the morning, to listen to the noisiness outside from the comfort of her bed. She enjoyed the noise. The noise meant liveliness. So she would lay in bed, stare up at her ceiling, and listen to the bustling of the old women outside on the street below as they set up their carts.

Most sold home grown produce, second hand clothes they’d found and repaired, sometimes jams or preserves if they knew how to make them. But sometimes one would have a trinket to sell, something they’d scavenged from a dumpster or found in their old trunks. Something from decades ago, before Seohyun was born. Seohyun loved to see the trinkets and the old women loved to show them to her. She seldom had enough money to buy them, but the women didn’t seem to mind. When they saw her they would call her name and wave her over. They all recognized her as the young, enthusiastic teacher who taught their grandchildren language and history. Backs permanently bent by years of work, they would crane their wrinkled faces up to smile toothless smiles at Seohyun. They’d press the little bauble into Seohyun’s hand, let her hold it, let her bring it up to her face to examine it, let her shake it if it could be shaken or let her listen to it if it made a noise. And then the women would tell her its story. Of how it came to be, of what it did, of what it meant to them. Sometimes the women couldn’t remember its purpose anymore, or why they’d had it to begin with. But Seohyun loved the stories all the same. From the stories she could imagine the world like it was back then. Before she’d been born. Before the world changed.

Seohyun’s parents had died when she was very young, so she had grown up in a government funded orphanage with no one to tell her about how the world was before it changed. The other children knew as little as she did and when she’d tried to ask their caretakers all she’d gotten was silence. When she questioned the silence, she got a scolding. When she questioned the scolding, she got a slap on the wrist. When she questioned the slap, she got a spank. Soon she learned to stop questioning.

But the old women were always eager to share the stories. To tell her about the past. Sometimes Seohyun thought they just liked to talk so they could remember the ‘old days’, as they called it. Sometimes Seohyun thought they told her these stories, let her examine the little porcelain dolls or wind the miniature music boxes, so that Seohyun would remember the ‘old days’. So that after they were gone and dead, someone would still remember what a porcelain doll looked like or what a music box did. But by now Seohyun knew thoughts like that were dangerous. So she would smile at the trinket, enjoy the story, and thank the old woman. And in the privacy of her own mind, as she continued down the street to the school, she would add the story to her collection, think her dangerous thoughts, and try to pair her dangerous questions with even more dangerous answers. But only in her mind. Never out loud.

When she entered the classroom, her students were already there; a group of about 20 small children from around the neighbourhood, none over the age of 12, who’d been assigned to learn languages and history this year. They saw her and waved in that carefree way that only children could, before moving to sit at their desks. She smiled and wished them a good morning. They chorused ‘Good morning, Miss Seohyun!’ back. And then she turned, took a marker off the whiteboard behind her, and began. On the board she wrote in big clear letters:

The Follies of Marx

Today’s lesson was a continuation of yesterday’s. She took a breath, pushed all the unsafe thoughts to the back of her mind, and turned back to the room. When she spoke again, there was not a single trace of a dangerous question in her voice. “Now, children, who can tell me a reason why a proletariat led class struggle will ultimately lead to the downfall of human society?” 20 small hands flew into the air. Seohyun picked five and let them list their reasons on the board with the marker.

They were halfway through the school day when she heard it. Or rather, didn’t hear it. Seohyun always left the windows of the classroom open, so that some noise from the world outside could float in and intermix with her lecture. When she paused for emphasis, she could hear the honk of a car horn or the shout of a passerby as he called to someone else. But when Seohyun paused for breath this time, she heard nothing. No honk. No shout. Not the rustle of tree leaves or the sound of wind rattling a trash can. She paused for a second more, hoping that something, anything, would make a sound.

There was only silence.

Quietly, she lifted her left hand up to her ear, her pointer and middle finger pressed together and the rest folded down. Motioned ahead of her to the back of the classroom three times in quick succession. The children saw her and with practiced movements they wordlessly put down their pencils, edged out of their desks, and gathered into a clump at the back of the classroom where they huddled on the ground. Not a single one of them made any noise. When they were all safely gathered Seohyun joined them at the back, crouching down nearest to the windows, so that she was between the children and the open street. And waited for what she knew was coming.

For a beat there was nothing. Just more silence.

Then she saw him, in the distance. A man running down the street. He was covered in dirt and blood. He fell once. Scrambled up again. Kept running. As he got closer, maybe a block away, Seohyun saw that he was limping heavily. She made sure all of the children’s heads were down before she turned back to the window. The man kept running until he reached the intersection in front of the school. Then he stopped for a second to look back. Seohyun frowned. The looking back was a mistake. He shouldn’t have done that. Because when the man looked behind him, he saw the soldiers that were chasing him and that made him lose the will to run. Instead, he turned and fell to his knees. He begged. Seohyun frowned again. The begging is a mistake too. It will only make him look weak. The soldiers will taunt him for his weakness. But she could only think the thoughts in her head. And watch.

The soldiers approached as the man continued to beg. One offered his hand to help the man up. The man braced himself against the soldier as he tried to stand on his good leg. The soldier said something into the man’s ear and then laughed loudly. Another soldier brought the butt of his rifle down between the man’s shoulders, so that he fell heavily back to the ground. Jabbed at the injured leg so that the man screamed out in agony. Seohyun checked again that the children’s heads were all down, eyes closed or staring at the floor. When she turned back to the street, the man was begging again. Pleading with his hands clasped together and his entire body shaking. Seohyun could see that he was crying from the way the sunlight reflected off the tears on his face.

Soon the soldiers grew tired of him and one pulled out his stun gun to immobilize the man. They each kicked the frozen man once more before calling in a car to cart him off.

Only when Seohyun couldn’t see the car in the distance anymore did she allow the children to return to their seats. And then they continued their lesson.

When she was walking home that evening, she saw one of the old women from the morning, sitting outside on a stoop crying into her hands. She did not need to ask to know that the man was her son. She kept on walking, and did her best to keep the dangerous thoughts in the privacy of her mind.

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What’d you think? Lemme know! 🙂