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Such A Rough Beast

May 30, 2018

“And what does this mean? What is it exactly that I’m expected to do?”

He was referencing the stack of paper on the coffee table. An agreement of some kind. Lots of pages, several signatures and initials required, all marked with red stickies so he could find them easily.

He was speaking to the man across from him who had brought the stack of paper. So what if NSA was listening? They were always listening. What would they do? Nothing, of course.

But what had surprised the man with the stack of paper was how the host, even though the home wasn’t at all in his name, the person expected to sign off on the agreement, was ignoring the other person in the room entirely. Should have been the exact opposite. He was told to expect the man would sign anything once they were together. For some reason, it wasn’t so.

“The very first lesson you people taught me was not to trust you. The second was to not trust anyone else. So all I’m asking–right now–is what this is requiring of me so I can be certain I know what that is, and can evaluate whether or not I can do it. Fair isn’t really what I’m expecting. So the answer, please…”

“Delete all social networking accounts. Delete the McCoyote and Wicked Game blog…you can keep the other two. Though we argued a lot about the one with Brown’s name in it.

“You can live a normal life. That’s what you want, isn’t it? With someone you love,” the paper man indicated the other he had brought with him.

The would-be signer didn’t move his eyes off of the paper man.

“Really? I mean I don’t care for Facebook generally. I certainly try not to read the news on it. But it does connect me with old friends and family. Connects me with my senior class in High School. And anything on there just sounds like the ravings of a madman anyway. Is that a national security threat? Really?”

The paper man smiled,” We thought that might be an issue. Fine. That’s negotiable. But delete any references to those two blogs.

“And the twitter account…the one. That has to go. You can keep the other one.”

“And a pension or a job?”

“Sorry, no.”

“So how am I supposed to support us both?”

“You’ll think of something.”

“Will I? With you continuing to harass us both the whole while. I’m what? Twenty-four years from social security? That’s a long time.”

“I suppose it is. I don’t actually know what they intend on that part. Suppose you’ll just have to have…faith.”

“Well. Otherwise sounds reasonable enough. There is one slight problem, however.”

“And that is?”

“The oath I took.”

Paper man laughed, “You never took an oath. That was your point, wasn’t it? You never volunteered.”

“Gave one to myself. Early 2010, I think. Minneapolis.”

“And you were under…”

Paper man paused, choosing his words carefully.

“You were not feeling yourself, were you?”

“I suppose not. I mean…”

“So we have a deal?”

There was a tense pause.

“Yes. We have a deal. Here’s your paper. Nice meeting you.”

Paper man stared blankly. There was no way this could happen. They assured him on that one point. He must be bluffing.

“Very well. I won’t be back. Let’s go.”

The younger man stood up.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the man who refused to sign asked, acknowledging the younger man’s presence for the first time.


“Don’t you see what they were doing? They were really testing to see if love trumps duty, or if duty trumps love.”


“Yes,” impatiently Paper Man echoed.

“Well…they’re the same. We can have both. They aren’t mutually exclusive because they are one.”

“So sign it!” Paper Man put the paper down in front of the refuser again.

“No. How do I know doing that is what my duty is? How do I know refusing isn’t my duty? Because you guys say so? You taught me not to trust you. First thing. This is a trick.

“So take the paper…leave the cannoli. We’re done,” he said to the Paper Man.

“While you and I,” he said to the younger one, “Well, we’re just getting started. Absolute beginners, my dear. So get your suitcase and let me show you the spare bedroom.

“You’re very welcome, sir. Glad I could clarify the situation for you and your superiors. They’re one and the same. Difficult to separate. Certainly I am capable of editing myself, despite what they may think. Certainly I can ignore certain things, impulses. I mean, I can’t possibly know everything…how could I?

“And when I’m distracted…well, that’s when I think I’m really at my best. A really good distraction could really slow me down.

“Because you know, there’s global duty…and then there’s local duty. I prefer the local when I can. You can touch the local, feel it. I know it’s not as effective as discussing big ideas…but when a man’s in love…well, he can be downright stupid sometimes.

“So take the paper back to the car and make a phone call and see what they say.”

Paper man did as requested. The other two sat silently, only eyes “talking,” waiting for the answer.

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