The day dawned bright and clear (as, of course, it was supposed to for such a momentous event), and it appeared that the weather was going to fully cooperate with the plans that had been made for the day. The sky had attained that perfect shade of blue that you know had to cost somebody in the special effects department something extra. Colored pennants waved gently in the breeze all around the Manor House like a picture post card, and fought unsuccessfully to carry the day from the wild variety of colors displayed in the flowers of the gardens. The breeze, as always, carried an indescribable scent from these many flowers that was at once both refreshing and intoxicating. (In other words, it was one of those situations in life that in which under normal circumstances would have made everyone violently ill if they didn't have so many reasons to be so happy.)
They had set up a tent-like pavilion in the grass behind the manor near those perfect gardens that makes this place so special. The fact that it also just happened to be one hell of a perfect place to set up a tent went almost unnoticed. (Careful of that gag reflex now.) I had been wandering the grounds for some time now, just enjoying the party atmosphere. Growing curious, I finally wandered into the tent to see how the arrangements had been handled for the ceremony. There was a platform at one end of the open enclosure with a single chair. You could almost call it a throne, but if you did you would be wrong.
The throne was, in fact, in the throne room of the Manor House, where it and any other thing like it belonged. It was also there because it was made of solid stone and was too damn heavy to carry anywhere.
The chair in the pavilion was a truly beautiful one though, and perfect for the job that it was to perform. Not one of those chairs that can be pushed up against a dining room table for someone to who has come late to dinner to sit at, and not one of those ridiculous art chairs that you are afraid to sit on because you know that it will either ride right up your butt crack or will break as soon as you touch the damn thing; embarrassing the heck out of you. It was more like one of those chairs that sit in libraries of the great manor houses of most European nations (like this one normally did), and dominate an entire room (which this one always did). Come to think of it, maybe that’s why they used it for the coming ceremony.
People had begun to gather in scattered groups in the gardens, mostly near the tent. You know, it’s funny. Any time you put up a tent in a field people seem to gather. It doesn’t really seem to matter why the tent is there, a wedding, a party, even a revival meeting. It just seems that people are naturally attracted to tents. Maybe that’s why circuses have been so successful over the years, but I can’t say for certain.
Perhaps we should pour thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars into a government study on the subject. Then we could produce hundreds of copies of the thousands of pages of such a report which could then be distributed to a number of undisclosed locations, then buried in obscure files on shelves so high that no would notice them, let alone read them. We could then call for a series of government investigative hearings, calling hundreds of people to testify about why all of this money was wasted on a study that no one had ever seen, about a subject that nobody cared about in the first place. Finally, documentary film makers could take full advantage of the resultant scandal, claiming it to be the result of a full blown government conspiracy. Tabloid headlines could be cast in the largest type available and faked pictures of the report, the file, and the shelves could be printed in all their glory, creating a mystery nearly as great as that of the alien autopsies. After all, I hear that the woman’s shoe study is all but complete and we will need something to spend our hard earned tax dollars on. Nah, it’s probably already been done anyway.
Inside the Manor House no one was gathering, though the day was to be a big one. For the most part in fact, it seemed to be business as usual. After all, the country doesn’t close just because they are crowning a new king. (Oops sorry, I was wrong. The country does in fact close for the day when they crown a new king ... national holiday and all of that, you know.) While there was every reason to be celebrating, and one heck of a celebration brewing in the tent, those most closely involved with the campaign were in a more subdued mood.
Maybe that is the nature of momentous events. While those who were not directly involved with the event seem to have every reason and desire to celebrate its successful conclusion in spite of the fact that they had little or nothing do with that conclusion, those who were directly involved with the issue are usually suffering from the inevitable adrenaline let down that follows the huge effort required to gain the result that everyone is already celebrating.
Everyone had a reason to be happy of course, and was grateful for the successful conclusion of the personal attacks, the campaign, and the election. That happiness however, was tempered with something akin to a feeling of loss or sorrow. It struck me then as a feeling that might be compared to the gratitude that a person feels when a fever breaks, along with the weakness that is felt from battling it. How could anyone help but remember the trials and tribulations that all of us as Phillip’s followers had faced both on a personal and professional level. That we had been triumphant in this trial by fire and brought this situation to a successful conclusion was something akin to a miracle.
If the truth were to be told, the entire day gave me the feeling of an Irish wake. The people gathered here were glad to be together once more, and dearly loved one another. The reason for the gathering was nevertheless a cause for both happiness and sadness, full of remembrance and expectation. As for me, my part was now over. I guess I was quietly proud of the insignificant part I had played in bringing things to this successful conclusion, but I also felt that I might have, could have, and should have done better. There should have been a way to reach this place without all of the suffering of so many people (even Christy and Randal, though heaven knows they deserved the rewards they were now receiving if anyone did). As they had been since the debate, my emotions started back on the roller coaster ride to nowhere that seemed to be my lot in life, and I felt my mood begin to swing into a dark place. Just as I was falling into that pit of self-doubt and anger, I felt an arm slide around my waist.
“You’re doing it again,” Angela said.
“What am I doing again?”
“You’re trying to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, and though I think that they are nice enough shoulders, they’re not nearly big enough to take such a weight. You’re trying to take responsibility for the way that the world turned out, as if you could actually control it,” she said, chiding me now.
“But wasn’t that why I was put here?” I heard myself say for the hundredth time. “Wasn’t I chosen to come here to make this right? Why couldn’t I have done it better? Why did so many have to pay so much?”
“Do you really think that it was so much, what we all went through? Do you think that we didn’t understand what we might be up against when we signed up to work on Phillip’s campaign? Didn’t it all turn out all right in the end? What do you think you are some kind of mythic hero? Oh, don’t we think we’re so special,” she replied, almost laughing at me.
“The real question that you should be asking is why things turned out as well as they did, considering how little you knew about what you were getting into. Maybe the question that we should all be asking is did everything turn out all right because of what we did or in spite of it? If you ask me, the way that things turned out is continuing proof that it is far better to be lucky than good. As for who had to pay and how much they did, don’t you think that you’re paying now? Do you expect this feeling to go away anytime soon? Isn’t that enough, or would you like a couple of physical scars to help you feel better about yourself and everything else? Maybe you even think that physical or emotional scars would make you the tragic hero instead and more attractive to the ladies, as if anything could? And by the way, if that’s your plan, I can arrange for those scars anytime your schedule is open,” she smiled, showing her nails.
“Hey!” I retorted, rising to the occasion. “If I am, in fact the mythic hero of the day, you will have to face the fact that heroes are intrinsically handsome. It is part of the nature and definition of the beast. I resent your implications and insinuations regarding my charm, good looks, and wit; while freely admitting that they might be limited by the dull, ugly lump that they're contained in.”
She sighed and hugged me a little tighter while mumbling what I thought was “My hero” under her breath. Maybe she was right though. Maybe in the end winning was enough and needed to be. Maybe all of the after the fact analyzing in the world was nothing more than pretension on our part. No matter what happens in the world, we each play our part, and we usually don’t get to choose it. We do get to choose how we are going to feel about it though, and far too many of us have trouble getting ourselves to understand that the glass is half full, not half empty. Sometimes winning is just as hard as losing. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and I had a beautiful woman standing next to me who thought that I had nice shoulders. Besides that, if I had learned anything from all of this, it was that I could never win an argument with Angela.
I was beginning to feel so much better that I was about to commit the cardinal sin of telling her that she was right and I was wrong, when I was saved by the bell. Quite literally saved in fact, as the bell in the tower began to sound, calling everyone out to the ceremony.
This was a great relief to me on a number of levels, not the least of which was the fact that that I was saved from having to admit that I was wrong and someone else was right. I have never been any damn good at doing this, and was not sure that I could learn to be. Besides, who knows what cataclysmic cosmic events might transpire should I actually complete such a learning process and truly accept the possibility of error, let alone voice it to another person.
Thus having saved this universe (and myself) from a fate worse than death, I simply took the lady’s arm and guided her outside to the gathering crowd.
Angela and I had walked back to the Manor House, exchanging greetings with people that we knew from the campaign, and seeing who else might be around. This was the big event and along with the cream of Macundan society, many of our local campaign workers had been invited to the ceremony. By the time that the bell had sounded its last peel, quite a crowd had gathered for the day. We reached the door to the Manor House just as it was opening. It was Phillip, answering the same call that we had just all heard.
Prince Phillip looked truly regal in robes of midnight blue and dove gray, with white piping on the sleeves and collar. Even the ruffles on the white shirt that he wore beneath looked as though they had been starched twice for effect. As for Lorelei, she clothed in a gown of soft gray, in a perfect compliment to her prince. I will not try to describe the perfection of the lady in that moment. I don’t have the words for such things, and if I did, I am sure that I they would only get me into more trouble than I want to be in with the lovely lady at my side. The two of them stood at the main entrance of the manor, looking every bit the royal couple, and gazed with smiling eyes at the slowly assembling group. Arturo made his way to their side as they waited, and his tail seemed to be marking time to music that only he heard.
There was no impatience or hurry in them, just a look of benign humility and satisfaction. When the crowd had finally stilled, the three of them made their way slowly towards the tent. There were no trumpets or martial music being played. In fact, there was no sound at all but a quiet hum of subdued conversation and that of the birds quietly singing nearby. That too seemed to be as it should be. No blaring trumpets or banging drums, just the sounds of ordinary life.
The crowd parted almost imperceptibly as they made their way forward. They paused seemingly at random for a word with one, a clasped hand or shoulder with another. It reminded me of the way a politician enters a room in an election year in the same way that a parade resembles a train wreck. There was nothing phony about this. There was no posing for pictures, or making sure to speak to the ‘right’ people. There was no posturing or cheer-leading going on. It was more like a man walking down a sidewalk in a quiet friendly neighborhood and greeting the friends that he met along the way. A warm glow seemed to gather around them as they passed. There was anticipation, but not excitement, as they moved slowly ahead. Finally they reached the chair in front, and turned to face us all.
“My friends,” Phillip began. “How long have we labored to reach this time and place? How many and great were the sacrifices made that allow to come together as we have today? I will not embarrass any of you with the list of those deeds and sacrifices, both great and small, which bring us to this happy time. Nor (and now that half smile lit his face), will I repeat to anyone living or dead, some of the mistakes that we made along the way.”
I know that my face turned bright red at this point, but I was surprised to find that I was not alone. As I looked around guiltily, I noticed more than a few had colored to match my own embarrassment. I let this go and chose instead to face my own demons, keeping the promise that he sent us as he looked at us all.
“The time now, is for all that was past to be left there, as we seek a brighter future. Let no heart be sad now. Let everyone be glad in the promise that the future now holds for us. Let all hold true to the faith that we carried and the vows that we have fulfilled this day. Though much was sacrificed, and much was lost; we stand together today in a hope and belief of the better days to come.”
OK, I know that I have made crummy remarks about politicians and in my opinion most them deserve much worse than they get. I know that the citizens of the world are no bargain, but no one deserves the mass of treacherous thieves that usually constitute the world of politics. I feel the same way about most of the members of the legal profession. It should therefore be no surprise to anyone that so many lawyers go into politics. The combination of the two always made me look at most governments as a dog infested with both fleas and tics, with the two groups only really worried about how much blood they could drain from the poor, dumb animal before they got kicked off or simply chose to move on.
The only things that kept any hope alive in my heart for us is that there is no chance that I could ever be elected to anything on the planet (even if it was a miserable job), and that occasionally the genetic mutation of an honest, decent person holding political office occurs. This does not happen often enough to really change our world for the better, but does happen enough to let us plod on in our miserable conformity in the hope that it will eventually.
Prince Phillip was one of those genetic mutations, but I would never insult him by calling him out. My feelings for those who govern aside, I was always a sucker for a great speech. You have to be more and worse than a cynic not to be stirred by the great speeches of history. From Caesar to Churchill to Kennedy and Reagan, they all knew how to lift us to our feet when we thought that we were still on our knees, if not flat on our back. There is something about them that makes us feel good about the person giving the speech, and about ourselves. All I knew at this moment was that there was something in my heart, and in my throat, that fought now for release. I fought vainly to hold the emotion behind misty eyes, and suddenly I heard my voiced raised as it had been by so many others, in so many other times and places. (Besides, it was part of the plan.)
“God save the King!”
The chant was taken up as one voice, and I heard it repeated again and again. Angela squeezed my arm all the tighter now. I had let her in on what was going on when I arrived at the room that night. (As if I was stupid enough to keep such a thing a secret from her.) This morning at breakfast, the rest of our inner circle had been informed to nature of our little surprise. We discussed about how best to accomplish this final goal, and after the initial shock had settled, we got to work on making it happen. The plan that we ended up with may not have been a great one, having the dual shortcomings of being planned on short notice, and being my idea; but it was all that we had.
On queue, Phillip now smiled and raised his hand to still the shouting. It was only then that he, along with Lorelei, stepped aside by a pace or two, to take up a position to the right of the chair. Now from the front of the crowd, Katie came forward, and after bowing to Phillip and Lorelei, took a place just to the left of that same chair. Dressed in a gown similar to Lorelei’s, but distinguished by being a compliment to the midnight blue that Phillip wore. The crowd was murmuring in confusion, not understanding what was happening before them, but the show was far from over. Arturo now moved to stand just in front of the chair. He turned first to Katie, then to Phillip and Lorelei, acknowledging each in turn with a bow of his head. When the tension had reached almost a fever pitch, he suddenly leaped up into the chair and turned, seating himself before the stunned assemblage. He nodded again to Phillip.
“Here is my brother Arturo,” he said. “Elder son of my father, our late king Simon, and heir to the throne of Macundo. God save the king!”
“God save the King!” Angela and I cried, taking up the chant, soon joined by the rest of those we had coached and scattered in apparently random places throughout the crowd. I had turned to be watching the crowd; and as I watched, could see it happen. Shock turned into amazement, then realization. It started softly, but built like a wave crashing on the shore. The crowd was completely caught up in surprise first, and then caught in the mystery and the joy of the moment. The cheer carried over the fields around us.
“God save the King!”
As I turned from the crowd behind me to the throne ahead, I couldn’t help but notice a certain blue pinstripe suit in off to one side and almost out of view. Of course it had to figure that he would be here, and I was surprised that I hadn’t considered that possibility before. He had taken up the cheer as well, but turned towards me as I stood gazing in his direction and gave me a little wink and a small salute before turning back to a certain blue dog, quietly receiving his accolades.
As for Arturo, his only facial expression was that of a quiet smile as he sat surveying his subjects, but the tail of the new king was going a mile a minute now, as well it should be.
Man’s best friend indeed!
“Well that’s about it,” I said to Tom as I wound down and signaled to Michael to bring us both another beer. We had finished a couple during the telling of the tale, but the telling was after all, thirsty work.
“What do you mean, that’s it? What happened with Arturo and Phillip? Did the rest of people accept Arturo as the King? Did he ever become human again? What about you and the little guy? How and when did you get back? What happened about your relationship with Angela? ”
“Then you believe me,” I sighed.
“Well, I must say that what you’ve told me is a bit of a tale and then some,” he replied, eying me as if I had just offered to sell him an insurance policy or a used car, instead of the telling of a story that he had asked me for and the gift of another beer. “I can’t say that I believe you, and I won’t say that I don’t. I mean you have to admit that what you’ve told me is a lot to take in at one time. In spite of my better judgment however, I am inclined to grant you the benefit of the doubt, assuming of course, that you tell me what the hell happened.”
“Well as to Arturo accepting the throne, there was a good deal of shock and more than a touch of resentment when the whole thing was revealed. People don’t like it when they think that politicians are trying to put one over on them, and they certainly did in this case. They might have even had some grounds for it if Phillip had known about the situation before he started his campaign, but he didn’t. If you really think about it, anyone ready to take Christy and his old man as the leaders of a government might find a talking dog a step in the right direction. Things settled down quickly enough when they saw that his government, like most other good ones, had little to do with their day-to-day happiness.
As to whether he became human again, looking back on it, I never thought that he was anything but. In fact, he may have been the most human of anyone I have ever met. As for me, I am learning to abandon my prejudices; and to hold neither size, color, nor species against anyone.
As for my diminutive friend, well you know that he was at the coronation already, and in spite of contributing absolutely nothing to the situation, he seemed awfully pleased with himself about its successful conclusion. Where he is now, is beyond me. When will I see him again? I dare say that for my part, I am certainly in no hurry to be seeing him any time soon. I’m also sure that I can expect him any time that he's damned good and ready.
When and how I came back is today, and how I got back is I don’t know. When I woke up this morning, it was about two weeks after the coronation. Things had begun to settle back down into what would be considered a routine at the Manor House, and as I told you, most of the furor over the change in sovereign had begun to settle down. While I had no official duties with the campaign any longer, and not even honorary title with the new government, I was allowed to stay on in the rooms that I had been provided in the Manor House. Arturo had offered to give me ceremonial rank in their military so that I could continue to serve the throne; but I was just chauvinistic enough not to want to be a lieutenant, and take orders from my girlfriend. (As if I wasn’t taking them as a civilian anyway.)
As had become my habit every morning, I decided to go for a walk after breakfast in the morning, being mostly by myself at that time of the day anyway. The front door of the Manor House opened for me as it always did, but when I stepped through, I was just outside of the lower room entrance here at Gibby’s. Taking this as a sign, I simply decided to step in. Since I never understood how I got to Macundo in the first place, how I returned and why it was to this place simply didn't occur to me.
Where Angela fits into the picture now is simple. She's the woman that I love, and I may never see her again. I never even got a chance to say goodbye to her. We knew that it could happen any time of course, but I can’t say that knowing that makes it feel any better. I suppose that after the last couple of weeks, with no hint that it was imminent, we had begun to almost take the situation for granted. I love her, and I can’t have her; which will probably make me a pathetic, miserable, self-absorbed son of a bitch for most the foreseeable future. As for that future, when I can look at it again, I shall choose to remain a hopeful romantic where she is concerned. If I am racking up any frequent traveler points for all of the places that I have been and my work with the little guy, then maybe I will get to go back. If not ... well I choose not to think about that.
In the meantime, being with people and self-medicating with alcohol prevents me from getting too morose about my coming loneliness. The beer is good, the company exceptional, and I appreciate you giving me a chance to unburden myself. I don’t know why I'm back, any more than I know why he sent me. Hell, I don’t even know what day it is!”
“It’s Wednesday, the seventh of June Sean, in case you really needed to know,” he said, grasping my shoulder. “Sean, if there is anything true in life; it's that we eventually learn to make our lives go on without those we must leave behind. For my part however, I think that you will make it back to her in the end.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, I'd rather that I never have to wait for the eventually part, but if I do then I hope that you are right.”
“But this story of yours is all so fantastic, even if it’s a delusion,” he said. “Have you ever thought about writing this all down?”