K. J. Pedersen
LUKAS LOOKED SICK at the heart when we met up in the lunch hall at noon. We shared our first class of the day — European Literature — but he never showed up. I wasn’t surprised though when I saw him standing in the line at the lunch counter. Late or not, even if he was feeling under the weather, he never missed practice, much less a game. And we had a game against Hohtun Academy after school.
I stepped up beside him in line. “Are you feeling sick, Luki?” I asked.
“Nah,” he said. He looked so downcast, so unlike his usual cheerful self, I felt my heart sink. “If I was sick, I’d have stayed home.”
“Seriously, brother, are you okay?” I reached out to him and touched his shoulder. If we had been alone, I’d have wrapped my arms around him and offered better reassurance. I wanted too. If the situation was reversed, he would have, and the world be damned.
He nodded. “Jóni ... yeah, I’m fine.”
“Have you heard from your father?”
“Yeah.” There was a bitter, frightened tone to his voice. “He didn’t come home last night like he promised. That’s why I missed the first two classes this morning. I was worried about him. I stayed home waiting for him to call.”
“With all that’s happened this morning, I guess he’s worried about his fellow workers, and is doing whatever he can to come to an acceptable agreement with Æthelbaldson-Herewic.”
“When did you talk to him?”
“This morning, an hour or so after the proconsul’s address. He called us, told us not to worry. ‘The matter in Corpus Christi is localized, not general.’ That’s what he said anyway.”
We paid for lunch, took our trays, and sat down at an empty table near the middle of the lunch hall. It was about five minutes after noon, the televisions on the walls in the four corners of the room were on, but the proconsul’s promised address had yet to materialize. There were two newsmen talking away, going on and on about the ‘averted crisis’ and the proconsul’s ‘decisive action’ in declaring martial law.
“The Industrial Socialist Workers’ union has been under investigation by the Federal Security Bureau for a long time now.” one newsman said to the other. “The public must understand the ISW is the Red Republican Party’s ‘labor front.’”
A small, harsh-sounding laugh escaped Lukas’ lips, and he shook his head. “Labor front? The leadership of the ISW is forthright about their political affiliation with the Red Republicans! Everyone knows it. All of the union’s literature refers directly to the party, and the party’s to the union. Both use the red star and sheaves of wheat as their symbol too. And they act together, as one.”
“If these pundits wanted to expose deception,” I said, “they should have mentioned that leaders of the Christian Brotherhood of Labor are members sub rosa of the Christian Nationalist Party.”
That ‘union’ nevertheless insisted it was independent, all the while preaching the same brand of xenophobia, militarism, and nationalism that appeared in the CNP’s platform.
Lukas’ eyes met mine; his expression was very serious. He lowered his voice, and said, “What the newsmen said about the government investigating the ISW ... it applies to the WCLW too.” Then he leaned forward across the table, and said slowly, “My father is being investigated, Johannes.”
“That’s what Matti told me this morning,” I said, matching his lowered voice. “I understand the Board of Directors at Æthelbaldson-Herewic filed a criminal complain against your father. Why didn’t they just fire him?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe they were afraid the union would call for strike action right then and there.”
“He’s been fired before for trying to organize the WCLW,” I said.
“Several times.” He paused, and then said, “The government regards the WCLW as a greater danger to the order of things than it does either the ISW or the Red Republicans.”
I understood what he mean immediately. The threat libertarians posed was greater because they did not limit themselves to actions within the framework of the State. Libertarian Workers weren’t merely socialists like the Red Republicans and the rank and file of the ISW, but anarchists. Unlike the Democratic-Republicans, they weren’t trying to reform and regulate capitalism in an effort to reestablish the so-called ‘Democratic Market’ welfare-state. And unlike the Red Republicans and Social Democrats, they weren’t trying to bring about a Workers’ Republic either. They were not simply challenging capitalism, but the State itself, for they were working to establish a free federation of syndicates, shires, and communes.
A free, balanced, democratic society based on the principles of self-government, mutual aid, and federalism was indeed the ultimate aim of the libertarian movement. Nevertheless, there were more immediate concerns which transcended the political aims of the various political parties, associations, and movements. Solidarity was called for.
Matthias was right: The hundreds of labor disputes which had erupted worldwide were frightening, they were politically and socially divisive as well, and apparently chaotic. But they were also necessary. The cost of living had exceeded the income of the bottom half of the labor force for too long, and appeals to the government, and to the executives and board members of the firms had proven futile. The time was right to act. And that was why most of the unions — even the relatively conservative Anglian National Congress of Labor — decided to coordinate their efforts and take joint strike action this time.
The government had anticipated the strikes and called a special session of the Landsthing and Senate last week before strike action was ever taken. With the frequency of labor disputes erupting last summer — in Niew Lifrapol, Corpus Christi, Niew Dunham, Lundenwic, Karlgrottastadt, Roma, Hannover, Lund, Warszawa, Moskva, Shanghai, Tokyo-Yokohama — there wasn’t much to anticipate really.
Lukas and I had talked about this all before. Many times, in fact.
He scratched his head thoughtfully. It was a nervous habit I found strangely endearing. “Johannes,” he said, “I’ve got to talk to my father. There’s no way around it. I’ve got to go.”
He went to get up from his chair; I grabbed his wrist.
“Calm down, Luki,” I said and he sat again. “Nothing’s going to happen. I’m sure negotiations are underway in Niew Lifrapol as we speak.”
“My father’s turned off his personal phone.”
“Lukas,” I said gently, “take it easy. He doesn’t want to be disturbed, that’s all.”
“It’s after noon. What happened to the proconsul’s address? Something is wrong.”
“You know politicians. They’re all actors. This wait ... he’s baiting us. That’s all. It’s an assertion of his authority — ”
“Johannes! Lukas!” That was Mattæus. He was accompanied by Shane and Wulfric. He sat down beside me.
Shane said, “Matti, aren’t you coming with us? Wulfy and I are going to sit over there with Toby and Kalli.” He pointed across the lunch hall to the table where they were already seated. “I thought you were too.”
I said, “You’re welcome to sit down here, Shane. It’s been too long since the last time.”
“I’d love to, man, but Wulfy and I already promised Toby and Kalli we’d eat with them. I thought Matti was going to as well.” He glared and my brother, who shrugged simply, and raised an eyebrow.
“Invite your friends to sit with us then,” he said.
Shane gave my brother another sharp look, and said, “Yeah, whatever.” Then he waved over Toby and Kalli. “Come over here!” he called to them.
Toby grinned at us, Kalli shrugged, and mouthed the words: Why not? They picked up their lunch trays, crossed the lunch hall, and sat down. Toby sat across from my brother. Kalli sat down between her boyfriend and mine. Lukas grinned at her, the flirt. She smiled back, rather shyly too.
Shane said, “Toby and Kalli, you both know Lukas already, so let me introduce you to the twins: Mattæus Joakim Kristvald Kirkagárd, and his bro’r, Johannes Josef Kristbjórn Kirkagárd.”
“Yes, so formal an introduction, you ass,” I said and reached across the table to hit Shane’s shoulder. He laughed and hit back.
“Jóni and I are in the same chemistry class,” Toby told Shane, then he reached out to me and we bumped fists. Then he looked at Matti, and said, “Nice to meet you.” He offered his hand.
Mattæus shook Toby’s hand. “Nice to meet you too.”
Kalli shook our hands in turn. “So, Shane, what’s your middle name then?” she asked.
“Shane,” he replied.
“Okay then, your first?”
“See, the three of us share names,” I explained. “The names Shane and Johannes were given in honor of Sanctus Ioannes, and Maítíu and Mattæus in honor of Sanctus Matthæus.”
“That makes three of us named for the Apostle Ioannes,” Toby said. “My middle name is Jón.”
We all shook hands and bumped fists, smiled, laughed, and greeted each other in a very friendly way. For a moment the look of worry passed from Lukas’ face.
“Well its about time we all met up,” Wulfric said.
Shane nodded in complete agreement. “All of my friends, all together, and all at once!”
Mattæus said then, “Our Esteemed Leader was supposed to make an announcement at noon, wasn’t he?”
“That’s what we were just talking about before you showed up,” Lukas said.
Mattæus popped the top off his orange juice bottle and took a sip. “I can imagine what this announcement will amount to,” he said. “First, allay the fears of the general public, then move in for the kill.”
Lukas shook his head. “That isn’t funny.”
“I know it isn’t,” he said. “But that is what’s going to happen. ”
“You are such a cynic!” Lukas said. “Whatever happened to hope — ?”
“It isn’t lost,” Shane said.
“My father is out there, you know.”
Mattæus reached across the table and tapped Lukas’ forearm with his long fingers. “He’ll be fine, Luki.”
“Everyone keeps saying that,” he said, “but I’m not so sure. What if — ”
Lukas was cut off mid-sentence when the first bars of the national anthem — Anglia, Land of Our Fathers — played and the image on the television screens snapped to a picture of the fluttering flags of the AFR and Liberia. The flag of the Anglian Federated Republic was above the flag of the Republic of Liberia, symbolizing their relationship. The flag of the AFR contained the centered red cross of Sanctus Georgius upon a white field, and in the upper corner (beside the flag pole) was the seal of the AFR, a silver eagle clutching a golden fasces in both sets of talons. The flag of Liberia, below, too contained the red cross on the white field, with the Liberian seal — a silver torch topped with a golden flame — in the same upper quarter.
The national anthem and the picture of the flags faded and was replaced by an image of Proconsul Grimwoldson standing in front of the Capitol. In truth, Æthelwulf Grimwoldson was in his late fifties, but cosmetic surgery was a remarkably advanced art (and a prohibitively expensive luxury), so he looked to be in his early thirties instead. He wore his long, thick, black hair loose, and his short beard perfectly trimmed. He was dressed in a blue and silver coat, an ornately patterned vest, white silk shirt, and light tan-colored breeches. To his right stood a man with short-clipped gray hair, swept forward in the Roman Imperial fashion, and wearing a red coat, adorned with gold and silver medallions, shoulder boards, and all the other accessories of a well-decorated general officer. That man, I knew, was General Philipson.
The proconsul waited for a long moment, and then spoke:“Citizens, I assure you, first and foremost, civil order will be restored not only in Corpus Christi, but throughout Liberia, the Anglian Federated Republic, and elsewhere throughout the Terran Republic. Civil society will be restored and strengthened upon every continent, in every land, in every city and town. The ports will reopen, and the bounteous gifts of trade will once again go forth.
“The necessary actions to secure these promises are being taken as we speak.
“First, civil order was restored this morning in the capital by a temporary declaration of martial law. It was an unfortunate, but necessary, step taken to guarantee public safety.
“There will be a curfew tonight, starting at ten and ending at six tomorrow morning. This curfew will be in effect not only in the city of Corpus Christi, but throughout that shire. Once civil order has been restored throughout Liberia, I will lift the curfew, and call an end to martial law. In order for that to happen though, the strikes in every city, town, and shire in Liberia must come to an immediate halt.
“I do not intend to declare martial law elsewhere. However, I have ordered the Liberian Republican Guard to assist the government in its efforts to restore civil order.
“In places, these citizen-soldiers have already been deployed.
“I am, therefore, ordering the leaders and membership of the various labor unions to cease and desist in their ‘strike action’ immediately. The strikes are to end by no later than seven o’clock this evening. Further, I have authorized the private security firms involved on the behalf of their employers to resolve these matters by whatever reasonable means they feel appropriate.”
A cheer went up in the lunch hall at that. It was followed by clapping. Someone else yelled, “Dictator! Would-be Cæsar!” There were shouts of approval, and a few dissenting utterances of contempt, most of which came from our table.
Lukas’ face fell. My heart sank yet further. My brother clenched his jaw, and I saw the muscles move, clench and unclench. Shane wore the same angry, tight expression my brother wore. Wulfric’s and Toby’s shoulders sagged. Kalli leaned forward and shook her head.
The address continued: “The chaos this strike action has brought about undermines industry and further destabilizes our already faltering economy. But more importantly it has now become a threat to the national security of the Anglian Federated Republic itself.
“I am not alone this afternoon in calling for an end to this economic sabotage. The governments of every constituent republic of the AFR have come together, in unity, to restore economic health to our Republic.
“Because of the severity of this situation, and the threat these labor actions now pose to very security of the AFR, First Consul Godfrith Ceolwulfson authorized this morning the mobilization of federal troops. If necessary, I will not hesitate to request their deployment.
Shane stood up and pushed back his chair. It tipped over and clattered along the linoleum floor loudly. “Fuck that!” he shouted. “To hell with you, Grimwoldson!” He turned to leave the lunch hall.
“To hell with you, Mac Cormac!” someone else shouted.
“Shane!” Wulfric called after him, while Lukas, Matti and I exchanged concerned glances.
On the television, the proconsul finished his address: “Citizens, workingmen and women of Liberia, it is up to you to restore civil order and economic health to our nation.
“God bless the Republic.”
* * *
Familiar voices rang loudly in the courtyard outside the lunch hall. There was shouting, and then I heard someone say, “It’s about time someone taught your kind a lesson.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
There was a long pause, then, “Godric was right: You are white trash!”
There were other angry words I couldn’t make out, and then, “This is none of your fucking business, Beorcleah! This is between Mac Cormac and me! So back the fuck off!”
There was a maelstrom of obscenities ... and the sounds of fighting.
I ran around the corner from the hall and into the courtyard. There I found Toby flat on his ass on the lawn. There was a stream of blood coming from his nose. He swiped at it furiously, drawing a bloody mess across his lips and chin with the back of his hand. Markus and Shane were throwing punches at each other. Then Toby was on his feet again, and he charged Markus.
“Stop it!” I shouted.
Suddenly, I was in the middle of it, between Shane, Markus, and Toby.
“Get out of the way, Johannes!” Shane shouted and lunged at Markus.
I pushed Shane out of the way. I felt his strength when he pushed back — damn! for as lean and wiry as he was, he was strong! Then I turned on Markus, who had taken advantage of the distraction and had gone after Toby. True, Toby wasn’t the scrappy-type Shane was, but he seemed to know how to defend himself. Well enough that when I finally separated the two, Markus was bloody too.
Shane bared his teeth. “This isn’t any of your business, Johannes!”
“What is going on here?” I demanded.
Nobody said a word.
Absolute silence reigned.
Markus walked off in one direction, Shane and Toby walked away in the opposite direction, and there I stood, alone ... with blood on my hands.
* * *
The game against Hohtun Academy was scheduled to start in an hour, at five. The players from Hohtun would be arriving shortly by bus. Lukas and I went to the locker room to change before meeting in the gym for pre-game exercises.
Andreas was already in the locker room when we arrived. “Hey, Johannes, did you talk to the coach about letting me play today?” he asked.
“So ... what did he say?”
“It’s all good, Andy!”
He raised his arms over his head in triumph and laughed. “Great!”
Honestly, like the coach, I too was worried about letting Andreas play because he was the smallest guy on the team, and C-Ball could get very rough. Nevertheless, he was strong, fast, and could take care of himself.
“If you prove yourself on the field today, Andy,” I said, “there’s a chance we’ll have you play every game.”
He grabbed my shoulders. “Jóni, you’re serious?”
“Fuck yeah!” he shouted and laughed again.
I gave Andreas a quick swat on the rear. “Good luck, bro’r!”
“We’ll grind Hohtun into the dirt,” he said, and left the locker room.
Lukas undressed in silence and kept his eyes down. Slowly, he pulled on his football jersey, shorts, and sat on the bench, shoes and socks in hand. His hair was loose and hung over his face. He just sat there for the longest time.
“Hey,” I said, sat beside him, and placed my hand on his shoulder.
“Hey,” he replied.
I had maintained the facade of optimism, and mostly for his sake, but I understood how things really were, and what might happen, and why he was so scared.
“C’mon, Luki,” I said.
We put on our shoes and socks, Lukas tied his hair up in a topknot, then we stood up, and left the locker room. I went into the bathroom and Lukas followed me in. We stood side by side in front of the urinals.
He turned his head slightly toward me after a second or two. “Your brother is so frigging oblivious.”
“What do you mean? Oblivious to what?”
“Didn’t you see the way Toby Beorcleah kept looking at him across the table?”
“Was he flirting with my brother?”
We laughed at that.
“I didn’t know Toby was bisexual,” I said.
“He’s not,” I said. “He’s a boy-fucker.”
“Really? How do you know that?”
“Last year, he kind of ... kind of let his tongue slip. He had a boyfriend back in Suth Lancascir. A guy named Iesu.”
“So what’s this with Kalli then?”
“They have a lot in common,” he said. “I know Toby cares for her, but even last year, when they were all hot and heavy, I could tell he wasn’t nearly as interested in her as he was with....”
“He thinks your brother’s hot,” Lukas said with a shrug.
“No fucking way!”
“Your brother doesn’t seem to catch on to the fact that half the guys in this school want to get into his pants,” Lukas said with a lascivious smirk.
“Well, I know you want to.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “But Toby’s definitely interested.”
“Yeah, right, and good luck to that,” I said. “My brother’s plenty happy with Lindi.”
“Whatever,” Lukas said.
“Stop implying that my brother is gay, okay?”
“I never said anything about him being gay, Johannes.”
“Okay. Bisexual. Whatever.”
“Come on, you have to admit he seems awfully comfortable around Shane,” he said. “There are deep feelings there under the surface, man. The signals are plain if you’d just look at them. It’s mutual.”
“They have a lot in common,” I insisted. “That’s all.”
He smirked again. “Right. Whatever.”
Whatever it was Lukas saw, I didn’t. He was so full of it, so presumptuous in believing and asserting Mattæus was bisexual. I figured because Lukas was comfortable with his own homosexuality, that he assumed most guys had similar urges. At any rate, discussing my brother as a sexual being made me uncomfortable.
As we were about to leave the bathroom, Lukas pushed me back against the wall, and put his hands on my shoulders. He didn’t say anything, but the worry was back in his eyes again. I knew what he wanted, so I put my hands on his waist and leaned forward. I pressed my forehead to his.
“Everything will be okay, Luki,” I said. “Your father is an intelligent, careful man. He’ll be fine.”
Lukas just nodded, wanting to believe what I said.
We kissed briefly — a kiss of friendship, of reassurance — before going out to the gym for pre-game exercises.
We exercised, stretched, wrestled, threw passes, and then the coach gave us a brief pep-talk, went over the game plan, and told us to return to the locker room. See, it was customary that we pray before games.
As in so many other things, in matters of faith, Lukas and I too were so very much alike. Like me, he had occasional doubts about God and the Church, but believed nonetheless in Jesucristus, the Saints, and the Apostles. Even so, he refused to pray with the team. He did not like such public displays of something he considered deeply personal. He believed it base ‘political posturing,’ and would have nothing to do with it. So, as we went into the locker room to ask God to watch over us and protect us from injury, Lukas, as usual, stayed behind in the gym.
As we passed Lukas on our way into the locker room, Markus muttered, “Godless anarchist.”
I caught the look of surprise and pain in Lukas’ eyes.
* * *
Andreas proved all my fears wrong. He was amazing on the field that evening. He was fast, and despite his size, he was strong enough to keep himself out of trouble. Even when he was tackled, he went down without injury. He knew how to fall, how to keep the ball to his chest, and he fought hard to maintain possession of the ball as his opponents tried to wrest it away.
We were a point behind Hohtun though. Truthfully, we weren’t playing at all well. Markus was surly, wouldn’t follow the game plan, and played as if he and Godric were the only two members on the team at all. He wouldn’t listen to me, and refused to cooperate at all with Lukas. Five minutes ago, he had a perfect opportunity to pass the ball off to Lukas, but hadn’t, and wound up getting tackled by Hohtun’s captain. Markus lost the ball. And that was why we were down a goal.
Lukas, I have to admit, wasn’t playing well either. And without Lukas there beside me, my right hand, I wasn’t playing as well as I usually did. Damn! We were losing! And to Hohtun Academy no less!
But we were in possession of the ball again. I ran, dodged one Hohtun player, and then charged at another, a small guy, faked to the right, ran left, and tossed the ball to Matthias-Paulus. It was a perfect catch. He ran, but went down when Hohtun’s captain dived at him.
Matthias tried to keep the ball, but lost it. Andreas was right there! He snatched it away from Hohtun’s captain. He was so light on his feet he just danced though the tangle of bodies and found a open space. He ran for the goal.
He was almost there ... but a light-footed boy from Hohtun was on him.
Andreas threw the ball to Lukas. At first, Lukas didn’t seem to know what to do with it. His mind wasn’t on the game, I knew ... everyone knew. Including the other team. Then they were on top of him. That open space Andreas found was closed and Lukas was surrounded.
“Lukas!” I shouted. “Pass the ball to Antonius!”
It was too late; he reacted too slowly. He went down.
“Bloody hell!” someone cried out.
Somebody was hurt.
“Time, time!” I shouted.
“Sceofeld has called a time out!” the referee called and raised both arms and waved. “Two minutes!”
“Who’s hurt?” one of the boys asked.
“I’m okay!” Matthias said. “Just twisted my wrist, that’s all. It’s okay!”
Andreas swatted Matthias. “Careful, man, that wrist is too valuable to hurt.”
Matthias grinned at him. “Andy, you are on fire tonight!”
“Seriously, all of you, we are not playing at a hundred percent,” I said. “We’re not even playing at fifty percent. This is Hohtun. They’re playing an awful game, but we are losing! I don’t know what is wrong, but we’ve got to get our act together before we lose this match.”
“Maybe we need a new captain,” Markus said.
I ignored him, and turned to Lukas. “Brother, you have got to concentrate!”
He nodded. “I’m sorry, Johannes.”
“Have him sit on the bench,” Markus said.
“If you had passed him the ball when he was open a few minutes back we’d still be tied, Markus,” I said. “This is a team, do you understand?”
He didn’t say anything.
“We all know what to do,” I said. “We know Hohtun’s weaknesses. So let’s work together and win this, okay?”
Andreas, Matthias, and Antonius cheered. “Let’s to it!”
They trotted back to the center of the field. I stayed behind a step or two. “Lukas,” I called, “come here. I need to talk to you.”
“Yeah. I know. Concentrate. I’m trying.”
“I know. Just ... try to keep your mind on the game. I know it hard with all that’s happening in Niew Lifrapol right now, but — ”
“I’m sorry, I really am.”
“Just keep your focus, Luki. There’s nothing worrying can do to help matters. If you want out of the game, brother, just tell me and I’ll call someone off the bench.”
“No, I can do this.”
We joined the rest of the boys in the middle of the playing field.
The time-out ended and as soon as the referee shouted, “Go!” — I ran with the ball right through Hohtun’s weak center.
The next couple of minutes were insane, but I found myself jumping past the goal line just ahead of two or three of Hohtun’s strongest and fastest players. I couldn’t help but gloat and strut a little. It was a tie again.
And it stayed that way until there were only five minutes left on the clock. Matthias was aggressive on the field, but he wasn’t wild like he was during practice on Thursday. I suppose the coach’s warning got through to him. He was playing very well, and in harmony with Andreas. They were really the only two members of the team to play a serious game. And they won it for us.
We won, final score: 6 - 5.
I looked up into the bleachers and found my brother half way up, cheering, with Lindi at his side. Matti so seldom attended games that I felt my heart swell. I thrust my fist into the air and then pointed at him. He pointed back. Lindi was laughing and clapping.
Matthias and Andreas had their arms around each other, and they were obviously very pleased with themselves, and the way they had played. I have to admit, they made an effective pair.
Well, we won, but when we got back to the locker room, the coach was angry, and let us know just how badly we played. He had only one compliment, and that was payed to Andreas, whom he invited to come off the bench permanently if I agreed. And, of course, I did. Then coach let us know how poorly I had played, how poorly Lukas had played, and then he told Markus that he was to sit out the next game.
“Coach,” I protested, “Markus will play better next — ”
The coach ignored me. “Markus, you are going to sit out the next game regardless of what Kirkagárd says. Do you even understand what the word ‘teamwork’ means?”
Markus muttered something, I didn’t hear what though.
“You nearly lost to the very worst team in the shire,” the coach said. “Let me tell you something, boys, I consider this a very hollow victory. And so should you.”
* * *
My mother was in the living room reading when I came home following the game. Unlike my father, mum wasn’t particularly vain, and she dressed rather casually. She was in good health, but looked her forty-four years (and perhaps older as a result of the stresses of an unhappy marriage). Her hair, though graying, was the same bronze-color as Matti’s, she had the same dark blue-gray eyes, and similar features. She was undeniably still very pretty, but had chosen to age naturally rather than retain the appearance of youth through cosmetic surgery as my father had.
She looked up at me, and asked, “Hvorfor ar du kedt, Jóni?”
“Jig ar ikke kedt, moder,” I replied.
“Naj, naj, min són. Du ar kedt.”
“Okay, I am. I’m upset. I’m worried,” I said. “I’m worried about Lukas. I’m worried about his father.”
“I hate to say this, but you have good reason to be worried for Grundtvig,” she said. “It is nearly seven — the proconsul’s deadline — and the WCLW is holding firm in the cities in which the union is active. They are going to defy the government.”
“As a member of the union myself, I have been following things very carefully all day.” She put down the computer pad she had been reading from, and motioned me to sit on the couch beside her. “The WCLW is working very closely with the FSW — the Federation of Socialist Workers. The memberships of both unions voted to stand together in solidarity even through the Anglian National Congress of Labor has declared their intentions to obey the government’s edict and abandon the strike at seven. Unfortunately, the CWC has followed suit.”
“What about negotiations with the employers? Is there any hope that a mutually acceptable agreement might be had?”
“There have been no negotiations since this morning,” she said. “The leaders of the various firms feel no need to negotiate with the syndicates, Johannes. The State has already lined up behind them, and has shown its willingness to act on their behalf.”
“But, then, what good is defying the proconsul going to do? I mean, for God’s sake, mum, the strike-breakers have guns! And there’s the state militia too!”
“We have a long struggle ahead of us, Johannes; Labor’s rights will not be won back in a day or with a single concerted strike action, as this has been,” she said. “Labor will stand firm in the face of adversity because capitulation would signal their final unwillingness to act. Libertarianism is, above all else, about self-government, the freedom to act, and to carry through.”
That was true, but what if Lukas was right and things got ugly. What if.... Oh, God, running through the myriad of ‘what ifs’ never did any good.
“Mum, what’s wrong?” I asked when I noticed her long expression.
“Lukas’ father isn’t the only one in trouble,” she said. “I was called into the university chancellor’s office this afternoon. He was not happy.”
“Let’s start with the articles I write for Freedom & Fellowship and the International Labor Review. I am a ‘representative of the University,’ and the propagation of such ‘working-class radicalism’ does not well serve my position as head of the languages department. Or so the chancellor seems to believe. Ah, yes, and the university’s Board of Directors seems to think along those same lines as well,” she said. “Before the strikes broke out, my articles were merely the ‘utopian meanderings of a left-wing intellectual,’ or so the chancellor said, but now, now things are different. My ‘political agitation has become a liability.’”
“Herra weasel said that?”
“Yes, and more. My membership with the WCLW has become an issue as well,” she said. “Basically, he threatened me: Stop writing such ‘incendiary articles,’ or stop coming to work. He didn’t phrase it as such, but the message was clear nevertheless.”
“So, what are you going to do?”
She laughed. “Adopt a pen name, I suppose.”
I laughed with her.
“I am merely a writer; Grundtvig though is a fighter.”
“What do you think will happen tonight?”
She thought about it for a moment. “I don’t know.”
“Mum, please, be honest with me?” I demanded.
She shook her head. “My speculation will not help matters any, son.”
I knew she was correct. We sat for a long moment in silence.
“What are you reading?” I asked and reached for the computer pad at her side.
“Do you recall the writings of the Francian existentialist Ieremias-Stephanus von Mersch?”
I shook my head.
“He was a very widely read philosopher in the first half of twentieth century, Johannes,” she said. “He served with the Presidium of the Francian Social Democratic Republic, as chief executive for a year, as director of education for another, and a member at large for another two. He was a very young man — only twenty-six — when he took office.
“Von Mersch was the driving force behind the mutualist direction that republic took in its formative years. He turned European socialism on its head, and reoriented it away from statism — which had become so fashionable in the 1880s and 1890s — and toward its earlier libertarian ideal, the ideals Othmar Múller first articulated in his treatise The Workers’ Republic in 1832. Recall this statement? ‘Those who mistake the state for society have no understanding whatever of the nature of human socialization.’”
“I’m familiar with it,” I said.
“Von Mersch officially left politics after serving out his term with the Presidium in 1909,” she said. “His greatest contribution to society was not his work in office, but rather what he wrote following his political career. Among many others, he wrote The Principle of Reciprocity.”
“And that’s what you’re reading?” I asked.
She nodded. “I’ve read it before, when I was younger, as a student at the university.”
“What is it about?”
“In many ways it is a political treatise itself. But it deals directly with relationships between individuals, in small groups — including couples — bound together by either blood or some other affinity,” she said. “It is also about the role trust ultimately plays in a democratic society, particularly in a participatory democracy, and in economics.”
“As with a gift economy?”
“Yes, among others. Trust plays a particularly important role in free, open economies, and thus his emphasis on mutualism, free association communism, and certain mixed-market arrangements such as democratic- or social-market capitalism, rather than state socialism, and corporate capitalism.”
“Was Von Mersch an anarchist like the Russian Petrov?”
“No, not exactly. He believed the state could play a beneficial role, if its authority was strictly limited.”
“So he was a socialist liberal?”
“More or less,” she said. “He sought exile in Suedia in 1957 when the Francian Social Democracy was overrun by the Alemannians, and died in 1958 at the age of seventy-nine.”
“Reciprocity and trust ... such simple concepts, and yet so elusive.”
“It’s a heart-breaking truth, is it not?” she said. “Reciprocity is at the heart of every healthy human relationship, whether between husband and wife; parents and children; siblings; teachers and students; business associates and customers; co-workers.” She looked at me for a long moment. It was a meaningful look, I thought. “Between friends and lovers.” My heart raced.... Did she mean what I thought she meant? Was she talking about my relationship with Lukas? She knew? I didn’t have time to find out because she went on so quickly, “Reciprocity is essential to our humanity. I’ve spent more than twenty years trying to build a working relationship with your father. Trust requires work; it requires an exchange; it requires mutual benefit....” she trailed off, put one hand over her nose and mouth, and sighed.
“I hate to admit this, Johannes, but my marriage to your father is ... well, it’s beyond repair. There is nothing left. Our relationship is cold ... it has become meaningless,” she said. “But your relationship with Eadmund does not need to fall apart as well. Don’t take the same course your brother has. Mattæus has no love for your father, I know, and it pains me to see it. However, it doesn’t need to be the same with you.”
“Mum, I love father.”
“Try always, Johannes, to hold onto that then.”
To be continued....
* * *
I must apologize for the long wait between the last chapter and this one. I had the basic outline for this chapter worked out ... ah, but writer’s block! Well, sorry. The next chapter should be up fairly soon.