The Debate

by Mark Budman

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin had been resurrected. First, a mummy, then a political refugee and now a candidate for the President of the United States. He stood on the podium among the other candidates,  Lenin resplendent in his favorite clothing circa 1920, the lounge suit with wide, natural shaped shoulders, hip length straight fitting loose jacket, and two large pockets.  He wore the same suit while on display in the Mausoleum in Red Square.  He refused the upgrade suggestions. “It is not me,” he kept saying. “It is not my brand.”

He just learned the new term and used it liberally. No one dared to object because he would brand   anyone who got in his linguistic innovations as obstructionists and reactionaries. 

He prepared well for the debate: waxed the skin of his face, his mustache and the bald spot, trimmed his beard, and rubbed frankincense essential oil on the bottom of his feet and on his neck to help alleviate nervous energy and for the pleasant smell. 

Lenin was the first one to ascend the podium, and the hall exploded with the equal measure of applauds, boos and catcalls. He was afraid that the novelty of his resurrection, still unexplained by science, his triumphal arrival in the United States, and his controversial entry into the presidential primary had worn out, but it looked like he worried for nothing. The subsequent candidates were met with gasps and wows. They all wore the same early 20th century suits and ties as Lenin, some even with the bowler hats. The two women candidates—a former secretary of commerce who had to resign in disgrace after five months in office and who before that took a golden parachute from a computer company, and the current junior senator from the smallest state in the nation—boasted the same era dresses with trailing skirts, corsets and broad-brimmed hats. They clearly subscribed to the maxim that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, and that a corset did wonders for the female’s posture and her waist, chafing and aches be damned.

The host, an extra-tall, extra-thin, extra-blonde woman, with unblinking eyes, who had successfully resisted the temptation and wore a modern dress, started with Vladimir Ilyich. “Mr. Lenin, do you think that Americans would vote for a person who speaks English with an accent?”

Lenin was ready, of course. His wits and canned answers were an unbeatable combination. No one could take him by surprise. “If George Washington would come alive today,” he said, raising his hand with a clenched fist, “you’d say he spoke with an accent, too. British accent, Russian accent, it’s still accent. Accents change. The leaders are forever.”

Lenin was leading in the polls, of course, but that didn’t mean much to him. Polls were opinions, hearsay. He knew he would beat his opponents regardless of what the polls said. How could he not prevail against those bombastic, ill-mannered, ignorant, naive, short-fused people marred either by too much proximity to Washington or complete lack of experience? What did they know except fighting against gun control on the one end of the spectrum or for the mandatory minimum wage on another? Were they even remotely connected to the masses of the workers and peasants, er, voters? Did they have magnetic personalities of Lenin’s caliber? Of course not.

He stood between two male candidates. To the left fidgeted a self-styled Utopian Socialist. The one to the right called himself a Christian Anarchist for the Middle Class. He sported a Pinocchio nose and wild hair a la Boris Johnson. 

The next question was asked of the Utopian Socialist. “Will you say anything to get elected?”

The Socialist attempted a telegenic smile. “Not in my current incarnation. The American people know that I am always saying the truth. But look at Lenin. He appropriates every slogan from the trash bin of history. We don’t need more sloganeering in this country. Don’t waste your vote on him. Vote for the candidate for reform. Candidate for action. A name you know. A voice for smart growth, lower taxes, a voice for you. Integrity. Honesty. Commitment. That’s me.”

Lenin laughed. He expected the stabs no matter the questions asked. That meant he was ahead. Politicians always unite against the leaders of the pack. 

The host turned to the Christian Anarchist. “If you were an insurance company, what would you be?”

The Anarchist straightened his tie. Outside politics, he was a spokesman for an anti-itch cream. “That’s a provocative question. Of course, I’m for progress with the capital P, but the insurance companies are the tools of oppression.  We have to retain what is good in this country while moving forward. But someone like Lenin wants radical changes. As for me, promises made, promises kept. That’s what I’m doing. I just started to scratch the surface.”

They waited until the security removed yet another protester. This one carried a sign, “Lenin=zombie” written over a very childish painting of a zombie. The only thing that related it to Lenin was its bald spot. Not very original, Lenin thought. What had happened to America’s fabled creativity?

He glanced at the other candidates. All were jotting notes..

The next question was for the former secretary of commerce.

“Madame Secretary, what are your thoughts on illegal immigration besides the 50-foot wall around the entire US, even on the shores, that you promised to build?”

The former secretary adjusted her hat so the viewers could see her fighting eyes better. She was tall and fit, and her skin was carrot-colored, most probably spray-tanned.

“In the war of the words, Lenin is not an undocumented immigrant. That would be too easy. He is an illegal alien. He is illegal because he defiles the constitution, and he is alien because his ideas are foreign to us. Ask him about what part of the constitution prohibits him from running? How about Article II, Section 1, Clause 5? No Person except a natural born Citizen, shall be eligible to the Office of President. Unless Lenin was a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution? He is old, but not that old.”

Lenin nodded solemnly. He was prepared for this one. “No problem on that front. I was born again in America. I am a natural born Citizen. Don’t mistake it for a born-again Christian, though.”

And he chuckled. 

More applauds and catcalls.

“Mr. Lenin. You once said that the goal of socialism is communism. Do you still think so?”

Lenin smiled. He just picked up important endorsements from the former mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Sandie Burns, former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Bruce Li, a current real estate mogul, Donald Knave, and the president of Transnistria. His prospects had never been so bright. The right answers were just extra bonuses. 

“No amount of political freedom will satisfy the hungry masses,” he said. “Words come and go but the masses remain. Since I belong to no party, I will not follow a party line. As president, I will work tirelessly in the interests of the working people. But rich people, don’t worry. Some millionaires are working as well. I am amazed at how many pessimists live in this country. They are ready to give up at any signs of trouble. Here is my motto: If you don’t like something, change it. Just don’t sit there blushing prettily, being ashamed.”

An elderly man approached, his right hand rising.  A tiny, black object pointing at Lenin. It looked somewhat like Stalin’s pipe. Why was the man carrying it? Wasn’t smoking prohibited here?

“You immigrants are taking our jobs,” the man shouted. “You are raping us.”

The pipe popped once, twice, trice, farted really. The first bullet struck the Utopian Socialist in the face. The second buzzed Lenin’s ear. The third struck the ceiling after one Secret Service agent landed on top of the man, and another agent pulled Lenin to the floor.

Lying in a much undignified pose beneath the agent’s heavy body, shouts and cries rang out. He was curious. What would have happened if a bullet hit him? Would he die again? Would he bleed? Would it be painful? Something wet under his butt. Blood. Probably the Utopian Socialist. The precious socialist blood of which so little remained in this world. With that frightful realization, Lenin passed out. Too bad. He was winning the debate, but now, after showing his weakness in public, all bets were off. American voters never forgive. But one thing was clear: Americans needed another path between serving only the rich or only the poor. Call it the third rail. And that rail was Lenin. And as the current events had proven, Lenin was indestructible.

 

Mark Budman was born in the former Soviet Union. His writing appeared in American Scholar, Huffington Post, World Literature Today, Daily Science Fiction, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney’s, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, Sou’wester, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, the W.W. Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward and elsewhere. He is the publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press to wide critical acclaim. He co-edited flash fiction anthologies from Ooligan Press and Persea Books/Norton. He is at work on a novel about Lenin running for president of the United States. Read more at markbudman.com.

Flash of Love

flashTo me, flash fiction is characterized above all by the extraordinary compression of its form. In its extreme incarnation, flash borderlines narrative poetry and is even mistaken for it sometimes.

The flash story is lifted by intense feelings, situations and actions, and takes off and up and up, but never glides leisurely on warm currents. Every word counts, the structure is tight, and if you remove even the tiniest feather from its wings, the story collapses. Having only 500 words maximum—that’s my magazine’s requirement—the flash fiction writer has none of the space and time for maneuvering that a longer story writer has, but a good one turns this limitation to an advantage. Squeeze the fat out, and the muscle and bones would grow only stronger, the eyes sharper and the ears more attuned to the word of the world.

Out of a myriad and one plots, the story of love is probably the most common and, despite its commonality, the most attractive one to the reader.

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that most of us are looking for love in one way or another. Not necessarily romantic or sexual love, but a feeling as a way of affection and pleasure. Love can be an emotion toward a parent, sibling, significant other, neighbor (or even his wife) or just icecream. Sex is not high on some scales: if you Google the images for the word “love,” a couple doesn’t come up until the 10th image.

So, if you marry love and flash fiction, and if the marriage lasts, you might get a very affectionate, observant and intelligent child.

That’s what I hoped to do with The Games We Play.

Biologically, an average male presents himself as more pushy in many ways than an average female, and is particularly more assertive in the search of a mate. Perhaps ashamed of this animal drive, the human males try to veneer such assertiveness by words. Perhaps that was the foundation of poetry and chivalry.

I longed for love for as long as I remember. Not from the family whose love I took for granted, but from the females of the species, the mysterious half of the humanity, biologically and psychologically different from me. I marveled at their sights, scents, voices and actions. This love has never abated over the years.

Of course, the protagonist of my story is not me. In The Games We Play, I wanted to express the extreme, over the top, even suicidal longing of a quintessential male for a mystifying, desirable but unattainable female. I wanted to preserve the rhythms of poetry while maintaining the narration of prose. I wanted mystery because women were mysterious to him. I wanted a quest both as a goal and as a symbol.

My protagonist had already had once what he seeks now, but he lost it. He might lose it again if he finds it this time. Maybe it’s not even a mortal woman, but his muse. Maybe it’s the journey that he wants and not the destination.

Maybe the whole genre of flash fiction is a journey. A journey taken together: the reader, the writer, and his muse.

 


Mark Budman’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in such magazines asHuffington Post, World Literature Today, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney’s, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, Sou’wester, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, the W.W. Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, Short Fiction (UK), and elsewhere. He is the publisher of a flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press. He co-edited flash fiction anthologies from Ooligan Press and Persea Books/Norton.