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Another Rainy Day

Today had been a day like any other in Fall River. As evening fell, a thick layer of fog rolled in from the ocean, obscuring streetlights and dampening spirits. The shadowy faces of darkened buildings loomed up through the haze. At ten o'clock, a slow drizzle began, and as the late night newscast started, two vagrants shuffled up to the window of an appliance store. They stood in front of the largest color monitor and listened to the voice that filtered through the window.

"In the news tonight, the owner of an Arborville grocery store faces the prospects of eviction from the building where he lives and operates his business. Last month, the store was robbed and vandalized, and Charles Jones can no longer afford the rent."

The vagrants sighed and one spoke. "Those stories always break my heart. I know what hard times are. Sometimes they can almost stop a man from dreaming." He paused to make sure he had the other man's attention, and then continued.

"I once ran for political office. I'd be president of the United States right now in it weren't for the criminals in our government. It was back in '53. I'd survived the primaries and nearly had my name on the democratic party ticket when disaster struck. An arsonist from my opponent's campaign committee burned my office to the ground. I lost all of my campaign plans. By the time I'd reorganized, it was too late."

"I guess that's the breaks, Mr. President," the other man replied, although he knew the story was a lie. The voice of the newscaster sounded again through the window.

"State prosecutors have charged Alexis Johnson with three counts of fraud. Yesterday, he was suspended from office as chairman of the county board of directors. A new chairman has been appointed in his place pending the results of Wednesday's hearing."

"Bad breaks," said the man who had run for president. "Politics is a dirty business. I should know. Even if he's not convicted, he won't get his job back. His name's been scarred and someone's already working in his place. Next thing you know, the poor guy'll be on the streets with us."

"Yeah, I know what it's like too. I was a king once. My family ruled a country in central Europe."

"Which country was that?" the president asked skeptically.

"Shaktania. It's just below Austria. That was a long time ago. Decades. There's a long sad story from those days that I prefer not to remember."

The president paused a moment and then asked the other man sympathetically. "If you'd like to talk about it . . ."

The king paused a moment to think, and then, with a faint smile appearing on his face, he began to speak. "It started ten thousand years ago, when my ancestors came west from Asia to conquer new territory. They were powerful men, and quickly subdued the people of the land. They ruled with a firm, but sensitive hand. Being a generous and thrifty people, they didn't tax too heavily, and the inhabitants of the land soon grew to love them dearly. They lived for centuries in perfect peace and harmony.

"During my father's reign, Shaktania had many years of great prosperity. Then, spies from the neighboring kingdom of Mascador began to infiltrate the land. They lusted endlessly over my father's great wealth. The spies murdered my father, and the kingdom fell to my shoulders. Immediately, we declared war, but the enemy forces came too quickly. We were met by their army before even reaching the border.

"They outnumbered us thirty-seven to one, but we fought valiantly, and nearly defeated them. On the very night when we would have crushed the invading forces from existence, the forest in which we hid was struck by lightning and caught fire. Only I and seven others escaped with our lives. I fled the country.

"Even now, I have frequent encounters with Mascadorian assassins. I came to America hoping to take refuge with my brother's family, but he laughed and turned me out onto the street. A fine way to treat a king. He was jealous of my power and high social standing."

The president scowled momentarily at the television and then at the king. "I don't believe it. I think you're just a bum like any other bum, and I don't want to hear any more of your lies."

The king turned sadly back to the television screen and the newscaster continued. "In Martin's Grove today, a fire claimed the homes of two families. Five people are dead and another is being treated at the county hospital for third degree burns. Authorities have not released information on the cause of the fire, but speculation concerning the possibility of arson has been made."

"Hey!" said the president. "Did I tell you that my wife and children were in my office when it burned down? They all died." The king did not respond, so he turned back to the window.

"Leaders from the United States and Canada joined today at memorial services in honor of seven U.S. marines who died last year in the service of our northern neighbors. The memorial commemorated a failed rescue attempt aimed at releasing three Canadian diplomats from Sandinista guerrillas."

The president spoke softly. "Why do people always dredge up the past and honor dead people. Why not do something for us who are still living."

"This has been Latenight News from Fall River. Join us again tomorrow evening for all the day's biggest stories. From all of us at channel nine to all of you, goodnight."

The two rulers gazed silently at the empty television screen. The king wiped his face with his coat sleeve and glanced sadly off into the street. After a moment, the president motioned to him and they shuffled away from the window, disappearing into the foggy night.

© 1986 Antone Roundy

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