The Game One Plays

Posted on November 23, 2004 by Jenna

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Dolls have a monarchistic streak. They are trained in authority from the moment of their making. It is not so with the weebles, who wobble but do not fall down; nor with the teddy bears, who are most sensibly gregarious; nor the sock puppets, that prefer to brood in solipsistic silence, down at the heart of the world.

The bombs fall, and there is a long silence.

Time passes.

It is 2138, and up to the gallows they march them: the King and his daughter Meredith. Their nooses hang side by side.

“By what right do you do this?” Meredith asks.

It is Saul who comes forward to speak for the crowd. Saul lifts his chin. He looks her in the eye.

“Because,” Saul says, “he has grown cruel.”

The King is indifferent. He looks past these men.

“When I was a child,” says Meredith, “my mother broke the rules of my kind. She fell into the basement. She could not reach the stairs. The rats and spiders tore her apart. And as I stood there, looking down, thinking that I might cast myself after her—might save her—the King’s dream car passed by. And he looked out. And he said, ‘Bring her.’ And they dragged me back. And since then he has raised me. And loved me. Is this a cruel man?”

“We live in poverty,” says Saul. “And he in wealth. He has kept for himself our treasures. And he does nothing to save us.”

The King flinches. Then his gaze is stern again.

“We were sixty,” says Saul. “And now we are twelve.”

The King’s teeth clench. But still he is silent: silent until Max, standing by the noose, beckons him back. Then, as the King steps back, the words force themselves from his throat.

“I was left in charge,” he says.

Max takes his arm. Max drags him back.

“No,” says the King. “No. The human child. She left me in charge.

“We molder,” whispers Saul, “while you play in your dream house and dentist’s office.”

The noose wraps around the King’s neck. It is soft and uncompromising, woven from the last few strands of Barbie’s hair.

The trapdoor opens. There is a sound like the snap of bone.

Meredith’s eyes are wide. Max turns to her.

“Disclaim him,” he says. “Abandon him, and we may let you live.”

There is something animal in Meredith’s eyes. She puts her fist to her mouth. She does not speak, but with a convulsive motion sits down at the gallows’ edge. She rocks back and forth.

Max looks at Saul.

After a moment, Saul shrugs. “Leave her be,” he says. “We are only twelve.”

Max nods.

“Her head is, any road, somewhat smaller than her neck.”

So Saul walks away, and Max walks away. The crowd disperses, through the dust and the cobwebs, to loot through the night the treasures of the realm.

Morning comes.

Meredith pulls the King from the noose. She stretches him out on the platform. She crouches over him, wobbling forward and back.

“Wake up,” she says. “Wake up. It’s morning.”

The King does not open his eyes. His eyes cannot be closed. But there is a certain sense that comes to them, after a while.

“Death is the emptiness that howls,” he says.

Her face twitches.

“Why are you cruel?” she demands. “Why are you cruel? Why do they play this game?”

He pulls himself to his feet. He dusts off his shirt and pants. He looks at her. For a moment, there is sympathy in his eyes. Then there is only regal detachment.

“It is the game,” he says, “one plays with Kings.”

There is a long silence.

“Weebles favor a parliamentary democracy,” she observes.