Once I bit lustily from the fruit;
until the shivering insult of rot
learned me to be cautious forever.
“Fourteen… thirty-five?” He felt stupid saying it so slowly, but it sounded wrong.
“Yep,” the woman sitting on the other side of the table said. He thought he saw a slight leer. “You want it?”
“Ummm, well, I, uh, hmmm…” He had an uncomfortable sense that she somehow understood his disfluencies better than he did. “I’m not sure, hmmm. What is it?”
“It’s a clock. Antique. It’s worth at least a hundred and fifty but I gotta get rid of it.”
“A deal,” he thought. “Maybe. This lady knows what she’s doing. Probably not $150, maybe less, but who knows? Maybe it’s worth even more. I could get Sam to look at it… Besides, it would look good on the bookcase, next to the lamp.”
What he said was, “Huh,” but again he sensed that she was reading him more closely than he would have liked.
The vendor sat at the edge of a plastic folding chair, arms folded, with raven-black hair, wearing a dark purple dress made of what looked like velvet, the steward of a table covered with old dolls, old bottles, old mirrors, objects waiting for a place to go besides the dump. The table’s faux oak veneer was peeling, revealing the damaged particleboard underneath.
“It’s nice,” she said.
It was, he agreed. But it also looked heavy, and he had a long train ride home.
“Yeah…” He started to pull back.
“You can have it for ten. I gotta get rid of it.”
He tried to remember what was in his wallet. Did he have a ten? He was pretty sure he had a twenty, but sometimes these flea market people didn’t have change, and they had to go to the next table, to their… friends? Probably more of a you-scratch-my-back kind of situation (now that was an old saying). Anyway, he definitely didn’t have… fourteen-thirty-five, and didn’t feel like spending more time with this transaction than necessary, and already regretted following his curiosity to this weird place, and this weird woman, with her weird table, but if he had a ten on him, what the hell, it was a nice… clock, or whatever it was. It didn’t look like a clock to him, but it looked old and ornate and brassy, and they don’t make things like they used to, and it would give his apartment a slightly classier feel, and… She was staring at him, waiting, waiting for a decision, while he tried to remember if he had broken a twenty recently… He had! Yesterday, when he stopped by the deli to get a coffee. The guy hadn’t been crazy about giving him nineteen dollars in change, either.
“Sure,” he said.
He took out his wallet. There was no ten, only three twenties and a few singles. He blankly handed her a twenty.
“Hold on, I’ll get you your change,” she said, and headed to the adjacent table.
“Careful, it’s heavy.”
I am writing on the eve of the Iowa caucus with a plea to voters in Iowa, many who see Donald Trump as the answer to American’s problems.
He is not. His rhetoric against Islam and Muslims is already pouring gasoline on a conflagration, serving no other purpose, and his election to the presidency would have the effect of increasing the quantity of gasoline a million-fold. Members of the three great monotheistic religions have coexisted peacefully together before, so it is not without precedent that I still have cautious optimism that it can happen again in my lifetime.
I cannot speak for all Americans, but I do not want my president to lead my country into a religious war with Islam. There can be no winner in such a war. The dangers are too great. And the only security system in the world that can prevent random attacks is a totalitarian one.
The election of Donald Trump to the presidency would only escalate the tension between Islam and the West. I am concerned that his election could lead to a thermonuclear event in the next ten years, on one side or the other.
Again, today I plead with my fellow American citizens of the great state of Iowa. Please do not elect Mr. Trump to be leader of the Free World. We will be more safe and secure as a country without the terrifying drastic measures he has proposed.
Thank you for reading this.
Daniel M. Tsadok
The string in my single-quotes
automation flows forth:
the incantation remembered,
I sigh imperceptibly
as my variable expressions are manifest
and my output
is deemed satisfactory.
You cannot escape the cauldron of being you,
time’s eternal tempest;
the stillness at its center
with an elusive peace.
Its spindly legs grope frantically
for an exit from its mysterious
translucent prison. The bottom
is familiar – rough and shaggy.
The perimeter is deception,
the illusion of freedom,
summoned from above by a malevolent demigod.
She, too, familiar.
What foul magic hath sealed in this crafty creature,
even with the air around it?
What sport of it maketh these alien adjudicators
as requital for its transgression;
daring to scavenge for crumbs
in the light
just after lunchtime?
(Warning: Dune Spoilers Aplenty)
In Frank Herbert‘s novel Dune, the feud between the Atreides and the Harkonnens was “kanly” – no holds barred. The word appears early in the novel, when the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is discomforted by the Duke Leto Atreides‘ usage of the word in their final correspondence, in which the Duke refuses to meet with the Baron for a peace negotiation. It is within this context that the story of Dune begins.
This feud reached its climax in a Harkonnen surprise attack on the Atreides home on Arrakis, in which House Atreides was virtually wiped out, with the exception of a handful of Atreides survivors, including the Lady Jessica Atreides and her son, Paul Atreides, the ducal heir.
The extent of the Harkonnen victory gives the impression that the Duke was outmatched. Even the Lady Jessica thought of the Baron Harkonnen as “too potent an adversary” when she encountered him the aftermath of the Baron’s victory. However, the Duke Leto may have been the greatest tactician alive in the universe at the time, superior to the Baron. He was aware that Arrakis was a trap, and even that the Padishah Emperor had secretly sided with the Harkonnens. He knew that the spice harvesting equipment would be damaged, and that he would be blamed for a poor harvest. But he walked into the trap knowing also that the spice melange was the most precious commodity in the universe, and that control of Arrakis would give him tremendous power and wealth. He also knew that the native Fremen would make potent allies on the planet. He was supported by talented people, some “legends in their own lifetime”. The Duke came to Arrakis as prepared as one could be under the circumstances.
How then, did the Duke allow himself to fall victim to the Harkonnen attack? Leto made several critical errors. A direct attack by the Harkonnens, even one aided by the Emperor, might not have succeeded, and a failed attack on the Duke could be disastrous for both the Baron and the Emperor. The attack must involve treachery.
The Duke knew this, of course. The Lady Jessica had received warnings of treachery through her Bene Gesserit sisterhood, in a message hidden in the Bene Gesserit way: written in a form of braille on a leaf in the royal gardens on Arrakis. His son Paul heard similar warnings from the Fremen, whom the Atreides were already courting as allies, after saving the life of his Fremen housekeeper. The Duke, while aware of the danger, still did not know, however, “which hand held the knife”.
The Harkonnen master stroke, most likely devised by the Baron’s advisor, mentat Piter De Vries, came in the form of a “scrap of a note”, with the Baron’s own seal, implicating the Lady Jessica as the Atreides traitor, falling into the hands of the Atreides mentat, Thufir Hawat, the Duke’s “Master of Asassins”.
In the moment that Hawat, shaking, approached the Duke with news of the note, the Duke made a fatal error. The Duke decided to pretend that he believed the note, in the hopes that the real traitor might lower their guard. As part of this decision, he pulled his best man, Swordsmaster Duncan Idaho, from a critical mission recruiting the Fremen to keep the Lady Jessica under surveillance. Hawat was similarly distracted from detecting other threats, especially the real traitor, Paul’s tutor, Dr. Wellington Yueh, who betrayed the Atreides by deactivating the Atreides House shields immediately before the Harkonnen attack.
Why did the Duke weaken himself so? Why play out a charade of distance from his partner when he most needed her counsel, trained as she was as a Bene Gesserit? Why, when he must have known in his heart that the Lady Jessica, whom he hadn’t married in hopes of making an alliance with another Great House, not only had his best interests in mind, but loved him, and their son?
One factor may be that Leto relied overly on Hawat, a human computer, and one of the best mentats in history. Hawat had virtually complete control of security in House Atreides, and when the evidence alleging Jessica’s involvement with the Harkonnens reached his hands, he was overwhelmed by the possibility, as intended by De Vries. To Hawat, the Lady Jessica was a much more obvious suspect than Yueh, who was Imperially conditioned not to harm the Atreides. Only the twisted mind of De Vries could imagine the possibility of breaking such conditioning, and Hawat could not.
The Baron understood the limits of a mentat well. The Baron saw De Vries only as a dangerous tool to be used. He instructed his nephew, the presumed heir to the barony, Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, on the limits of a mentat (in the presence of De Vries) before making his attack. The Duke failed to understand Hawat’s limitations. Jessica, by contrast, realized that Hawat was vulnerable, and that the note was aimed at him. She even presented this possibility to Hawat, making him realize that he himself was a target of Harkonnen intrigue, something he had left out of his computations, thus exposing the mentat’s blind spot. But too late.
Leto’s more fundamental error was to deny the love that bound himself and Jessica, love that he should have realized transcended any of the intrigues that the Harkonnens had put against them. It was only when Leto denied this love that he was lost. Shortly before the Harkonnen attack, Leto made the decision to change his strategy and marry the Laddy Jessica. But too late. The Harkonnen attack was already upon him.
Would the Atreides have prevailed had the Duke married the Lady Jessica? Given the disastrous results of Leto’s decision to instead follow Hawat’s plan, it is likely that the marriage would have raised morale and strengthened House Atreides at a critical time, focused Hawat’s energies more productively, and allowed Idaho to cement his bond with the Fremen. Yueh might have been exposed in time, and Harkonnen attack, stripped of a critical element, might have been postponed, giving the Atreides enough time to recruit the Fremen, allowing them to repel virtually any attack.
Jessica herself, always completely loyal to the Atreides, had been ignorant of her parentage until her extraordinarily gifted son noted the genetic markers in her and himself shortly after the attack. The fact that Jessica actually was a Harkonnen, and the daughter of the Baron, no less, should be considered among the great ironies in modern fiction.