from "The Ballad of Tangleton" by Jim Nawrocki


A few nights later, Park’s lover returned. Park saw him, made eye contact, and the young man followed him into the building carefully, at a distance, and even when sitting in one of the chairs in Park’s front room, he seemed uneasy. The street was quiet that night.

Park, somehow sensing that he had to make the first move, stood up from his own chair and walked across the room to the young man, standing over him, then reaching to caress his cheek.

“You owe me a story,” he said, kneeling on the floor next to the chair.

The boy looked at him. “I could tell you anything,” he said to Park. “And you wouldn’t know the difference.”

“I might,” he said. “After all, each one of us has heard versions of it before. You were born somewhere out in the settlements, or on your way there. They told you all about how the cities used to be, before it all happened. How it had been in Sydney, maybe. Or some of the others.”

“They’d lived in Paris,” said the young man. “And when things started to happen, they thought it might be safer here.”

“How soon did they see it all coming?” asked Park. “Most people didn’t.”

“You’re right,” he said. “They were privileged. My father was a high-level minister in the Polish government. He’d been serving as a diplomat, first in Korea. Then Egypt. He met my mother in Cairo. They’d been in Paris and had heard talk within the intelligence circles about the new weapons, about how the terrorist coalitions were starting to organize and target the financial centers. Then the plague started. They were able to get to Sydney about a year before things really started to turn.”

Park knew the rest. Sydney and other parts of the country had almost been overrun with plague refugees. The terrorists coordinated their strikes as soon as the plague started, figuring it was their last chance. They hit so many cities around the world that people really thought it was the end. In a sense, it was. Before the infrastructure broke down even more, Ring refugees had started to outnumber those fleeing the plague. Park remembered Stroessner’s phrase, the old life. The boy’s parents had had the means to get themselves out and to the relative safety of the outback settlements. Like most of the early ones, it had been a rough start.

“History is hard to come by, these days,” said Park. He was testing the young man. He sensed a keen intelligence, something beyond the surface charm of his articulateness. Somehow, somewhere along the line, the young man had had a very solid education. Probably in the same way that Park did, from the resources available through his formerly wealthy family, and then from one of the many groups of elders that ended up in the settlements, maybe someone like the one who had written the diary. At any rate, he was proving Park right. He tested Park as much as Park did him. The trust had grown between them slowly gradually.

“History is us, now,” said the young man. “We’re the ones who will have to make it.”
From his spot next to the chair Park moved round to the front, resting on his knees and he looked at him. “I still don’t know your name,” he said, waiting for the youth’s reaction.

Park heard him say, “Tah-dosh.”

“From your mother?” Park asked.

“My father, actually,” said Tadeusz. “It’s Polish.”

There was a hunger in his dark eyes that matched Park’s. Tadeusz bent down to kiss him and soon they lost themselves in each other.

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