THE MALL OF HEROES – Part VI
Work to Date
Miniature forklifts and mobile cranes scurried like armoured beetles between the rows of statues. Stone masons worked on their knees ahead of the vehicles, laying differently coloured slabs of granite in random patterns. Crated statues stood stacked upon one another and cast a wall of shadow. Elegant wrought iron fencing was being erected inside the perimeter of the construction hoarding. The pageantry poles lining the great entry had been raised and secured. The country’s schoolchildren had been directed by the Department of Education and Human Resources to submit design considerations for the as yet to be installed decorative banners and bunting.
The grey man walked beside the National Librarian. Together they stepped over cables and skirted tools and machines enshrouded with dirt and dust. He’d been Stefan’s adjutant, his secretary, his chauffeur, his bodyguard, his right hand for a little more than four years. ‘Hasn’t the progress been astounding?’ Stefan asked him, shouting. ‘Absolutely remarkable. So far ahead of schedule. The Secretary says that the Overlord is well pleased with our work.’
The grey man’s reply was lost in the din of motors and buzzing saws and drills. Stefan hooked his arm, turning him abruptly, pulling him backward the way they’d come and away from the noise. ‘I’ve a mind to take the afternoon off and watch the World Cup match. I like our chances against Quebec. I’ve even made a wager with Gingras,’ Stefan confided.
‘I wouldn’t be so confident if it was hockey.’
‘Of course not,’ Stefan agreed. ‘Anyway, I believe it’s your turn to buy.’
‘What about the National Library, sir?’
‘I’ve minions now, my friend, they have their instructions. They won’t miss us,’ Stefan laughed.
You, thought the grey man, are still the little fellow I first met at the train station, to have power and mock it, to remain willfully naïve, a remunerated pawn in days like these.
Stefan paused at the entry and looked back at all the posed figures. ‘Absolutely remarkable,’ he repeated. ‘The Mall has become a bit of a parlour game at home. One evening a week I sit with my wife and son and create a new list of proposed statues to submit to the Secretary. “This week our candidates will be explorers or scientists or poets!” My son always insists on military generals,’ he chuckled. ‘And Gingras keeps accelerating production and so the lists keep getting longer. I mean does Ogden Nash really rate with Shakespeare or Homer? It’s a bit of a game.’ He pointed to a stack of unopened crates. ‘There’s a pyramid of painters!’
Stefan continued, ‘Seriously, I was cynical about this endeavour at the outset. I didn’t even want the job. I’ve since come around to the Overlord’s point of view.’
‘Always best to agree with the Overlord, sir’ the grey man murmured.
‘This Mall really will inspire the people,’ Stefan said. ‘I believe that. It celebrates the absolute epitome of human achievement.’
‘Or scare them to death,’ the grey man replied, ‘if they knew its secret.’
‘I don’t understand what you’re talking about.’
‘You haven’t made the connection, although I don’t know why you would. If you were to compare the published statistics regarding the reduction of the prison population to your statue production, it’s likely that you would see that they match almost exactly.’
The National Librarian stared at the grey man. ‘I don’t…’
Stefan marched down an avenue gazing up at the statues on both sides of him. All of their facial features were unique and most resembled their subjects as far as his excavated records showed. Some of the heroes seemed to be watching him. Had every name on his lists, his family’s Friday night fun lists, condemned a prisoner to death? No! It couldn’t be. He remembered the stomach-churning stench at the artisanal facility beside the penitentiary, the apologetic Doctor Gingras, the reek of chemicals snaking beneath wafts of something akin to roasting meat, the grey man’s expressive blue eyes.
Stefan reeled and bent over. He dropped to his knees. He vomited into his cupped hands. The lovely polished stone. Stains. He examined his complacent dripping palms. He half raised his head and saw the grey man standing there a few metres away watching him, his clean gloved hands thrust into his overcoat pockets.