Fessay So Myself

You are witnessing the invention of a new literary form, the fessay. This is a fictional essay. It takes a news item, writes a column-length (750-900 words) response, but uses a fictional format. The name "fessay" is my copyright and requires permission for use.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

SADDAM SHAME by Jay D. Homnick (Fessay #5)

(NEWS ITEM: Special Presidential commission reports severe failures of intelligence concerning weapons of mass destruction in period leading up to invasion of Iraq.)

The chief called me on the interoffice line, “Come on upstairs, POTUS is having hot flashes.” POTUS, in C.I.A. shorthand, being President Of The United States.
It’s never good for the chief to get nervous, so I was up in a blink to hold his hand. POTUS was looking for ammo to give to Powell to take up to Annan. They wanted old Kofi to get out of the way so they could take Saddam down once and forever. If they didn’t get him soon, he would kick the bucket and Uday and Qusay would catch it. Then we’d have two monsters for the price of one.
“Harlan,” he says to me. “We need Sahara on this. I want you to get on a plane and bring me back some red meat from your boy. Humint, Harlan, humint.” Humint is Agency shorthand for human intelligence, real people, old-fashioned spies who penetrate to the very heart of the enemy, who risk all for the sake of a far-off free nation that is but a dream. They live in fear and privation without the comfort of camaraderie and season tickets for the Redskins.
Sahara was short for Madda Sahara, my prize agent, an intrepid warrior circulating within the inner circle of Saddam Hussein. My name for him was a play on the famous spy Mata Hari, with a desert theme - plus the name Saddam written backwards at the beginning. That’s what I told the suits, anyway. Personally I rigged it that way because phonetically it reads like ‘mad as a hatter’. Many of the Agency’s reports on Saddam were based on the platinum humint of Sahara.
I assured him that Sahara would dig deep into his treasures if I went to hold his hand. To meet in Iraq itself was too scary but a meeting in Jordan was possible, since his position in Saddam’s government allowed him to fly frequently to Jordan on official matters. The chief reminded me to use the Frederickson passport from the Bahamas, and he signed off on a boatload of cash in the Bahamas bank.
The way that works is that I have a separate identity named Frederickson who is theoretically a citizen of the Bahamas. I fly from here to Freeport using an American passport, pick up the operational fund in the bank there and then buy tickets for the Middle East as Frederickson who is a fashion photographer based out of the Bahamas. Sahara is a joint venture between us and M.I. 6 and my partner in managing him is the lovely Sandra Kendrick, once Miss London (and still upset about losing Miss England to a Pakistani immigrant), who travels as an international fashion model and is a very effective spook.
The Sahara management was based on the idea that she and I fly to the Middle East periodically for fashion shoots that involve desert scenes and the like. This time, after my powwow with the chief, I got on the phone to M.I. 6 and went through the usual ridiculous rigmarole of getting routed through every pompous little Oxford geek until I finally got through to my lady.
“Howdy, pahdner,” she says, with a thick Texas drawl. She can do about twenty accents and each one is to die for.
“It’s POTUS,” I said. “He wants to float us.” That was a code between us. It meant that they wanted us to travel. The extra joke in there comes from the fact that CIA parlance for the wife of POTUS is FLOTUS, First Lady Of the United States.
“Trying to bag Big Daddy?” That was her way of asking if they were looking to topple Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.
“The mother of all bags,” I said, which was my way of saying yes, alluding to Saddam’s statement before the 1991 Gulf War that it would be the mother of all wars.
The next day I was on the plane. Nice smooth landing in Freeport as Mr. Gibbs. Went straight to the bank, picked up my cash. I looked into the safe deposit box at the Frederickson passport, almost took it like a good boy, but I resisted the urge. Why bother? From there to the hotel, where I took a sweet suite for Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs.
Those two weeks were the best ever. As far as our bosses were concerned we were in Jordan debriefing Sahara, that brilliant agent whom we had developed ourselves. Of course we had no need to actually go, because we had recruited Sahara from our own imaginations.
The day before we had to head back we were lying on the beach and Sandra said, “So what are we putting in the report? What goodies does Saddam have now?” She stood up and put her hand on her hip in finest Miss London form.
“Biological,” I said. “He has potent biological weapons.”

Friday, April 01, 2005

THE BIG DAY by Jay D. Homnick (Fessay #4)

(NEWS ITEM: Judge orders Terri Schiavo starved to death. Many people polled disregard the merits of the case but enthusiastically support her dying because she “has no quality of life”.)

I remember the day they came for the cripples.

Mummy was still here, you know, she was huddled beside me as we watched through the window. The trucks were gray and had a special motor that made almost no sound, just a quiet hum. When they pulled up on our street, they never killed the engine; it just sat at the curb doing its little throb while they loaded people into the back, people with wheelchairs and walkers and canes. They all went silently, with profound looks of resignation on their faces. The policemen had no expressions at all, though, not happy, not sad, not angry, not regretful, just blank, uninterested.

I recognized most of them from around the neighborhood, even Mrs. Byrnes who used to lean out the window to pretend she was standing. But her cleaning lady told that she really was living in the wheelchair, and they took her away. Still, they never took Professor Cook, even though he could only move his fingers. Mummy said it was because he used to spy and inform on the others who would take pity on him and visit. He never did get taken as a cripple, but he failed his Tribunal later.

When it was Mummy’s turn for her Tribunal, Daddy worked with her for weeks before to prepare. He kept telling her to remember that beauty is in the mind, that it’s really a state of inner being, that if she believed in herself she could pass. For a few weeks, it was really working and I could see her begin to glow like she never had. Then the card came that tells the name of the Tribunal members; Mummy’s had two women and a man. She got really discouraged from that, because she said the women judge more harshly.

She never gave up, though. She left the house that day with a lot of energy. I could see she had pep and vim and zest and gusto, all those things Daddy kept telling her were the keys to true beauty. If you asked me, she looked like an angel that day. Even with two women on the Tribunal, she should have passed. But it was the mole, always the mole, right there on her neck. That spelled real trouble if they saw, so she wore a turtleneck although the weather was warmish.

They told me later that she had gotten through most of it and she came so close to being cleared. Except one of those ladies suddenly dropped an earring and Mummy bent over as a reflex because she was kind. She realized that they had seen it and she knew it was over, so she just asked if she could see me one more time instead of a last meal. The man voted yes and the women abstained, so she came.

I was crying so much when she told me but she kept saying to be strong. Even though mine is in the same place and is maybe a little bigger, she kept assuring me that when my time came I would approach the Tribunal with enough confidence to win them over. She was so brave and she never shed a tear in front of me. Later they sent me her dress and I still keep it in my closet to remember.

I wanted Daddy to make a twenty-first birthday party for me a few days before my actual birthday, because the Tribunal is scheduled on the day itself. Dad refused, saying that he could not let me harbor the tiniest doubt that I would not make it. It’s just five more days now and I feel like I’m really ready. I keep saying it to myself over and over: Beauty is a state of inner being. Plus my Tribunal has two men and a woman. And also I have Mummy’s turtleneck.

I’ll be fine.