From works for children to the macabre, from academic research to sports journalism, and from opinion essays to the erotic, M. Earl Smith is a writer that seeks to stretch the boundaries of genre and style. A native of Southeast Tennessee, M. Earl moved to Ohio at nineteen and, with success, reinvented himself as a writer after parting ways with his wife of eleven years. After graduating from Chatfield College, M. Earl matriculated to the University of Pennsylvania, where he now studies creative writing and history. When he’s not studying, M. Earl splits time between Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Chattanooga; with road trips to New York City, Wichita, Kansas, and Mystic, Connecticut in between.
Against the backdrop of a failed revolution, our characters learn what it means to fail, both on a global and a personal level. And from some failures, there is no return.
by M. Earl Smith
It was time.
Most tales of revolution end with an unhappy ending for those who dared to rise up against the system. For every Che Guevara there are a thousand variations of the Confederate States of America. Revolts fail because of timing, or resources, or superior forces, or even foolhardy decisions by would-be heroes whose foolishness end up costing more lives than they ever hoped to save. Sometimes, as we had learned by 2144 AD, revolutions rise up simply as a litmus test: Manufactured means for the powers that be to appeal to a primitive patriotism, a manner of checks and balances, a test, if you will, of the desires of the ones that are oppressed to press on in their desire to pacify their oppressors.
This is a tale of such a revolution, or rather, an individual account of my own, one that shows what could be lost by taking up arms against a force that will not be reckoned with. We revolutionaries, or Revo’s for short, had, in my humble view, fought the good fight. Truth be told, the onward march towards corporate slavery had advanced unchecked since the early part of the nineteenth century, and the ragtag band of misfits, romantics, and would-be sexual icons of our day had little chance of making a dent in the system. But we had to try, right?
After all, the money interests that had led what was formerly the United States into a cash-for-slavery system, where a minimum wage was nonexistent and mandatory 90 hour weeks were the norm, had to be stopped. Yet on it had advanced, unchecked, consuming all of Central and South America, then Canada, then westward to Africa and parts of Western Europe. People seemed all too willing to cast aside their families, their right, and their gods, all in the name of one more dollar. It was too late when they realized they were now bought and sold commodities, slaves in the truest form of the word. Now, a solid forty percent of the world’s population was working for what amounted to a paper existence in order to appease those who consumed. The lawyers, doctors and, sadly, intellectuals took advantage of this system, gouging prices on their services to ensure that the poor stayed poor. It was a vicious cycle, insomuch that the words “trickle-down” became somewhat of a mild epithet for the working class.
Yet, somehow, as the States were taking over as much as they could, Cuba survived. They survived when the United Nations, in conjunction with the business interests of the States, managed to cut off all forms of aid. Next was an embargo by all of the world’s nations, save a minority whose stance existed to provide moral support as opposed to real aid. Despite this, Cuba survived. Support slowly eroded, starting when South Korea took the North from the Jong Dynasty, followed by the 2057 invasion of Iran by the United States, and then the 2089 collapse of the Chinese nation, who descended from a juggernaut of over two billion people to a loose collection of 57 city-states, all run at the behest of one American enterprise or another. Russia turned inwards, locking itself up to the West and leaving its ally in the Caribbean to perish. Yet, as before, Cuba survived. The invasions started, and there were always men willing to channel the spirit of Che and fight on, repelling the bastards from the North despite their superior firepower and tactics.
In 2136, however, the powers that be decided that enough was enough. In a cruel pyrrhic victory, the States dropped a hydrogen bomb on Santa Clara. The devastation was a thousand times that of Hiroshima – just as the States intended. It is my thought that the hopes of our people disintegrated just as Che’s bones did when the bomb made impact. If that wasn’t enough to change our minds, the threat of a similar fate for Havana, was. In a move that most of us Revo’s denounced as treachery, Fidel’s great-great-great grandson Ernesto signed a treaty with the States that turned over control of our home to the Caps. In typical capitalist fashion, Santa Clara was rebuilt, with the Cuban nationals forced to foot the majority of the bill. Private enterprise moved onto the sugar farms, and it was not long before the people of our nation were just as much slaves as those in Brazil, in Angola, and in Portugal.
The Revo’s channeled the horror of our displacement into rebel fervor, with the aim of returning to the Cuban people what was theirs. As I stood in the doorway of the little shack that we had called our own, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of failure and disgust. It wasn’t so much at the failure of our mission. We were fighting a fool’s folly, and gone were the days when a group of less than a hundred windswept heroes could rally the unwashed masses to throw off the shackles of their oppression. War had evolved and winning was almost impossible when the other side played dirty. It wasn’t even the fact that I had brought the traitor into our midst, in a moment of lust-filled trust that I could not even begin to justify. She was an American, despite her Latin heritage, and she was the one that had fed the information back to the Caps that had led to our demise.
However, “demise” feels to light to describe what had happened to us. What happened was an annihilation of our identity. We were routed, down to a man. Well, two people survived. Marisol and I. As we fled, I had managed to beat a confession from her that made even my own stomach, hardened by the tides of war, curdle and retch in pain.
Standing in the bathroom, I watched streaks of water-diluted blood run down my hands, onto my wrists, to wrap around my forearms in a macabre, spider web pattern. Ignoring the droning of water in the background, I looked up at my reflection in the mirror. My nose pointed to the right, cracked along the bridge. I had not escaped her interrogation unscathed, and I almost laughed at my own foolishness. Marisol had a mean left cross; my face bore witness to that. Despite the pink tint of the water in the sink, I had gotten the far better of the exchange. Drying my arms, I stepped out of the shack into the rank, heavy heat of another muggy Cuban evening.
No, the thing that disgusted me the most was the fact that even now, I was helping her escape. In doing so, I was betraying the revolution. I was betraying the million or so that remained on the Isle, guaranteeing them several generations of slavery. I was betraying every platitude that I had been brought up to worship. I was betraying the name of the revolutionary giant that spawned my bloodline. The thing that disgusted me the most, however, was the thought that I was doing it for my own selfish desires. I was selling out everyone for a woman that I would never see again, and not to prove my love to her. Rather, the one desire that consumed me was saving myself.
The wind kicked up, blowing sand and a few dried, mottled palm leaves around us in a fantastic circle. A storm was coming, one with enough force to bend and sway the tall palms about us, another cruel blow to the people of this island. The air crackled with electricity as bolts danced across the dark gray canvas that was the Atlantic skyline. I knew this would be the last time I spoke to her.
Aside from noting the bruising on her eye, I found it difficult to look at her. As I spoke, I wondered what it was about this moment that made my voice sound like it belonged to someone else. Had I aged so much in such a short time? Was it true that all men betrayed, that all men lost heart?
“There is a man named Raul coming in a boat. The boat will run you from the beach here, to a safe house in the Florida Keys. From there, the CIA can help you find your way to Miami and, ultimately, Washington. And the Revo’s will do nothing to stop you. Including me.”
Marisol said nothing at first. There was a tremor, as if she feared I would strike her again, and then a nod as the wind whipped her matted, ebony locks about her face. She looked like a ghost of herself, a pale, shattered, unsure doll that no longer knew right from wrong. She had watched most of my comrades fall at the hands of the pigs, and it was my sincere hope that she was forever changed. Not that it mattered, mind you. The pigs had won. Her voice finally came to her, and she spoke:
“Remember what I said in Havana? Time no longer exists, and you and those fools you called friends were running out of luck. I wanted to warn you. I couldn’t.” She shot me a harsh glare. “One of us has to stay loyal to our ideals, and our nation.”
The urge to slap her returned, but I let it pass. She was far too gone for me to gain back, and besides, what would it prove? The battle was already lost, both the one for a nation and the one for her love, and I did not deserve to escape with my skin.
“Ideals. Beliefs. Nations. Freedom. Expedience. Love. Nothing. It’s all nothing, Marisol.” I sighed, and looked her in the eye. “You were right, and I’m sorry. Luck ran out. As did time. It was too much, too soon, and it was too good to last.”
She said nothing, instead simply choosing to nod again. The storm picked up, wind blowing about as the clouds finally broke. We were pelted with thin, chilled sheets of rain, but neither of us seemed to notice. In fact, all Marisol managed to do was lean her head onto my shoulder. I wrapped my arm around her, as to comfort her, and we both shed a few tears for the loss of what innocence we had left. Her grief was greater than mine, it seemed. Soon, her head was cradled in my lap, my hands wrapped around either side of her head, swaddling her in what could only be considered a protective embrace. Our eyes were locked. For all she had done, for all the deaths she had caused, for all the betrayal she had let me to, I still loved her, and I always would.
The moment was short, as Raul arrived, beaching his small craft and preparing to take one aboard. His eyes could have burned holes through me, but I didn’t care. I was too broken to push back. We said our goodbyes and Raul, still determined to kill me with a gaze, pulled the boat away. As they drifted away from shore, Marisol walked to the back of the boat, determined to keep her eyes locked on me as long as she could. Raul adjusted the speed, and they soon sped into the eye of the storm, and into darkness.
Free from her gaze, I turned and entered the cabin. I was scheduled to return to Havana in a week, to take my place as head of the new Provincial government. My appointment would last through at least one rigged set of elections, and I now could call myself a victorious patriot.
If they would not have vaporized him at Santa Clara, I’m sure, even to this day, that the bones of great-uncle Che would have risen from their grave and given me the comeuppance that I so justly deserved.