In front of me, stands a man that looks exactly like I do. Behind me, is another man who looks exactly like myself. In fact, stretching before and behind me, as far as the eye can see, are men who bear the same identical features. The line moves slowly, excruciatingly so. Since we’ve been here we have inched forward only three times. Occasionally, other men who look like us pass by to ensure we remain as we are, in the line. They are armed and wear different clothing. We can hardly remember a day that has passed where we weren’t standing in this line, wondering what’s up ahead. It’s been so long that we’ve forgotten, likely all of us, what lies behind us, passing it so long ago. We must have passed something at one point, but all we can remember is the line. There must have been movement–a history–for we are where we are. All of us, I mean. But for the very life of me–of us–we can’t remember. But surely men are not born in a line. Are men born in a line? I shout. The me behind myself elbows me in the ribs, urging silence so as not to attract the guards. The me in front of myself glares at me, as if he’s somehow better than me. I open my mouth to respond but feel a firm hand on my shoulder. I turn around to see myself, dressed in olive fatigues and a face like ice. Ah I say, I could just–before I can finish, he raises the butt of the gun and drives it into our shoulder, bringing us to our knees. Shut up, I say to myself, then continue on down the line. I look up to my comrades in protest, but I–they–remain silent. I wonder if we were trained–I mean the guards. Probably not, I think. Probably just slapped a uniform on us. I’m fed up with standing in this bloody line. It is said that the lines in which we wait are vast and imperceptible at times. Excuse me, I ask myself (the one in front) but am elbowed in the ribs. Undeterred, I continue. Do you have any idea why we’re–I’m cut off by a more jarring blow now from the butt of my very own (man in uniform) rifle. The sky is so grey it’s hardly worth mentioning.
I have spent an entire day shooting myself in the face. In all honesty I’ve only shot myself in the face once or twice, but once is enough to make the hours extend themselves into excruciatingly long blocks of time. For example, when I relieve myself, all I can think about is my penis as an extension of my arm, shooting myself in the face. Then in the mirror in which I gaze while washing, the face reflected back at me is not my face at that moment in time but the horrible confused grimace I bore when I shot myself in the face not hours earlier. It is for this these days are long. At least you’re not the one being shot, you say. But aren’t I? The soap dispenser shoots its foamy liquid and we, ourselves, in the face. We exit the bathroom, say hello to numbers 1-12 in reception and then exit the guard building and position ourselves upon our assigned segment of the line, where one of us is beginning to get agitated. After so many years we can all tell the ones on edge by a glance. Sweet Christ, I think. I jam myself in the ribs with the butt of my rifle, hoping to nip it in the bud quickly. I (they) open my mouth to protest but think better of it and we’re satisfied momentarily, striding off in the direction of the horizon. Somewhere far in the distance a shot echoes, bouncing between the mountainous tree tops.
The Men Upstairs
What do we want for lunch? What we always get, number 35 says, we all like the same thing. Shouldn’t we try something different, I wonder. We keep this thought to ourselves. Nobody’s up for promotion yet. We are the firebrands, the best of our kind. But to try something different–no. Unity begets vigor. Cultured among the rest of our kind in a vacuum, there’s not much else we can do. Where to go is always met by similar faces. I know how I will greet myself each morning, devoid of mystery. Team 1 is everybody who was born yesterday and when the next shift changes, it’ll be the ones created the day before that. There are small drones that look like us but much smaller, god only knows why. They handle all the coffee runs. Our assignment is to monitor the line and if any one of us down there takes a step too far in the wrong direction, we’re tasked with the terrible. The guards often do what they like but they still need orders. The only comfort is knowing what our next move will be. Down below, the landscape–the never-ending line of ourselves–bears a striking resemblance to the canal of our palm. We trace with our fingertip and look there, then out again. A spot just barely catches the light, before the line snakes around a corner. Call it in, someone says and elbows me in the ribs as they pass our console. Call it in now. I do and the dot disappears, like a blip on radar. Much farther back, we shuffle ourselves forward a few more inches–