“One Hundred Years of Servitude” by James Vachowski

Tonight’s the night. My hands shake as they adjust my bow tie. Showered, shaven, not a hair out of place, I flash the mirror my most sincere look of appreciation while rehearsing the speech yet again. I know it word for word, yes, but practice makes perfect.

Still, I am nervous.

I feel her arms upon my shoulders. She reaches around in a warm embrace. Her hands close on mine and cinch the knot about my collar. Our eyes meet in the reflection. Her warm brown gaze is a loving vote of confidence. She makes not a sound.

She doesn’t have to.

With a sigh, I bare my soul to her. “Ah, my Bobo. Where would I be without you?” Fully dressed now, I turn to face her. “You know, I couldn’t have done any of it without you. You know that, don’t you?”

She smiles at me. She knows. She stands high on her toes, reaching up to plant a wet kiss on my cheek.

She smells of ink.

I glance at my watch. A Rolex. I bought it new, to match my success. “We’d better get moving.”
The limousine awaits. We ease into its luxury and set off. Outside, the crisp dark of a wintry night settles over the boulevard as we roll along. I lean back and stretch my legs, warm in my cocoon and content to watch the city’s lit windows pass by in a blur. “Ah, Stockholm.”

We arrive. The door opens. I emerge to flashbulbs.

“Sir, can you comment on the recent allegations of torture!”
“What do you have to say about the accusations of cruelty! Of the captivity?”
“Will you comment on the statements in today’s New York Times? Are they true?”

I give my Bobo a gentle wave, her signal to remain in the car. A patient smile from her, coupled with a nod of understanding. She’s been through this before. At times her entire family has. I close the door firmly, shaking my head the same way. No interviews. Thankfully, a policeman parts the crowd and shows me through. Once inside the foyer, I breathe easier. Where there used to be crowds of protestors, now there are crowds of reporters. These days, my quiet moments have all but disappeared.

As I am late, they escort me directly to the stage. Seated in the wing, I hear my introduction but miss the words. The bright floor lights flash me back to other times, other places, so many years before.

Back to the thin roads of blacktopped highway I would drive late at night. The truck’s worn springs jolted with each bump in the road as the cardboard crates full of discount typewriter ribbon jostled about in the bed.

Back to the cold sidewalk underneath my Bloomsbury flat, the front door chained shut and posted with an eviction notice. They called me a fool then for squandering my entire inheritance on banana futures.

And back to my beloved farmhouse in the Cotswolds, with the lines of PETA activists stretching out along the lane. Many a sharp elbow I caught while forcing my way through their ranks, defenseless as both arms were laden with manuscripts.

And the shipping! Thousands of pounds sterling over the years! Enough money to feed and clothe a small East African village, spent on what?

Stamps.

My reverie is broken by the announcer’s change in tone. “…and so, in recognition of all his accomplishments, from his groundbreaking debut work ‘Simian’ to his most recent bestseller in thirty-two countries, ‘Jane Goodall? She Ate My Head Lice,’ I am proud to present this year’s Nobel Laureate for Literature…”

I smile at my cue and walk briskly onto the stage. The audience smiles back. They rise in a wave of thunderous applause. I am reassured.

It was all worth it.

An embrace from the announcer whose name I have already forgotten. A wave to the crowd. The briefest moment of awkwardness while the applause dies down.

I step to the podium, stand tall, and pull the speech from my pocket. The fresh ink on the note cards has smudged onto my white dress shirt. I look down and smile upon seeing the familiar rows of neat typescript. Ah Bobo. You don’t miss a trick.

The spotlights glare from overhead as I examine the printed text. It may be a simple message of gratitude. It may be a work of oratory genius. It may be sheer gibberish. There is no way for me to know. Though the tears cloud my eyes, I have one last vision.

I see the dank basement of my farmhouse, swirls of cigarette smoke hanging thick in the air. I hear the hard clatter of hairy brown paws striking down on typewriter keys. The sharp noise fills my eardrums as I ponder my shameful secret.

I lick my lips, preparing to recite from memory. The speech comes naturally, the result of years spent practicing for this very moment.

My hands remain steady, holding the note cards I have never learned to read.

“Success…is truly a team effort…”


Profile: James Vachowski

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