The Dictator’s Wife should have never trusted her husband when he told her the crimson-filled vial would quiet the shouts, the rifle-fire, outside the palace walls. “Relax,” he told her. She downed the contents, gasping at the coppery taste, before blacking out.
The Dictator’s Wife woke up twenty years later, when intrepid staff-members of the new regime found her cocooned behind a false wall in the basement. She was hungry, angry, when she heard the pickaxes. Soldiers of the republic had to drag her off one of the discoverers, still scrawny enough for his Adam’s apple to bulge, to keep her from sucking him dry.
“I think you’re a vampire, ma’am,” said the new President’s doctor, examining her in a heavily-curtained room, momentarily forgetting that treating the wife of their former Dictator with any formality was verboten. She hissed out that no, that was impossible, but stopped, chastened, when dagger-sharp incisors slid out of her gums. She realized that was what her husband must have been doing down in the basement all those years, experimenting with ways to prolong their lives, their rule, before a bullet silenced his ambitions.
Over the next month, the Dictator’s Wife was strapped to a chair, muzzled, listening to the new administration as they decided her fate. Twenty years after her husband’s downfall, the government was still shaky on its feet; her sudden appearance was cause for alarm. Some suggested staking her, putting her out in the sun, putting garlic in her morning blood porridge. They pointed out her thousand-and-sixty designer shoes, her rapacious appetite for Dom Perignon and Kobe steaks, that she had not strangled her husband in their conjugal bed. Others said they should pardon her, let her live quietly on one of those rocky, isolated islands with caves seamed underneath. She had been a village girl, a beauty queen plucked from the sticks to be a feather in the Dictator’s cap. What did she know of politics? A whole city’s worth of people dead, tortured, or disappeared was enough evidence, others said. Then, don’t make a martyr out of her for loyalists to the old regime, they retorted.
A compromise was reached to prevent another civil war. The President put her to work, “to pay for her crimes,” he said.
The Dictator’s Wife has a new routine. No longer does she serenade rapt popes, paupers, and kings with love songs to men and country. The President, once a movie star, has put his knack for spectacle to work. He built an indoor stadium on the palace grounds, which opens only on the last Friday of each month. Tickets, despite the high price, go fast; a lottery was instituted, so that all citizens could have a chance to watch. The country’s coffers overflow from these shows; they’re popular with foreign tourists.
Trumpets announce the arrival of the Dictator’s Wife, in a car armored with bulletproof glass. Her guards let her out quickly, before speeding back to the entrance. Each time, she stumbles before righting herself, her teeth sharpening involuntarily. She can sense the blood of thousands, holding their breath.
A few minutes later, the entrance opens again, and serial killers, political traitors, corporate robber-barons, journalist gadflies — the most unrepentant, the most bloodthirsty, the most loudmouthed — are nudged into the arena. The trumpets start again.
The Dictator’s Wife had to be taught to play with her food. To not rip out their jugulars immediately. “It’s a show,” the President told her. “Make it worth their while.” She learned quickly; hunger pangs are good teachers, sun and garlic even better. She long stopped feeling shame at the gore splashing the white gown they dressed her in. A diplomat’s wife called her tacky once, when she thought the Dictator’s Wife was out of earshot. Who’s tacky now? she thinks, as she slurps from a student activist’s throat, the blood dripping down her chin. She makes sure to bare her fangs at the stands once in a while, hiss, and soak in the collective shudders and gasps of the spectators. See me, she thinks. See me.
When the last ashen corpse hits the ground, her black bouffant coming undone to her shoulders, her old training singing for foreign soldiers, before her husband took her away from all that, returns. Stand up straight and tall. Flutter her eyelashes. Lift her hands to her chest, where her heart once was. Never mind that her white dress is streaked scarlet, her face smeared with the same. Think of it as rouge. Lipstick. She has no jewelry anymore, but what does it matter? The audience are here all the same.
Their eyes are all on her, thousands of them, like stars in the sky. And she’s the brightest one of them all.
She opens her mouth, making sure they can see the gleam of her teeth.
Anna Cabe is a MFA candidate in fiction at Indiana University and the web editor of the Indiana Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Toast, SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, matchbook, Reservoir, Alyss, and Cease, Cows, among others. She was a 2015 Kore Press Short Fiction Award semifinalist, a finalist for Midwestern Gothic’s Summer 2016 Flash Fiction Series, and a finalist for the 2015 Boulevard Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers. You can find Anna on Twitter @annablabs.
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