Short Story – Not A Lot Changes

IMG_4703 I really liked the setting I created in The Usual, For Two – the dusty, well-worn, questionably corrupt city of Cana Luz which sat on a mountainside overlooked by the grotesque governor’s residence. So, I decided to revisit it some time after the change of government the previous story depicted. Much like The Usual, this was a very easy and fun story to write – the basic conceit was not particularly complicated and the challenge and joy for me as a writer came from trying to get an appropriately satirical tone. The picture above is an illustration of the now-named Governor from The Usual, for Two, by an artist who remains sadly anonymous.


After the change of government in Cana Luz, marked by the very public arrest of its very private governor Teleth Windan, there was a short period of time where people thought things might actually improve for them. That the shell-markings and the unfinished buildings would be dealt with, that the jewelled carbuncle of En Palais would be torn down and its wealth redistributed among the many places that lacked everything, let alone competition-sized swimming pools and wardrobes the size of dining-rooms. The new governor, Hector Cartes, talked some good talk, it was felt. His first act as governor was to increase the police force to make sure nobody could quite so effectively waltz into town and take it over. Then he declared a new government needed a new town-hall, and so a new town-hall was built on the site of the old cathedral. The old cathedral, declared decadent (yet somehow less decadent than En Palais, which Cartes quite enjoyed living in) was demolished to the great, if momentary, consternation of the people. They were quite rightly concerned that its many famous paintings and statues, including the gold-and-marble effigy of Saint Carmelio that it was rumoured cried tears of blood on the fifth holy day of the summer, would be disappeared like Teleth Windan had been, to make way for Hector Cartes.

But Cartes was a reasonable man, and the statue of Saint Carmelio was moved to the next-largest church, and the paintings, including the old and venerable depiction of the death of Saint Bernadine in the style of Tagani, were distributed some to the Museo Cana Luz and some to the other churches. Thus the new town-hall was built, and it was a very modern kind of building, tall and with many square reflective windows not narrow shuttered ones. Again there was great, if momentary, consternation of the people. They were, perhaps less rightly, concerned that a modern building in the style of the capital did not suit the haphazard lifestyle to which they had become accustomed. There were blazing arguments in the local newspapers, with the Cana Luz Enquirer taking the side of Hector Cartes, and the New Mountain Herald deciding that the new town-hall, and the new governor, were not the sort of people the city needed and perhaps, for all her faults, Teleth Windan would have been better off staying. Yet at the end of the day, angry letters to the local newspapers did not stop the town-hall’s construction, nor the arrival of businesslike men and woman in suits and ties taking the place of the dishevelled city council.

A year had passed, and all Hector Cartes had actually done was increase the police force and build a new town-hall. And, as many would note, put a lot of good city councillors (who had perhaps only been tangentially aware of Teleth Windan’s indiscretions and whose business it wasn’t to interfere anyway) out of work. Well, he had also tried to get the New Mountain Herald shut down but everybody knew that that paper was full of lies and nonsense so it wouldn’t have been much of a hardship to not have to read it any more. But the houses were not actually any better than they had been before the war, and those which the war had affected certainly weren’t anywhere near as good as they had been before it. Of course, the forbearance and the patriotic spirit of the people of Cana Luz helped them carry on, and relish the city’s shabby stasis, but eventually a few people began to wonder, a little louder than perhaps Cartes would have liked, whether or not they would ever have houses free of explosion-marks and shell-holes.

There was a Meeting to discuss this with the people. The busy men and women in boring grey suits sat on one side of it, and the people sat on the other – with a journalist from the Cana Luz Enquirer sat in the middle writing it all down mostly accurately. Back and forth they argued – the councillors claiming it wasn’t the place of the council to do something the council hadn’t ever done before, the people claiming the council should always have been doing it and the reason they had got Teleth Windan arrested was because she hadn’t been doing it. Behind those words – and the journalist did not report this but he certainly noticed it – was the implication that if Hector Cartes didn’t do it either, he would probably also be arrested. Then the councillors declared the matter of the Post War Reconstruction Fund over, and asked if there was Any Other Business. Of course there was much Other Business. The head of the School Board argued that if the councillors had a fancy new town-hall, the Cana Luz Boys’ and Girls’ Spiritual High Schools should have similarly nice buildings – if not the other schools in the local area. The freshly-ordained bishop of the newly-classified cathedral asked if it would be possible to have some money to rebuild a damaged church or two on the outskirts of the city. The bus-drivers asked for roads repaired, and the train-drivers for a new railway line. The more Other Business there was, the more concerned and withdrawn the councillors seemed, and they eventually said that there had been quite enough and they would think about all these valuable suggestions.

Faced with the people’s demands, Hector Cartes thought for a little while, and announced many changes would be made. Whole streets would be repaved, schools rebuilt, a long-abandoned church reconsecrated and more. Work began in earnest and the people – even the cantankerous editor of the New Mountain Herald – began to wonder if Hector Cartes wasn’t as bad as they had made him out to be. But, after the first few new things were unveiled to the people’s admiration, work began to slow. There was a steady back-slide as what was new became shabby once again not for lack of love but for lack of money. The school received its new building, but the same dusty teachers still taught the same boring lessons from the same dusty textbooks. The church was reconsecrated, but in time all that remained was a congregation of perhaps half a dozen elderly locals who would listen to ever-shorter sermons from the equally antiquated vicar. Newly-paved roads in time turned back into potholed ones. Even Cartes’ town-hall began to look as dustworn and rough around the edges as the buildings it had once sat ungainly in its cleanness in the middle of, and the men and women in grey suits turned back into the tie-less, chain-smoking councillors everyone remembered. The people noticed this.

In time, the New Mountain Herald – ever the more popular newspaper (for the Cana Luz Enquirer was clearly the one that printed nothing but lies, and only a rogue would read) – would report in a blazing editorial that the only thing that ever seemed to change in Cana Luz nowadays was the governor sitting in the empty shell of En Palais.


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