A Story by Peter Rogerson

Decisions of life and death when death is the truth and life is all lies can be very hard to make...


There was a sombre quietness about the half dozen people sitting in the darkened room, staring inquisitively at the woman at the head of the desk. She was rustling a sheaf of papers before she cleared her throat. Then, slightly nervously yet with authority, she spoke.

We have to decide,” she said - and with that four-word sentence we all knew what we had to decide. It was as if communication was instant. It was as if we were part of her brain and could see every corner, taste every thought, within it. Knowledge was instant.

There had been a special film made, one that told nothing but the exact and absolute truth, and someone had reported it as offensive and it was our task to make the decision. Was that film offensive or was there more to it than that? I, one of the half dozen members of what could only have been a weird kind of jury, gazed at the woman at the head of the table, and as I did a wave of weariness like I'd never felt before swept over me. It dulled my thoughts, it weighed on my eyes, it made my head loll forwards.

I couldn't keep my eyes open, so I let them close. The woman's voice droned on, explaining in mushy sounds the reason why we had to decide the director of the film ought to be punished. It was truth, she said, and truth was bad. Truth should be punished.

In my mind, as I was on the verge of sleep, I visualised a guillotine of the type the French once used in executions, and I could see the director being led towards it with a bag over his head. But I was in the room and the guillotine and the bag were only in my almost-sleeping head. The decision had to be made.

My head sunk down and still the woman's voice droned on. Technical explanations were being made, the sort that mean a hell of a lot while they're being said and then drift into a meaningless morass the moment the words have died away.

Then I was aware that a piece of paper was being handed round. It was time to vote. I pulled myself from the depths of a sleep I had drifted into and tried to force my eyes open, but they were so heavy. The paper - or card, really - was being pushed into my hands and try as I might I couldn't open my eyes more than a weary squint. Yet I did try, and the pain was both dreadful and exquisite.

The card was in my hand. I could feel it, and my fingers trembled as it almost slipped out. Finally, with a titanic effort, I opened one eye wide enough to see the dreadful document.·

It was black, with lines making columns on it, and each column had a heading. I found that I was holding a pencil and I had to tick the columns according to my perception of innocence or guilt. The columns were deeply, deeply irrelevant and I knew, suddenly, what I had to do.

I placed a tick in the first column under those left by the other members of the group. Their ticks were white on the black card and the pencil I was holding was black and I ticked the card, black tick on a black background.

The woman at the head of the table was holding her hand out. She needed the card there and then with my marks on it. I tried again, black tick on a black background. I looked at her, but she ignored me, talking to somebody else. The rest of the group were laughing together and jostling out of the room. That five or six people could jostle so much, I thought, and I fought with my black pencil on the black card. I ticked away, all right, but the ticks were invisible, black on black. And I needed to place mine there because everyone else, the jostling laughing people who seemed to be stuck in the doorway, had got it all wrong. Their ticks, white on black, were in the wrong place!

Then I heard the guillotine being trundled to an open square outside and the jostling hoards were laughing with so much jollity it was hard to make out what was going on.

I tried like a maniac to tick the black card, but my black ticks would never be seen by anyone and anyway my heavy eyelids tried to close. Meanwhile, I knew the film director, the man who told the absolute and glorious truth, was being led, brown paper bag on his head, to the dread French machine.

If I could make my tick in the columns on the black card visible then the future would be changed. I fought that pencil while the woman gently tugged the card from my hands.

My time was up. Black on black ticks said nothing as the excited rabble screeched. Then they flooded from the small room, hundreds with their white pencils, and they became one with the world.

They became one with history and time and humanity. They were humanity, and I held my black pencil in my trembling hands as I heard the guillotine crash down.

Let there be light, I whispered, but there was only darkness.

© 2015 Peter Rogerson

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Added on October 9, 2015
Last Updated on October 9, 2015
Tags: decision, voting, chairwoman, truth, lies, black, white, guilotine


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 76 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..