William Brodrick: The Day of the Lie

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William Brodrick The Day of the Lie
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    The Day of the Lie
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    Политический детектив / на английском языке
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‘We’ve got lots of papers here,’ quipped Sebastian, leading Roza inside. ‘You can read them, too.’

His suit was charcoal grey verging on black. His white shirt had that factory gleam, persuading Roza that it had been torn from its cellophane wrapper earlier that morning. The maroon tie was slightly loose at the neck.

‘The lifts are out of order, I’m afraid,’ he explained, passing a couple of vexed technicians. ‘So we’ll have to use the stairs.’

On the other side of a door marked ‘Private’ they were met by a man whose job description did not permit a smile. An officer of the Internal Security Agency — Special Forces — said Sebastian in a low voice. He followed them down three floors, along a corridor and to a locked grey door. Roza felt unsteady, her stomach churning at an old memory. The cage had been three floors down, too; there’d been guards who didn’t smile; and the cellar door had been grey The paint had been peeling and the ground was damp. Brack had fumbled for his keys, breathing recrimination.

‘Most people aren’t allowed to see what I’m going to show you, said Sebastian. ‘Special clearance is needed. I had to fight to get yours.

He pushed a card into a narrow slit and the electronic lock flashed green.

‘Come on in. This is part of what Brack and his friends left behind.’

The room comprised nothing but shelving: row after row of long metal units jam-packed with buff folders, box files and bound reports. Between each block was a narrow walkway providing cramped access to the documentation. A musty smell tainted the air. Roza felt vaguely ill. She’d said too much, she’d come too far and now she’d gone too deep. She hadn’t expected this.

‘Lined up, there’s about one hundred miles of material,’ said Sebastian, leaning on the wall, legs crossed. ‘Over ninety thousand informers from all walks of life. Here is some of what they said, noted down by the secret police. As I explained before, a lot of the really damaging stuff has been destroyed, though we reckon a duplicate archive exists in Moscow’

Sebastian walked down an alleyway, drawing Roza along by a tilt of the head. She lingered, looking right and left, feeling the weight of information leaning towards her, the spines of the files like the backs of their authors turned in shame. All at once she wanted to get out of this terribly silent place. The intimidation of the handlers had been left behind like the harsh smell of cheap aftershave. When Sebastian opened a door on to an office, Roza entered with a sigh of relief, but then instantly recoiled as from a slap to the face.

The room was brightly lit. There were two comfortable chairs on either side of a table. In the middle of the table was a microphone wired to a recording machine. Beside the machine were two folders, one a dull orange, the other a pale green. Both were secured by a black lace tied in a bow There was a jug of water and an upturned glass. A coat stand watched like a sentry. Sebastian appeared before Roza’s frozen gaze.

‘Roza, I’m not going to make you stay here. You don’t have to say anything. You’re a free woman. You can turn around and I’ll call another taxi. But I want you to understand what you’re doing.’

Roza smiled thinly at the offer of advice.

‘Out there, behind you, is their story,’ said Sebastian. ‘They’ve had their say The secret police and their informers have put their slant on every event since you were fifteen — and not just the politics but what your neighbours had for breakfast.’

It was far more complex than that, objected Roza, not bothering to say so. It had been so much more involved. Yes, some had taken the silver for a better standard of living… but there’d been others: parents, desperate to obtain medical treatment; one time adulterers, blackmailed to save a marriage; careerists who’d bought promotion with cheap gossip known to everyone but the cat; the stupid, who’d thought they could play the game better than the ones who’d made up the rules; and that special class — the almost innocent, the trusting kind who didn’t even know they were being used. They’d all been informers. They’d all betrayed someone. But there was no true equivalence, not really The many faces of choice and coercion kept them well apart. All they shared was exile, deserved and undeserved. Roza looked at Sebastian’s mouth as it moved, not hearing the words, wondering why his generation couldn’t differentiate between the varying shades of wickedness and co-operation; why they smudged together malice, blabbing and whimpering; why they found it so easy to apportion blame.

‘-but the files are with us for ever, and we have to make sense of them, here in a building that’s meant to house your memories,’ he continued, searchingly, trying to win Roza back. He’d sensed her drift away He’d felt a remote coolness in her appraisal of him. ‘If you ever decide to speak, everything you say would count as a memorial to the kids playing with the rope. Otherwise, this is what they’re left with. The lies, the obsessions, the compromise. Their story. ‘Roza turned around. Ahead was the narrow passage, walled by fading covers. At the far end the grey door seemed wedged between distant protruding binders. For those who’d grown while the shelves were being filled, the place was frightening. There was a terrible implied intimacy between lives lived ordinarily and these secret memoranda; these notes on what others had heard while you poured the tea or washed the cherries.

‘On the table are two files,’ said Sebastian. He’d moved to the door and taken its handle, ready to show Roza the way out. ‘The orange holds your interrogations from nineteen fifty-one. The green is the Shoemaker file and what’s left of Operation Polana in nineteen eighty-two. If you leave now, that’s what you’re turning your back on. When I return the folders to the shelf, there’ll be no other version of your life and times; the beginning and end of your resistance. Brack gets the first and last word. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Roza appraised the orange file. It was thick, the cover faded and bulging. With the sudden jolt of an electric charge she recalled a little man with a tatty briefcase, a spectacled pen-pusher who’d come to Mokotow shortly before she was released.

‘Can I be alone for a moment?’ she asked, suddenly hoarse. ‘I need to gather my wits.’


As soon as the door closed, Roza quickly untied the bow on the orange file and lifted the cover, her eyes scanning one side of the stacked grey paper. They came to a halt towards the bottom, when she spotted a pale blue line, a single sheet. With a quick tug, her memory shuddering with emotion, she tore it free from the binder. Without even a glance at the columns and boxes she crumpled the paper and thrust it deep into her pocket. Hastily closing the file, she made a new, tight bow, and then opened the door.

‘I’ve thought about it, and I’d like to leave immediately, thank you very much.’

Sebastian’s mouth opened in stunned disappointment. He stammered some sympathy but finally said, blocking her way ‘You only gave it a minute, Roza, whereas that lot — ’ he nodded past her towards the table ‘- was built up over years. Don’t you want to take a little more time? Just give the proposal the consideration it-’

‘What do you want me from me?’ Uncontrolled feeling spilled from some inner guttering. He was watching her expectantly not realising how deep despair can run. ‘You bring me here… you push my face into my past; you ask me to clean it up? You ask me to explain to children I don’t know why I failed, why I leave Brack’s account on the table, why Brack won and I lost… lost everything I loved and cared for? You bring me here and offer me a glass of water and a chance to redeem myself? You expect me to sit down and smooth out the creases in my life?’ She paused, unable to express the extent of her subjection. ‘You have no idea — and I mean no idea whatsoever — of Brack’s power, back then; of its reach. You don’t understand. You haven’t the faintest-’

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