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The Parable of the Dictator

ISSUE:  Fall 2021


After the death of the dictator, his son wanted him embalmed. His son wanted him on perpetual display in a glass box.

No one knew what the dictator had wanted. The dictator had made it a crime to speak of his death. He had not left instructions for his corpse.

The dictator’s son summoned our country’s most skilled embalmers and put them to work embalming his father. He announced the project with great fanfare. 

Shortly after, the dictator’s daughter interrupted the embalmers, putting a stop to the project. She wanted the dictator’s body to be hollowed out for her to wear as a suit on special occasions. 

The embalmers told her that a full bodysuit would not be possible. They explained that they were not taxidermists, but rather embalmers. She had the embalmers shot, and brought in taxidermists, along with a number of bear corpses for them to use as practice. 

When the dictator’s son learned of his sister’s interference, he had the taxidermists shot, and brought in new embalmers. The daughter, in turn, had the new embalmers shot and brought in new taxidermists.

The dictator’s son laid a trap for his sister, but she fled the capital for the safety of one of her strongholds. Packing lightly, she took only the dictator’s preserved head, which had been fashioned into a mask for her to wear. 

In the long civil war that followed, the daughter of the dictator regularly addressed her followers in long speeches wearing her father’s head. The faction led by the son was particularly furious about the body of the dictator not being on display in a glass box. 

As we watched the dictator’s daughter’s speech on the giant screen in our reeducational detention center, you reminded me that in the time before the
dictator had become the dictator, I had admired his daughter’s perfect teeth. Oddly, I was warmed by the memory. 

Before the dictator, it had been normal to think about having nice teeth or nice hair. In those days, we thought a lot about our happiness, and where to live, and what to wear. 

I made a joke about mindfulness, a popular concept from the time before the dictator, and you laughed silently, so the guards wouldn’t notice us whispering or holding hands. Now, as I look up at the screen, I think, well, this is happening. And it is.



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