Leadership by Terese Svoboda

BOMB 65 Fall 1998
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You strike me as a leader, says his father.

The boy turns his face—because the rest of him is being suited—toward his father who is raising buttered toast. What kind of leader?

He’s teasing, sighs the mother who pats the boy down, extracting the dollar he got for switching line leader with a bigger boy, a much bigger boy, moving it from a pocket into an envelope. You could be a leader, she says and puts that bigger boy’s name on the outside of the envelope and puts it into her pocket.

Both the boy and father hear how she puts the could but the boy does not care other than that is his dollar she has sealed up and tucked on her person, at least as far as he’s concerned, and he is not going to show her any of those other dollars or any more that he gets if this is it, if this is how it is. Leading is not what he wants anyway. You get shoved from behind if you lead, you have to know which door. And if you talk, you have to go to the back of the line but the rest of them talk, yes they do.

A robin has set down in the too-short grass and its hind end twitches like it tickles. The grass is too short like the truth she’s putting out, that he cut himself on twice, it is so sharp that short.

Eat your breakfast, she says to him who is so solemn with his empty pocket, sure she will look in another. He cranes his neck out toward the window.

A rocket has landed beside the robin. It is the size of a small dog and it appears to have legs that it is stretching like it has finished a long trip. It’s a what? he asks. On the grass.

Hush, she says. I see.

What are we going to do about it? she says. You—have a look.

His father drops his toast and his napkin upends on his knee as he too stands. Then the two males look at each other, one knowing the value of saying nothing, the other the value of looking away, of seeing nothing. You have to be careful, the father says, and the word carefulrises in a bubble getting bigger and bigger until the father could walk inside it like some future vehicle, like the answer vehicle to the one that is so improbably running beside the harried robin.

I saw somewhere that tomatoes are being grafted from some important part of a chicken, you know, something small that doesn’t count as a chicken, he says.

The mother and the son do not turn toward him, do not hmmmmm. The mother feels for the knob on the radio, for the comfort of emergency broadcast.

The boy, however, has a gun. It’s in a place his mother hasn’t felt. So what if it’s a toy. What it is is another bribe from the bigger boy, a real fake gun. He unlatches the door.

Get back in here, she says.

He walks into the prickly grass, holding the gun above his belly button and out. The rocket ship stops running all over the yard and comes over and sort of sniffs his pants. The boy wants to say Good Boy but he doesn’t, he fires away because he has this real fake thing in his hands.

The father comes up behind him. Furthest away the mother halts. They look up. The sky is going all slatey like in a painting people say is important. In the second they take to glance up, the rocket ship retracts its legs and tail and plays dead.

Whether the weather, that sudden cover of sun, is part of the rocket ship’s strategy is not clear but if the spiritual is at the bottom of what you believe and you believe the spiritual is not of this earth, then of course the rocket ship could control the physical. It’s now all foggy or that’s what the mother swears later when she points at the rocket ship on the shelf in her son’s room for the cameras. But just then the three of them standing in a line near this rocket ship deployed yet finally quiet, the three of them don’t say much at all. Martha, the father murmurs as he has never murmured before, not even at night, Martha, hold my hand.

The boy wouldn’t have answered to anything if anyone had asked. He throws himself to his knees and touches the rocket ship because he knows what it wants: Take me to your leader. He is obeying, he is scooping it up in his arms, opening and closing all the little portholes. The bigger boy will let him in line now.

Sweetheart, says his mother. Give me that now.


Terese Svoboda is the author of the novels Cannibal and Ghost Test, which is forthcoming from Counterpoint Press.

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Originally published in

BOMB 65, Fall 1998

Featuring interviews with Yusef Komunyakaa & Paul Muldoon, Ian McKellen, Sam Taylor-Wood, Thomas Nozkowski, Geoffrey O’Brien, Alexander Nehamas, and Mark Richard.

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