David Dephy – Before the End
The order of the chief is heard: “Fire!”
In this interminable moment, the flight of the bullets slow after they emerge lazily from the guns. The guns stink with the smel of gunpowder. The bullets are slowly, lazily floating. Turning round and round. The soldiers' livid faces look like masks in the mist.
When reading Georgian writer David Dephy's Before the End, it's hard not to be reminded of Jorge Luis Borges' The Secret Miracle. In both, the protagonist of the story is due to be executed. In both, time seems to stop still as the bullets leave the guns. In Borges, however, time actually has stopped still, in order to allow (but whom allows it? It seems God, but...) Jaromir Hladík the chance to finish The Enemies, a play he has been labouring with for some time. In Dephy, time does not freeze so much as dramatically decrease in speed, allowing the protagonist – nameless, incredulous, aggrieved – to argue with death (not, you will note, Death) about the circumstances of his upcoming execution.
”I'm not a deserter!”
“Nor a traitor...Why are they shooting me like a traitor?”
“It's wartime now. Nobody is responsible.”
Before the End is not, in fact, the story of the executed soldier. We learn little about him other than he loves “Strawberry Fields Forever” and that he is determined not to be afraid of death even though he disagrees that he should be killed. No, this is the story of the soldier's personal death, a “familiar face” who justifies and explains his death and all deaths, using the vehicle of war as a metaphor for outlining the end of the human race in its entirety. Dephy argues for the inevitability of death beyond the reach of death itself – his implication being that even death becomes tired of death after enough time and violence has passed, and that now, currently, that time has come.
Dephy intersperses death's comments with short, sharp paragraphs describing the approaching bullets. These sentences are terse and virtually devoid of metaphor or simile, juxtaposing neatly with the more grandiose statements of death. The grandness of death-as-a-figure abuts neatly with the mechanical, purely expository descriptions of encroaching violence. death, this “familiar face”, seems to be at odds with “Death”, the concept, as though it knows that the horrors of the twentieth century with its oceans of blood and endless mass graves, has exhausted all reason.
“Enmity...How beautiful and terrible it is. If you want to love, you should be able to hate at first sight, yet fight for the one you hate as well. But nobody fights by this rule: only myself. This is why I am the end of everybody, because I have enough courage to love you and still be your enemy, yours and everybody else's...I am the last enemy and I am looking forward to the day when my eternity ends. But now your time is up, come along with me.”
And then time starts up again, the bullets pierce the soldier's heart, and he dies, his blood drenching the wall behind him. Before the End refuses to romanticise the death of this one nameless soldier, nor does it fall into literary abstraction in the manner of Borges (admittedly a remarkably different story in tone and content, though it's hard not to keep it in mind as one reads Dephy's work – and, pleasantly, Dephy's story holds up well in comparison). Instead it functions as a castigation of the ravenous machinery of violence and death, promising solace to those who have died while simultaneously wishing that this could be, perhaps, an end to it all. But it won't be, the murders will continue, and even men who aren't traitors, who haven't deserted, who are willing to fight, will be killed by their own forces, their own government, their own comrades, because, in war, that's what people do. They die, over and over.
Before the End by David Dephy is a short story from the Dalkey Archive Press' anthology, Best European Fiction 2012
Other stories from the Dalkey Archive Press' anthology, Best European Fiction 2012, include:
------Belgium (Flemish): de Martelaere, Patricia - My Hand is Exhausted
------Croatian: Hrgović, Maja - Zlatka
------Spanish (Galician): Fernández Paz, Agustín - This Strange Lucidity
------Polish: Rudnicki, Janusz - The Sorrows of Idiot Augustus
------Irish: Rosenstock, Gabriel - “...everything emptying into white”
------Hungarian: Bán, Zsófia - When There Were Only Animals
------Swiss (Rhaeto-Romanic and German): Camenisch, Arno - Sez Ner
------Portuguese: Zink, Rui - Tourist Destination
------Irish: Hogan, Desmond - Kennedy
------Russian: Davydov, Danila - The Telescope
------Czech: Kratochvil, Jiří - I, Loshaď
------Estonian: Kõomägi, Armin - Logisticians Anonymous
Best European Fiction 2011 short stories under review
Best European Fiction 2010 short stories under review
Index of titles by The Dalkey Archive Press under review
Index of short stories under review
Other titles by David Dephy under review include: