FJ Dagg makes it thirty


FJ Dagg and I have always been (for the most part) at polar opposites in our worldview, so posting this  is gonna be fun:  I have not even read  his entry before writing the introduction.  Let’s see if I am correct that it will contradict my own view of the world.  The reason I am doing this has everything to do with the nature of this contest: creating a dialog, not monologue.  What is lacking in the current landscape of American discourse is respect for opinions of others who disagree with us.  James once expressed  his pleasure in hearing Mitt Romney, praising him as being almost Reaganesque, and I condemned Romney for the same reason.  The point is, James and I remain cordial, and understand that civility allows us to be critical, assaulting the nonsense of each other’s positions without assaulting each other. And, he’s a good writer.

Here is a recent picture of FJ Dagg:




And of me, before the beard grew out:  Polar Opposites!




An Equality Certain

By F.J. Dagg

Though not yet thirty, she appeared middle-aged. The faded pink sweat suit she wore had fit, more or less, two years ago, at the time of the last clothing allotment. Perhaps next year’s—should there be one—would include a warm jacket and shoes. Her pale white face pinched, and her lips moved slightly as she read “Ministry of Child Development” in great, bold letters above the immense building’s entrance. As directed, she had brought her son here at 10 AM and was now returning for him at 4 PM, as directed—as all of this society were directed: upon reaching twelve years, all children were comprehensively tested in order that the State should set them on the path best suited for them, for society, and for equality.

“So how’d he do?” the woman asked the Ninth Assistant Deputy Coordinator to the Regional Sub-Under-Secretary of the Fifth Minister of Child Development, Northeastern Sector.

The bureaucrat’s lips parted, but she did not immediately speak. Then she smiled and said, “Your son’s results presented us with a…a special case.”

“Special…,” the woman echoed, as she eyed the other’s pearl grey silk blouse.

“Yes. Well…the fact is that his verbal scores were extraordinary…”

The woman frowned.

“…which is to say, perfect.” The bureaucrat glanced at the monitor on her desk. “Our records show no other child ever having achieved a perfect verbal score. Can you tell us, please, who the father is?”

The woman’s face betrayed surprise, then puzzlement, and then twisted in a sly grin. “Now, I ain’t one o’ them prissy kinds o’ gals what keeps track o’ every…”

“Of course. But we would like to know…if you can recall.”

“Well…that woulda been…,” The woman’s face became a caricature of concentration. Her eyes narrowed as she counted on her fingers. At last she looked up. “It was prob’ly the white one.”

The bureaucrat made an expression the woman couldn’t read, and her red-lacquered fingernails tapped the keyboard.

“…but I’d say the boy’s like that ‘cuz of them books, prob’ly.”


“From that ol’ liberry buildin’ other side o’ town. Heard the place is fallin’ down, so’s I told him to stay clear of it, but would he listen?”

“Go on, please…,” said the bureaucrat.

The woman went on. “Boy’s always yammerin’ about things what happened a long time ago. All them different countries, and kings, and wars, and old music, and fancy pitchers…and books. Ha ha! Readin’ books ‘bout books…how wack is that?

The bureaucrat began to reply, but the woman, with a sudden guilty look, cut her off.

“The other kids is good, though! ‘Tween Gov’m’nt school, and the pills, ‘n’ TV, they turned out OK.”

The Ninth Assistant Deputy Coordinator, etc., etc., nodded, approving.

The other woman’s eyes went far away and she shook her head slowly.

“Nobody can say I din’t try. His teachers give me them pills…said they’d fix him up, calm him down, ‘n’ all, but it wasn’t no good. Thinkin’ back…I wonder if he hid ‘em…didn’t take ‘em at all. He’s smart, all right…too smart, maybe.” She pursed her lips and shook her head again.

“Anyways, it’s got so’s I can’t make him even look at TV no more. All I ever hear is a lotta wack ‘bout what he calls ‘floss-fee.’ Crap like ‘Sock-tease,’ and ‘Play-dough,’ and ‘Shake-speare…,’”

She emitted a braying cackle. “Howzat for a dumbass name, ‘Shake-speare?’” She rolled her eyes and the plastic chair beneath her creaked as she shifted her bulk. “But lately he gets all excited ‘bout them foundered fathers…”

“’Foundered…?’ Oh, the ‘Founding Fathers.’ Yes, I was coming to that.”

The woman droned on. “…boy can’t shut up about it…old times when people was fightin’ over ideas, like ‘rights’ and ‘freedom…’stead o’ real stuff, like phones ‘n’ TV… Says they talked a lotta smack ‘bout the Gov’ment…”

She halted, glanced up, then plunged on,“…and…and…when they hadda do most things for theirselves…” Her lip curled and she shook her head. “Lotta crazy talk.”The bureaucrat folded her hands on the desk and her expression became grave.

“Of course. But…I’m afraid there’s also some…other news.” She glanced again at the monitor. “Your son’s mathematics scores were only average…,”

“Well that ain’t no s’prise,” the woman interrupted. “He always did hate them number shows the worst…, y’know, with them puppets?”

“Yes. But mathematical ability is critical. Taken altogether, scores such as your son’s would prevent one from becoming a Programmer, or even a Facilitator…”

The woman stared blankly.

“…but the most troubling thing was that he insisted on talking to the Examiners about the Founding Fathers. You mentioned them, do you remember?”

The woman shrugged and her eyes narrowed. “So, uh…how bad is it?”

The bureaucrat drew a breath. “I’m afraid we had no choice but to euthanize him.”

“Huh? Whazat?”

“Um, ‘put down.’ The law required that he be, ah, put down.”

The woman frowned. “You mean, like…dead?”

“I’m afraid so. Sometimes, you see, equality requires…sacrifice.”

The Ninth Assistant Deputy, etc., etc., etc., essayed a sympathetic expression, while the woman’s face reflected surprise, then puzzlement, and then the shadow of something like sadness.

“Well…” the woman’s eyes went far away.

Then she brightened. “Well, anyways…guess I won’t have to hear no more wack ‘bout them foundered fathers!”


March 5, 2018

(Originally posted, in part, as “The Foundered Fathers,” at Liberty’s Torch, July, 2015.)


I believe a snowball fight is about to ensue!

According yo a recent pole, sometimes you got to bend over backwards to accept a different point of view


37 thoughts on “FJ Dagg makes it thirty

  1. Miryam says:

    Wow Dagg…. your story is brilliant!
    The dialog is right-on & expresses the characters well.
    You played your theme like a fine tuned instrument. Lots of music here for discussion.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      In furtherance of that discussion, could you cite specific examples from the story that illustrate your points?

    • F.J. Dagg says:

      Thanks so much, Miryam–you made my day! So glad someone noticed that there is more than one woman in the story. 😉

  2. Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

    I thought the mother’s character was a bit too much of a caricature of ignorance, and that a society like this would have exerted far greater control over children at an earlier age. Isn’t it a waste of resources to allow undesirables to live so long? Children’s natures and capacities can be determined far earlier…

    …and how did the mother escape culling? How did she escape civilizing?

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      …and–a mouldering, neglected but fully-accessible library full of all those dangerous ideas?

      Even in fantasy, the interior world of a story must sustain its own logical rules, and I felt this story did not do that. Even within a limited wordcount we ought to understand why the extermination of a child meant nothing to his mother.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

        I was a little troubled by the sub-texts in how the mother’s promiscuity is presented. If the child entirely shares the ethnicity of his mother, what is the purpose in giving us those pointed glimpses? I don’t think you meant to say, “well golly, at least she doesn’t discriminate in her sex partners…”

        Every word, every choice matters; I didn’t see any place here for little irrelevant bits of red herring.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

          PS: Regardless of whether this is a satire or a horror story about government overreach and the wages of political correctness, I think a hammer might not be the best tool for bringing it to its point.

          • F.J. Dagg says:

            Sarah, re: “…a caricature of ignorance.” Well of course. It’s a satire on the Deep State and the decline of the West. Satire, almost by definition, is caricature. The theme, per the prompt, is “equality through universal debasement.”

            “Isn’t it a waste…to allow undesirables to live…?” Not sure of your point here. If by “undesirables,” you mean the mom, she is not, to the State, undesirable. She and the masses are cattle: docile, somewhat useful, taxable. If you mean the child, not until the test was he ID’d as “undesirable,” and you know the result.

            “How did she escape culling?” Because she’s an ideal citizen, unlike the child genius with dangerous ideas. Mom is no threat to the State. The boy is.

  3. F.J. Dagg says:

    Thorn: Thanks so much for your kind introduction. I too value that quality in our friendship that lets us differ–rather a lot–and yet treat one another with respect. Would that there was more of it in the world. That said, knowing what I know now, I disavow my comment about Romney and Reagan. In fact I don’t even recall saying that. Maybe it was after a third glass of wine…

    Anyway, thank you for posting my rather long and, some may feel, tangential-to-the-prompt story. With that last bit in mind, I’ll take you up on your emailed suggestion of posting my preface in another comment.

    Sarah: Thanks for your thoughts. I’ll respond more thoroughly in a separate comment.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      I appreciate your response, for which there was no “Reply” button so I’m responding here…

      I disagree with your definition of terms: I’d say satire is pointed and caricature is crude exaggeration.

      I continue to wonder about the inclusion of detail about whom the mother couples with.

      I cannot see that a woman of habits and capacities as sketched here is a net gain and not loss to the state; I still don’t understand how such a brutally-regulated society allowed that library to continue to exist.

      And–speaking of regulations–aren’t births registered and wouldn’t the father have been identified?

      • F.J. Dagg says:

        Leaving aside for the moment your implied characterization of my writing as “crude,” perhaps we can agree to disagree about “satire” vs. “caricature.”

        That said, I’m having difficulty posting some prepared responses to your comments–the site tells me that 729 is somehow greater than 750. I’ve contacted Thorn about it. Let’s hope a discussion will become possible.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

          I myself find it difficult not to see an ignorant slut able to bounce back cheerfully, within a second or two, from the murder of her child as a character drawn with any degree of delicacy.

          As a general statement, even good writing may contain some failed attempts at creating a desired impression.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

            As one example–the Harry Potter books created a masterfully-believable universe, but the characters often reacted to each other in baffling ways, even giving allowances for the natural stresses of adolescence and the extraordinary stresses of their circumstances. JK Rowling wasn’t particularly good at dialogue but I loved the world she built.

  4. Derek Thompson says:

    An original take on the contest theme, and a reminder that A Word with Your Press is proud to be a broad church (other places of worship – or none – may apply). It hangs together well as a window into a dystopian future where being out of step and stepping out of line has dire consequences. The story also raises lots of questions itself, and that’s important too. I’ll take ‘challenging’ over ‘comfortable’ any day. Thanks, FJ.

  5. F.J. Dagg says:

    I’ve tried, on and off, all day to pair my responses to Sarah’s comments sequentially, but to no avail. So, to get on with things, I’ll spoon feed them into the Comments–a paragraph at a time if need be. Though I regret the lack of continuity, the elliptical introductory quotes should make contexts clear. I pick up where the above comment left off.

  6. F.J. Dagg says:

    “How did she escape civilizing?” Because the State is anti-civilization. They destroy those who absorb civilizing influences—the main point of the story.

    “…a mouldering…fully accessible library…” Why not? Maybe it’s not all that accessible. Maybe the boy is highly resourceful.

    “…a story…its own logical rules…I felt this story did not ….” Given the misunderstandings evident in your comments I’m not surprised that you find the story’s internal logic elusive.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      If the State, as you have portrayed it, is in fact “…anti-civilization. They destroy those who absorb civilizing influences—the main point of the story[,]” it would hardly have created or been able to staff all those many layers of bureaucracy, much less all those “Gov’m’nt schools.” There’s some sort of educating going on, and a need for at least a segment of the population to be prepared for positions of authority…

      I repeat my question–why did they allow an undesirable, already identified by his teachers requiring normalizing medication, to make it as far as puberty? Why waste those pills on him? Just snuff him out by second grade…

  7. F.J. Dagg says:

    “…we ought to understand why…his death meant nothing to his mother.” You mean you don’t? Largely through social engineering, the people have fallen into utter moral and intellectual ruin. As such, extreme numbness is natural. Besides, it’s not quite true the boy’s death “meant nothing…” See the penultimate para: “’Well…’ the woman’s eyes went far away,” an implied glimpse of a last, dim flicker of humanity before she reverts to type.

  8. F.J. Dagg says:

    “I was troubled…mother’s promiscuity…” So was I. But then my aim was to paint a portrait of a society in moral collapse. That the mother barely recalls who or how many is one brush stroke in that portrait. Note: in the phrase, “…probably the white one,” “probably” is the payload, not “white,” but that might well escape those under the sway of today’s obsessively PC regime.

    “Every word, every choice matters…” I couldn’t agree more—it’s one of my first rules of writing. But to be candid, given how much you’ve missed or misunderstood, your didactic and condescending tone is ill-placed.

  9. F.J. Dagg says:

    Besides the points above, I suspect you’ve fallen into the trap of attributing omnipotence/omniscience to a simply formidable antagonist. Your comment about “waste of resources,” suggests this is the case, as does your inability or unwillingness to accept that the State might somehow overlook the existence of a ruined library, and the comment, “…a society like this would have exerted far greater control over children at an earlier age.” Except in the most unsubtle fiction, villains, as well as heroes, have their flaws and blind spots.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      Surely the child’s teachers would have wanted to know the source of all his dangerous ideas, which he was so eagerly sharing. Kill him, but not the poison that doomed him?

  10. F.J. Dagg says:

    You are, of course, entitled to your opinions, but I’d like to suggest that you read the story again, this time for its actual content and for its subtleties rather than straining to find fault.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      When a story does not satisfy, it’s not necessarily because a reader has “strained to find fault.”

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

        …and I think–going on my very limited experience with fiction, of course, as writer and reader–that one problem here is in fact a painful lack of subtleties…

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

          …and while one may quibble, perhaps, over whether satire and caricature are interchangeable terms, the purpose of either is to evoke laughter in the reader. I myself find that the state-ordered murder of children is somewhat lacking in hilarity, under any circumstances and regardless of the artistic purpose …

          Others of finer discernment may of course disagree, and comments sections are designed, as I understand, to invite opinion, which is another terrible consequence of permitting a free exchange of ideas…

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

            And I do know, myself, how an unfavorable reception to one’s work can sting. But I’ve always found that the best retort is to come back with a better story…

  11. F.J. Dagg says:

    Maybe it’s the years between us, Sarah, but you flatter yourself with “sting.” I’m old now and only a thing or two might yet be able to sting me–and those have nothing to do with writing. With that, I’ll leave you, for satire, to Swift, and Pope, and Orwell, and others better than either of us. Forget yourself for a while, and Learn.

    Anyone else, please?

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

        …and–merely as a general observation–age ought to be no impediment to striving to improve in one’s craft.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

          …but in a more personal response, I’m delighted that you regard me as speaking from youthful freshness.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      (pssst–the rest o’ ’em’s all in a lather cuz’ve too much divergent opinion so’s they’s likely on strike. But I’m sure they’s all supportin’ you ‘gainst the predations of the varmint…)

  12. Jon Tobias says:

    I am reminded of Vonnegut with this piece. It paints a very sad, and scary world for those living in it, as well as leaves room for the imagination to run wild inside. I imagine a resistance where the intelligent feign stupidity. The saddest aspect of this piece comes with the mother’s acceptance at the death of her child. I can’t imagine a world where the people are so sheepish that there is an emotional disconnect between parent and child because of a universal understanding of the “rules”. Scary.

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