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Today's Story by Daniel Roche

My Conscience Was No More Than a Bill to be Paid

Destroy the Rich

Washington, D.C. 20549
Notice to the SEC on demonization of the rich

My mother cheated on my father with Nasdaq, resulting in my birth being on an escalator rising up to the depths of Wall Street.

I tied my umbilical cord as a Full Windsor and power walked before I crawled.  My first word was an instructional presentation detailing the devastation caused by bottle-feeding economics “We will benefit from a survivalist mentality.  Groupthink is death.”

My education began in a cubicle and as I matured, with promotion after promotion, I discovered my ambition was no more than a brazen pet.  It was a beast that learned discipline as I wrapped a choke collar around its objectives.  I jerked, I yanked, “I will be Mr. Williamson” until my inner MBA growled obediently.  I throbbed in meetings and surged “make it happen” during quiet luncheons.  My poise advanced with every sunrise.  I inhaled a healthy heaping of power with every breath, until “Petunias, tulips, roses?”

She Was Eliza and I Was Paralyzed

During my teenage years when forgettable girls matured to be desirable women, my mother lunged at “love and marriage are not the same.”  She claimed statistics united couples and flow charts determined fertility.  Dating started with resumes, interviews, IQ tests, and a complete history of empirical flaws.  My minimum qualifications were bobbed hair, contralto voice, and a doctoral thesis identifying ‘The Sterility of Thomas Paine as applied to Profit Maximizing.’  There were a few first dates that triumphantly made it to a second, however it became clear my zeal meant “Ambitious, but you’re a complete ass.”  After five decades of “I’m sure we’ll do this again” I accepted my loneliness and attended to my work as I would a religion – in the name of earnings, acquisition, and holdings, never amend.  You see I wanted unconditional love, but under my conditions, and I had never found a partner who could honestly claim “You’re no longer Mr. Williamson.  You’re Charles, only Charles.”

I’ve overheard I’m not particularly a good man.  I’ve overheard I’ve destroyed entire lives from behind my desk and all for the sake of “a point two percent increase this June.”

My Conscience Was No More Than a Bill to be Paid

Listed below is how I fell in love for the first time at seventy-five years old.

1.   At the age of six, I gave Natalie a Valentines Day card “You can have my cupcake at lunch,” but my mother found out and so “Charles, this is what a prenuptial agreement looks like.”

2.   “If you’re not doing anything we could play Monopoly,” but unfortunately Candace attended the wrong school and so “Charles, St. Joseph’s Preparatory is just short of being public.”

3.   At the university I became “too busy for women” and business school was an endless defense of “I’m not interested.”  Certainly there were moments when “she is beautiful,” but then, oh then, I would catch her gaze as she searched for private jets and saunas, and I could never placate the affection of “a Rolls Royce?  My name is Bethany, a pleasure.”  Driving home, I would find myself lost in storefronts darting past and my attitude towards love becoming more and more calloused by “James, I don’t believe in soulmates.  Let’s swing by the office,” in spite of “Sir, it’s three in the morning.”

4.  I settled long ago with “Charles, the woman of your dreams is efficient and silent” and “Mr. Williamson, Congressman Payne is here to see you.”  Of course, there were whispers of a scandalous private life, but in actuality my weekends were a nuisance of chamomile tea and Chopin while I itched for the markets to reopen.

5.   You see I toiled for a prosperous life of velvet curtains and leather bound repute and yet my dinners were spent with only candles for company.  On occasion a colleague would “Please spend Christmas with my family,” but I always had “Negotiations in the morning” or “A conference call in Seoul” or “My mother is terribly sick,” regardless I invariably dove behind the barriers of “Love has no place in business.

6.  But then a shift.  Months ago, on the Ides of March, I encountered a snippet of a jewel.  A song between traffic jams and “Mr. Williamson, Mr. Williamson, what are your thoughts on the SEC investigation?”  The chorus trickled in and out of earshot until finally “Do you hear that? That humming.  It’s gorgeous” which of course segued to “Is CEO Charles Williamson losing his mind amidst the accusations of fraud?”  I fought my way through the flashes and questions, but the voice became a melodic mirage.

7.   I thought the tune had been forgotten until I was caught humming days later in the elevator “Is that Ella Fitzgerald?”  After incessantly falling asleep to “Moving shadows write the” and waking to “Oldest magic word” I knew I had to find the source of this song.

8.  I waited every morning in front of my building, in disguise, for a repeat performance, but weeks went by and not a trickle of “do ri me fa so la ti doh.”  Surprisingly, I wasn’t discouraged.  In fact I became more attracted to the chase.  I was excited at the incapability of authority.  I’ve never possessed a bounce in my step, as I preferred a march of tenacity, and yet I found myself unwittingly hopping off street curbs “Splash, splash, splash!”

9.  Yes, yes, yes, my Ponzi scheme screamed of prison, but at the end of the day I couldn’t help but sway “Isn’t it romantic?”

I had just about given up on my infatuation when “A dream that can be heard” echoed off the sides of New York.

10.   It was daybreak when the pigeons yawned their coos and upon “I hear the breezes,” their feathers smacked awake in unison.  They flew up in a spiral, searching for the source, but soon settled on being happily adrift.  Their flaps occasionally spread wide and paused in hopes of staying afloat on Ella’s words alone.

11.  On “Meant for love” I chose to run in a direction picked by gut instinct.  Whim was my map and passion my pace.  With each step I took I broke apart the morning rush hour. Cars attempted to pour across the intersection, but I removed my disguise and became the suit and tie of a CEO exploding.  I snuffed out the honks and yells of the 99% by showering them with pocket change. Hundreds of hundred dollar bills swayed to the rhythm of desire until snapped away in mid-air by fervent hunger.  I learned long ago the masses ignore my transgressions so long as I provide a tiny moment of bliss, and so the people pecked in my wake as I sprinted past while “Isn’t it romantic” inched closer.

12.  When I turned the corner I found my origin.  It was her, it was she, it was “Petunias, tulips, roses?”  She was an irresistible force of immeasurable beauty rumbling on tiptoes, forever fouetté, and her bobbed hair blossomed defiantly.  Her laugh pulled the tide in and her sighs were exfoliated lullabies.  When she “Good morning, my name is Eliza” I diminished from a grown man to a timid child, no, a conqueror of companies to a diluted poet, no, from Mercurius, God of Commerce, to “hi.  a single rose please.” After that, Eliza percolated into my life from the most mundane “This cappuccino is stunning” to a multibillion-dollar “Sir, you drew a heart next to your signature.”  I gasped for air when my mind wondered to her flower stand.  Every time I blinked I was met with her silhouette transfixed and hovering in front as an orb of radiance.  My assistant shrieked in terror when I smiled for the first time in decades.  Eliza, Eliza, Eliza, I was smitten.

13.   Unfortunately this was also a time when the economy popped and I happened to be the tip of the needle.  My face was crestfallen on every newsstand and “Destroy the rich” was a daily part of “They fell and we picked them up!”  I was demonized and no amount of sorrow or regret could pay down my ethos.  As this generation’s permanent bane I was the evening entertainment.  I was the tragedy cheered on.

14.  Under any other circumstance I would grit my teeth and snap my fingers to release a barrage of rabid lawyers and lobbyists.  I would make the SEC a chew-toy for decades until all was forgiven, all forgotten, and “Mr. Williamson, on behalf of the United States government, we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused.” However, upon hearing “it’s terminal” I knew my end was near, in which case “Members of the committee, I built an empire that was desolate from the beginning.  I worked alone, always.  Do as you will.”

15.  In spite of making the American dream lucid, I was at a point in my life when “A table for one” was met with pity, not whispers of “named most powerful in Forbes.”

16.  And as I stood on my front lawn and faced my mansion covered in darkness I realized “No one would bat an eye,” not a single light was turned on for me.  I had never heard “welcome home, Charles” it was always only mother “Good you’re here.  I fired the gardener.”

17.  After the SEC swept me away, I stood atop my ruins and accepted myself as no more than a blip in the history of business.  My entire life’s work was to become a footnote in How the World Runs.  I had lost everything, save the suit on my back and an intense connection to a woman who had never spoken to me beyond “Have a great day” and “See you tomorrow.”  It was at this low point that I made the decision; I was no longer to be Mr. Williamson.  For the first time in my life, I wanted to be Charles, only Charles.

18. I approached Eliza’s flower stand and as I recall “Good evening, Mr. Williamson.  I’m afraid I’m all out of roses.”  Due to my nervousness I’m afraid I blacked out for a moment until  “Mr. Williamson, are you ok?”

19.  I cleared my throat “i, yes, i have something for you” on the cusp of being broken.  My entire body whimpered and quivered turn and run.  But then it came out at last or slumped forward more or less “stars shining bright.  above.  you.”

20.  She stepped back on “night breezes seem to.  whisper.  ‘i love you.’”  Passersby began to stop when “birds singing in the sycamore trees.” Eliza stood aghast and petrified of “dream a little dream.  of me.”

My words were chipped, fractured, and eventually shattered over her petunias, tulips, and roses.

21.  My “Say.  nighty-night.  and kiss me” had fallen flat.  No.  Never again, no more, I, i, was Mr. Williamson, always and only.

22.  I watched myself, watch the crowd, watch me horrified.  I was their monster, I was “i apologize. i’m sorry.  i’m sorry, Eliza.”  I adjusted my tie, turned away, ready to end but froze.

“Just hold me tight and tell me you’ll miss me.”

We seized the duet as follows:

We hovered over the onlookers grinning and fingertips wrapped between fingertips.  Hands pressed lightly.  Our voices wrote a history we never had.  We were no longer simply an exchange of goods and services.  We were “Sweetdreams till sunbeams find you.”  Time gave a priceless gift to a man who earned his wealth off the sweat and backs of Main Street.  Which is precisely why “Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you.”

It was during our song that a new lifetime came to be.  Eliza and I met while attending the university.  She was surging between classes, botany to agriculture, while I blew from economics to ethics.  We clashed and “I apologize, I didn’t see you.”  It was a jolt of eye contact when “I” turned to “i.”  She picked up her books as I swiftly stumbled “i, i, believe we’re in the same class.”  I, of course, eventually failed ethics as I spent the remainder of my semester attending “Soil moisture and trace elements of copper, boron, and iron.”

We married, had kids, and a dog named Fiscal.

On our fiftieth wedding anniversary, our great grandchildren sat in front of the stage in our backyard.  The mansion was aglow, twinkling, ‘the Williamsons.’  Swans and peacocks meandered throughout our private lake and then there was applause as my son “Yes, they created an empire, but this family is their legacy.”  The microphone was handed to me and I paused.  I gazed into my family’s eyes and realized they were part my eyes, part Eliza’s, they were ours, and beaming on their own.  My only words “This is wealth” as the trumpet began to play and my wife and I once again swayed to “Yes, dream a little dream of me.”

Rule 83 of the SEC’s Rules on Information and Requests (17 CFR, section 200.83) explains how you should make your request for confidentiality.  Your letter may be sent or faxed to our FOIA Officer at 450 Fifth Street, N.W., MS 0-5, Washington, DC 20549 or fax # (703) 914-1149.


Daniel Roche recently completed an M.A. in English, Poetry and is currently working towards an M.F.A. in Playwriting, both at San Francisco State University.  His short story ‘Anatomy of a Broken CPA’ was a finalist for the Platypus Prize in Fiction and will be included in ‘The Anthology of Innovative Writing’ this spring.  His work has appeared in ‘Burning Leaf, ‘ Poetry Motel,’ and ‘Concrete Wolf’ to name a few, as well as the upcoming issue of ‘filling Station Literary Magazine.’   During the day he proudly works for an accounting firm. 

This story first appeared in the January issue of Borderline Poetry.  It was read as part of Action Fiction!, sponsored by Fiction365 and Omnibucket. 

Other stories in this series include:


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