He gripped Randy’s phone in both hands, pulling his mouth back into a broad smile and sucking deep breaths as he stood behind the podium, looking out at the rowdy, energized crowd. Inside, he felt a familiar clammy feeling, like standing in Sylvan Lake after the cold water had engulfed his testicles but before he’d summoned the courage to plunge under the surface. “My dear friends, you who love freedom,” he began, but then stalled. His grip tightened on the phone’s rubber casing as the crowd waited.
The rally had been in his Outlook for weeks. Jeannie would most certainly have had written something solid for it, even if it lacked oomph. She had asked him to define “oomph,” one of a series of irritations that had necessitated her firing last Friday. He watched her from down the hall in the constituency office, retrieving her personal belongings from her cubicle, tears streaming down her face while security stood beside her, holding open a Save-On bag. There was no place for difficult women on team freedom.
But as he opened the empty file folder en route to the event, it dawned on him: Jeannie, difficult Jeannie, difficult and now fired Jeannie, had screwed him. “Dammit,” he said to Randy, his driver. “I don’t have a speech.”
He stepped out of the sedan and hand-shook his way toward the front of the crowd. He couldn’t think of what to do except go up there and wing it. But winging it was never his strong suit. He shunned interviews and skipped debates whenever possible. Anything unstructured was unpredictable, and unpredictability left him with that testicles-in-the-water feeling.
Suddenly, Randy was at his shoulder. “Here,” he said, handing him his phone, “I wrote you a speech.”
“What do you know about speeches?”
“Well, not me, this app on my phone did. It’s one of those AI things. See, here’s the prompt: ‘Write me a five-minute speech about freedom for a political rally. Hard hitting.’”
“And that works?”
“See for yourself.”
He scanned the beginning of the text.
“You who love freedom…”
It wasn’t a bad beginning.
And so here he was, the phone cupped in his sweaty palms, looking out at the crowd. He lifted the phone and began reading again, this time with oomph.
“My dear friends, you who love freedom… the time for talk is over! It’s time for action! The enemies of our great nation seek to destroy everything we hold dear.”
Seize the moment. Banish hesitation with boldness. He leaned into the text, hardly knowing what he was reading after a while — it was as if he was one of the crowd, paying rapt attention to the words coming out of his own mouth.
The Rothschilds. The Replacements. The Reset — Randy’s phone and its generated text delivered the goods in a way Jeannie’s tepid humanity never could. At each sentence the crowd grew more enthusiastic. Then agitated. Then volatile. And so was he, gesticulating more and more wildly as the speech progressed, his voice dancing with the text in a way it never had before. When he reached the climax of the speech — “We’re gonna take back the country! By any means!” — he knew something entirely new had happened. Fires started at the back of the crowd — were those torches? Previously concealed firearms were being discharged into the air in a triumph of rage. Three bearded men picked up a pedestrian barricade and slammed it into the side of a police cruiser.
In a moment he saw his future, reflected in the cracked screen of Randy’s Samsung, and it was glorious.
David van Belle is an Edmonton-based writer whose plays include The Highest Step in the World, Liberation Days, GIANT and The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst. David has been writer-in-residence for the Edmonton Public Library, and was co-artistic director of Ghost River Theatre. His adaptation of A Christmas Carol runs annually at the Citadel Theatre.
This article appears in the May 2023 issue of Edify