The National Mall was packed with signs, which more often than not, said “Liberate Fredonia”. There were others, “Peace for Fredonia,” or “Fredonian Independence,” their bearers smug at their originality and embarrassed at their non-conformity. There were, on the fringes (intentionally so) signs interchangeable- “What about X?” “Where Were You for X?” “Remember X?”. These produced shameful rage in the crowd of Fredonian supporters. Who were they, those on the fringes, to accuse them, the ones in the center, of political blindness? The Fredonian brigade rewarded mean girl glares and lip-curling grimaces upon the self-righteous bearers of the “Remember X” brigade, a snarky reminder of the human capacity for caring about things.
“Do you have wrinkles on your forehead?”
“No,” said Julia, “why?”
“I have wrinkles on my forehead.”
“No, you don’t.”
Selma tossed her phone into her makeup bag. She hoisted herself into the bowl of the sink and peered in the mirror. “Yes, I do,” she said.
“You’re twenty-one,” said Julia, her voice muffled by a powder brush. “You’re not supposed to have wrinkles on your forehead.”
“But I do have wrinkles on my forehead. That’s why I’m so upset. Oh god. Do I have to use one of those old lady creams now?”
“They don’t work,” said Julia. Selma felt Julia’s tone was too sage for someone without wrinkles.
“How do you know?”
“They still have wrinkles, don’t they?”
“But you don’t know how many more they might have if they didn’t use the creams.”
“Use the creams if you want, but be prepared to smell like an old lady.”
“I don’t want to smell like an old lady.”
“I gotta go, my phone is dying and I’m being pulled over.”
Selma pressed her stomach into the tap to get herself closer to the mirror. Not only did she have wrinkles, she had a pimple forming at the base of her left nostril. It wasn’t quite there yet, enough of a promise to be a problem. She harrumphed in the sink, and, mid-harrumph, hit the cold water tap with her knee.
“Great,” said Selma, “wrinkles, a zit, and wet shins.”
“Wet shins” bounced around the small bathroom, into the dormitory standard shower, off of the toilet, and back into Selma’s mouth, where she could taste how unfortunate it was.
“Wet shins,” she repeated, watching her mouth move in the mirror. The motion caused her skin to shift. Maybe that’s what caused the wrinkles. Too much forehead movement. She shouldn’t move her mouth either, because she might get wrinkles there, too. She relaxed her face and nodded, then stopped. She didn’t want neck wrinkles. With the grace of a patient who had just gotten out of traction, she turned and swung herself out of the sink.
The first thing that Selma saw in her Art and Architecture classroom was a shakily drawn peace sign on the blackboard. “Peace for Fredonia,” it read, just as shakily, underneath. Selma rolled her eyes. Performance, she thought. She took her seat, desperately conscious of the tension in her forehead. Slack jaw, she thought, keep the face loose. Julia entered the classroom with her signature sigh, which was designed to give off an air of superiority but instead made most of Maryland State College think she had undiagnosed asthma.
“What did you get pulled over for?” It was hard to ask questions while keeping your face slack.
Julia held up a finger, needing her concentration to perfectly drape her tote bag over the back of her chair before sitting down. “Speeding.”
“Yeah,” said Julia, not seeming to spare a thought for the potential consequences of speeding automobiles.
“Oh,” said Selma, for that was all there was to say.
“I just don’t get why he pulled me over. I was only going 10 over. I thought they got you when you were 11 over.”
“Maybe it was the end of his shift,” said Selma, thinking back to a video she saw of a district attorney explaining how cops would use arrests at the end of their days to log overtime hours.
“I think he was targeting people in Range Rovers,” said Julia. “It was so scary. I thought I was going to be late for class.”
“That is scary, I’m sorry.” Selma hoped this trauma wouldn’t mean Julia would be sighing for attention throughout class. One time earlier that semester while Julia was doing her makeup in the car, a woman honked to signal a green light. Julia had sighed so much a sophomore behind them offered her his inhaler in the middle of a lecture on cathedrals.
“I just hate the police, you know? I was thinking of live streaming it, to show how awful they were.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“My phone died as I hung up with you,” said Julia, as she pulled out her iPad.
“Don't you have a charger?”
“I heard it’s bad for the environment.”
Oh no, thought Selma, I didn’t know that. “Charging your phone?”
“Only in the car. Fossil fuels.”
Selma nodded. Damn fossil fuels. At least I don’t have a car. “That makes sense.”
Three women were arrested at a “Liberate Fredonia” protest in Dallas, TX. They were shouting “Pussy power for Fredonian women,” and were taken into custody at the request of a far-right Christian group who had no issue with the principle of stoning people to death for homosexuality but significant issue with the word “pussy”. A Fredonian refugee remarked as the women were being taken away in handcuffs that Fredonian women had quite enough pussy power, what they didn’t have were enough bomb shelters.
“Stop frowning like that,” said Selma, “you’ll give yourself wrinkles.” She had to speak up over the noise of the Student Union. Immediately, raising her voice made her self-conscious. She sounded like a nag. Speaking up probably gave you wrinkles. But maybe speaking-up wrinkles were girlboss wrinkles. She wasn’t sure.
“It’s fine,” Logan said. “I’m trying to make my post about why International Women’s Day doesn’t do anything for the global liberation of women, instead subjugating them to unwanted attention one day out of the year.”
Selma put down her sandwich and looked over at his phone. “I like the pink,” she said, feeling the strain of her split lip stretching awkwardly over “pi”.
“I like it too, it proves that pink is pink outside of a capitalist structure,” he said, swiping a fry from her plate. Selma waited. He looked up at her, chewing, and raised an eyebrow.
“Sorry,” she said, “I got sweet potato fries.” Her tongue worried the scab.
“I can tell.”
“I’ll get regular fries next time.”
“Okay.” He went back to his phone and took a sip of Selma’s water to clear his mouth. Selma picked up her sandwich. Mid-bite, she realized that the cut on her lip had broken open. She got up to go to the bathroom, dropping a kiss on Logan’s head with the unsplit side of her mouth. He liked it when she gave him little kisses.
5 Ways You Can Help Fredonia-
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Selma couldn’t find the right color combination for her Fredonian infographic. If you went too bright, it was insensitive. Too neutral, less interaction. Soothing without soft, shocking without sensation. It was all about balance. She rocked idly on the suicide-proof desk chairs MSC provided. Maybe pink, she thought, Logan’s International Women’s Day post looked nice in pink. She tapped the scab on her lip with a nail. It had hardened up again. She grabbed the jar of Vaseline from the shelf next to her desk and stared at her phone while slathering petroleum jelly on the scab. Brown could be nice and neutral, very Y2K. She tried changing the text color to brown. Meh.
She heard Margaret open the door to their suite and swiped out of her design app. She didn’t want Margaret to know she was having trouble with colors, lest she seem shallow. Some things were better suffered in silence.
“I had dinner with Julia,” Margaret said as she entered their bedroom. She tossed her backpack on the bed. The backpack, some Swedish brand Selma couldn’t pronounce, bounced off the bed onto the furry rug. Margaret had three mattress pads on her bed, basically anything bounced off of it, sometimes including Margaret. Selma only had one mattress pad, but at least she didn’t bounce off. “She wouldn’t shut up about getting pulled over. She thinks she’s another victim of the police.”
“That’s really tone-deaf of her.”
“She made sure everyone nearby heard her say ACAB like three times.” Margaret opened the window at the foot of her bed. Selma didn’t like the smell of cigarettes on her clothes, so Margaret compromised by sticking her head out the window when she smoked, like a nicotine-addicted Barbara Fritchie. Selma had made that reference out loud once, and Margaret had held up a hand to pause her while she googled the reference, then declared it not funny and rather insensitive. “But I shit you not, the guy she called the cops on for a noise violation in her apartment complex last week was sitting at the next table.”
“God,” said Selma. “She’s so performative. Everyone else was posting that video of those poor kids getting bombed yesterday, but she didn’t.”
“Her grandmother is Fredonian,” said Margaret around her cigarette as she fumbled for the lighter in her pocket. “I think she cares.”
“It isn’t about caring,” said Selma. “It’s about awareness.”
“I guess.” Margaret stuck her head back in to grab her water bottle. “What did you do today?”
“I had lunch with Logan.”
“Mmm,” said Margaret, half a second too late to be polite.
“And I realized I have wrinkles on my forehead,” said Selma, ignoring her delayed response. She knew Margaret didn’t like Logan, never had, but Selma disliked conflict more than Margaret disliked Logan.
“You don’t have wrinkles,” said Margaret.
“Yes, I do. Look.”
Margaret obliged, keeping her cigarette out the window and stretching her torso towards Selma’s desk. “Oh. They’re tiny, though.”
“They’ll get bigger.”
“Aging is nothing to be ashamed of. In the west, we have such a damaging idea about youthfulness being beautiful. I think it’s latent American pedophilia, so many of those ads for anti-aging products are just child pornography, really.”
Margaret’s head was back out the window, but Selma would bet anything she didn’t have wrinkles.
The “Freedom for Fredonia” protest in New York City had twelve thousand people. They were praised for their bravery on social media. The lines at Sweetgreen took four hours to run clear.
“I’m going on a hunger strike,” Logan said. Julia, Margaret, and Selma swiveled their heads to look at him from their perches on the couch. He had framed his entrance into the suite a little too nicely, a little too perfectly, arms resting on the doorframe, head cocked.
“Why?” Margaret was known for her innocuously bitchy tone of voice, something she had cultivated for moments like these when innocuously bitchy was the only way to proceed. Selma envied her for this, she couldn’t be bitchy without it being outright.
“There is no ethical consumption under capitalism,” Logan said, working the bicep flex of his pose.
Someone walking past him in the hall called out, “The only ethical consumption under capitalism is eating pussy!”
“God, I hate neoliberals,” Logan said.
Selma nodded. She too hated neoliberals. She couldn’t define neoliberalism, but she knew she hated it. She was now wondering if Logan couldn’t define it, either.
“I think that’s very cool of you,” said Julia. It was unclear if she meant it, if she was being a bitch, or if Logan’s biceps were getting to her.
“What happens if you get hangry?” said Selma, wiggling her tongue over the scab on her lip.
“Hangry is better than oppressive economic systems.”
“Okay,” said Selma.
His proclamation proclaimed, Logan plopped into the school standard gray armchair next to Selma’s seat on the school standard gray couch and pulled out his phone. The girls accepted the conversation closed, something for which they were varying degrees of grateful, and went back to what they had been doing: Selma had been shopping for a dress to wear at Spring Formal, Margaret was reading about the facial benefits of snail mucus, and Julia was playing Candy Crush with her phone angled away from the group, which Selma couldn’t fault her for since she also felt shame about playing games on her phone. Logan held out his hand for Selma’s. She draped it into his, scrolling past a brown silk wrap dress that would have made her feel bad about the freckles on her chest.
“What’s your favorite color to see me in?”
Logan looked up at Selma, and she could see the machinations between his ears. “Black,” he said. “It makes your hips look bigger”
“It also brings out your eyes,” said Julia, her eyes on her phone.
“What’s your favorite color to see yourself in?” Margaret’s tone had lost its innocuous bitchiness, and instead bordered on harsh.
“Black,” said Selma, “I think it looks best on my figure.”
“I like that green dress you have,” said Margaret. She had put her phone on her lap, and Selma didn’t miss the way her lips were pursed.
“It’s cute.” Selma gave a weak smile to Logan. “But I wore that for Winter Formal.”
“I’m going to rewear a dress,” said Julia, “It’s more sustainable.”
“I’m looking on a secondhand website.” Selma flashed her phone at Julia.
“You’d get better things at a vintage store.”
Selma shifted in her seat, her body itchy. “Secondhand shops do more for the communities they're in by having a more affordable price point than curated vintage stores, and keep more clothes out of landfills.”
“Whatever,” said Julia, pointedly turning on the TV and selecting the CNN Live app. “It’s not like this is important. Europe is at war.”
CNN was talking about the omnibus bill, and Julia’s attention quickly waned, but a thick surge of guilt slimed over Selma; how could she be looking at dresses, secondhand or not, when there were more important things out there, an omnibus bill, the destruction of the environment, a war? She went to Instagram to check the interaction numbers on her infographic. She had settled on sage green and periwinkle, which seemed to be performing better than her hunter green and peach post exposing the lies about abuses in Slovakian detainment camps. A stark black-and-white infographic loaded first on her feed. Black and white. Classic. Shocking. No frills.
There are Fredonian Nazis. Think before you support, do your research.
Selma looked at the time. 10:48. Four hours since she posted her infographic. Why didn’t I think there would be Nazis? She scrolled through the rest of the post;
There is a rising fascist section in Fredonia opposing a socially liberal majority in Parliament.
Nazis in the army but that doesn’t sound unusual
The invading Baltish forces were technically, actually, really fighting Nazis since they were invading, You don’t want to support Nazis, do you, and that’s exactly what you’re doing, you ignorant ill-informed protofascist slug, right? No I don’t want to support Nazis, do people think I’m a Nazi sympathizer?
She deleted her infographic, sad to see the sage green and periwinkle go, they felt like a part of her, and would she ever get 6,000 likes and 3,500 shares in four hours ever again? Modest numbers, sure, but she was new at this, had only been posting for nine months, and maybe she could repurpose the color scheme, but was that insensitive? She didn’t want to be insensitive. She searched Fredonian Nazis on Instagram and put three posts on her story, one with 45,000 likes, one with 7,000, and one with 5,000 but a compelling cover photo of three men with shaved heads and assault rifles. Next, she went to her bookmarks, where she found her favorite ‘Do Your Research’ post, it had sherbert orange and pale green and light baby pink and 70s-inspired bubble lettering, and she reposted it with the confidence of a college freshman who did Model UN in high school. 10:51. In three minutes, she escaped the jaws of being an accused Nazi sympathizer. Which, to be honest, is basically just as bad as actually being one.
“Oh my god,” said Julia, “did you see that Fredonia is really a Nazi-occupied dictatorship masquerading as a democratic state?”
“Yeah,” said Selma, although she hadn’t seen that, only that there were Nazis in Fredonia but I think there have always been Nazis everywhere and we just pretend they went away. “Isn’t it awful?” She looked at Margaret, who seemed confused.
“Her grandmother?” Margaret mouthed, tilting her head at Julia’s figure bent over her phone. Selma shrugged.
“I’ve been saying that all along,” said Logan, and Selma tried to remember if he had. “Eastern Europe has a massive right-wing fascist problem, and I always thought the immediate support of Fredonia was really two-dimensional.”
“We didn’t know,” said Margaret.
“I kind of suspected it,” said Selma, “I just didn’t want to call anyone a Nazi before it was confirmed.”
“You should have said something,” said Logan, and perched his hand carelessly on her shoulder. “I would have brought you to the Skeptic Socialists meeting last week.”
“Oh,” said Selma. “That's okay.” Logan was always very fired up after the Skeptic Socialists meetings, sometimes nearing the point where conspiracy theories made sense to him.
“Julia, what does your grandmother think about this?” said Margaret.
“She hasn’t been back to Fredonia since she was a kid,” said Julia. “I doubt she knew about anything.”
“Ah,” said Margaret, and Selma guessed they were thinking the same things, am I friends with the granddaughter of a Fredonian Nazi? How does she know her grandmother doesn’t know anything? After World War II, lots of Nazis were absorbed in the U.S. and their grandkids just thought their grandfather was a German engineer, if her grandmother is a Nazi, maybe that’s why she didn’t post that video of the kids being bombed, maybe she knew that when Fredonia was exposed she shouldn’t be seen supporting it, but is she ashamed or is she a Nazi? Oh my god, do I buy my weed from a Fredonian Nazi? Maybe that’s why she didn’t give me a discount.
“I think she’ll be upset,” Julia said. “She used to be in love with a Jewish guy before she met my grandfather.”
“Having a personal attachment to someone of an oppressed group shouldn’t be a requisite for empathy,” said Selma absently as she typed out a message to Margaret.
do you think she’s a nazi sympathizer
Margaret responded immediately.
she just said her grandmother used to be in love with a jewish guy
that doesn’t mean much
idk i feel like we would have known before this
maybe shes a good liar
but if she was a nazi sympathizer wouldnt she have reposted the video you mentioned
maybe shes trying to keep it quiet
idk need more proof
Selma looked up from her phone.
“I think I’m going to go to bed,” she said to the room, but mostly to Logan.
“Okay,” he said, and gave her a peck on the lips, wincing slightly as he brushed over the scab. She saw the apology in his eyes which never reached his mouth.
“Goodnight,” she said to the room and left, only to sit on her bed and stalk Julia’s Instagram and Twitter for any signs of fascist allegiance. There were none visible, but that didn’t mean there were none.
An Analysis of Fascism in Eastern Europe @thingsineedyoutocareabout
Why Fredonia Was Able To Fool The World @foreignpolicyfacts
Things The Media Won’t Tell You About Their Support of Fredonia @independentpress
Who Knew All Along About Fredonia? @theunitedgazette
The next morning, Selma woke up to her work alarm and her phone buzzing. She accidentally hit snooze, then fumbled around to turn that off, accidentally turning off her Thursday alarm as well, and once she finally had all alarms where she needed them, she checked who was texting her at 8:30 in the morning.
Hey girlie, the Instagram DM read, from a girl Selma knew from a poli-sci class in the brief semester she had been a poli-sci major sophomore year before switching to media. Selma felt a sinking in her gut because everyone knows that ‘hey girlie’ means that your boyfriend cheated on you and the other woman is texting to let you know you’re dating a scumbag and also he found her more attractive than you. The sinking feeling was the loss of pride, not the loss of Logan, she was tired and her lip hurt, and even though he had given her flowers and claimed that he didn’t do it because she was a woman, just because he had been angry and worked up, so it really didn’t make him that bad of a person, certainly not a sexist, she might miss him anyway.
I saw you posted in support of Fredonia yesterday.
A different shame settled upon Selma.
I know you deleted it, but I just wanted to ask why you posted it at all when clearly, you know about what’s going on there because you posted about it later I didn’t know what was going on, no one told me so I tried to fix it and I don’t know if you just thought it was okay to support a Nazi state because they’re white aren’t all Nazis white isn’t that the whole point but I just wanted to mention it because I think you should apologize, and also make sure to do your research!
What do I apologize for no one told me I didn’t know how was I supposed to know?
Oh my god, Selma replied, thank you for reaching out! I feel horrible about it- I didn’t know until hours later about Fredonia, after posting the infographic I was taking a brief break from Instagram, because it’s really unhealthy to be chronically online, which is why I didn’t delete it faster! I’m actually Jewish I am my mother’s great-grandmother was I’m not lying she’s being a bitch I can say it so, of course, I would never be in support of a nazi state. Thank you for reaching out, you’re so sweet! I’m not going to be on Instagram for the rest of the day because it’s unhealthy, so if I don’t respond to you I promise I’m not ignoring you haha!
She put her phone down. She looked at Margaret’s sleeping form across the room. Margaret wasn’t worried about this, she wasn’t worried about anything, really, not even wrinkles, which now seem like such a puny concern since her whole life was falling apart. What would happen when Margaret woke up? Would she be angry? Would she believe it? Would she make her move out? Was Selma about to be homeless? Would she have to go back to her parents, oh god, worse than homeless, sorry, houseless, she needed to use the correct terminology for the community she was about to enter. They were relying on her, her scholarships, her college job at the coffee shop on campus, if she had to go back home she’d just be a burden. Would Logan break up with her? He couldn’t be seen dating a Nazi sympathizer, even though he did defend that one conspiracy theory about a banking cabal a little too vehemently after one of his Skeptic Socialist meetings, and oh my god, Julia, Julia, her dear friend Julia, a brave Fredonian immigrant who was bravely watching her country be taken over by Nazis, and now since Selma was one she would have to bravely friend-break-up with her, and how could Selma have done this to Julia, sweet, sweet Julia, wait a second, I’m not a Nazi sympathizer, but that thought didn’t stand a chance against the self-loathing that she had single-handedly destroyed Julia’s life and Julia’s country. She felt sick and rushed into the bathroom, closing the door behind her, but as she crossed to the toilet she stopped in the mirror to examine her face, the wrinkles were still there, deeper, she knew it was wrong to associate evil with ugly but there weren’t very many hot evil people, except maybe young Stalin, so if she was getting wrinkles at twenty-one clearly it was a sign of a deep, disgusting truth buried inside her that the girl from poli-sci class knew even when Selma didn’t, and she lurched to the toilet and vomited. Up and up, it was uncontrollable, almost like breathing, even though there wasn’t much in her stomach, and she heard Margaret through the door, calling “Selma? Are you okay? Do you have an eating disorder? I won’t judge you for not being body positive if you do,” she wouldn’t judge her for having an eating disorder, but she continued to heave because a horrible disgusting thing had happened to her, she was a Nazi sympathizer, I’m not! I’m not I’m not I’m not I’m not hollered something inside her, but someone had said she was so, therefore, it was truth and it didn’t matter if it wasn’t because someone had said it and finally she collapsed on the floor, her face pressed against the tile, we really should Swiffer in here more often, and she fell asleep, her mouth rancid and her abs sore, Margaret giving one last halfhearted knock in support of her bulimic roommate before leaving to go pee in their neighbor’s bathroom.
An Analysis of Fascism in Eastern Europe @theunitedgazette
Why Baltan Was Able To Fool The World @independentpress
Things The Media Won’t Tell You About Their Support of Baltan @thingsineedyoutocareabout
Who Knew All Along About Baltan?@foreignpolicyfacts
Three hours later, Selma woke up to her phone ringing in the other room and she pried open her eyes I don’t know how we managed to make it to March without cleaning this floor and groaned as she sat up, tile indentations on her brow. She stood, looked at her wrinkles in the mirror, ignoring the vomit on the side of her mouth, and went to answer her phone. The room was empty, and she sat on the floor to answer Julia’s call, the fluffy rug Margaret said she bought at a vintage boutique but got at Free People soft against her cold legs.
“Hello?” Her voice was raspy from the acid.
“Have you been on Instagram today?” Julia sounded smug but sad, an interesting combination on anyone but annoying on Julia.
“No,” said Selma, dread creeping into her empty stomach.
“The Fredonian Nazi thing was Baltish propaganda to gain sympathy for the invasion and you still have those Fredonian Nazi posts up on your Instagram so people are saying that you’re actually a Baltish nazi operative sent to influence American opinion.”
“Oh,” said Selma. If the Baltish were Nazis why would they claim that the Fredonians were because then they would just be calling someone else what they are so that doesn’t really make sense, but maybe it does? She stood up and walked to the bathroom.
“Selma, if you’re Baltish, I don’t know if we can be friends, just because of my grandmother, and also I think it’s really disgusting that you’re a Nazi since you said that your mother’s great-grandmother was Jewish, so I don’t think I can do this anymore-”
Julia’s voice cut off as Selma dropped her phone in the toilet and flushed. The phone didn’t disappear, it sat in the mouth of the tube, a whirlpool running around it, pushing into the charging port and the speakers, drowning Julia and Fredonia and Baltan and the rest of the world, and Selma was alone, empty stomached, a fascist operative of two opposing countries. She was tired, so tired that it pushed everything else out of her mind, the grime on the bathroom floor, the cut on her lip, her job, her homework, life outside of the phone sitting in the toilet bowl. She laid down on the tile and hoped that when she woke up she would be in support of the right country.
Erin Gruodis-Gimbel is a New York based playwright, teacher, and theatre artist. Largely focused on humor, her work has been described as “comedies that make you cry”, though she understands if you don’t. Her plays have been presented with Ensemble Studio Theatre, the Minnesota Fringe Festival, the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival, Walking Shadow Readers Theatre, and No Exit Theatre Collective.