By Mikhail Iossel | May 10, 2023

 A highly literate and sophisticated literary friend of mine, who loathes and despises Donald Trump with the best of them, like most normal, you know, decent sound-minded people, is distraught: late last afternoon, he tells me, post-early dinner, he took an impromptu, previously unscheduled nap and instantly found himself inside a surreal dream in which, peeking from behind the corner of a massive dilapidated uninhabited brick building with blind, boarded up windows, with his heart on the verge of exploding in his chest in an excess of unaccountable despondency, even before he could make out all the details of that crazy dream he was in, he already knew that he was witnessing, unfolding right before his disbelieving (not the right adjective) eyes atremble (oh come on) with burning tears, on what most definitely was an execution plaza of sorts, lobnoe mesto in Russian (no, that one had a different layout) in all its cruel drab yellow-sand sepia dolorousness, accompanied in an unseen background by the ominous drumroll (putting one in the mind of one pivotal episode in Dostoyevsky’s life), the final moments before the summary execution of, yes indeed, Donald J Trump, gulp, the Orange Man himself, the 45th President of the United States, who was standing in his typical relaxed and confident manner against a dark-gray stone wall pock-marked with bullets, in his ubiquitous red MAGA hat, of course, and with very little make-up, wearing a white polo shirt that accentuated nicely his gentle boobs and his quietly undulating belly, with his little hands tied behind his back and with a Soviet-era filter-less Belomorkanal papirosa stuck for some reason in the corner of his tightly grinning mouth, staring contemptuously and even with a measure of pity at an uncommonly, yes, surprisingly long line of the firing squad in front of him, at least twenty men decked out in some ancient military unforms, seemingly straight out of the very first film adaptation of War and Peace or some such extravaganza and with incongruous colorful high-peaked Hussar’s hats on their heads, their antediluvian bayoneted rifles or muskets or whatever all pointing at that corpulent solitary figure of his, the still-living and breathing body of Donald J Trump, who, again (my friend’s voice was quavering, atremble… oh forget it), was contemplating his imminent (not the right adjective) executioners with magnanimous contempt and benign pity, yes, pity and contempt, just as someone who clearly was the senior officer in charge of the monstrous proceedings, standing slightly aside from the (there would need to be an adjective in here) firing line, approached Trump, who was still at ease in his famously loose attitude against that pock-marked wall, and asked him, Trump, something, loudly and in a language that petrified friend of mine, hopelessly mired in a dream he didn’t want to be in, couldn’t quite identify, although Trump obviously could, understanding the officer’s words at once and perfectly well and, spitting the hard-bitten Belomor from his mouth, suddenly shouting out with great force and terrible fury many words to the effect that the 2020 election was rigged, yes, rigged like a mothereffer, you damn RINO’s, which was a shame because America was now a third-world country, a shithole one, under Biden, and he, Trump, was still the legitimate president and that he was happy to die on that particular freaking hill, big time, and then adding in a more peaceful tone that his golf courses and hotels were the best and finest in the world, hands down, and as to what kind of music he would like to hear before being shot like a dog by these traitors in front of him, then it definitely would have to be Roy Orbison, a very fine individual and a big supporter, in response to which the brusque commanding officer nodded curtly and, reaching deep into the pocket of his roomy dark-green galliffet, pulled out a smartphone and tapped its screen a few times with his stubby fingers, his face coldly inscrutable, whereupon, drowning out the steady Dostoyevskean drumroll in the distance, Roy Orbison’s suffering angelic voice floated over the whole unimaginable scene, filling and harmonizing the air above that domain of death (that actually is not half-badly put – domain of freaking death), “I was all right for a while, I could smile for a while, but I saw you last night, you held my hand so tight… oh you wished me well, you couldn’t tell that I’d be crying over you, crying over you… left me standing all alone, alone and crying, crying, crying, crying,” yes, as Trump was shimmying a little to the tune with his commodious torso, even with his hands tied behind his back, and he was smiling, smiling, smiling, though not defiantly anymore, but kind of happily so, you know, the way he hardly ever smiled in his real documented public life, while the said commanding officer was frowning, frowning, frowning, evidently displeased as he was with this inappropriate, wholly unserious and non-solemn display of joie de vivre, yes, and so, again flicking his fat grubby finger with a bitten nail over the screen of his smartphone, he canceled, discontinued that extremely beautiful song and, in the heavy silence that followed, barked something to the above-mentioned firing squad in that unidentifiable language of his, something that sounded like “iahcnok oge atayber!” and, well, at that unbearable moment my poor friend, both the owner (not the right word, but OK, for the time being) and prisoner of that heartbreaking, unrelenting dream of his, he knew of course what was going to happen next, and he wished oh so dearly he could do something, anything to avert the inevitable, but he was utterly powerless, paralyzed, as the drumroll in the background got nearer and louder, louder and more sinister and more insistent, causing him, my friend, ever more  desperately to try and awaken himself, be done with that cruel dream already, enough was enough, but alas, no such luck, the dream wouldn’t let him, nor apparently could it terminate itself of its own free dream-will either, it was like a dog on top of some hay as the Russian saying has it (say what?), so all he could do was watch impotently, or not watch, which was one and the same thing, and keep crying crying crying crying crying over Trump, crying crying crying crying over Trump, for Trump didn’t love my friend anymore, and so my friend knew just then that he would always be crying over Trump, crying over Trump, crying over Donald J Trump, always, now that Trump was gone, and then that senior officer’s final barking command came, and the shots rang out, deafeningly (of course; those always do deafen), and my friend wanted to shout and yell no! no! but he knew that would be futile and counterproductive, plus too risky, and it occurred to him then, in a bright flash of lucidity, that unless he did somehow manage to freaking wake up ASAP, he definitely would also be shot dead by those soldiers with their bayoneted muskets or whatever, there was no question about it, and so, again, because you never can have too much beauty in your life, all he could do then was to be painfully aware that yes, now that Trump was gone, from that moment on, he, my friend, would be destined and condemned to a life of crying, crying crying crying crying… over Trump over Trump… and it probably was the sheer ridiculous surfeit of non-imaginary hot salty wetness on his cheeks that did, mercifully, much to his boundless relief and not a moment too soon, bring him out of that late-afternoon nightmare; and so now, understandably, he wanted to figure out what the hell it was, that whole weird, like, whatever, and he wanted to know also what I made of it and did I maybe, uh, did I maybe suppose he was maybe freaking crazy or going crazy or had some deeply and irreversibly conflicted personality that caused him to hide his true feelings for Trump from himself, in which case he would rather just kill himself or be shot dead by those War and Peace firing-squad soldiers in Hussar’s hats rather than… rather than… and so on, he was rambling and on the verge of tears, but it was late, or maybe it wasn’t but still, and I was feeling sleepy and as if nothing mattered anymore, so all I could bring myself to suggest to him in the way of a consolation, lamely, of course, but so what, I have my own life to live, such as it may be, even as it’s drawing to its curtains time, peaceably and whatever, was that nothing was the end of the world in our life anymore, not at this juncture, including crying for Trump in your dream, but that perhaps taking after-dinner naps at our age might not be such a freaking smart idea. 



  • Mikhail Iossel

    Mikhail Iossel was born in Leningrad, USSR (now St. Petersburg, Russia), where he worked as an electromagnetic engineer and a security guard at the Leningrad Central Park of Culture and Leisure, and belonged to an organization of "samizdat" writers before emigrating to the U.S. in 1986. He is the author of, most recently, of "Love Like Water, Love Like Fire," a collection of stories, " "Notes from Cyberground: Trumpland and My Old Soviet Feeling," and one previous collection of fiction: "Every Hunter Wants to Know." He is a frequent contributor to, and his stories and essays have also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere. Iossel, a Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Arts, and Stegner Fellow, has taught in universities throughout the U.S. and is an associate professor of English at Concordia University in Montreal.

Dooney’s is serializing Mikhail Iossel's SENTENCE.

You can find the full list of posted essays here