His Excellency by Indro Montanelli, 1954
The magic trick:
Setting up a surprise ending that delivers emotional resonance
We’re off to Italy this week.
This is a movie in six pages. Remarkable, remarkable story about the end of World War II.
We get a hint that something isn’t quite as it seems early when the narrator says, “… surely I am not the only one to know.”
But we forget – at least I forgot – as we read on.
It’s such a harrowing story, compressed in so few words, about war, imprisonment, family, bravery, love of country, morality, death. It’s easy to get lost in the plot. When we’re finally let in on the narrator’s secret, it doesn’t hit like some ironic twist. It truly has profound meaning.
And that’s quite a trick on Montanelli’s part.
Della Rovere was sitting on the edge of his cot. Putting down his book, he stared at me at length while I stood at attention. Then he said slowly: “Yes, indeed. I expected as much of you,” and dismissed me with a gesture. But on the threshold he called me back. “Just a second!” and he rose to his feet. “There is a thing I still wish to say. A–uhm–difficult thing. I am, I wish to say, extremely satisfied with your conduct, Captain Montanelli. And I wish this good warder to listen well, for he will be our only surviving witness. Very, very satisfied . . . A jolly good show, sir!” And that night, for the first time, I felt alone in the world, joyously alone with my beautiful bride, Death, forgetful of my wife and my mother, and for once my Country seemed to me a real and an important thing.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.