Dave the Prophet – fiction by Joe Emersberger

Love and politics and deportation in Canada.

On the morning of Sunday April 14, 1986, Dave awoke from a nightmare in which US and Canadian authorities sent him off to Iraq to be tortured just after he crossed the Ambassador Bridge that linked his hometown of Windsor, Ontario, Canada with Detroit Michigan. He had slept in that morning – no hockey practice to get up for, no assignment for school to complete. His parents and little sister were driving up to Toronto to pick up a relative who was flying in from Iraq. They’d return to Windsor the next day when Dave, despite his dream, assumed he would not be deported to Iraq.

Dave’s name was actually Dhafir. His parents had immigrated to Canada from Iraq when he was an infant. At an early age he realized it was easier to go by “Dave,” so that’s what everyone but his parents called him.

The house was empty as he sat at the kitchen table eating toast while trying to understand what had provoked his nightmare. It was unusual for him to remember a dream for more than a few seconds after he woke up. He felt vaguely nervous, as absurd as that was, about what happened to him in the dream.

It bothered him for a while like a nagging headache, but he shrugged it off. Late that morning, his girlfriend Brenda knocked on the front door. Dave ran to the door and flung it open. Brenda smiled mischievously as she stepped inside and threw her arms around him.

“Where’s your car, Kook?” he asked.

“I parked it on the next street over just in case my parents drive by,” she answered.

Dave laughed. Her parents would never drive by, but he was glad she was leaving nothing to chance. The more relaxed she was the better. And so while her parents thought she was at swim practice she had sex with Dave on his parents’ bed. Until then, they had only done it in the TV room in the basement of Brenda’s house – always half dressed and ready to get fully dressed in a hurry.

The two things that made Dave happiest were being with Brenda and playing hockey. The two people he hated most in the world, at the moment, were Ronald Reagan and Ed Hughes (Brenda’s Dad). As a little boy he had despised Saddam Hussein more than anyone because the dictator had made his parents suffer, even though growing up in Windsor he barely heard anything about Saddam from anyone other than his family. During his first year in high school, 1982, he wrote a detailed essay about Saddam, and everyone, including the teacher, had been impressed by the esoteric topic. By then his hatred of Saddam had grown somewhat abstract – just as his hatred of Saddamn’s ally Ronald Reagan was now becoming – evolving into a diffuse hatred against organized brutality everywhere.

Dave walked to Brenda’s house later that afternoon and arrived just after they had finished dinner. He cut through Jackson Park, greedily inhaling the unseasonably warm air. As he passed by the high school where he met Brenda, he thought about how lucky he was. He was a gifted student, played hockey for the Windsor Wolves and had a slim, but real, chance of getting drafted by an NHL club. Most importantly, he had Brenda. He had no fear that she would be raped by US funded death squads like the ones busily at work in El Salvador and Nicaragua. He had no fear of her house being blown to bits by US bombs like the people in Libya, who were bracing for a US attack which would arrive the next day. Dave followed world events compulsively, like his parents. He had read enough to know that, from a global perspective, he was an Aristocrat enjoying a tremendous amount of unearned privilege. He wanted desperately to convince others to quit deluding themselves about where their freedom and prosperity came from. He wanted most of all to convince Brenda, but her dad’s influence made that tough.

The sun was still bright in the sky as Dave approached Brenda’s house. He liked her house. It wasn’t too big or too small. It was old enough to feel lived in, but well maintained and clean enough not to feel run down. It was a solid, working class house, much like the one he lived in. He was especially fond of the TV room in the basement.

Dave and Brenda’s plan for the evening was to endure some card playing with her parents before announcing that they were going “out for a drive”. They were seated at the dining room table across from Ed and Mary (Brenda’s mom). Ed explained the rules of Euchre to Dave – who was the only one completely unfamiliar with the game. Dave hated card games but suffered through by looking forward to going “out for a drive”. He struggled to understand Ed’s instructions as he looked into Ed’s blue eyes – so much like Brenda’s.

When Dave looked at Ed he saw a younger, much better looking version of Ronald Reagan. Ed was an autoworker, like Dave’s father. Ed’s alcoholism was a plague on his family. Every few months he would drive home drunk, park the car crooked on the driveway and scream at his wife for having the temerity to complain.

“So you understand what the Right Bower is now?” Ed asked jovially before dealing the cards for the first Euchre game.

“Yes. Thanks.” Dave marveled that he and Ed had yet to exchange an uncivil word.

According to Ed, the world was a little over 6000 years old (created already aged to fool scientists) and it would end in the year 2000 when Jesus would arrive to call everything off.

“I haven’t read the educated books, but I know the Bible which is the most important one,” he had once explained to Dave.

And Ed certainly did have a lot of big questions answered. Ed knew how the world began, when it would end, what was right or wrong in any situation, what would happen when he died (Ed believed in Hell but seemed blissfully unconcerned about it) and so on.

“No loose ends,” Dave observed, and to his dismay Brenda, who did not blind herself to many of her dad’s shortcomings, was convinced that Ed had a God-given gift for interpreting the bible – especially the book of Revelations. Mary, on the other hand, wasn’t interested in religion.

In frustration Dave was sometimes tempted to ask Brenda. “If you’re so religious why are we having sex?” but he had always restrained himself for reasons both selfish and wise.

Dave had become an atheist at fourteen almost entirely because of reading Bertrand Russell’s essay “Why I am not a Christian”. His parents were not very devout Catholics, part of Iraq’s tiny Chaldean Catholic minority. He didn’t have much hope of making an atheist out of Brenda, but he hoped that (much sooner than the year 2000) she would at least develop doubts about Ed’s “gift”.

Ed didn’t attend any church and regarded preachers as hucksters (one of the few things Dave and he agreed on), but Ed believed almost all the things that right wing Christian Fundamentalists preached.

“What do you think the US is going to do about Muammar Qadaffi?” asked Ed after the second Euchre game

“They’re going to bomb Libya tomorrow evening,” Dave replied – startling himself with his own certainty.

“I’m not really much of a Reagan fan,” Ed began, suddenly in a mood to debate something, “but he was right to say Qadaffi is a ‘Mad Dog’ who has to be dealt with. They aren’t going to put a stop to terrorism unless they start getting tough.”

Hearing these kind of remarks from people he liked made Dave angry. Hearing them from Ed was unbearable.

“Reagan is a terrorist, a far bigger terrorist than Qadaffi,” Dave answered quietly – doing his best to stay calm.

Mary left the table to make tea. Brenda caressed Dave’s thigh under the table.

“Come on. You can’t compare Reagan to Qadaffi. I know the Americans aren’t saints. They’ve done bad things, but what are they supposed to do about their people getting killed like those two soldiers in that German discotheque.”

“They could get their evidence together and go to the World Court. That’s what Nicaragua just did about the terrorist war the US is waging against them. In July the World Court will rule in Nicaragua’s favor and order the US to pay them damages. Of course the US will just ignore the law. That’s what terrorists do, but I don’t think you’d suggest Nicaragua should bomb the US at that point.”

“I haven’t read up on Nicaragua like you, but there’s got to be more to it than that. The Soviet Union prowls around the world and the US can’t just sit by and let them take over.”

“The US invaded Nicaragua in 1912, before the Soviet Union existed, and occupied the country for decades. They’ll continue to intervene in Nicaragua and all over Latin America after the Soviet Union no longer exists.”

“What are you some kind of political fortune teller now?” Brenda laughed. She stroked Dave’s arm to let him know that she was just trying to lighten the mood before things got overly serious – and possibly confrontational.

“The Soviet Union is just an excuse the US uses to support brutal governments.”

“So why don’t they just support Qadaffi,” Ed asked with a smirk.

“They will eventually,” Dave replied. “Qadaffi’s going through a disobedient phase right now and so the US will make an example of him, but by 2003 things will turn around completely. They’ll quietly drop Qadaffi from their list of enemies. ”

“By 2003?” Ed asked. “Are you sure it won’t be 1997, or 1999?” he added, unable to resist a sarcastic response to Dave’s predictions.

“Okay. I’ll give you something you can verify shortly.” There was anxiety in Dave’s voice as he spoke. He felt like he was being taken over.

“The US will bomb Libya at 7:00 pm tomorrow – prime time. Qadaffi’s infant daughter Hanna will be among the civilians killed. Liberals and conservatives will applaud the President. Seventy-seven percent of the US public will approve. Reagan will go on TV and say that Qadaffi has – and I quote – ‘engaged in acts of international terror, acts that put him outside the company of civilized men.’

“No one will mention, or maybe even notice, that neither Reagan nor his allies like Saddam Hussein are civilized men.

“Reagan will also say tomorrow night – again I quote – ‘When our citizens are abused or attacked anywhere in the world on the direct orders of a hostile regime, we will respond so long as I’m in this Oval Office.’

“No one will remind him about the four US nuns who were raped and killed in 1980 by the Salvadoran military which he generously funds. Long after Reagan leaves the White House, the US government will continue to deny that the Salvadoran military ordered the murders. The Salvadoran officers who ordered a cover up will be granted residency in the US.

“No one will remember it. When I say no one of course I mean no one on TV, no one with access to a large audience. Millions of people like me in the US and around the world will scream at their TV sets in frustration. Democrats and Republicans will join together to glorify Reagan when he finally dies in 2004. The people he helped murder will be swept under the rug like so much garbage.”

“Dave, let’s go out for drive,” Brenda said nervously.

Ed scoffed: “I don’t see how you can possibly…”

“Bombing Libya, squashing Grenada, kicking Iraq out of Kuwait as they will in 1991 – it’s all part of a long term strategy to soften the public up for larger scale killing down the road. Vietnam messed things up for them, but by 2003 they’ll feel ready to let their military do some major killing again. They try to do it better. They won’t be able to sacrifice 55,000 troops like they did in Veitnam. They’ll kill over a million Iraqis, but not as many as they would have in the 1960’s.

“Think of it like this – Reagan and his handlers are like pieces of shit floating on a huge reservoir of ignorance and bigotry. The reservoir is slowly draining. The shit is sinking, way too slowly, but it is sinking.”

“Oh, will you please….”

“The world won’t end in 2000, Ed. It won’t end for most people, but it will for you if you don’t stop drinking and start monitoring your blood sugar.”

Ed’s nostrils flared and he barked at Dave in a fierce voice that Brenda knew very well.

“You better watch your mouth. I don’t know what kind of trip you’re on, but you better watch….”

“You’ll get tossed in jail the next time you drink and drive. I’ll time my phone call to the police perfectly, before you’re even plastered, so they can pick you up at Wyandotte Tavern parking lot. In fact, if I’m not busy, I’ll drive over and watch them haul you away.”

“I just left to make tea!” Mary screamed as Ed sprang up from the table. Mary and Brenda put themselves between Ed and Dave. Ed didn’t try to push his way past them.

“Mary will get up the courage to leave you. It won’t be long. Actions have consequences, Ed. Many Americans will figure that out on September 11, 2001 when the World Trade Center is blown up. Of course, many others will remain in denial.”

Dave’s tone was no longer mocking, as it had been when he talked about the police arresting Ed.

“He’s gone totally insane. Or he’s on drugs…” Ed said to Mary.

Moments later Dave and Brenda stepped out onto the porch, and Dave said, “It’s not going to work between us.”

The car keys slipped from Brenda’s hands and smacked the floorboards.

“What’s wrong with you?” she asked.

“Years will pass before the differences between us become manageable,” he explained.

“Fuck off with your predictions, you nutcase!” she said through tears.

Dave barely slept over the next several weeks as he wrote a manuscript full of predictions up to the year 2008. There was a chapter on environmental disasters – even one with reviews of movies that would be released over the following decade. He tried to get it published, but no one would touch it. Even very small radical left wing publications he had thought might be receptive wanted nothing to do with it.

Some thought he was simply nuts, though one leftist publisher admitted that the short term predictions they had been able to check turned out to be “stunningly accurate,” but they were not willing to risk their credibility with detailed predictions. “Even if one percent of them turn out to be wrong that’s too much,” Dave was told. “We’re held to a higher standard. That’s the way it is when you challenge Power. The powerful and their servants, on the other hand, can be wrong, or even just lie, as often as they like. Sorry.”

Another was less diplomatic: “Leftists have always been good at predicting disasters. So what?”

His prophetic powers had failed to alert him to that disappointment, but he came to be comforted by how much he could not foresee. He assumed it meant that the future was not set in stone. Things could change.

Brenda read the manuscript after it arrived in the mail one day and was deeply impacted – more so with each passing year.

Dave had attached a note to it that read as follows:


Maher Arar will immigrate to Canada from Syria with his family next year. In 2002, while passing through New York City on his way home from a vacation, he will be arrested and deported to Syria despite being a Canadian citizen. Canadian officials will feed their counterparts in the US bogus ‘intelligence’ that will lead to his being tortured in Syria for 10 months. I refer to his case vaguely in chapter 16 because I can’t predict what all the consequences will be in detail.

If there isn’t a major public outcry and an official inquiry into Arar’s case, then I myself will suffer a similar fate. I could avoid it by keeping a low profile politically but I won’t do that – as you know.

Please study law. You could be a big help to people like Arar and also many refugees who cross the border into Windsor in the years to come.

I wish so badly that things could have worked out with us.


Dave was much relieved in 2004 when Arar’s supporters successfully pressured the Canadian government to launch a public inquiry. While watching the news, Dave noticed a very familiar woman standing with other members of Arar’s legal team. Brenda. He couldn’t have felt more proud. Her presence was nothing he felt he could have ever predicted. And he dared not try to predict her reaction to the message he was about to send her.


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