|A country without a memory is a country of madmen.
The quarantine was over.
Maybe due to his dreams or perhaps just from his personal scrutiny, Douglas knew that all of the vestiges of the ancient viruses had dissipated. The world had been cleansed.
At least biologically, the stranger no longer posed a danger, ideological infection was a completely different matter. The townsfolk were still awaiting the much deferred good news Douglas had promised them a few days ago, but before that could happen he had to speak at length with the stranger.
Upon entering the Center, Douglas noticed little Maria Perez standing next to the strangers’ wheelchair animatedly chatting him up. The stranger munched from a tray of food and treats she brought.
Douglas walked over to Maria, swooped her tiny four your old frame into his arms and said, in his best child-like voice: “have we made a new friend?”
“He doesn’t talk very much. That’s okay though, I can talk enough for both of us.”
“Well sweetie, our friend doesn’t feel very good. He probably has a tummy ache from all these goodies you’ve been giving him, do you know what his name is?”
“No I don’t, hmm…”; she looked intently at the stranger. “What’s your name?”
He glanced up at her, turned his attention back to his food, “Darryl”.
“I’m Maria, and my daddy says I can talk anyone’s ear off, but I haven’t seen it happen yet, don’t think I really want to.”
Douglas put Maria down in front of him, put his hands on her shoulders and said; “listen honey, Kenya is in the activity room and I am sure she would love to have her ear talked off just about now, whad’ya think?” He pointed to Laura, who was lingering nearby and on cue she motioned Maria to follow her.
Douglas pulled up a chair next to Darryl and smiled. Darryl set his tray on the table, and then looked at Douglas. “So, I reckon you’re the big cheese around here. I guess you decide what’s gonna happen to me. Whatever it is, there ain’t shit I can do about it, considering the condition I’m in.” He motioned to his taped ribs and broken leg.
“Well Darryl, first, I’m not the big cheese. I just happen to be the oldest guy here, except for you, now. I suspect you’re older than me. Secondly, considering the condition you’re in, the only danger I pose to you is that your ears may fall off, according to Maria.”
Darryl started to chuckle sarcastically, but choked it off because of the pain in his ribs.
“Well. I’ve been thinkin’…. I know I fucked up real bad, but if you folks ain’t plannin’ on killin’ me, then do whatever you feel you gotta do to punish me so’s I can go home.”
“Home? Where would that be?”
“You know, I’m not as dumb as I look. I ain’t never gonna let you find that out.”
“Fine with me. We’re just going to work on making you better. When that happens you’re free to go wherever you want. Of course you might need some help with that, because not only is your leg broken, but so is your car. Those two things might make it hard for you to move around on your own.”
Darryl perused the room cynically then pounded his fist on the table.
“Look, why don’t you just kick my ass, and get it over with. You know I tried to snatch your old lady, what the hell could piss off a man more? Where I come from, we may not have manners as good as you, but at least we take care of business right away. We don’t fuck with folks like you’re doin’ now!” He started to swing at Douglas, but by the time it landed, pain had reduced the force and turned the blow into a love tap.
“Shit”, Darryl murmured as he looked at his impotent fist and almost started to chuckle again.
Douglas smiled. “How about we start over? Pleased to meet you Darryl, my name is Douglas.
You, my friend, are the first visitor we have ever had in Idyll. That makes your arrival here an historic occasion. I am sure I speak for all of us when I say it is good to finally meet you, good to know there is someone else out there. Tell me how you felt when you discovered we exist?”
“I don’t know about then. Right now I’m thinking you’re all fuckin’ nuts.”
“Well, that’s only because we are, at least compared to the way your people think. Now think about it, even where you come from there has to be people who think different from you. Does that mean they’re crazy?”
“Pretty much. My brother is crazy. He doesn’t believe we can live outside of town without a hazmat suit, I’m living proof, and I guess you are too, that he’s fuckin’ crazy.”
“Well think about this Darryl, maybe you have more in common with us than the people who think like your brother. How many other folks are wandering around without suits?”
“Just me, and I guess you folks. That’s why I tried to grab your old lady, I need to show Bobby that he is dead wrong.”
“I hope you get the chance, but you don’t have to kidnap anyone, I’m sure there are plenty of folk here who would be glad to meet your brother.”
“Yeah, that’s great, but I’m sure the feeling wouldn’t be mutual. He’d shoot us on sight.”
“Well again, our towns have different ways of thinking, but I can’t imagine anywhere where shooting someone is an expression of brotherly love. Maybe you guys are crazier than us.”
“Fuck you man, my brother would only shoot me because he really thinks I would infect the whole town, he thinks he’d be protecting them.”
“Now that just tells me you do respect your brother.”
“..and that tells me that you are fuckin’ crazy, has nothing to do with respect, its survival man. If you ever went up against him he’d shoot the whole lot of you without blinkin’. You may think you’re pretty fuckin’ smart, won’t help you when you’re dead.”
“Darryl, you make a good point. Maybe your age has made you wiser than even me, the oldest guy in this town. What do you think we should do about all of this?”
“Hell, I don’t know, I wish there was some way I could show Bobby all this without us havin’ to get killed while doin’ it.” Darryl shook his head in exasperation.
“You’re a smart man Darryl. This is what I’m going to do; feed you, get you better, and just be here if there’s something you think we could do to help you figure that out. There are a lot of people around here a lot smarter than I am and I’m sure they would like to help. If you want, I’ll ask them to talk with you about it.”
Darryl slowly reached his hand up and started scratching his head. He glanced around the large room and noticed that most of the people in it were going about their business, scarcely noticing he was even there.
All of his life, Douglas had lived by one simple credo: you can’t tell people what they should do, his entire life philosophy was based on complete autonomy. He presumed when an individual is provided with all the essential information they would usually make the best choice, especially when one got older and more experienced.
He figured Darryl to be about fifty-five, or so, even though he looked much older, thanks to hard living. He shared the culture of the ancient people. They lead a cruel and barren life in contrast to the folk of Idyll. His dreams had painted a picture for him and no one else. This explained why he was uniquely qualified to break through to this man, even though, as he said, there were lots of people smarter than him in town.
“So, Douglas, what are you gonna do to me? Even crazy people have to know something about crime and punishment, it’s a fact I slapped your old lady around and dragged her and the kid off to my car, I know you’re gonna want to make me pay for it.”
“We have a custom for that. Whenever anybody has a disagreement, we let them get together and figure out a solution.”
“Laura, Kenya”; he shouted out the other way. Laura appeared around the corner with Kenya in tow with her good arm.
“Mister, uh Mister. . .” Douglas looked at Darryl expecting him to fill in the blank.
“I believe Mr. Johnson is ready to speak with you two.”
“Darryl Johnson, I would like to formally introduce you to Laura Starkey and Kenya Marley.” Douglas held out a hand in each of their directions and receded into the background.
Kenya burst forward and put her hand on Darryl’s shoulder. “Mister Johnson, I am very sorry for hurting you, really I am, but you shouldn’t have been scaring me and Gran like you were. It wasn’t very nice of you and I was mad you hurt my gramma because I love her more than the whole wide world. I’m sorry you got hurt, but me and Gran aren’t scared anymore so I’m glad I did it.”
“And that’s all I want to say.’
“Your turn.” Kenya stood and stared at him with arms akimbo.
Darryl stared at her, then looked up to Laura for a minute, then back to Kenya. “I guess y’all got a right to be squarely pissed at me. If I was thinking clearer maybe I coulda’ done what I did a little different. Hell, I’d just seen an outlander, got thrown out of town and drove like a madman for what seemed like forever. I was half out of my mind. I really didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
Kenya grabbed him by his arm and looked him in the eye. “So, does that mean you’re sorry and you’ll never ever do it again?”
Darryl almost chuckled again. “Yeah, I guess that kinda sums it up.”
“Alright then.” She looked up at Laura. “I’m okay with that, how ‘bout you Gran?”
“Yes, Kenya, I think you tied the situation up very nicely, but I have to talk to Mr. Johnson about penance.”
“I don’t even know what pen ants are, but can you tell me later Gran? Maria was trying to see if she could make my ears fall off just by talking, and I want to see if she could.”
“You run along then sweetheart, I’ll explain the ants to Mr. Johnson all by myself.”
They both watched as she gamboled around the corner.
Laura sat down next to Darryl, grabbed his weathered hand and said; “Mr. Johnson, Darryl, I am sorry we had to have an altercation, maybe I could have done something differently, I don’t know, but what you did was wrong and now you’ll have to pay.”
“Oh boy, I’ve been waitin’ for this, lay it on me sister.” Darryl did chuckle this time and was immediately sorry.
Laura waited for his moaning to cease. “For the next 3 or 4 days you will be confined to this wheelchair. In addition you are sentenced to be subjected to chatter from anyone in Idyll who feels the urge to talk to you until they day you are able to go back to wherever you came from, if you so desire.” She looked back at Douglas.
“This is what they used to call retribution.”
Douglas smiled and said;“restitution.”
“Whatever, it’s all the same to me, I’m not the historian you are Doug.”
“Do you understand Darryl?” She asked.
Darryl looked about the room, now everybody was looking at him. “Not really, but I sure ain’t gonna bitch about it. You folks are loony, but who am I to complain if it works in my favor? Let me see if I got this right, my only punishment is to set here and listen to all you fruitcakes talk to me, is that it?”
“Too harsh? If you prefer we could all just beat you with shovels.” The room got silent.
After an awkward pause Laura said; “I’m kidding people.”
Louis stepped forward from the group of people. “We knew that Mom, what startled us is that you actually made a joke, you’re evolving into a funny person. Makes a son proud.”
Louis turned to face the gathering crowd, it seemed like half the town had assembled now.
“Listen people, my dad and I are finally going to get to talk to everyone about history, Mr. Johnson, we’d love for you to be there. So sit down, have a cup of Joe and let’s all learn a little ancient history.”