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Approx. 1800 words                         Jonathan V. Post
Emerald City Publishing
3225 N. Marengo
Altadena, CA 91001

The People Move On
Jonathan V. Post

I remember that the moon had been full, fat and silver above the lake, when we had all come into the town. We'd been moving on for some time, me and my gentle wife Vera; gruff Gaspar and bubby Nellie; the appropriately-named carpenters Melville and Rebecca Hammering; our retired schoolteachers, Virgil and Ida Bedsole, still a pair of poetry-quoting romantics; all the families. We weren't bringing anything with us but our clothes and a few cooking things, and the inventory of what we'd left behind long ago in our homes, back where we couldn't go for now. We didn't want to wake up The People, of course, so we parked our cars and trailers as quietly as possible, though Nicholas and Myrtle Boatright did bang around for a bit while getting little Perin's foot free from the glove compartment. Old Walter Womble shushed us, waving his stub of a forefinger in admonition, then we stretched until our backs popped, and all lay down amid the "keep, keep" of tiny treefrogs, for a nap on blankets in the summer moonlight. After the moon had set, and the sun straggled up, The People greeted us as warmly as if we'd been almost family. Red-haired Ole and Krista dragged folding wicker chairs out of their garden shed. Arngrim, Petr, and Balthasar squeezed fresh lemons and limes into a huge silver tureen, while Wallop and Knud mixed in fresh clover honey. They bustled about, fixed us a wonderful meal, showed us around their houses with considerable pride, played with our children. They looked a lot like us, except that their faces were a little rounder when they laughed, or maybe a little thinner when they squinted off into the distance for a moment, or maybe a different style in the way they dressed, it was hard to say. But they made us feel welcome. We stuck around, poking into this and that, and pretty soon we were helping merry Malte, long-haired Emu, and Arsen Eugeniusz (always philosophizing about the least common items) to fix a fine dinner of breaded cutlets, turnips mashed with orange, snap beans with bacon, and fiddlehead salad. We all sat on the grassy hillside, while our Dirk and Manfred competed with their Stanka and Ivor to tell the funniest jokes. Ellsworth and Billings, noted for their keen observation and memory regaled their patient Hieronimus and ever- questioning Sabina about the strange places we'd been. Roland whittled elm-branch lizards for the youngest of The People, placid blue-eyed Mody, clambering Ettrick, and the tumbling tow-haired twins, Ekkehard and Gergely. Violet bounced the beaming infants Onno and Negley on her plump knees, while we rambled on (still nibbling nutted cheese balls) about the weather, why we couldn't go home just now, how good the food was, funny things children say when they wake up from a dream, and that sort of talk. It seemed only natural to stick around for a while, so after a while me and Vera, Virgil and Ida, Valentine and Ady fixed gazpacho, nutmeg rolls, beef noodle casserole and bread pudding for them. I remember how well my wife had learned where everything was kept in one particular house, the one with the octagonal living room and the oversized red shutters. "I really like this house," said our daughter, fluffing up a pillow. "It's not our home," I said, "but isn't it nice of The People to let us visit here for a spell?" The sun went down, and the moon came up, only a wisp less full than the night before, but it was just as warm, and the grass smelled just as sweet so, disinclined to move on just now, we lay our blankets near the cars and slept again, so quiet you could hear trout splashing in the lake. We did most of the cooking next day, and cleaned up the houses without asking, just as a favor to The People. For a change, they let us sleep in their beds while they stretched out on the blankets the next night, almost as if they'd forgotten how beautiful the summer nights could be, while we nestled in clean sheets and fell asleep to the sound of songs outside. One particular couple of The People, Istvan and Hepsa, the ones whose home we were staying in now, were real sweet to our daughter Janny, spoiled her in that way that grandparents do, or folks who wished that they had kids but never got around to having. My wife was opening and closing cabinets, switching some of their cooking things for ours. They asked us, so politely, if we'd make a list for them of all their household goods. I agreed. The next night, while we got used to the beds, they moved their blankets closer to the cars, and we could hear them tinkering with the engines, tuning them up to run nice and smooth after we'd run them ragged not long ago. We showed off our cars and trailers the next day, and they left some of their things in them, for a spell. It seemed only natural for us to lend them our car keys so that they could take a test drive now and then. We never did learn the words to their songs, but the melody sticks in mind even now, and seemed to hang in the air like dandelion fluff or the smell of fresh baked bread when The People drove away, waving and smiling, promising to come back soon, while we were promising to take good care of their homes for them. One thing led to another, one season to the next, and our little girl hurt her leg sliding on the ice when the lake froze over, and then got well again, and the years just seemed to glide by easily. Our daughter up and married the boy next door, Lionel, and it seemed so quiet around the house, so that I noticed that I didn't quite fit in with all my friends, but didn't give it much thought, and kept at work until I got used to things. There came a night when the moon was full above the lake, and we stepped out on our porches to hear if the distant sound was crickets or maybe the call of many cars, vrooming towards us over the hills. When we woke up that morning, The People had come back, and were rolling up blankets, shaking the grass off of them. We noticed that they'd painted the cars kind of funny, but bright and colorful enough. There was still something odd about the way they dressed. Nothing unusual about any single blouse or pair of pants. Maybe a style of wearing two of something where we'd wear only one, or the other way around. But it was good to see them, and after our eldest, Frederik, formally greeted their eldest, Jup, we fixed them the nicest shirred egg, gooseberry waffle, and apple sausage breakfast anyone would want. It was good to sit around and talk, outside with the smell of clover and lilac. That couple was proud of their new daughter, Honami, and she was a lovely girl, all freckles and cartwheels. We made sure to give her an extra slice of lemon meringue pie. I recall mother Hepsa saying, not for my ears, "this is your house, you know" to Honami, and my grown up young lady Janny pampered the little darling too, and later remarked how pleased the girl was that the house was so nice, the walls so clean, the pillows so fluffy and all. We were sitting around on the hillside, telling stories, listening to the strange places they'd been, sharing a drink or two. They talked just like us, except for a few Fred-words. You know, something that you just can't put your finger on, and Fred makes up a phrase for it, and it's so right that everyone uses that term from then on. At one point, I was saying something about launch control, a satellite that went round and round the Earth forever, a technician who referred to "a glitch" in the communications. " 'A glitch,' the General remarked. 'What kind of word is that? It's not in the dictionary.' " The People laughed. I noticed that it wasn't like a ripple of laughter passing through them like wind in winter wheat, but that every single one, man woman and child, started laughing and stopped laughing at exactly the same time. But no one else noticed, so I let it pass. A few of The People -- Irnik, Winkel, Alfra and Willibald, as I recall -- asked the families if they'd made up the lists of all the things in the houses. I had, of course, because I'd promised, and handed it over to Istvan Hepsa, and their little girl, but everyone else had apologies about how this had led to that, how they'd been too busy fixing furnaces or oiling hinges, and never got around to it. For the only time, I thought I saw a wingbeat of sadness on the faces of The People, but they were such a naturally happy group that it seemed to pass, and no one thought about it any more. After one more night of song in the silver moonlight, they waved good-bye, and all drove away. My wife, Vera, brushing a gray hair from her smooth forehead, said "you really liked them. I can tell." "I do, I really do, and it seems that they liked me more than anyone else here." "That's because you nearly don't fit in here, and aren't close to many of the old friends. Why, you scarcely ever see your son-in- law Lionel and his folks these days. I'd say The People liked you for the same reason that our folks tend find you a little distant." When she said that, I felt something odd, something blurry that I couldn't put my finger on. But I had a fleeting wish that I could follow one of the disappearing cars, with its bright paint in colors and patterns I wouldn't have thought of but which looked so right on the road. I wished I'd taken the time to learn the words to those songs, the ones that shimmered in the night air like the wings of dragonflies. The echoing hoot of an owl sounded like the very hollowness of all displacements. Lightning bugs twirled in the air, and their flickering hieroglyphs told sad tales of single-minded settlers driving out the ancient native tribes. The "keep, keep" of treefrogs and the deeper bassoon croak of bullfrogs was a mournful duet about the younger generation heedlessly shouldering their elders aside, thoughtlessly tossing their tested values on the ash heap. The awkward scuttle of possums on the road told all I needed to know of distance and replacement. Still, the time for roads was done. So after a while, I closed the screen door against the waning moon, and went back into my home, crawled into the familiar smelling sheets of bed without waking my wife, and fell asleep while listening for some distant music I knew I'd never hear again.
-- The End --
Copyright 1996, by Emerald City Publishing. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission. May be posted electronically provided that it is transmitted unaltered, in its entirety, and without charge.