Amoeba’s Lorica: Quarantine (second part)

Read the first part.

Jason stared down the road leading out of the village long after the dawn patrol had disappeared, long after the growling, grinding noises that their personnel carrier made had faded away. Nothing ever traveled down that road except the patrols and those that they sometimes escorted, such as the supply trucks, or the medical teams that periodically appeared, in their gaudy red-and-yellow ambulances, to do health checks. Jason wondered where they all came from, where they went when they were done with his family, done with the village. No one could tell him, because none of his neighbors ever left the village, and his mother had told him, repeatedly, that he was never, never …

“Here he is, Mommy!”

The curtains in which he was wrapped were parted. Jason, suddenly exposed and stunned, faced his seven-year-old sister Mildred. He stared at her, and her brown skin and eyes, and curly black hair, as if he had never seen her before.

“Jason?”

The boy’s eyes jerked past Mildred, focused on his mother Wendy, who was standing behind her. He expected to see an angry mommy, back stiff, arms crossed, a scowl on her face. What he saw instead was that gorgeous doll that the dawn patrol man had pawed, arms limp at her sides, a facial expression and body language inexpressibly sad, defeated, broken. As he watched, a tear broke from the corner of her right eye and rolled down her cheek.

That was too much for Jason. He rolled himself up under the curtained living room window and bawled like the little boy he had sworn he would never ever be again. When the worst of it was over, he felt a touch on his shoulder. He looked up to find his mother sitting beside him. He crawled into her lap, still sobbing and sniffling, and soon passed out.

He woke up in his bed, a sunbeam across his face. His head hurt, his eyes smarted, and he had a runny nose. He rolled to get out of the sunbeam and to pick up the clean rag, that did duty as a handkerchief, from the nightstand to his right. Suddenly, he saw that his mother was sitting beside the bed. He recoiled.

“Relax, Jason, it’s all right,” his mother soothed. “Though”, she added wryly, “you are getting a bit big for me to be carrying you to bed.”

“You’re not mad at me?”

“Not at you, son,” Wendy sighed. “You are growing up, you are asking questions, there are things that that you should know, that it is time that you should know. This day was going to happen. I didn’t want to admit it, didn’t want to do anything about it. Now it’s here, and I have to do what I should have done, awhile ago. Sometimes, things just work themselves out.”

“What time is it?”

“Just about midday.”

“My chores!” Jason shot upright in bed.

Wendy patted him back down. “Andy is doing them for you. It’s high time he learned how to help look after the others, to be the leader if … something happens.” Andy, ten years old, with brown almond eyes and straight black hair, was the second eldest child after Jason. “This is important. Tell me what you saw this morning.”

Jason started at the beginning. He told his mother about, and apologized for, his resolve to see the dawn patrol. About how he snuck out of bed before anyone else, including his mother, was up, and found his hiding place among the living room window curtains, with a view to the front entrance of the house. He described the personnel carrier that carried the dawn patrol, and the men that it carried. He started to describe the leader of the patrol, the man with stripes on his sleeve, then stopped, remembering his shocked surprise when Mildred found him. “He looked just like Mildred!”, he exclaimed. “And Manuel!”, his three-year old brother. His mother sagged, but merely nodded.

“And how could that man touch you like that?”, Jason demanded. “That’s against the rules of quarantine!

“He’s allowed. All the dawn patrol leaders are allowed. It’s part of the deal.”

What deal?”, Jason demanded, aghast.

Lunch!” The cry came from the kitchen.

“Thank you, Andy!” his mother called out. Then, to Jason, she said, “Get dressed, and go eat lunch. When you’re done, come to the library.”

The library was in the attic of their house. It was reached by a steep, narrow stairway from the bathroom, concealed behind a secret panel which could only be opened by a five-step unlocking procedure. Its shelves were stacked high with books of every description, from children’s picture books to encyclopedias. At one end, there was a pile of plastic and metal things, with knobs and glassy screens and wires, that, as far as Jason could tell, were never used for anything. Every day from the age of four, Wendy spent forty-five minutes of every day with each of her children, teaching them to read. Jason, his mother said, was exceptionally good at it; he was able to read most of the encyclopedia entries with ease, though often he had no clue about many of the objects that were described in the books. He had wanted to brag about how well he could read, but his mother did get cross on that occasion, letting him know, in no uncertain terms, that his ability to read was a secret, about which he was to tell nobody. His siblings got the same message.

Jason finished his lunch, leaving the cleaning-up leadership to Andy as he had been told to do, and crawled up the stairs to the library. Wendy was waiting for him, and beckoned him to sit down. Without a word, she poked at a panel on the end wall of the library, which opened, revealing a secret chamber. From that chamber, she pulled out a white folder. Printed on the cover of that folder was a picture of a man with long blond hair and blue eyes. A man that looked remarkably like Jason himself.

“Son”, Wendy said solemnly, “this is …”

She stopped speaking abruptly, raised her head, listened. In the far distance, a strident male voice chanted.

“I know it well and you’ve been told!”

A chorus of male voices repeated the line, then the solo voice again.

“Keep quarantine or you will fold!”

Wendy threw the folder into the secret chamber, slammed the door shut. Jason was already halfway down the stairs. His mother followed as fast as the passage would allow, securing the panel behind her. She ran to fetch the three youngest children, while Jason, back in charge, assembled the four eldest. Within a minute, Wendy and all seven of her children were gathered by the front door, in what was obviously a well-practiced, pre-arranged order.

The marching patrol was, by then, nearly in front of their house, and their tromp and their cadence could both be heard loud and clear.

“I know well and you’ve been told!”

We know well and we’ve been told!”

“Keep quarantine or you will fold!”

“Keep quarantine or you will fold!”

“Sound off!”

“One two!”

“Once more!”

“Three four!”

“Qua-ran-tine-pa-trol HO!”

“Three four!”

“Patroooooool, HALT!”

“One two!”

“Inspection detail, on the double!”

“Booyah!”

“Fall out!”

There was a thunderous stampede of boot-shod feet, which coalesced into a single set of stomping footsteps.

And then, a ferocious knock on the door.

[To be continued]

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He and She: Just Sew Sew

He: “So, the top one’s been washed, the bottom one hasn’t been, yet. Yes?”

She: “Yes. Sigh.

He: “So what we have here is the incredible shrinking placemat?”

She: “[grumble]”

He: “Since the fabric on the top one’s wrinkled, I guess that what’s shrunk is the batting.”

She: “That’s what it looks like to me.”

He: “So does that mean that the ratio between the washed and the unwashed placemat is the batting average?”

She: “[…] Why do I keep you?”

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Amoeba’s Lorica: Unanswered

FOREWORD (To the Music)

The parts of the flute quartet may be taken by two flutes, an oboe, and a clarinet. The trumpet should use a mute unless playing in a very large room, or with a larger string orchestra. The strings (con sordini; “with mutes“) play ppp throughout with no change in tempo. They are to represent “The Silence of Nature – Which Knows All, But Says Nothing.” The trumpet intones “Coronavirus”, and states it in the same tone of voice each time. But the hunt for “The Response to Coronavirus”, undertaken by the flutes and other human beings, becomes gradually more active, faster, louder. As time goes on, the “Fighting Responders” become more crazed, more frantic, more grasping at straws, and finally, with a last despairing scream, give up. After they disappear, “Coronavirus”, unperturbed, is sounded for the last time, and the “Silence of Nature” withdraws, leaving nothing.

Charles Edward Ives, 1908 (recalculated for this meridian)

The original Foreword and score (one page of score missing).

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