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Chapter 24 - Freak

A customary institutional malady, when a winter day turned unseasonably warm the school strove to imitate an oven in which to bake gingerbread boys and girls. Mr. Durant's class, their last of the day, might well have been filled with narcoleptic gas.

"I would be gratified if none of you fell all the way out of your chairs. The crash of your bodies on the floor might waken the more delicate of the sleepers among us."

Ezra's reputation regarding people who slept in his class was such that his thinly veiled admonition brought everyone upright in their chairs.

"What is a common thread running through the lives of history's artists?"

"Rejection," said one girl.

"More specifically?"

"No one buys their work because they don't understand it."

"Financial rejection is certainly a common thread. Others?"

Fran said, "Oddballs."

Ezra said, "Explain that."

"The artists are treated like weirdos because they do not fit the common pattern of the society around them."

"Why?"

Dean said, "Most everyone in this class can answer that by telling you their life story."

"True," a boy said.

"People fear anything different," said Athena.

Fran felt a kind of pressure behind her eyes, as if something inside was trying to get out. "I can't agree."

Everyone turned their eyes to her.

"Athena's is a common statement. Your objection?" Ezra asked.

Fran said, "There's more to it than that."

Ezra, and the class, waited in silence for her to continue.

Fran was unsettled by the pressure, and silence of the room. Here I go again, she thought. Can't you ever keep quiet? She said, "People fear an alien standard. People love variations on things they already accept. Like a song that's technically different but is in truth just like a thousand other popular songs. What we really fear is a standard that discredits the foundation on which we've built our lives."

"People fear invalidation." Dean did not hesitate to step in.

"People fear something that upends the measures by which they judge the world."

"People fear starting their evaluation of life over again from scratch."

"People fear being a fool duped into obedience to a flawed evaluation system."

"So people defend an ethic they may no longer believe."

Ezra said, "Yes. A true artist challenges preconceptions. They cannot help but threaten some form of established order."

The pressure in Fran's head was gone suddenly as it had come. "The fiercest of those established orders is the one inside our heads."

"Even to the point of seeing things that are not there, and not seeing things that stand in plain sight." Dean shook his head. "We're so eager to deceive ourselves into a validation."

Ezra said, "How does this multilevel resistance effect the artist?"

Athena said, "They believe there's something wrong with them because they can't be like everyone else. They feel like a freak."

Ezra said, "This is what I wanted to get at. If you live a full enriched life you will be viewed as a freak by those who cling to small lives. If you open the eyes of the world you will gain no applause among those who wish to sleep. Though it is hard for those of you in this room to understand, many people strive to keep their eyes closed to anything that might rearrange the structure of their world. Such people consider a true artist to be an enemy."

This struck the twins with tremendous force. They were the outsider's outsiders. They were charter members of the freak parade without even being artists. Yet.

Ezra said, "I want you to all listen to me carefully. You are not the freaks. You are beginning to live as humans instead of animals. It is the people who hate to read and loath learning, people sans ambitions higher than those of pigs - they are the freaks. Being outnumbered does not mean you are defective. Quite the opposite. Being a real human being is supremely difficult. Being a trousered ape is easy. The ratio of human to ape is to be expected."

Ezra walked around and sat on the front of his desk. "More than individuals can feel threatened by people who are awake. Anyone who wishes people to behave a certain way need not control them. People rebel against control. Simply influence them. Make it easier for people to turn left than turn right. Most people will turn left."

Dean said, "In a republic, if you manipulate the majority to your way of thinking, you control the country."

"Exactly," said Ezra.

Student realizations and words came simultaneously.

"Politics and art makes more sense now."

"You go after the scribe and priest to stay in power because these are the sources of inspiration, and thus influence."

"And not just co-opt them into creating an approved influence."

"No, the more complex the culture the more it's in the power broker's interest to diminish both art and religion."

"That will tend to make people look increasingly to the government as their replacement source of influence."

"Confusion then is a useful environment for the power brokers."

"If you flood the air with noises, only the most powerful voices will be heard above the din."

"The government has one powerful voice."

"The formula of power in a republic is simple enough. Co-opt the artist and priest to purvey your message. Silence artists and priests who refuse to cooperate. Dilute the message of all artists and priests by filling the streets with a bedlam of messages. Craft a clear simple plan to shout over the government's megaphone, ideally as a slogan. Craft daily operations to make it easier to obey than to resist the government's will."

"What should friends of liberty do?"

"Draw your sources of influence from roads less traveled."

"And resist the enemies of liberty."

Fran said, "I know a source less traveled."

 


Chapter 40 - Purple Iris

One evening when Fran and Dean entered the empty library a little before dusk, Trevor barked to be let out. Mark opened the door. Trevor went straight to a table with a vase and gingerly extracted a flower. He brought it before Mark.

The man sighed as if his heart would break. "You are right. It is that time."

Mark turned to the twins. "I think Trevor waited until you two came in. Since you pass the necropolis on the way home, will you accompany us?"

Dean said, "But we just got here."

Fran noted the emotional environment. "We'd be honored."

Mark reversed the sign in the window.

Day tipped into evening. Moisture rose. Lawn mowers droned like iron cicadas. The three emerged from the city library in Trevor's wake, who bore a purple iris in his mouth. Mark locked the door.

The route they walked was aged. The trees along both sides of the street formed a complete ceiling. Massive trunks made them feel they walked a corridor whose walls were pierced at intervals by deep-set windows. The weight of the air held the leaves silent like a drummer pinching off a trembling cymbal.

Near the library was a church fronting a cemetery. The limestone walls of the church were mottled by grey ages of weathering. The wrought iron fence whose spears towered above them was well painted, but the decades had eaten irregularities into every blackened surface. Fran wondered how many times the iron had demanded a new skin.

Near the back of the cemetery they found Richard's grave. Trevor sat down six feet from the headstone. Mark advanced. He removed last month's flower and a couple of dead leaves that had blown in, then backed away. He indicated Fran and Dean follow his lead.

Trevor advanced until face to face with the gravestone, then stood motionless five seconds. Trevor lowered the flower to rest against the base where it met the ground, then walked backward to sit at his original spot.

Softly, Mark said, "Most of Trevor's ceremony is precisely laid out, but this is the place where he talks to Richard. Sometimes that takes a minute, sometimes that takes half an hour." He looked down at them, tears in his eyes. "If you need, you can go home. But you are welcome to wait."

Neither moved.

In the silence, the drone of the iron cicadas seemed to grow until the close-clipped grass and dark stones could have been surrounded by an aerodrome of Sopwith Camels preparing to extend mans' inhumanity to the skies. The voice of real cicadas complained of the competition. On the eastern horizon the black of space began to peer through with its eyes of stars. The air was more breathless even than it had been inside the library.

After nearly fifteen minutes Trevor raised his head and sounded one long howl. The impossible longing in that sound brought matching tears to the twin's eyes. Could even the damned give such hopelessness voice? The twins were stunned. All three people experienced being lost, of being truly alone in the world. That voice communicated an unimaginable isolation.

Trevor, a soul exiled to the limbo between human cunning and canine loyalty, eventually backed away until he stood by Mark's left leg. Trevor still could not tear his eyes from Richard's stone. He waited motionless until Mark, through tears, gently tapped the top of his head. Mark and Trevor led the way back to the street. The somber pair parted ways with the twins and returned to their home at the library.

Fran and Dean walked in a twilight dreamworld back to their house.

 


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