“Before we were asked to choose months, we never fought,” Maggie said, pummeling the bread dough and whipping it around to give the other side a whack.
“Bullshit,” her husband replied. He grabbed the newspaper in an attempt to exit the ring before the bell for the third round. In their years together, after a few determined punches, they had always found a way to compromise. This time there was more at stake than in any previous match.
“Never fought like this,” his wife called after him, wiping flour from her eyelids and tossing the dough back on the counter. “The kids aren’t speaking to us and every time I step out the door someone pulls me aside to promote their favourite month.”
“They don’t want to miss your baked goods,” he called back.
“They can buy some to freeze for later when we share a month.”
Wilbur poked his head back around the corner. “I’m not giving up February,” he said. “I won’t give up snow.”
“Go to the indoor winter park they promised if you want snow,” his wife said. “I’m sick of shoveling and sliding about in it. I’m sticking to summer months.”
“Yeah, who’d want to miss mosquitoes and black flies?”
“I’ll buy a gauze tent.”
The moment the front door slammed shut, Maggie leaned under the counter and pulled out the sherry bottle. She’d bought drinking sherry—Australian—for cooking. Plopping her ample bottom on the kitchen stool, she poured six ounces into her measuring cup and sighed.
Initially, Maggie had been optimistic about the research project. But her husband, who had an annoying habit of being right, had been skeptical about the “chance of a lifetime” from the get-go. She now recognized there were problems but still the chance to choose which of the twelve months you wanted in your year, with the possibility of repeats, five Julys, two Augusts etc., made her glow. Finally, she had power over her destiny.
Maggie loved summer and would have blossomed in some southern clime if she’d had the chance. There was no such thing as too hot—well perhaps hell was too hot but being a non-believer, that didn’t concern her.
She didn’t waver in her choice or months. The day she and Wilbur had signed on, she’d made her list: two Junes and Septembers, and four Julys and Augusts. Ditch December, she hated Christmas.
No sooner had she set her pen down, than Wilbur sailed onto the porch, face as proud as a maple waffle, and dropped down his list, with not one summer month.
“What’s this about?” she said. “What about the cottage?”
“Forget the cottage,” her husband had crowed, doing a little two-step. “The cottage is nothing but sweeping sand off the porch, putting up screens, being eaten alive by mosquitoes, and hearing your sister brag about her wretched kids.”
“They aren’t wretched.”
“No but her bragging is.”
Now, after three months of talk, try as they might, she and Wilbur could not agree and tonight was the final town meeting. By mid-night, all consent forms with selected months had to be in the Company’s hands. Lakeville, which had never been a fast moving community, was spinning.
As usual she and Wilbur insisted they wouldn’t budge an inch but she knew in the end their love would trump sun or snow. Hopefully, their compromises wouldn’t result in them only being together for half the year.
When Mayor Tipper first announced that Lakeville had been selected for the Months of Choice research project, the three general responses were skepticism, delight and, from a few old timers, fear.
Having experienced many dashed hopes from other can’t fail projects some Lakeville residents like Wilbur were skeptical about deals too good to miss. They circled the idea like dogs around a suspicious bone, speculating why Lakeville had been chosen.
Since the highway bypass had been built ten years earlier, only relatives and salesmen turned off to visit the village. The library and post office were long gone and the general store had been downgraded to a couple of counters in the gas station, which eventually had also disappeared.
A few frail voices chirped out their fear about the proposed Month’s project. As Mavis from the feed store put it, “We’re rats being led into a black hole with no up elevator.” This got some laughs. “Black holes don’t have elevators,” Arnold Buckle shouted, “We’ll use a ladder.”
A representative from the Company dazzled the crowd with his sound and light show in support of Mayor Tipper’s announcement. The Company man explained that the research project (all hush hush) offered everyone over 18 living in a contained area the opportunity to choose which months they wanted to live in for the next and subsequent years.
Once chosen it was “a life sentence” as Wilbur, who always read the small print, put it. Unless they all chose the same months, Lakeville residents would never all be together again. “Not all bad news,” Maggie admitted thinking of Arnold Buckle.
It was obvious from the get-go, residents would not all choose the same months. Even families could not agree, and struggled between their personal preferences and the possible separation from loved ones. Teenagers wailed about not having a vote on the most important decision of their lives.
Thirty-six people took the limited time offer and went through the painless Erase Short Term Memory session followed by relocated to another town—like in a TV program. Those who signed on to the Erase session, including Bill Buttons from the computer store, weren’t heard from again. Maggie hoped things had turned out well for them. Rumor had it another seven had escaped under the wire, minds intact.
From the moment the town signed on ($500 sign up bonus per person), from dawn to dusk, choice of months was on everyone’s minds. Common wisdom was that although July could be muggy and buggy, it would be popular with everyone (except a few diehards like Wilbur) and that February, which was cold and dark, would be as quiet as the grave.
At the initial community meeting, while unable to reveal the name or location of the first research town, the Company representative assured Lakeview residents the chosen community was reveling in the experience: 79% considered it 8 on the 1 to 10 scale.
Lakeview residents had to take his word for it because they couldn’t talk to anyone from that town. The project was top secret, reminding Maggie of reports of alien sightings. You suspect- ed there was something to them but government experts insisted they were not serious. Still all but a few naysayers had signed on the dotted line and fences had been erected around the town and outgoing e-mail blockages were in place “until everything is settled.”
With the promises of vacations to Disney land or to a country of choice, (you wondered where they got the money), sound and light shows, lectures and parties, the council and the Company got the town onside. After signing on and separating the wheat from the chaff, as Wilbur put it, those in the running had eight weeks to decide on months, sign on the dotted line and then it would be out of their hands.
Those who had opted to stay hunkered down and considered their options. Until autumn’s chilly winds forced the windows shut, you could hear the conversations build into heated discussions, then, at most houses, boil into out-and-out battles. Those planning marriages were having second thoughts and those who were married, were checking out divorce lawyers.
Maggie’s sister, who coached the girl’s basketball team worried, “We’ll never win the provincial cup with players coming and going.”
“Forget it,” Maggie said. “We won’t be able to leave town anyhow after the schedule is in place.” In the excitement that was part of the small print that folks forgot.
“It’ll be like in Brigadoon,” Maggie’s moth- er said. “Everyone dancing and singing.
“That was a film.” Maggie protested. “No amount of changing months is going to make this town sing.
“I know,” her mother said crossly. “But when they made the movie they couldn’t imagine the technology we have now.”
“Maybe there are singing inserts they can put in people’s heads.”
Finally, it was the big night. Everyone was as edgy as game show contestants. Maggie was putting the last touches on a family favourite—buffalo stew—when her son Terry threw open the kitchen door, “Mom. We’re cut off.”
“Muddy shoes,” her mother shouted. “I just washed the floor.”
“Forget mud,” her daughter said, shoving her brother out of the way. She shook her iPad at her mother. “We can’t get on line. They’ve cut us off.”
“Nonsense. Something’s wrong with your iPad.”
The noise of a pounding human herd galloping down the street drowned their discussion. “They’ve put a barrier up outside town,” Mr. Beanman shouted.
The die was cast. At the meeting that evening, there was a riot of discussion. “Why didn’t you tell us?” they cried. The Mayor tried to field questions; he was on his own. The Company representative had excused himself on the grounds that he was making a presentation at lucky town Number Three.
Finally, the meeting hall door was locked and folks shuffled to their homes, Wilbur and Maggie hand in hand. After drinking their customary hot chocolate, they climbed into bed and made love, still not revealing if and how they had compromised.
The next morning, Lakeville was rewarded with its five minutes of fame. From Iceland to the Bahamas, people heard about the mysterious meteorite that had hit the town leaving nothing but a black hole.
The Prime Minister returned from his holiday in Crete to respond to the emergency. On a national broadcast, he made sorry noises and urged people not to go near the contaminated site. The leader was effusive in his thanks to their partner, The Concept Company, for volunteering to clear the area as part of their Healthy Earth Initiative. The media dropped the story after three days and the usual skeptics suggested alien involvement.
~ Melodie Corrigall
Published in Corner Bar Magazine Vo.1, No 8.