Orange Dawn - Chapter 8

John Clark Smith
The mention of Melinda and Glen together made me curious. 
“How did Melinda and Glen come to know each other?” I asked.
Tosh looked at me. “Let me give you a little background. OK, Aphra?”
Aphra nodded. She wouldn’t complain whenever anyone talked about her mother. 
“Glen knew Melinda in high school, but a year after Glen began working at the café, he started seeing Melinda more often.
“She’d come at closing time and I’d see them sitting at a corner table. At the time she was helping with the journal and working as an executive assistant. Glen was working on his Harding Chronicles and he would discuss it with Melinda. Melinda was into feminism and the role of women in history.”
This section of the mountain was quite steep. Fortunately, it was not a long stretch. Tosh leaned on me to reach the next plateau. When we did, he wanted to stop again for a few minutes.
Aphra brought out a ball and threw it while Tosh spoke. Peirce chased after it and brought it back.
“Rarely did Glen talk about his interests or Harding, at least when I was around.”
“Were they dating?” I asked. 
Aphra held on to the ball. Peirce kept jumping up and trying to take it from her hand.
“There was no sign of affection, except for hugs when they met and left. So I don’t know. A close friendship for sure. Aphra, have you ever seen Glen and your mom kiss?”
Aphra shook her head.
“Then Melinda became pregnant. Occasionally I would see Glen and her walking along the river talking and laughing. After Aphra was born, Melinda found a new job and only rarely came to the café. Since then I haven’t seen them together very often.”
I glanced at Aphra. Tosh didn’t know Glen spent a lot of time at Melinda's home.
“Do you know what Melinda thought of Glen’s underground schemes?” I asked. 
“She was worried he would be caught.”
He sat down on a rock. Around us stood several Red Mulberry trees that were attracting a slew of Tanagers, Warblers and Orioles, the group making a loud but pleasant combination of songs. Tosh was staring at a chipmunk who was staring back. It was sitting on its hind feet chewing on a mulberry. Aphra played catch with Peirce.
“So,” Tosh said to Aphra. “Have you seen the four most dangerous creatures of this area?”
“You mean other than man?”
“This girl has been around Glen too long,” Tosh said.
“We’ve seen them all,” Aphra said. “Snakes, especially the copperhead and timber; spiders, especially the wolf and the southern black; black bears; and black rats, because of the diseases they carry.”
“I tell you, this girl is Glen’s little prodigy.” 
“How long have you known Glen?” I asked Tosh.
We sat on the ground next to him. Aphra stopped her ball play and listened intently. 
“Since he was born,” Tosh said with some pride. “No Harding like that boy. Thinker. Inventor. Probably more native than not. He loves complex mechanical problems and was always concocting intricate schemes. 
“Such as?” I said, handing Aphra the water bottle from my pack. 
“Well, he might anonymously supply the evidence a lawyer needs to save some poor fellow who’s being cheated. He’ll do whatever it takes:  hypnosis, magic, even threats.” 
“Magic?”
“Well, as good as. And he accomplishes these things without any publicity. As far as the authorities know he’s just the dishwasher at the City Cafe. I only know about his activities because he shares them with me.”
“I’ve been part of his adventures,” Aphra said.
“Yes, of course.” Tosh stood up and began climbing again. We followed him for a time to a small plateau that formed a sandy ridge around the mountain. The clouds seemed to be coming closer and the sky was a richer shade of blue. He rested on a rock.
“At first I didn’t believe Glen when he outlined these schemes. But when I saw the results, I changed my mind. More than that: I began to worry. He was putting himself at risk. I often feared what he would do next. Since no one was ever physically hurt, I kept silent, but there were many occasions when I couldn’t sleep. The intricacy of his schemes was a kind of mania.”
“I found them fun,” Aphra said, kicking the ridge. “Why is there sand up here?” 
“You should ask Glen,” Tosh said. “Maybe at one time this was beside a lake.”
“I remember when he snuck into the slaughterhouse,” Aphra said, handing Peirce’s leash to me. “He destroyed all the stun guns and disabled the scalding tanks. Then he broke the latches on their trucks.”
“What part did you play?” I asked.
“I helped with the trucks. They had security, but no video, so I went up to the guard and acted like I was lost while Glen was breaking the latches. Look!” Aphra pointed to a cave entrance. “Do you think there are bears in there?”
“Stay back beside us,” Tosh said to Aphra. 
I shortened the leash for Peirce, who had begun to bark when two bear cubs appeared.
“Oh my gosh,” Aphra said. 
Aphra joined us just as a black bear followed her cubs. By then we had retreated a respectful distance.
We high-fived and took out our checklist. This was our second bear sighting. The first, a week previous, was a frightening experience because it came upon us suddenly from behind. Aphra wasn’t worried. Glen taught her that bears will ignore her if she has no food, no cubs are around, and if she presents no danger. 
The bear raised itself on its hind legs and stared at us. 
“Back away slowly,” Aphra said. “Give it space.”
The cubs gathered around their mother and followed her as she returned to the cave.
We headed in the opposite direction, farther up the mountain.
“Glen is especially protective of bears,” Aphra said.
“Why’s Glen like that?” I asked Tosh.
“Like what?” Tosh said.
“An activist or schemer,” I said.
“Not sure,” Tosh said. “His father and grandfather were quiet men—though Jacob, his father, believed he had a special mission. Principles are useless, Glen often says, without action.”
Aphra nodded. “I remember once we were at Goldman tunnel-”
“Glen names the tunnels?” I interrupted.
“No, I do. Goldman after Emma Goldman. And there’s Wollstonecraft Tunnel, Curie Tunnel, Alexievich Tunnel. A few of Mummy’s favorite people.”
“Where’s Goldman’s tunnel?” I asked.
“On the other side of the city,” Aphra said. “Near Saddle Ridge Chemical, the pesticide maker. Several times he warned them to stop dumping in the river. But they wouldn’t listen.
“He filled several giant jugs with water from the river and labeled it: ‘Please drink. Enjoy. It’s from the stream next to the factory.’ I wrote that. That was my job. He placed them at the entrance to the factory so anyone driving by would see them. Then he anonymously called the media and the company executives. He told the executives if they didn’t stop polluting the stream, their kids would be drinking the river water at school.” She smiled.  “I love that word, ‘anonymous.’”
“Did they stop?” I asked. 
“Nope,” Aphra said. “They put up a huge fence around the property and hired security at the school to watch the water supply.
“But Glen says, ‘Never let the earth suffer from human stupidity.’ He gave the information—and he had a lot of it—to a lawyer, and the lawyer took Saddle Ridge to court. They settled and stopped dumping.”
The sun was beginning to set as we reached the summit. Exhausted, we sat down next to each other—Peirce with his head on Tosh's lap—in a secluded spot surrounded by blue spruce trees where Tosh had spent many hours as a boy. Far below, we could see a hint of our hut, the entire city and beyond. Aphra and I were both on the lookout for animals we hadn’t found for our checklist, especially the red fox.
“So, what happened the next Wednesday?” Aphra asked. “Was the speaker there?”
“After the message, the government instituted various emergency laws that prevented us from meeting in any sizable group. Extreme measures due to the so-called madness of the speaker. For your own safety, the edict said, you’re required by law to stay away from the square. 
“At first most of the Hardies saw these laws as protective measures that had little effect on their daily routine, but the laws did seed a sense of distrust. The longer the people went without hearing the message, the more their feelings changed. Paul and Melinda said they were becoming more afraid. In fact, they admitted that they were quite happy that the government had taken action. No one sane, they said, gets up on a roof top and claims to have a solution for what the best scientists in the world couldn’t solve.”
“Anyway, Wednesday finally came and the square was empty at noon. There were soldiers stationed around it and on every rooftop. Nothing happened.”
“Nothing?” Aphra said.
“Well, the speaker said we needed to show courage. Instead, we had become like children. Despite the general doubt, some of us began to believe perhaps the speaker did have a solution, or at least an explanation. This small hope grew, along with our doubt in the authorities. 
“The more we thought about what appeared to be official ignorance, the more we hoped for help elsewhere. The voice from the roof was always in the back of our minds. 
“How it started, I don’t know. But the word began to spread: Why not appear on Wednesday in the square? So Paul, Melinda and I went to Ben Jr. with a petition signed by many residents requesting that the authorities allow people to gather in the square. 
“We met him in one of the rooms off the council chambers. He laughed at us. 
 ‘Do you think that I’d give you permission to kill yourselves? Before you believed it was the voice of a madman. The situation hasn’t changed. We know you’re frustrated. So are we. But trust me, the orange, will fade away.’
“‘The government has tried but failed,’” Paul said. “‘Allow the people to decide.’
“But Ben Jr. just laughed. ‘Don't you think it’s possible that we have access to information that you don't? Let us do our jobs.’ He stood up and went to the door. ‘I have other appointments. This is a crisis. Please take yourselves and the crowd you came with and leave, or I’ll call security.’”
“What a jerk!” Aphra said. “Typical Sheffield!”
“Up till then we still assumed that the government wouldn’t hide anything from the people. 
“Some of us decided to stay in the office reception area. Others left and informed our supporters about the results of our meeting. The square began to fill up with those who agreed with us, as well as with those who were just curious. The police arrived with the Guard at the office. We were warned again and told to leave.
“Those who signed the petition were now ready to take a chance. Many were model citizens who wanted to eat, sleep and work as they had always done, but it wasn’t the same. Nothing’s the same when people wake up and wonder: Will the orange be there? It was wearing us down.
"The police forcibly escorted us from Ben Jr.’s office out into the square. We might have gone home then and there but we felt as if we had nowhere else to go, as if this was the last alternative. I don't think we were particularly courageous. We froze up against the east wall under the balcony. We had no inkling what would happen next. 
“Then Glen slipped away. Perhaps he was worried we might stop him. He found his way high above the people to the platform next to the flagpole.”

[To be continued ...]

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