For the forty-seventh time that day—that most uncanny of days—the novelist felt uneasy.
He looked around anxiously. He was where he had been a moment before—sitting on a folding chair in the empty storefront, one of many folding chairs clustered in uneven rows. The umbrella growled sleepily under his arm. The poet and the Press sat beside him. The poet stared blankly at the yellowing blocks of ceiling. The Press had out his notebook, and was busily doodling.
The same ten or so people sat at irregular intervals among the chairs. The nervous man behind the music stand was wishing everyone a Happy Pillsday, and shuffling his sheaf of notes with trembling fingers.
Everything seemed just as it had. But the novelist couldn’t shake an uneasy sense that everything had changed.
It wouldn’t, he reflected, be the first time that day.
The nervous man coughed. “Ahaha. Yes, er. For this, our second meeting of the Committee for the Preservation of the Liberation Of, let us begin with the usual recitation of our Assertion of Meaningful Existence. Hem, hem!”
Someone coughed, spit into a handkerchief. A long silence filled the room.
The nervous man looked about anxiously. “Does, er, haha, does anyone remember our Assertion of Meaningful Existence?”
A chair scraped on the tiles. The poet stood up, gazing about vacantly with his hands in his pockets.
“I think I do,” he said. “I wrote it, after all.”
“Wow!” the Press gasped, and quickly scribbled in his notebook. The novelist noticed he was drawing daffodils.
“Ah, haha.” The nervous man forced a smile, his jowls deflating. “Very good, very good—please, do lead out, ah, ahem.”
The poet blinked. “For understating reason, this /outside the window /we find sky/where perhaps /if we had thought /we wouldn’t have looked.”
The nervous man flapped his hands. “Yes, yes, all together now—haha—For understating reason, this /outside the window…”
The novelist watched the strange gathering mumble incoherently together. For a moment he thought that perhaps they’d agreed not to look at each other—a sort of security measure. But he couldn’t be sure. Just in time he realized the mumbling was ending, and blurted, “wouldn’t have looked!”
The poet slumped back into his chair. “I need to rewrite that when I have a chance.”
“Now,” said the nervous man. “Haha. To the business at hand. Er, does anyone have any business at hand?”
Still more silence.
“Perhaps, haha, our esteemed wordsmith?”
The poet slumped lower, staring resolutely at the ceiling.
“Er. Er.” The nervous man shook his sheaf of paper. “In that case, haha—er. Yes.”
Could this really be the notorious Committee for the Preservation of the Liberation Of, the novelist wondered? Admittedly, he hadn’t heard of it until today. But there were any number of extraordinary things he hadn’t heard of until today. He was nearly ready to believe anything he heard.
Perhaps, he thought, he could believe he had business at hand.
“Excuse me!” The novelist leapt to his feet, waving the umbrella. His chair clattered over. The umbrella woke up and began barking.
The nervous man shuddered violently. “Ahahaha. Yes?”
“I,” said the novelist, “have some business at hand.”
“Wow!” gasped the Press. He sketched a cow jumping over the sun.
The poet tugged on the novelist’s jacket . “No, you don’t! You’re not even a due-paying member!”
“Er,” the nervous man said. “Are you, hahahaha, a dues paying member?”
“I don’t need to be!” The novelist shook off the poet. “I’m mad, you see. I’m mad enough to think things that aren’t the the Script. Will someone please explain to me what we’re preserving? What are we liberating? And, what, exactly, if you don’t mind, is Pillsday?”
“Not that!” the poet gasped. “How could you—look out!”
The novelist looked out. The cigarette boxes cramming the window were shaking. So, he realized, were the walls. As if by agreement, the dozen or so people stood up and shook hands, quietly inquiring about the weather.
“Hahahahaha,” said the nervous man. “Ahahahhahahaaa!”
It struck the novelist that the nervous man didn’t sound nervous anymore. But there was too much else beginning to happen for him to think about it.
The cigarette boxes were jumping out of the window, rebounding off the walls in whirring parabolas. The floor buckled down the middle. The dozen or so people donned paper bag masks, and strolled out the door in twos and threes.
The poet grabbed the novelist’s arm. “You would, wouldn’t you? You and that Script! Come on, run for it!”
They ran, dodging screeching cigarette boxes, jumping over howling baboons. The nervous man’s laugh echoed through the shadows off ragged outcrops of stone.
This, the novelist realized, was most emphatically not the same room anymore. He supposed it was that sort of day.