Literary Yard

Search for meaning

‘Adaptably Moral’ and other drabbles

By: Ken Poyner


I work at the playground mine factory. Assembly line work, and I have no idea how many stations there are before or after mine. By the time a mine reaches me, it has already started to look like something you would find embedded in a playground. I sometimes dawdle, admiring the workmanship. The explosive has not yet gone in, so I can fondle the mine while I get about my task: setting the plunger spring. No rush. The line is not yet configured for peak production The demand has to mature. But everyone agrees, as resources grow scarce, it will.


Quibble is trying to decide whether the new fellow he keeps bumping into at Thole’s Hardware is a socialist or not. He seems affable enough, knows his nuts and washers, has a respectable handyman lean. He is clean shaven every other day or so, drives a full-sized pick-up truck that was abused by previous owners. A closet socialist can look normal. Can the community count on him to turn out for patriotic gatherings, Republican rallies, the yearly turkey shoot? What sort of automatic rifle does he favor? Such questions have right answers. They build the box we put him in.


The Confederate monument has been in the corner of that yard forever. The land should be owned by some commission, but is not. Previous property owners have cut the grass around it. Four feet by one foot by three feet. Not much to maintain. Extra turns of the mower, ten seconds of weed-whacking. Recently, first time, a black couple bought the property. No one knows what they think. Quibble is unsure whether the town should bid for the plot, or move the monument. Quibble imagines the couple is not required to tend the grass around it. But tend they do.


A lunatic parks his car in a corner slot in the municipal park parking lot. He exits the driver’s side, walks around the vehicle, enters the passenger side, leaving the door open. Shortly, he gets out, shuts the door, walks to the nearest trash can, tapping the top of it. He turns, returns to the vehicle, enters the passenger side, leaving the door open. Shortly, he repeats the procedure, but returns to the driver’s side, closes the door, starts the vehicle and drives off. How many already miss watching him? Tomorrow, how many come back to see if he returns?


The town is divided into those who take about thirty minutes to straighten their porches, and those who take around half an hour. Both sides are frozen in their way, and believe common sense is on their side. It has been years since a porch owner of one ilk has crossed from one persuasion to the other. We time them with an unaffiliated chronometer and the thirty minutes clan clocks in about thirty minutes, while the half an hour clan straightening consumes around half an hour. Everyone knows who belongs to which sect, avoids verbal slips, seeks an ordered peace.


The partisans in the hills count Quibble an ally. He brings them bottled water, canned provisions, the latest newspapers. He skulks to a drop-off point just after moonrise, tugging himself along by what moonbeams he can collect. He finds thank-you notes from the last deposit, burns them in a hollowed can, spreads the ashes thinly. He has doubled what he spends at the one grocery store in town. The grocer takes kind note of the increased revenue. He holds Quibble as an ally. Each faction requires the other. Quibble is the fulcrum. Everyone understands, and is glad for any profit.

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