The Big Pants (conclusion)
He reconsidered. Maybe, in some ways, Perry wasn’t. He had his own place. He worked in customer service, sitting home taking help desk calls for three or four companies. I gotta ask Perry, Tom counselled himself, how much he’s making.
He saw Luisa was with them, too. All day, the Messermans had been pulling a few of the twenty aside, asking for a private talk. Being what he was, a telephone goon, Tom’s first accounting for this had been rubber checks. But the chosen were going around beaming, and smugly.
“Hey, John,” he called out.
John strolled over, eyebrow raised.
“What’s that EF?”
Tom said this for an opener, pointing at the flag. The habit was sort of ingrained—engage the other guy first, then hit him with the real question.
“Earth Fighters. Iffy, kind of paramilitary, tree huggers. You didn’t hear Toby say? Maybe you didn’t.”
Say what when? Tom thought, and answered himself. When the guy they didn’t really want around, wasn’t around.
“The Earth”—John was trying Toby’s accent—“is our mother. Ha!” He dropped the accent. “Probably mother with a capital M. Anyway, she needs soldiers to fight the battle. I don’t think he said it exactly that way. Something about recycling useful people. The ones who have been discarded by society.”
“Well then, what’s wrong with the people he doesn’t pick?”
“So…he didn’t pick you?”
“I don’t want anything to do with it.”
A chanting group came jogging, in what looked like formation, over the rise of the hill…well, not group, Tom thought…a couple squadrons, I guess. He looked askance at Paul. Paul squinted back, and giving Perry his arm, veered off with him towards the main compound building. Tom and John edged from the path, making the way clear.
These men and women were not yet thin, but seemed ultra-fit. Their leader was a stranger to Tom, and wore the same black uniform as his…uh…
He asked the question aloud.
“We are the puma. The earth belongs to us. We are the whale. We are the timber wolf. We are the cave bat. We are the honeybee. We are the sky, the forest, and the sea.”
The chant faded. Jackie and Luisa walked up.
“Fighters.” It was Jake Messerman, remaining with them, who answered. “I don’t think you’re ready, Tom, but ask yourself…what do I call giving my all? Can I do it? Do I think there’s enough at stake?”
Tom looked at Luisa. “You?”
Her face, not smug, struck him as enlightened, maybe…something like that. But she shook her head.
“I think Leon will say yes.”
Jackie gave Tom an embarrassed smile. “I haven’t made up my mind.”
So what—he tried it—do I call giving my all?
His dad might have asked him the same thing. “If you hate your crap job, Tombo, what’re you doing? You’re living here free, why don’t you get a degree in something? Why can’t you learn a trade?”
Get a student loan. Tom’s heart went out to the people he talked to, guilting them, as coached by Doug’s tip sheet: “You think it’s fair, ma’am? You were made a deal in good faith, weren’t you? And you’re not holding up your end. Are you? Would you call what you’re doing right? Wouldn’t you feel better if you gave just a little? How about fifty a month?”
Those were a lot of questions. Jake’s. His dad’s. The script’s. Had he ever tried seriously to answer them?
“Okay, listen, don’t tell me I’m not ready. I know what’s at stake. It’s all gonna collapse around us one day, right? The planet’s at the tipping point, and when you tip, you fall. Yeah, I know that.”
Tom said other things, with a kind of passion he hadn’t suspected himself of, and Paul, coming back down the path, Gerda and Toby, following their son, completed the circle.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)