The Republic of Silence
A F R A I D H E L P M E
My brother, Jeramy, keeps saying these words over and over again. He says almost nothing else. Using the word “says” implies that he speaks but that is not correct. My brother cannot control his tongue enough to speak nor control his fingers enough to type. A “doctor,” using a technique pioneered in The People’s Republic of China, took away these abilities after his second violation of our speech laws. Jeramy talks to me by knocking metal pieces on his knees to produce Morse code.
How did this happen? Before the current law, there was a Human Rights commission in our country. This commission sued people for saying things that certain designated groups of people thought were objectionable. No one was jailed but many were fined and threatened if they didn’t pay these fines and say and do what the Commission commanded. Many people did not see this as an attack on freedom of speech but my brother and I did.
The problem expanded when our country started to give severe penalties to those who refused to use the self-chosen preferred personal pronoun for those who do not want to be called “he” or “she”. This new law was created to produce compassion for those who consider themselves to be non-binary.
After this law was passed, you could call someone a “f-cking a-shole” without the slightest penalty but if you refused to use “zir” or another of the individually chosen and constantly multiplying number of personal pronouns, you could be jailed. My brother, a well know novelist, testified against the passage of the law and said that while he supported the use of these pronouns and, up until the passage of the law had always used them, he did not believe the government had the legal or moral authority to compel speech and he would refuse to comply. He was the first to spend time in jail for violating this law.
Talking about these laws can get a bit dry. Let me tell you a little about my brother and myself.
Jeramy never stood up for himself. When, he was ten, Hugo Petite, the tallest, most fit boy in his class started to bully him. I always wondered if Hugo became a bully to compensate for the tick in his neck that he couldn’t seem to control. It was subtle until you noticed it and then it became his most prominent feature; one you couldn’t miss it. I could pick Hugo out in a crowd at a hundred paces because of this tick.
Hugo told Jeramy that his mother hadn’t given him any lunch money and demanded Jeramy’s. Jeramy gave Hugo his money.
I told Jeramy, “He’s bullying you. You should never coddle a bully. Don’t give in.”
“He’s not a bully. He needs the money.”
“My ass. He’s exploiting you.”
“Watch your language, it isn’t polite. I’ll try and reason with him.”
The next day, we were playing soccer. During a break, Jeramy was standing next to Hugo and he told Hugo that his claims of having no money didn’t make sense because Hugo always had enough money to buy poutine. Hugo shoved Jeramy to the ground and stood over him with his legs apart..
I’ll fix Hugo, I thought. I walked behind him. He didn’t even notice me and, since I was a girl, he didn’t fear me. All the other children were around us. I said, “Hugo, I want to talk to you.” Hugo turned his head, looked me in the eyes and then looked back down at Jeramy. I yelled “GOAL” as I kicked him in an extremely sensitive area. He fell to the ground.. I bent down and let my long, flaming red hair touch his tear stained face. He never bothered Jeramy again. In fact, that was the end of Hugo’s bullying. Whenever he tried to intimidate anyone, they’d shout out “Goal” and he’d back off.
Girls are more mature than boys and I was a year older and I started to date first. Loved it. Hated it. I wouldn’t let anyone else say it to my face but I knew I was bitchy. I would both attract and repel boys. I’d go on a date, have a wonderful time, think things were good, open my mouth to demand more and then break up. Two years later, I realized I was as interested in girls and that they were often nicer to me. I went out with whomever I wanted to regardless of gender.
Today, hardly anyone remembers that homosexuality wasn’t accepted back then and bi-sexuality even less so. I didn’t know which I was. How would I know or decide and with whom could I talk about it? So the first person I told was Jeramy. I told him that many people thought it was sinful and wrong.
He asked, “Did you know that the debating club is going to debate the morality of homosexuality. I’ll argue your side.”
Normally, in debates there were two people arguing for each side. Jeramy was the only person willing to defend the morality of homosexuality so in this debate it was two debaters against one. The moderator was Mr. Jenkins, who during the debate made it obvious that he did not agree with Jeramy.
Jeramy’s opponents argued that there were three main arguments against the morality of homosexuality each of which was absolute truths. The first of which was that the purpose of life is procreation and since homosexuals didn’t have many children, homosexuality is immoral.
When it was his turn to reply, Jeramy used a most unusual tactic.. He didn’t declare his views to be correct but asked that the spectators think carefully about the issues and they’d see that the arguments against homosexualit were mainly false. Jeramy agreed that homosexuals had fewer children but the idea that the purpose of life is to have children is an opinion, not a fact. Since we don’t stigmatize others who don’t have children, we shouldn’t stigmatize homosexuals either, so this argument was mainly false. He proceeded to use the same method on the opposition’s other arguments.
When Jeramy’s opponents realized that not everyone was convinced by their arguments, they began attacking Jeramy’s honesty and intelligence. Jeramy stood courageously by his tentative beliefs and then he said something that turned out to be the germ of what would lead to his eventual convictions.
“Neither other individuals nor the state nor any law can force a person to do something important that they do not want to do unless there is some overwhelming need, nor can an individual or state or law force a person not to do something important unless there is an overwhelming need. There is no overwhelming need here. Freedom of speech and action must be allowed.”
Mr. Jenkins judged that Jeramy lost the debate but said that he showed the true spirit of the debating society. “Jeramy stood up for an unpopular opinion, sticking to facts, never trying to make his opponent seem ridiculous nor using vulgar emotions to influence the debate.”
I would like to have been able to report that my father was as open to Jeramy’s explanations. I am disappointed to this day that didn’t happen but I was grateful to Jeramy for trying. After he tried to help me, I promised Jeramy that I’d stick by him no matter what and he promised the same to me.
Fast forwarding, I became a nurse working at Montreal General Hospital. Most days, I’d walk up the hill to The Cross on the Mountain and the Mount Royal Chalet and look out over the city. Montreal is a magnificent place to live especially if, like me, you enjoy snow, culture and different types of people.
I had many affairs with both men and women, often at the same time, causing lots of heartache but I couldn’t help it or, more truthfully, maybe that’s just what I wanted to do or maybe I did it so that I could entertain Jeramy and he’d write stories about me. Do we ever really know ourselves? Jeramy became a writer, mostly for newspapers and magazines and then started writing novels. He married and had two sons.
You can probably remember the time when personal pronouns were added to the Human Rights Law. Now let me be very specific here. The speech laws were written in a general way, without saying what specifically was an offense nor actually listing penalties for these offenses. It was all left to interpretation. Many people were fined by the speech laws before they were expanded, and more were fined after they were expanded.
Jeramy had recently written an article in the journal, Canadian Artist’s Duty, which was a forum to discuss the purpose of art. He proposed that novelists should examine both sides of issues and not just follow one side or the other. “If your protagonist is offered a simple solution, it should never work. Art needs to reflect the complexity of life” was the only quote I remember. He got nominated to run for the presidency of the Canadian Writing Society and won a narrow victory. He now had a position of some authority.
When the extension to the speech law was going to be debated, Jeramy told me he planned to testify against its adoption. “It’s the next logical step towards totalitarianism,” he said.
I told him it was on a fool’s errand; that he would ruin his reputation. He’d be labeled as a peddler of “hatred”, an expression used to intimidate those who refuse to buckle under to the enforced use of language. “They may pass it but they’ll never jail someone for the improper use of pronouns,” I said.
“Fat chance they won’t. If they meant that, they’d put the no jail time wording directly in the law and they’ve refused to do that.” Jeramy wasn’t being his usual polite self and it worried me.
The testimony was still a week away and there was time for Jeramy to change his mind. I gave a dinner party and invited Jeramy and his wife, as well as Professor Emmanuel Toussaint and his wife. Professor Toussaint taught at the liberal arts university in the Eastern Townships, where Jeramy and I had both gone to school. I was hoping the professor would talk some sense into Jeramy.
Professor Toussaint made a large pitcher of rum-based drinks. He poured us all a drink. Jeramy’s wife, my lover and Professor Toussaint’s wife went to the living room, while the three of us drank ours in the kitchen. Between sips, I was putting together a lasagna.
As we worked, I said to Professor Toussaint that Jeramy was planning on testifying before Senator Crusher’s committee. “What do you think about it?”
“It’s rather a silly controversy,” said Toussaint. “If we spoke Turkish, there’d only be one pronoun “O” for everyone and there’d be no controversy but we speak a language where there are already two pronouns. From two to many is a small leap. Still, it’s no reason to put people in jail.”
“That’s not what I asked. If Jeramy testifies, he’s going to be slaughtered, isn’t he?”
“This is Canada, Professor. I’m sure to get a fair hearing,” said Jeramy.
‘What makes you think that? We don’t have a Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and, even if we did, where there’s political passion there’s always distortions. I grew up in Haiti and there’s a great combination of passion and lying there.”
“This is Canada. Everyone’s reasonable here,” Jeramy said.
“We have our uncontrolled passions. From 1963 to 1969 there was a terrorist bombing every ten days, all concerning the political status of Quebec and the French language and later attempts to assassinate some goverment officials,” said Professor Toussaint.
“People all around the world make jokes about how nice Canadians are,” said Jeramy,
Professor Toussaint then spoke about Senator Crusher, who was the head of the committee to which Jeramy would testify. “She was my student and we clashed on the first day of class when I gave the requirements for the term paper. You had to take a political ideal that you held to be true and present evidence for and against this idea from a philosophical and historical point of view. She said that she believed the political view of requiring equality of outcome on all occasions and this view could not and should not be argued against.
“I pointed out that it was an impossibility to always have an equality of outcome. Our football team had just lost 35 to 7. You’d have had to put me as the quarterback of the other team to get anything like equality of outcome and that would never happen.
Crusher replied, ‘An excellent idea but equality of outcome is essential, and I will hear no argument against it.’”
“What happened next?” asked Jeramy.
“I pointed out there were many philosophers and political writers who believed that only an equality of opportunity was possible or desirable, so she should easily be able to find arguments against her stated political ideal.
“Her response was, ’The idea of only an equality of opportunity and not of outcome is a racist and oppressive ideal and I refuse to even consider such garbage.’
“I said that the class was designed to make one think about the complications that are inherent in any set of beliefs.
“’There are no contradictions in my belief. You are preaching racism.’.
I asked Professor Toussaint to get me a large bowl. He got it and I asked him how could he respond to Crusher’s argument.
“ I told her I wasn’t going to state what I believe but I wanted to bring to her attention what Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’ That is a statement for equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. Does that statement made Dr. King a racist oppressor?”
What did Senator Crusher say to that?” I asked.
Toussaint laughed. “Do you call being called an Uncle Tom, an answer?”
“Weren’t you infuriated?” Jeramy asked.
“I make a great effort not to laugh but sometimes what students say is hilarious and I can’t help it. She looked at me like she wanted to kill me. I paid dearly for that laugh.”
Professor Toussaint had finished washing and drying the bowl and he gave it to me and continued talking.
“I said to Crusher, ‘Let’s look up the definition of a racist in the dictionary. It says a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.’”
“Crusher interrupted me and said, ‘Anyone born to or supporting the ruling class’s race is a racist and they should freely admit it.”
“I told her that you can’t create your own private definition of a word, particularly a derogatory word, and then use it to tar others. She said I was advocating white supremacy.
“She reported me to a University Committee saying that the paper requirement violated her rights to hold her beliefs. I expected to win the trial easily claiming a University exists to open people’s mind.. I was cleared but only on a five to four decision with four people not voting. Less than half the committee voted for freedom of thought. Getting people to think critically is not very popular.”
Jeramy said “You beat her. I haven’t heard anything to change my mind about testifying.”
“In the next course ” continued Toussaint “she recorded a session we had where I said that all societies have perpetrated some violence.”
“She objected that the First Nations and Islamic societies never had any violence. I gave her some examples. She edited my words and called on me to be fired. Her post had me saying ‘Some groups in human history especially the First Nations and Islamic societies have always perpetuated violence against outsiders and most of their individuals condone and practice violence and discrimination.’”
”What was the reaction?”
“My first class was on Monday morning and there were protesters outside the building yelling. I got to my classroom when someone rang the fire alarm and cleared out the building. We had protesters outside my house day and night. One spit in my wife’s face.”
“That’s horrible,” I said..
“I was brought up on charges by the Human Rights Commission and convicted, fined and suspended without pay for a year. Ten months later another student remembered he’d recorded the session and, with that evidence, the conviction was overturned but I’d already lost a lot.”
“Was she prosecuted for lying?” Jeramy asked.
“Of course not,” said Professor Toussaint. “False accusations are never punished by the Human Right’s commission. In fact, it seems to me that they count their success by the number of people brought up on charges. That’s opinion, mind you. But I will say this. I’m old enough to know that discrimination is much less now than forty years ago and it seems to me that charges of racism are much more common.”
“Are you saying there’s no discrimination?” I asked.
“Of course not,” said Toussaint, “it’s just much less. What I think we’re seeing now is that those discriminated against in the past have fewer resources and need more help and we should give it to them but we’ll never have equality of outcome by jailing people for their speech. Crusher was hailed as a hero for taking on the establishment and for defending equality. She then founded the political group GEOO, Guaranteed Equality Of Outcome. It was the beginning of her political career.”
“Do you hate her?” I asked Professor Toussaint.
“No I admire her. If you tangle with her,be careful. You’d more likely get a fair hearing from Beelzebub himself. He’s said to be tricky but to have some respect for truth and facts. Crusher doesn’t.”
“I’m the President of an Arts organization. I’m committed to testifying,” said Jeramy.
“By the way,” I asked the Professor, “do you always use the new pronouns?
“I try but I’m old and often I can’t remember people’s names, far less what pronoun they want to be called. I’ll come and be in the audience when you testify.”
On Wednesday, the three of us drove to what has always seemed to me to be, aside from the National Gallery, the very boring city of Ottawa.
The hearing would be before five senators in Senator Crusher’s committee, two from her party and three others. When the hearing started, Senator Crusher said she was sorry to announce that the three members of other parties had developed food poisoning and didn’t feel well enough to participate.
The testimony was given in a small Senate room, similar to a small TV interview studio. A single video feed, delayed for seven seconds, was piped to a large gallery, where the invited guests and media sat, with the testimony shown on a large screen and speakers.
As we went through security, we had to give up our cell phones and other electronic devices. We saw many people with invitations who were being turned away from the meeting.
Jeramy’s testimony was to be the last of the day. Each testimony rstarted with a five-minute opening statement followed by ten minutes of questions from the Senators. The first five participants had publically stated that they were in favor of the new legislation. They were followed by two who would speak against the change, Jeramy and a romance novelist named Mary Slater. Mary, Jeramy, Professor Toussaint and myself sat in the gallery while we waited to be called to testify.
The first testimony was from a stage director. He pointed out that Trans people have a high suicide rate and that directors had an obligation to modify traditional plays to safeguard them. He had staged a prose version of Hamlet, where Hamlet and his father are Trans individuals.
The stage director continued, “Hamlet’s great speech has been changed to ‘To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged pronouns, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.’”
At the end of the testimony, Senator Crusher asked, “You can’t think of a single reason not to pass this law, can you?” The director replied no. Many in the audience chanted “Pass the law.”
There were a few minutes before the next testimony. During the break Professor Toussaint said to me, “Very clever director. It’s a good career move to have a different take on a play if you want to get people to see it.”
“You don’t think his changes are a bit much?” I asked.
“It makes a profound play rather simplistic especially rewriting it in prose but why shouldn’t he do that? Jeramy is arguing for freedom of expression. So why shouldn’t others be free too?”
I asked Mary what she thought of the testimony and all she could say was “worrying.”
The next witness was a translator. She testified that she would expect all books would be translated in a manner consistent with the new law. Anything else would be the establishment of hatred and those who are opposed should be silenced by their own conscience and, if their conscience didn’t silence them, the law should do so. The audience again chanted “Pass the law.”
“Why is everyone so vehement?” I whispered to Jeramy. “Is the law this popular?”
“This is an invitation-only audience,” said Professor Toussaint, “and we saw most of the invitees denied entrance. If you invite the right people and stop others, you’re bound to get an audience that’s overwhelmingly for the law. This is more a propaganda spectacle than an honest hearing, let’s face it.”
Mary looked even more grim.
The last supporter was a book critic for a prominent newspaper whose editorial pages endorsed the change in the laws. Senator Crusher asked if a writer’s attitude towards the change in laws would impact the book review he’d write on their work.
“Of course. Anyone who doesn’t support the new law is endangering lives, sowing hatred and encouraging discrimination. I would denounce their book in my paper.” The audience cheered.
Senator Crusher called for a short recess. The four of us talked among ourselves.
Mary, who looked pale, said, “That critic praised my last book. I need his support to\be successful.”
Professor Toussaint said to Jeramy and Mary, “It’s your time to show courage, wit and quick thinking. Show them that freedom is vital.”
Mary went off to the lady’s room and I followed her. She was barely breathing. As we were waiting in line, I asked her casually, “You aren’t thinking of withdrawing?”
“Jeramy and I are being set up for a mauling,” she said.
“It won’t be that bad.”
“I’m a single mother with three children and can’t afford to lose my book sales.”
“Maybe you’ll come out of this a hero.”
“I’m not feeling well. I have a tremendous headache.” And indeed she didn’t look well. She went into one stall and a few seconds later I went into the stall next to hers. Before I had even sat down, her stall opened, and she fled. All our hopes now rode on Jeramy.
Jeramy had insisted that I be allowed to accompany him while he testified. I had to promise not to speak. We walked into the small studio and sat facing the committee. What was said in the studio was on a seven second delay before it was broadcast to the audience outside, which watched on a large video screen.
Jeramy began his opening statement by saying he understood why some people might support the changes but he wanted to examine some of the ideas behind it and whether they constituted a threat to our common freedom. As he finished this sentence, the speakers started a feedback loop, which continued for almost five minutes as technicians tried to fix it. As soon as the audio was working again Senator Crusher said “Thank you for your enlightening opening statement.”
“I didn’t finish it.”
“The time for opening statements is up. I have a few questions.”
“What qualifications do you bring to this hearing? Do you have a doctorate or a medical degree?”
“No but I am President of the--”
Crusher cut him off. “Don’t you know that LGTBQ people live on average 20 years less and it is all due to their not getting the respect they need? Why do you refuse them this respect?”
“This is an issue of freedom of speech...”
“You want the freedom to sow hatred of gay and trans people? You have no such right.”
We could hear a few people outside chanting “Hater.”
“You can hear people calling you a hater, can’t you,” said Senator Crusher.
“They have no basis for saying that. I love all people, which is why I want everyone to have freedom of speech. Without that freedom--”
Crusher again cut him off. “You told us you aren’t a doctor or even a professor who has studied this question. You heard the theatre director talk about how the pronoun “he” killed Hamlet’s father.”
“I support his right to change art as he likes. You should respect my right to make my art as I like. Freedom of speech is needed in order…”
The Senator interrupted Jeramy. “What does a hack writer like you know about such important matters? I’ve read your last book ““Jumping Off Cliffs While Proposing Marriage,” which makes a mockery of trans rights. One character was born with male genitals and at age twelve believed he was female, so this person convinced a doctor to give them hormones and an operation to change their genitalia. After the operation, this person wasn’t actually sadder and in physical pain. At fourteen, the character came to believe they were a man and again convinced a doctor to be taken off estrogen and again had their genitalia transformed. They were no happier. At age sixteen, they were again transformed back to having female genitalia and then the genitalia no longer worked and the person is unhappy and wishes they had never been transitioned in the first place. You are denying trans individuals the right to transition at all.”
“I didn’t say that at all.”
About seven seconds later there was a roar from the audience. “Kill Jeramy.”
The Senator called for order. The audience slowly calmed down.
“Your story shows you oppose all trans rights.”
“You don’t understand how novels are written, Senator. A good writer doesn’t make the characters do anything; the writer endows the characters with life and the characters start to act as they see fit on their own initiative. That’s what the character in the story thought, not what I think.”
“You made a mockery of people feeling they are trapped in the wrong body.”
Seven seconds later there was another roar of “Kill Jeramy.” It died down after the Senator called for order.
Jeramy continued, “You don’t understand. Life and art are complicated. There is another character who transitions as an adult and is quite happy. I don’t want to talk about my books. What’s important is freedom of speech and how easily it can be curtailed.”
Senator Crusher interrupted again. “Your fifteen minutes is up. You know nothing about literature or life. How the hell was a hack like you elected to be President of an Arts organization?”
I couldn’t restrain myself any longer. I got up and shouted at the top of my voice, “Let my brother speak.” Jeramy looked at me with great anger. I continued, “You’ve made a mockery of this hearing.”
Jeramy interrupted me. “To many people my books seems to be absurd and of little importance but to me they meant something. The characters are as alive to me as any of you and what was written was exactly what this person experienced. Changing your genitalia is a major operation. We shouldn’t encourage children, who could so easily change their mind, to do this. We don’t let children drive, drink or vote. Changing your genitalia is a much greater responsibility. Let people wait until they are more mature before we offer such a radical solution.”
Crusher came back with, “That is the statement of a hater, a hypocrite and a dangerous individual.”
“You never let Jeramy speak about freedom of speech and how we need freedom in our life and art,” I shouted.
“Usher, remove them,” demanded Senator Crusher.
Jeramy made one last statement as he was escorted out. “We all like to laugh and ridicule others but we hate to be laughed at and ridiculed ourselves. I say this, we are all equally absurd only in different ways. We’re small and unimportant and we don’t know that fact. I see that in myself. I see that in everyone else. That’s what I write about in my books. I wish I could say that we are all heroes but we are not.’
“Get out,” yelled Senator Crusher.
The usher began to lead my brother and me off. The Senator said, for all to hear, “Absurd little man. He hates gays and trans and I’m sure he hates all people of color. Turn off the microphone.”
Crusher turned towards the other senator. I ducked behind a desk as the usher took Jeramy off. The audience booed as Jeramy left the room.
Senator Crusher said to the other senator, “That c-nt almost ruined the whole show. We couldn’t find anything to defame her. I should never have allowed her in the room. She has guts, though. If she’d testified we’d be in trouble..”
Crusher then looked over and saw me and had me dragged out of the room screaming. They showed me screaming on TV that night
When I got to Jeramy, he said to Professor Toussaint and me, “I was pathetic.”
“You’re my hero,” I replied.
“You made a better show than I did.” Jeramy said.
“What an idiot you were,” said Professor Toussaint. “When the Senator asked ‘Are you saying that transitioning never works. ‘Why did you say, ‘It absolutely never works.’”
“That’s not what I said.”
“He never said that, “I said.
“When Senator Crusher said ‘You directly made a mockery of people feeling they are trapped in the wrong body. Why did you say. ‘It’s a myth that there are people who feel they are trapped in the wrong body?’”
“I never said that,” said Jeramy.
“Are you sure?” asked Toussaint.
“Of course he never said that,” I said.
“She’s snookered everyone with that delayed feed,” said the Professor.
“ Did she use some artificial intelligence software to change Jeramy’s responses?” I asked.
“Probably. And your mouth, on the screen, corresponded to what she wished you had said. You have to give it to her. Beelzebub himself couldn’t have done a better job of destroying your reputation.”
That night on all the new channels there were shows about a hick writer who denied that there were trans people, denied them the right to transition. Social media was worse. The clip of me being dragged off and the fake quotes of Jeramy denying trans rights went viral. There was not a sentence about freedom of speech or about Senator Crusher’s trampling on Jeramy’s rights to testify peacefully, fully and be treated truthfully. Not one word of her calling me a c-nt.
A year passed and Jeramy was proved wrong. No one was jailed in our country but some were jailed for similar speech in Europe and other places. Then Senator Crusher’s party came to power saying that the needed changes in speech patterns hadn’t happened yet, so more strident action needed to be taken.
Soon after the election, Jeramy wrote a novel called “Sunday Never Happens On A Monday” where the impossible did happen and the hero was jailed for trying to actively campaign against the speech laws. A month after the publication, when his novel rose to number three on the best sellers list, Jeramy and his wife joined me for a celebratory dinner at a little Portuguese café off Sherbrooke.
On the way out, we were confronted by two people Horsemen. (Members of The Royal Canadian Mounted Police) They were without horses and in plain clothes.
“I understand that your name is Jeramy,” the first said.
“Yes I am.”
You wrote “Sunday Never Happens On A Monday didn’t you?” again from the first of the two.
“What did that person say?” said the second Horseman pointing to the first.
“He asked if I’d written a book.”
“I prefer to be called zir,” said the first Horseman.
“I asked what did that person say,” asked the second agent again pointing to the first Horseman.
Jeramy was obviously in a panic. He wanted to be polite but he didn’t want to be forced by the law to speak in a certain manner.
“That wonderful person asked if I was a writer.”
“That person wants to be referred to as zir.”
Jeramy looked at the first and said, “I would love to call you that.’
“But you didn’t,” said the second. “Last chance, are you going to continue to insult that person?”
“Wonderful, enlightened, kind person…” said Jeramy.
“Call him zir or it’s jail time,” said the second Horseman.
“The law cannot compel me to do so. I am a free man.”
“You’ll be a jailed man.”
“Maybe the only free people are those who are in jail,” said Jeramy.
Jeramy was sent to the slammer for two years. The Prime Minister weighed in saying how important it was to stop this hate speech and that the only way to guarantee that was to jail those who would not obey.
My name and address as well as the names and addresses of Jeramy’s wife and children were published. We were publically hounded outside our residences by members of GEOO (Guaranteed Equality Of Outcome). We got threatening phone calls. Within a year Jeramy’s wife left him and took to using her maiden name. I also changed my name and moved to a different part of town.
A few weeks after his incarceration, I visited Jeramy.
“It isn’t so bad. I was put in with the violent offenders. I discovered that murderers, rapists and bank robbers are not insulted if I call them “he” even though a few prefer other pronouns. They said that what pronouns they are called by are the least of their problems. Once I heard that, I was very happy to call them by any pronoun they wished. I am among the only free people in the country and I wanted to honor them.”
During the second year of Jeramy’s incarceration, they legally defined yet a new use for pronouns. In the past, pronouns were used to differentiate what gender a person was or identified with. Now they could also be used to distinguish a group of self identified individuals who were discriminated against by society and not given their fair chance for equality of outcome. Those who required these special pronouns would be legally protected and given special unspecified privileges.
To make it easier and fairer, a new list of personal pronouns was standardized. These would be added to the already list of recognized pronouns. Each new pronoun would contain six-letters, from “AAAAA” to “ZZZZZ”, omitting a few unneeded combinations that formed common words. These new pronouns allowed for more than three hundred million choices and since Canada has less than forty million people, the government believed these pronouns would be enough, for now. Many claimed these new pronouns would lead to a new era of equality.
The speech law was not changed because it didn’t specify punishment, but the administration published a decision that second time offenders would be permanently silenced by disabling their tongues and their fingers.. This medical technique, created in the People’s Republic, only required the injection of a certain “medicine” in each finger and at the underside of the tongue. When I visited Jeramy, in prison, he quipped, “And now just like in China, Canada will create citizens of a brand new nation. I call it The Republic of Silence. It’s going to happen here too.”
“It’s a certainty.”
Jeramy got out of prison, and to make a long story short, he was convicted a second time and sentenced to this new gruesome penalty. The judge was seventy years old hold-over from less ideologically driven times. He did what he could to indicate to the jury that he didn’t think Jeramy was guilty. Nevertheless, Jeramy was convicted.
The judge did not want to impose silencing on Jeramy so he did something unusual. “Jeramy I give you one more chance. If you write a story that shows you are willing to follow the dictates of our enlightened society, your sentence will be commuted. You have two weeks to do so.”
The gallery, crowded with fervent supporters of the law exploded, “Enforce the law now,” “Cut out his tongue” and other cries of benevolence. The judge got to his feet and tried to shout the protesters down: “The law demands both justice and mercy.”
For the first week, Jeramy sat in his apartment thinking but came up with nothing. Fear broke up sleep. We had once traveled to Algonquin Park to the Say Lake Lodge. The proprietress, Monique, had been interested in the creative process, asking Jeramy to share his creative methods. Jeramy had been flattered because he said Monique had a delicate manner of asking questions and didn’t ask banal questions like where he got his ideas. I asked him if he wanted to go there again. Jeramy agreed.
There were always protesters from GEOO outside Jeramy’s building determined to harass him. We did not want them to know where we were going. On the night before we were to leave, there was a tremendous rainstorm. At 2 A.M., Jeramy looked out and there were no protesters. He walked four kilometers through the rain to my apartment, arriving soaking wet and without other clothes. I found him a few dry things left over from some of my friends.
When we arrived at the Say Lake Lodge just south of the park, we were greeted warmly by Monique. She looked older but I’m sure we did too. When we’d been there before, she had black hair and now her hair had grey streaks. Jeramy’s hair was completely grey. Mine was still flaming red and long enough for me to sit on it.
Besides guest cabins, there was a main lodge room, where the guests could gather together. We had a beautiful cabin facing the lake with a screened porch and a fireplace. We made a fire. Birch wood burns with a bright passion and the flames put me into a reverie that was almost hypnotic. Jeramy more calm I’d seen him since his sentencing. He said that he enjoyed the fire but couldn’t think of anything to write about.
“How can I write something completely innocuous that doesn’t insult anyone who isn’t allowed to be insulted?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“You know, it’s like in Animal Farm. In our society, some people are more equal than others. You can insult some people with impunity, in fact you have to insult them or you’re not doing your duty. Others you must completely respect. How can I do that and still be an artist?”
“Don’t be an artist. Just save yourself.”
“Then I’ll be a fake and I won’t do that even to avoid this punishment. I have to find a way.”
The next day, Jeramy thought of thirty different plots but rejected each one. “I’ve accomplished nothing,” he said at the end of the day.
The next day, I insisted that we take two of the easier guided walks in Algonquin Park. “Why not the logging museum and the beaver ponds?” I asked. “Both are pretty easy.”
Jeramy agreed to go. , We went to the logging museum first.
One of the first exhibits was a huge rectangular log building that loggers lived in during the winter. As soon as we got inside, Jeramy perked up. “Lots of men worked here. I can feel them. They were cold and wet when they returned. Often, it was forty below outside. They enjoyed being together. It was their own perfect, world. This is where I will write my story. I’ll write it by the end of the day or just give up.”
“Are you going to write about the loggers?”
“Can’t. They cut down trees and today they’d be considered exploiters of the environment.”
“They were poor, desperate men. Wouldn’t people sympathize with them?” I asked.
“That truth doesn’t matter. Let’s continue the tour.”
We went around the whole museum. Jeramy was still hopeful but nothing sparked an idea that he thought would be considered completely safe.
Next we went to the beaver ponds walk. We picked up a guidebook and walked to post 1. We were looking at some tree stumps that had been felled by beavers. I read the guidebook, which said that the beaver is the most remarkable animal in the park, calling them “engineers.”
Jeramy nodded and smiled. “Always liked them. They were once killed to make hats. Horrible. They’re smart.”
I continued reading, “Most people assume the beaver do this engineering through conscious, intelligent foresight.”
“That’s right,” said Jeramy.
“That’s not what the guidebook says. It says the felling of trees does not show intelligence.”
“Sheer arrogance,” commented Jeramy and he stood up taller and straighter.
We continued on to a large pond and saw two beavers swimming. Jeramy was enchanted. .
The guidebook gave a description, with illustrations of the layout, safety of beaver lodges and how they built them.
“Very clever,” said Jeramy. He obviously had an affinity for beavers and it was the first real enthusiasm he’d shown since his sentence was passed.
At post 5, we had reached the beaver dam that created Anikeus Lake. The location was spectacular, with the lake turning off to the left going on for several kilometers. In front of us, creating the lake, was the longest beaver dam either of us had ever seen.
“Beautiful lake. If I’d made it, I’d be proud. ”
Something was bubbling up inside of Jeramy.
I read the description in the guide. It claimed that all the beavers’ achievements were the result of “unreasoning instinct.”
“What kind of fool would write something like that?” shouted Jeramy, “Do they need to prove that beavers aren’t intelligent so they can feel better about themselves? This dam proves they’re smart.”
“The guidebook points out that beavers sometimes build longer dams in one place where they could have built a shorter damn elsewhere,” I said.
“What the hell does that prove? I sometimes pay three dollars for a loaf of bread when I could have bought it somewhere else for two. Proves nothing. Idiots.”
I smiled. “Getting angry isn’t like you but I like the change. Have you got a plot?”
“No but I’ve got inspiration. Maybe a beaver will save me. I’ve got to think of characters and a plot tonight then leave me in the loggers’ camp tomorrow and I’ll write it. If I can’t write a short innocuous, politically correct story in a day, I should take whatever punishment they give me.”
“Are you going to make it entertaining?”
“They want a story that will prove all their prejudices are right. I’ll try to write a comedy. If I can get the audience to laugh, I should be safe. I’ll do the first draft by instinct and finish by lunchtime tomorrow. Then I’ll spend the afternoon re-writing. When I finish, you, Monique and I can get drunk on the best wine we can get and you can read it to us. Then together we can say whether it meets the criteria.”
“You mean if it’s good.”
“No, whether it’s orthodoxy.”
“Why get drunk first?”
“Then we’ll all be more likely to tell the truth and I’ll need to hear the truth tomorrow. What are we going to have for dinner tonight?”
“Chicken, peas, mashed potatoes and a bottle of wine.”
“Let’s have two bottles of Sancerre. Then I’ll forget all about what I think I want to write about and something will just pop up unannounced.”
“Getting drunk today and tomorrow. Isn’t that a bit alcoholic?”
“Alcoholism is if I take a drink in the morning to get over a hangover and you can be assured that I won’t do that. Besides, I’ve heard that when they silence you, you lose most of your sense of taste and I might never taste Sancerre again. The only good thing that might come out of losing the sense of taste is that I’ll end up losing some weight. Pretty expensive diet.”
When Monique brought us our meal, Jeramy invited her to listen to the story tomorrow. She said she would be honored.
“Aren’t you afraid of helping a hater?” Jeramy asked.
“Everyone’s a hater and a lover,” she said. ‘My husband cheated and left me. I hate him. I told him so but I also loved him. “
“I’m sorry to hear it,” said Jeramy.
We ate our repast, enjoyed the two bottles of Sancerre. Later, we sat at the outdoor fire pit with Monique and other guests. I talked to guests but Jeramy remained silent. “Do you notice that Monique’s hair color is different?” Jeramy asked. I looked and she had short red hair. I wondered what was going on.
The next day, I left Jeramy in the logger’s building and I came back for him at 5 PM. He had a hand written manuscript in his hand. He put it in an envelope to be read later.
When we got back. Monique, who now had blonde hair, brought us dinner. Around 8 PM she brought three bottles of Cotes De Rhone and I read the story to Jeramy and her.
“Let’s drink first,” said Jeramy.
“Is that a good idea?” asked Monique.
I said “Definitely” and we drank the two bottles.
While we were drinking I asked Monique about her hair. She explained that she was a member of an amateur theatrical society that kept their costumes at the lodge and often rehearsed in this room. She often borrowed the wigs to wear at night. Hardly anyone noticed, as it was dark.
I said, “I noticed” and gave her a warm smile.
When we’d finished the two bottles, we opened a third and poured ourselves another glass but didn’t drink it. I opened the envelope and took out Jeramy’s story.
I started to read. “Magnus” by Jeramy Jangle.
It was a cold, windy, October day in Montreal. Heidi and Harrold came into the Green Path Natural History Museum, to review the data they had been collecting on the intelligence of beavers.
Harrold, who had been hit by a car when he was eleven, was in his early forties, short, overweight, with very long black hair. He limped badly and.rarely smiled.
“These experiments definitively prove that beavers have no ability to plan,” said Harrold.
Heidi was a tall, willowy blonde, in her twenties with an infectious, raucous laugh. She constantly twirled her long hair with her left hand, often putting the end in her mouth and sucking on it. She preferred skipping to walking and always had to stop and wait for Harrold to catch up.
Heidi laughed. “Prejudice, that’s all your interpretation is, prejudice. The experiments just as easily prove that beavers are extremely intelligent.”
“Let’s go and re-check on our experiments tomorrow,” said Harrold.
“Good idea,” said Heidi. “You’ll end up agreeing with me that beavers are the crown of creation.”
“Must you always use non-scientific terms?” asked Harrold.
“Don’t be such a stick in the mud,” laughed Heidi. “Scientists can have fun, too.”
The museum had built the world’s largest terrarium about a hundred kilometers Northwest of Montreal. The terrarium was surrounded by an invisible but effective particle beam fence. There were several large ponds and many large trees on the hills and flat ground. The museum wanted to keep it inaccessible to all but a few chosen scientists.
Heidi and Harrold traveled in a solar powered, self-driving car. For the first few miles, Heidi was overflowing with enthusiasm for the wonderful fall colors.“Its almost as if God made each leaf glow for me.” Harrold wanted to shout ”BS” but he didn’t want to get into a fight in the car. After a few minutes each started looking at the screen of their phones and from that point on, neither could look anywhere else.
The car stopped but it was several minutes before Harrold and Heidi realized the journey had ended. Harrold limped towards the watcher’s cabin. Heidi started to skip towards the cabin, jumping high every other step trying to get her hair to fly up and down.
The watcher’s sole duty was to ensure there were no break-ins from kind hearted protesters, who didn’t think that beavers should be experimented on. These heroic protesters were trying to set these captive beavers free. Unfortunately, the designers of the invisible fence had not completely learned to control the particle beams and several of the protesters were burned severely as they crossed its path.
Harrold continued to look at his screen even as they got up to the watchman’s cabin. Heidi knocked, and the watcher came out and reported that once again, she’d observed that beavers always go through the particle beam fence with no damage. She had asked several scientists how this was possible, but none had given her an explanation why the beaver seemed to be exempt from the faults of the system.
“The fact that they cross the fence without getting hurt show’s they know what they’re doing,” said the watcher.
Harrold looked up from his screen and said, “It’s pure dumb luck.”
“I just know beavers are even more intelligent than we are. I love them. I can understand these protesters. We shouldn’t be experimenting on poor beavers,” said Heidi.
Harrold put the phone in his pocket and said, “Then we’d lose our status and our income. We can’t let that happen. We aren’t hurting the beavers because they bring absolutely nothing of value to the world that we can’t do ourselves.”
Heidi looked down and picked a mushroom. “Look at this. I’ll have it for dinner tonight.”
Harrold slammed the mushroom out of her hand. “Don’t you recognize Ananita Virasa?”
“Never heard of it” said Heidi. “How dare you slap my hand?”
“It’s common name is Destroying Angel. How many times do I—"
The watcher interrupted them. “Professors, I think beavers might be much smarter than you think. I’ve been observing them and one of them in particular. He’s the largest and he doesn’t fall for any of your tricks. He destroyed six of the speakers you’ve set up.”
“Would you just shut up,” said Harrold. “We don’t need input from a high-school dropout.”
“That’s definitive proof of intelligence. We don’t need any other evidence,” said Heidi.
“Anecdotal evidence proves nothing. A few speakers are bound to be destroyed occasionally,” Harrold replied.
“But he destroyed six in three days. That can’t be a coincidence,” said the watcher.
Heidi smiled and said “I’m convinced” then she pulled out her phone and started to call her cousin to remind her to feed her cat.
Monique interrupted my reading. “Aren’t you afraid that bashing scientists will be provocative and get you in trouble?”
Jeramy answered, “These scientists experiment on animals. I must ridicule them. If they were climate scientists, I couldn’t even question them. If you write about a climate scientist, everything they say has to be true and they must be portrayed as noble.”
“Don’t you believe the climate scientists?” asked Monique.
“That’s not the point. I’m pretty sure all sets of scientists are about equally honest but in our society climate scientists are part of a protected class, so I couldn’t possibly disparage them in my story.”
“I don’t get it,” said Monique, “but please read on.”
I continued reading.
“You know that the wolves try to get to the beavers’ houses, don’t you?” said the watcher.
“Of course, we know that,” said Harrold.
“Well they don’t come near the pond that has this larger beaver’s house. Maybe he’s found a substance that inhibits the foxes’ sense of smell.”
“Bull. You must be drinking too much. Just give beavers a stimulus and they automatically do what they are programmed to do. If there is wood around, all you need to do is have the sound of running water and the beavers will build on that spot, even if there is no running water. Let me show you,” said Harrold.
He pushed a button and a hidden speaker, at the end of one of the ponds blurted out the sound of running water. There were five beavers in the pond. The largest beaver stood upright on its hind legs and watched while the other beavers went and cut limbs from the trees and started building a dam where the sound of running water was being played, even though there was no running water there.
On seeing this, Harrold told the watcher, “It’s the thirty seventh time we’ve proven that just the sound of water makes them work. They’re not smart like humans. It’s boring here. Let me check the latest music video.”’
The watcher walked off. She’d been insulted and ignored too many times to want to continue the conversation. Harrold held out his phone to Heidi, They laughed at the antics of a cat playing with an ant.
The largest of the beavers, standing on his hind legs, walked up to Heidi and Harrold. He waited for the video to end and then said, “Harrold and Heidi, I’d like to talk to you.”
Heidi and Harrold looked up from the screen and down at the beaver, then they looked at each other. Harrold dropped his phone.
The beaver said, “You call yourselves human beings. That means a divine being. Humans aren’t more divine or intelligent than beavers and I can prove it.”
“Really?” asked Heidi.
“It’s simple” said the beaver. “First give me a lab coat, so I can look like a scientist too.”
They found and gave him one.
Heidi and Harrold were amazed and terrified. Both assumed that even if a beaver could speak, he or she wouldn’t be able to correct people with PHD degrees but, since they claimed to be scientists, they decided to record what the beaver had to say.
They tried to record on their phones but the camera wouldn’t work. There was a remote camera in the area that they wanted to turn on but the beaver objected.“This is for you two alone to see. If you are brave enough you can tell others, but I will not let you convince others with a recording.”
“Not fair,” remonstrated Harrold.
“You want to be famous scientists, don’t you? That’s the only reason you want a video. You don’t care a bit for the truth.”
“I see you are a male beaver, what pronoun would you like to be called by?” asked Harrold.
Harrold’s face crimsoned. “What is your name?”
“Magnus and I can prove how vapid humans are. You mentioned justice and fairness. I had access to your pay stubs. Harrold makes $200 a day more than Heidi. I ask you, is that just and fair?”
“I’m being cheated,” shouted Heidi. “The museum says they pay men and women the same. What lies! It’s completely unfair.”
‘It’s fair,” thundered Harrold. “I’ve been at this job seventeen years and Heidi only started a year ago and she hasn’t even got her PHD yet..”
“Are you saying that woman doesn’t deserve to be paid the same as men for same work?”
‘It’s not the same work. I direct you.” Harrold and Heidi turned towards each other, “And you don’t observe. I’m the one who discovered enough to write the last three papers,” continued Harrold.
“I corrected your grammar and edited your poor writing. Without me, you’d be fired.”
Monique started to laugh and then put her hand over her mouth to repress herself. I continued reading.
Magnus stepped between the two arguing humans. “Everyone tells the truth around me, Tell me what you really think of each other.”
“I don’t want to say,” said Harrold.
“Well I will. Harrold is a prick and a bastard,” said Heidi.
Harrold responded, “I didn’t want to say it but Heidi is a complete…”
“Stop” yelled out Monique.” Stop right there. I have a suggestion. Don’t let Harrold use the English word. Let him say it in French.”
“That’s exactly what Harrold says.”
“Please continue reading. I’m enjoying this,” said Monique.
I kept reading.
“I know exactly what both of you are going to say,” said Mangus “and it is quite impolite. No beaver would ever use such language with another beaver. You two say beavers have no thought and consciousness. All I have to do is mention the word fairness and humans want to break each other’s heads. Isn’t that far less intelligent and more dangerous than building a dam when we hear water running?”
Heidi and Harrold turned towards Magnus. “But we invented,music and mathematics.”
At that, Harrold took out his cell phone and started to watch dogs doing tricks. Heidi joined in watching saying “That’s the cutest thing I ever saw.”
“Remember you were talking to me” said Magnus. He was ignored.. Magnus repeated himself and Heidi and Harrold looked up to talk to him.
“You have no idea if beavers have music or art, do you? Would you recognize them? Answer me please,” asked Magnus.
“I don’t think I would,” said Heidi.
“I’m sure I would,” said Harrold.
“You two can’t agree on anything. We’ve constructed a world where we don’t need your music or mathematics because we have our own,” said Magnus. “As long as you leave us alone we’re fine. The same can’t be said of you so- called human or divine beings. You can never leave anything alone.”
“You’re probably an exploiter,” Said Harrold.
Magnus smiled but the two humans didn’t notice because beaver’s smiles aren’t similar to human smiles. “I’ve proved a second time that humans are mechanical, can’t think clearly or agree on anything. “
“That’s not fair,” said Heidi. “You just picked one topic where we don’t agree.”
“Let’s try another one. A quote from one of your so-called philosophers, ‘From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs,’” said Magnus.
“I completely agree with that,” said Heidi. “Sharing is caring.”
“Complete BS. People will just demand what they didn’t earn. That sharing ideal never works.”
“Enough. How about light is both a wave and a particle at the same time,” said Magnus.
“Of course that’s always true. It’s poetry isn’t it?” said Heidi.
“No, it depends on the observer. Once observed it’s either a particle or a wave,” said Harrold.
“It’s poetry,” said Heidi. “I’m not hallucinating am I? We are talking to a beaver, aren’t we?”
“I’m not hallucinating, at least,” said Harrold.
“I’ve proved my point,” said Magnus. “Humans can never agree with each other. Beavers have one apparent weakness. Humans have thousands. Now you can admit the beaver’s superiority.”
There was no reply. Harrold and Heidi had pulled out their cell phones and were viewing them.
“Can’t you concentrate on what I’m saying?” asked Magnus. “Is this how you humans get love? From a tiny machine?” There was no response.
Magnus slapped their cell phones to the ground and said, “Beavers can still relate to each other and to reality. We don’t need to constantly be entertained. We can enjoy the world we live in, the smells, the food we eat and each other.”
“Yada Yada Yada,” said Harrold.
“There is one ultimate proof that humans are superior,” said Heidi. “We have discovered that each person should have their own, self-chosen pronoun that designates in what way they are being discriminated against. For example, I choose the pronoun CGAEFY to describe the oppression I face. I am now truly who I say I am and know myself to be.”
Harrold said, “I picked the pronoun UBYTRL to indicate the forces against me. Now I am myself.”
“We beavers are superior again,” said Magnus. “We don’t constantly claim others are oppressing us and we don’t use personal pronouns. We always use a person’s name. I am always called Magnus and if I meet another beaver, I refer to that beaver by name. If someone reads in a story‘ UBYTRL said’ instead of he said, how will they know who is being referred to? Suppose there are twenty characters. Who could ever keep all those pronouns straight? Again it proves that beavers are superior.”
Heidi and Harrold looked at each other and smiled.
“I think Magnus has solved one of our problems. Let’s uninvent personal pronouns and only use a person’s name, ” said Heidi.
“Good idea. We could make it a law,” replied Harrold. “ How can we enforce the law?”
“We will have to give increasingly severe punishments for any deviation to our new law,” Heidi responded, “but that wouldn’t be kind and kindness is so important. Isn’t there some other way?”
“Let’s stick with punishment. We can think of kindness later,” said Harrold.
Harrold and Heidi shook hands.“We agree. See, Magnus? Humans can agree.”
“Yes, on how to exploit and punish each other. You have threatened imprisonment for those who don’t agree with you.”
“What would you expect? What do you beavers do?” asked Harrold.
“My best bud, Marshall, sometimes talks rot,” said Magnus.
“And how do you punish him? Do you have beaver jails?” asked Harrold.
‘Of course not. I just say Marshall, ‘That’s rot but go ahead and say it, I’ve said more than my share of rot in my time. Then we talk about it and try to understand each other’s point of view. To tell the truth, many of the things Marshall said that I thought were rot, turned out to be true. So, I keep telling Marshall to tell me what he’s thinking. Maybe I’ll learn something and change my mind.’”
“I never talk rot,” said Heidi.
“If you think that, you know nothing about yourself,” said Magnus.
‘I don’t let people talk rot. I correct them,” said Harrold, “especially not--”
Magnus interrupted Harrold, “You were about to call me a dumb rodent just like you called the watcher a dumb dropout? We beavers don’t do things like that,” said Magnus.
“It would be so lovely to be a beaver,” said Heidi.
“If you were, you’d be all wet,” said Harrold.
“Talking of getting wet, what happened to my cell phone?” Heidi bent down and picked it up, hugging it to her heart.
At this Magnus said, “I hear some running water. I’ve got to go.”
Heidi and Harrold didn’t notice when Magnus shrank back to his normal size and walked away. As Magnus looked back, he saw Heidi and Harrold facing away from each other, both talking into their phones. Magnus thought that these humans sure don’t like each other much.
Magnus joined Marshall and the other three beavers that were cheerfully constructing a new dam where Heidi had turned on the sound of running water. About two minutes later, Magnus, realizing they were being tricked, put a stick through the hidden speaker and the sound of running water stopped.
“We don’t need to build a dam here,” said Magnus.
“Let’s go back to finding and eating water lilies,” another beaver said.
“Lets get them now before Heidi and Harrold decide to experiment on them,” said a third beaver.
“They wouldn’t dare,” said Marshall.
“Oh, they’d dare,” said Magnus.
“We’ll have to figure out what to do if they do,” said Marshall.
“We’ll worry about it when the time comes,” said Magnus.
Harrold and Heidi drove back to Montreal together. They didn’t talk to each other during the drive but, as they approached the city, they started to converse about their experience with Magnus.
“Beavers do turn out to be lovely. I want to tell people all about their wonders,” said Heidi.
“No way. We tell them that beavers have no real intelligence, that it’s all instinct,” said Harrold.
“But that wouldn’t be true.”
“Yes it is.”
“We saw and heard with our very own senses that beavers are intelligent,” said Heidi. “They reason, debate, even talk.”
“We have no proof of what we saw so we didn’t see anything. You thought you were on LSD. How sure are you really that you talked to a beaver?”
“We have no proof.”
“You’ll never get your PHD if you come up with a silly story about an intelligent beaver.”
“You’re right but it was so enchanting. Maybe I’ll write a poem about it,” said Heidi.
“I don’t care about a poem. What will you say to the museum?” demanded Harrold.
“That we proved there was no intelligence with beavers?” asked Heidi.
“Great choice,” said Harrold.
Marshall, Magnus and their friends decided to go to their beaver lodges and eat water lilies. Magnus began to compose a ballad referred to scientists as “The Troubled, Troublemakers.” As he sang, the other beavers beat out the rhythm with their tail. Marshall said, “Your song is rot.” Magnus chuckled and agreed, “It sure is”
” I wish Harrold and Heidi could come join us in our lodge and enjoy our companionship,” said Marshal. “I wonder which of our treats they’d like best to eat.”
“Probably none of them,” said Marshall. “It’s wet in here and they wouldn’t be able to use their cell phones. They’d probably be very unhappy.”
“You’re probably right,” agreed Magnus.
There was silence for almost two minutes after I stopped reading.
Jeramy said, “Tell me the truth. Was it completely orthodox?”
“It was magnificent, So funny and so true to life,” said Monique.
“I wasn’t aiming for magnificence. I wanted to write drivel with a bit of humor that the judge would approve of.”
“It wasn’t your best but it’s completely orthodox,” I said to Jeramy.
“It’s a bit insulting to women, which isn’t good. If you change the part of Harrold for Heidi, then it will be insulting to men. That will make it completely orthodox. You can always pick on men,” agreed Monique.
“Good. I’ll have to type it up, with that change tomorrow.” Jeramy got up and went to our cabin.
“Let’s have one more drink,” I said to Monique.
Monique said, “Come back for a visit, with Jeramy, whether he wins or loses.”
“It freaks me out to think of him silenced and unable to use his fingers. Are you sure you’re up to seeing him like that?” I asked.
“They won’t do it,” she said.
“I’m not so sure.”
“Come back no matter what happens’”
“We will,” I replied.
We said good night and Monique left.
Jeramy had left the manuscript with me. I was beginning to sober up and thought that maybe it was the alcohol that made me think the story was orthodox. It was very insulting to humans and some of the beliefs of our society. Writing humor is always dangerous. How was I to be sure the story only insulted unprotected classes of people and out of favor ideas?
I was tempted to throw it in the fire and try to write a story that was pure drivel but I knew I couldn’t do that. If I substituted my story for Jeramy’s and he was convicted anyway, he’d never forgive me. For better or worse, we’d have to go with the story of Magnus. I wondered what Magnus would have advised us to do. I wished I could have asked for his advice but, of course, I couldn’t.
Jeramy submitted his story to the judge and two days later there was a hearing. The gallery was packed with supporters of the new law. There had been articles on social media saying that if Jeramy got off, the law would be eviscerated and lose all its usefulness and that hatred would be the victor.
The judge had read Jeramy’s story. He announced the verdict, “The story does not meet the required criteria. The original sentence must be carried out.” Jeramy was too stunned to say anything.
From the crowds, there were shouts of joy. I would have liked to believe that they were joyful that their precious law was upheld rather than that Jeramy was going to be silenced but I had my doubts.
When the shouts of joy died down, I shouted to the judge, “Why wasn’t the story acceptable?”
He answered, “In some ways it is completely innocuous and extols many of the precepts of our society but it opens them to ridicule and laughter. This possibility confirm that the story does not meet the criteria for leniency.”
I will say this in favor of our legal system. There is still the ability to appeal. Since it was the first time this kind of sentence was given, Jeramy’s case was given an instant appeal, and the case was assigned to a Judge H. Magnifico, who would hold a hearing one week later.
Jeramy, his lawyer and I went to the hearing. Judge Magnifico started out by saying he had reviewed the law, opinions, evidence and the story. The Judge commended Jeramy for writing a very entertaining and interesting polemic but it did not meet the original judges requirements for a reduction of sentence. “This story can never be distributed in this country on pain of further imprisonment,”
As I looked at Judge H. Magnifico, I noticed that he had a very definite tick in his neck. I ignored it at first, then he had a second and third tick all in a definite pattern. Could this be our old friend Hugo Petite who had changed his last name and become a judge? His hair had streaks of grey but still he had a tall, imposing body. Judge Magnifico asked if Jeramy had anything to say.
Jeramy was silent.
I stood and said, “My brother is too broken to speak. May I and Jeramy’s lawyer approach the bar?”
I asked Jeramy’s lawyer to let me talk to the judge alone. I said to Judge Magnifico, “I believe we know each other. Do you remember my long flaming red hair touching your face?”
The judge looked me in the eyes and said, “I’ve met many people with red hair.”
“I remember, many years ago, playing soccer with you in a field and scoring one tremendous,” and I stopped for dramatic purposes and then said very loudly “GOAL against you.”
Hugo cringed with fear. He could have me removed and charged for threatening him but I had only reminded him of a long past soccer game. Surely that was not yet a crime. I continued in a calm, slow voice. “Someone with such a wonderful name as Magnifico, must be able to offer us some hope that a reduction of sentence is possible.”
Hugo sat stunned silent and then said, “Jeramy, approach the bar. I have carefully reviewed the new sentencing guidelines and will ask you a few questions. Do you have any minority status?”
“No, I am a white, heterosexual male.”
“That doesn’t help. Is society discriminating against you so you need your own personal pronoun?”
“How does that matter?”
“If society is holding you back and you require that you be spoken to with a pronoun chosen from ‘AAAAAA’ to ‘ZZZZZZ’ I can reduce your sentence to community service because you would be a member of one of the oppressed peoples.”
“I have never required the use of one of those pronouns and don’t approve of breaking society up into tiny groups each claiming to be more discriminated against than the others. We’re all the same and all in this together.”
“Think carefully. You can register for one of the pronouns now. You must swear that society is hurting you and you will have to reveal your pronoun. Be warned that you can only do this one time. If you change your mind, your choice will be considered false and invalid.”
“Doing so goes against all I believe,” said Jeramy.
I whispered into Jeramy’s ear, “This is your one chance. Don’t blow it.”
“I’m afraid,” said Jeramy.
“What did he say?” asked Hugo.
I said, “My brother said he’s A F R A I D.”
“A F R A I D. That certainly seems like a valid pronoun according to the rules.”
The usher brought in a recording device, with a keyboard. A camera was activated to record Jeramy’s new pronoun.
“I can’t do it,” Jeramy said to me. “I can’t swear to this.”
“You are afraid to be silenced, correct?” Asked Judge Magnifico.
“Then enter it.”
Jeramy entered his name, address, date of birth and his pronoun A F R A I D.
The stupid machine immediately posted the error message: “Invalid pronoun.”
Hugo got a technician to check. The technician looked in the pronoun database and there were the pronouns ‘AFRAIC’ and ‘AFRAIE’ in the database as valid pronouns but no “AFRAID”.
The technician said, “Judge, did you forget that common words were removed from the pronoun list. That’s why you got that error message.”
That was it. There was no second try. Jeramy was sentenced to be silenced. He didn’t want to wait so he asked for the sentence to be carried out as soon as possible.
Two days later, Jeramy became a citizen of The Republic of Silence. A “doctor” or should I say, someone who called himself a doctor because, in my opinion, a real doctor wouldn’t violate the Hippocratic oath which says “Do no harm.” injected a substance into each of Jeramy’s fingers and the back underside of his tongue. Jeramy lost the ability to speak or control his fingers.
Jeramy was very brave and made not the slightest complaint. I was very thankful that the silencing was not done before a public audience. Many, thought Jeramy had got off too easily. I wasn’t eager for him to encounter these merciful individuals. When we got back to his apartment building, he was jeered at by militant members of GEOO (Guaranteed Equality Of Outcome), who vowed to harass him every time he left the apartment building.
Jeramy discovered that he could not hold a knife and fork. I found a company that made a device to strap a knife or fork to his hand and he used these. He could move his tongue enough to swallow but he could not control it enough to speak. At his first bite, he found that he had lost most of his sense of taste.
Jeramy’s prophecy came true. He did lose weight. I visited him every day urged him to eat more. He was ashamed to go out because he was embarrassed that he couldn’t speak. The contingent of GEOO had to content themselves with harassing me.
We learned Morse code. He put metal pieces above his knees so he could tap out messages to me.
They weren’t very varied. For the first several weeks he mostly used his knees to make the Morse code “A F R A I D H E L P M E.” He’d then fall silent. He seemed to have no interests.
Monique contacted me and asked that I bring Jeramy to visit at the lodge. It was right before the snows usually came and there would be few guests. Jeramy resisted. Monique sent him a card with a drawing she made of two beavers talking. It said “Please come visit us. We live near the Say Lake Lodge and was signed “Magnus and Marshall.” Jeramy knew the card was from Monique but he was touched and he wept. I asked if he was willing to go and he tapped out “Y E S”.
How could I sneak Jeramy out? The “guard” was there twenty-four hours a day. Monique thought of a way. She came with costumes from her acting troupe in a backpack. She walked into Jeramy’s building twearing a brown wig and green coat She dressed Jeramy with a wig, a long dress and a black coat. She changed into a blue coat and a blonde wig They walked to her car undisturbed and then picked me up and we drove to Say Lake Lodge.
The night we arrived, it was cold, almost freezing but there was no wind. You could see the Milky Way. Jeramy stood outside looking at it for about a half hour before he came inside.
The next day was warmer Monique and Jeramy got into a canoe, which Monique paddled to the far end of the lake and walked to a large pond with active beaver lodges. They spent several hours watching the beavers and came back late in the afternoon.
That night, Jeramy, Monique and I were in the main lodge, where I had read out the Magnus story. Jeramy started tapping out the letters M A K E K E Y B O A R D ON F L O O R.
I didn’t know what he meant. He tapped it out again. I told Monique what he had said. She got a gigantic sheet of paper and drew a keyboard on the floor with letters about fifteen centimeters tall. Jeramy smiled. He walked to the keyboard. He would tap a letter with ball of his foot, I didn’t know what he was doing. It was only after he did it three times that I realize he was typing out WRITE WHAT I TYPE.
I got a notebook. Monique sat next to me and called out the letters as Jeramy used his feet to type out “M A G N U S S T I R R E D”.
What could that mean? I thought. I looked at him with a quizzical look.
I realized that Jeramy was going to write another story and I was so ready to hear it. Monique smiled and nodded her head. I could tell she was anxious to hear it too.
“We’re all ears,” she said to Jeramy. Monique said the words out loud as Jeramy typed them with his feet and I wrote them in a notebook.
M A G N U S S T I R R E D A N D S A I D T O M A R S H A L L I W I L L H E L P T H O S E H U M A N S. W H Y B O T H E R? A S K E D M A R SH A L L. B E C A U S E I C AN AND B E CAUSE I LOVE THEM
I wept tears of joy. Jeramy hadn’t left me or abandoned the human race. I looked over and a few tears rolled down Monique’s cheek.
It was a magnificent story. I asked Jeramy if there would be more and he typed out, “much more.” Jeramy asked Monique to act out the dialogue between Magnus and Marshall and she did it with such a comedic air that Jeramy started to laugh and made some very odd sounds. He was very embarrassed. Monique said to Jeramy, “Don’t worry, everything you do is lovely.” I didn’t know if she was telling the truth or acting but I was very grateful. It was a wonderful evening. What would happen next, once we left the lodge, I had no idea, nor did I really want to know.
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