Chapter 21 – Ancestral wisdom and cholesterol


It’s been said that nothing happens on this earth without leaving traces of its passing. Sometimes those come in material form, through the testimony of even the most mundane objects, other times through the subtle changes in behavior, and taking upon a different way to see the world.

The lessons in the cave didn’t get lost on the girls’ hearts and minds, how can one discover an entirely new world and stay the same? They were more confident in their strange compliance, and completely unafraid. If there was one thing in the world that incensed Rosemary was people not knowing their place. She had held to her position in society and obeyed its every restraint, and she wanted to make sure every member of the generation after her did exactly the same. The fact that her place in society had been quite cozy and comfortable, due for the most part to fortunate birth circumstances and helpful people to guide her way was beside the point, she firmly believed that her life in and of itself validated her right to be were she was, and those who didn’t fare as well did so by the faults of their own conscience.

Most of all, she couldn’t understand a young girl not cowering, and as the very subtle absence of this behavior permeated the ranks, she perceived it as danger, so she decided to keep a close eye on the young ones, to see what brought about the change. There was nothing at first, just the strange exhaustion of an age group that, if she were to judge by her own endless stores of energy, was anything but normal, or the total lack of disagreement regarding their attire. She knew for a fact that when she was a girl their age, she defied any rules regarding clothing that she could, fact she now strongly disapproved of in others. Even the mirror incident, which she still remembered with a smile, a forbidden activity if there ever was one, seemed to her more normal than the acceptance without a single objection of the new decision that the only permitted colors for young girls to wear were gray and tan.

There was something afoot, and she knew it, she just couldn’t put her finger on it, but her instincts rarely betrayed her, so she had learned to trust them over a lifetime of experience.

Fate finally smiled on her quest when one of the girls slipped and as she passed on the deep fried bacon croquettes at breakfast, said they had too much cholesterol. That was enough for Rosemary; being an involuntary messenger of evil in one’s sleep was one thing, but speaking abomination out loud while fully awake proved consent. An inquiry was opened immediately into the unfortunate, who, by the rules previously agreed upon in the learning group, was disavowed by her friends and subsequently fed secret messages and cholesterol free goodies through the little awning window at the top of the wall of her holding room.

Rosemary convened an extraordinary meeting of the Council, requesting that every single member be in attendance. When the time for the meeting finally arrived, the Council Hall was filled with static electricity, at least that is the metaphor one would use if one knew what static electricity was. Some were irritated by this imposition on their time, some showed real worry, not knowing what to make of the girl’s strange utterings, others were simply curious and saw this meeting as a providential gift that shook the dust of boredom and stagnation out of a society that was never moving forward.

The subject of contention, whose name was Lisa, was brought in front of the Council, her beige dress in stark contrast with the black gowns of most of the council members, and the wealth of her shiny black hair neatly braided and hidden under her bonnet. Lisa was fortunate, for beige was very flattering to her olive complexion and her large dark eyes, and this irritated Rosemary further, because the whole point of the drab colors was to make the girls modestly fade into the background, not to highlight their features.
The girl’s demeanor was quiet and subdued, and even the light in her eyes was dimmed, as if she weren’t there in spirit, just a shell left behind. Mrs. Eberhart sighed before giving the opening statement, dissatisfied with the example they were setting for the younger generation, even though she had deep personal concerns about the recent behavior of the girls.

“The Council is now in session. If I may, could we skip over the usual statements and get straight to the point? There is a lot of work on today’s agenda, not related to this incident.” She paused for a second, to wait for objections, and then continued. “Lisa, what is cholesterol?”

The girl looked at her, puzzled, as if she had heard the word for the first time.

“Don’t be afraid, we won’t judge you,” Mrs. Eberhart said, biting her tongue with bitterness for saying something so obviously untrue, “we just want to know where you heard this word, is all, we’re all worried for you, dear,” she continued, kindly.

“I’m sure I never heard that word, Mrs. Eberhart,” Lisa hesitated, really scared, because all the eyes of the Council were on her now, and very few of them reflected the leader’s kindness. She gulped, then continued, her mind racing at high speed trying to find a familiar word that even came close to approximating “cholesterol”, but she couldn’t find one. “Surely somebody must have misunderstood me, I couldn’t say a word like that, I don’t really know what it means.”

“You realize, girl,” Rosemary launched the first stone, “that lying will only worsen your punishment. I heard you with my own ears, have you no shame for showing me such disrespect?”

“Please, Rosemary,” Mrs. Eberhart intervened. “Can’t you see the girl is terrified? Our goal here is to get to the truth, not to punish,” she admonished gently. “You can answer your elder now, my dear, as truthfully as you can.” Lisa pondered on the meaning of the last sentence and in accordance with her interpretation of it, manufactured on the spot a believable explanation for what Rosemary had heard.
“I was talking to one of my friends, please don’t get upset with me for saying this,” she meekly whispered, “but I was telling her that I felt I couldn’t even eat anymore because I was so nervous about the Coulter role.”

“You can’t be serious!” Rosemary exploded. “This flippant girl is making a mockery of this session!” she bubbled like a volcano, ready to explode at any moment.

“But the cast for the Feast of the Harvest play has not been assigned yet,” Mrs. Eberhart objected. “Why would you be nervous about it?”

Every year, on Harvest Day, there was a reenactment of the historical event when the Book of Prophecy was adopted as law and the Scholar’s line was cast into the shadows, and suffice it to say, the role of Abraham Coulter wasn’t among the ones sought after. Every year the girls dreaded being cast as this objectionable character, and just to make things fair, the Council had decided to draw names out of a hat, so nobody would think they were singled out on purpose.

“Who can blame the girl for being nervous about that?” Lucille reluctantly intervened. “It’s the luck of the draw and nobody enjoys being stuck with that role,” she said.

“I’m pretty sure your delinquent relative wouldn’t mind too much,” Rosemary took the opportunity to remind everybody of Lucille’s dubious connections to the Scholars’ line. Lucille congratulated herself for stumbling upon this diversion that would block at least a half hour of inquiries, thus giving Lisa, who had proved to be quite resourceful, more time to come up with a credible line. The Council’s attention was immediately captured by updates on the state of the search for Mary and the means and methods described in the Book of Prophecy to free her young mind from the curse of the Que’d.

“I told you from the very beginning, Lucille, that the girl was not to be allowed anywhere near water! I blame you for blatantly disregarding the traditions of our village, look at what this lack of judgment of yours brought us to!” Rosemary commented.

“You can’t begrudge a thirsty baby water, Rosemary,” Lucille said, strangely calm. “I think even you would agree to that.”

“And why not?” Rosemary snapped. “The girl is not like us, Lucille, and it’s only your human weakness that convinced you that she could come to harm as a result of not being given water. The Book of Prophecy clearly delineates that, and it would have served you to stick to ancestral wisdom, not to your own recusant beliefs.”

“What if you found out you were descended from the Scholars’ line? Then we shouldn’t give you water anymore either,” Lucille postulated.

“But I’m not, am I?” Rosemary took a superior stance. “I couldn’t bear the shame of such ancestral baggage!” she said, before thinking, and Lucille’s argument instantly gained the unspoken support of all of those who had had to hide their lineage, just to fit in.

“Just hope that you don’t find out otherwise,” the latter smiled, content, and let the argument die.

“Can we get back to the inquiry now?” Mrs. Eberhart interrupted, eager to move on to real issues. She turned to Lisa, who had progressively diminished in her chair as the discussion about the Scholars’ line got more fired up, because she too shared that undesirable ancestry, and she didn’t think its additional weight would help her plight. “So, dear, what you’re saying is that Mrs. Kressler might have misheard you?” Rosemary was startled to hear her last name, which she seldom used in Council. Unlike Mrs. Gentry, who had always insisted on being addressed by her married name, she didn’t stand on formality and liked to be called Rosemary.

“Yes, ma’am,” Lisa whispered, looking down.

“Well,” Mrs. Eberhart turned to Rosemary, relieved to be done with this pointless waste of the Council’s time, “it seems that it was an honest misunderstanding, dear.” Rosemary’s nostrils flared with outrage, but she said nothing. The leader continued. “Let’s move on to today’s agenda.” She noticed that nobody reacted to her words and realized they were all waiting to be formally dismissed.

“You may go, girl,” Mrs. Eberhart told Lisa. “Also, all those who were called in for the extraordinary meeting are free to leave, even though you’re all welcome to sit in for our regular session if you so wish.
A shuffle of chairs and footsteps ensued, and about a third of the audience left, unsure whether to feel relieved or disappointed. Lisa joined the group of girls in the back, who had been brought in to witness the bitter fruits of dissent, and could hardly wait to get out of the Council Hall.

The Circle went back to the issues of the week under the curious eyes of those who had chosen to remain in the audience, whose patience was rewarded by the knowledge that the needs of the village were carefully tended to by diligent and capable hands.