Winter on the Island was always called “the dry season,” but this year was dryer than usual, and around 3ºC warmer too. As the morning progressed and the temperature passed through 18ºC, another very nice day was in the making at the Stanley Farm and Supply Store.
The store was located about halfway between Hallett and North Hallett, in the north of Uranus. As one drove up from the coast towards Hallett and, if one dared, towards Beran, the store came up along the left, across the road from the canal which was only separated from the road by about twenty metres. The store itself was a little below road level. A nondescript concrete block building, the store front was almost completely open when the roll-up doors were raised, revealing the smaller equipment and things that didn’t need to be out in the rain. The tractor lot was off to the side, and there was more equipment, supplies, feed and seed out in the back. Every square centimetre of the property was occupied by something, including the junk in the far back, and the property itself butted up against one of the farms it serviced, in this case owned by Carla’s uncle.
The Stanleys were blessed in that the year-round planting and harvest schedule of Uranan farming made for year-round business. But as Christmas was only two days away and most of the farmers were in a festive mood, most of the Stanleys’ sales and repairs were on an “emergency” basis.
Pete Stanley was leaning on the main counter, which was on the right side of the store as viewed from the road. Next to him was John Agelasos, his main “right-hand man” who was frequently the salesman that Pete wasn’t. The open roll-up doors on the front afforded as much breeze through the place as one could expect, especially when the back door was left up. This was supplemented by the spotty ceiling fans and, in very hot weather, by a floor fan or two. In an attempt to supplement Verecunda’s limited radio offerings, Pete had an 8-track player mounted on a high shelf, its speakers sharing the shelf. Country and Gospel music alternated, and even at this time of year the polyester suit boys’ muffled refrain echoed across the store, softly reverberating against the concrete block walls in such a way as to obscure the good news they had to offer.
Things were slow until a somewhat battered Ford Cortina pulled up in front of the counter. The Cortina has Uranan state licence plates on it and “Hallett Regional Comprehensive School” crudely stencilled on the two front doors of the car. A thin man who really didn’t look like he belonged at a feed and seed store got out and walked up to the counter.
“Colin Dirksen,” Pete addressed the visitor. “How may we help you today?”
“Is Carla here?” Dirksen asked.
“She’s out making deliveries,” Pete informed him. “She should be back shortly.”
“Thank you,” Dirksen replied. He started to wander about the store, killing time while waiting for her. He was the school’s guidance counsellor, a relatively new position at Hallett Comprehensive.
He didn’t have to wait long; about ten minutes later everyone heard a Ford pick-up truck make a stiff left turn and, braking against the loose gravel in the parking lot, come to a stop just in front of one of the roll-up doors. Dirksen wasn’t far from the counter and came back towards it as the truck door opened and the engine stopped. Carla emerged from the truck, which had the company logo on the doors and showed signs of many miles. She was dressed in jeans and a Western shirt. She closed the door to the truck with a satisfying thud, slung her long blonde mane behind her head and down her back, and walked up towards the counter, stopping at a suitable distance from both Dirksen and her father.
“Mr. Dirksen,” she said, obviously surprised. “I thought you’d be on Christmas vacation.”
“Yule vacation,” he corrected her. “You know our new law. Don’t you remember this from our last school assembly?”
“Oh, yeah, I do,” Carla unhappily recalled.
“So what brings you here?” Pete asked.
“Well, I just stopped by to invite Carla to a new organisation we are having at our school. For some reason, we didn’t work out all of the details before the last bell, so I’m going round to students I feel have potential. Carla always has been one of our outstanding students, so she was at the top of my list.”
“We’ve always been proud of her,” Pete chimed in.
“So what organisation is this?” Carla asked, still suspicious.
“It’s a Life Identification Society,” Dirksen replied. “Other schools have been very successful with them. Our organisational meeting is on Tuesday, January 5. I very much hope that you can come.”
“Well. . .identification isn’t my problem. Everybody in the school knows the kind of person I am. That’s why I wasn’t allowed to stand for Student Council this year.”
“I am unimpressed with your self-pity,” Dirksen came back. “You know the school rules require that any member of the Student Council must take a cooperative attitude towards the school administration and its policies. If you haven’t forgotten, your attitude was anything but cooperative last year. We indulged you far too long. Besides, the purpose of the Life Identification Society isn’t to enable us to assume an identity, but to come out of our shell and find our real self.”
“Well, I’ve never been a wallflower,” Carla observed.
“Shows such as you put on last year are just that. We’re talking about what you really are.” He looked at Carla from head to toe and back again several times. “It is obvious that you are well gifted for such a pursuit.”
Carla stood and thought for a bit. She looked at her father, who didn’t signal anything back with his expression.
“I’m not interested,” she firmly replied, trying to get her point across without losing her temper, which was obvious by the redness that was coming up in her face. “I know girls in other schools who are in them. I know what they do. I don’t do those kinds of things. I won’t join, period, paragraph.”
Dirksen was obviously not totally prepared for Carla reaction. It was his turn to think.
“Suit yourself,” he said, trying to regain the upper hand. “You’re not dating Annette Connolly’s son any more, are you?”
“I broke up with him right after school started,” Carla informed him.
“Pity. . .surely someone like you would not leave that part of your life empty, now?”
“Between school, tennis and work, I really don’t have much time for dating. I’m trying to get ready to go away to university next year.”
“Oh yes. . .since you brought that up, are you still going to that religious college on the mainland?”
“Yeah,” she answered.
“I still find that disappointing,” Dirksen said. “You are a very bright girl. Your academic performance has only been matched by your exploits on the tennis court, which has brought a great deal of pride to HRCS. I cannot understand why you would want to throw all that away in an environment where your only future would be raising some fundamentalist stud’s six or so children.” He stopped and thought for a second. “You know that your graduation is a necessary prerequisite to going to a school even like this, don’t you?”
“There are other ways of fulfilling that requirement,” she responded, anticipating the threat.
“I find it hard to believe that even they would want to take a school leaver—voluntary or otherwise—into their institution,” Dirksen came back. “Well, if you ever change your mind, let me know—you have two weeks until the meeting.” He turned to walk away, then turned back towards Pete. “You know, I always found it odd that you, with the traditional attitudes towards women that are so prevalent around here, that you work Carla the way you do.”
“A Stanley is never afraid of hard work,” Pete answered. “All of my children have worked in the business. It’s good for them and good for the family.”
“How do you think she got in shape to play tennis the way she does?” John interjected.
“How indeed,” Dirksen came back. “Well, good day and Happy Yule.” With that he walked out to the Cortina, got in and left while the rest stood and watched him.
“That was very impertinent of you, young lady,” Pete scolded Carla. “You should show more respect to an official of your school than that, even if you don’t agree with him. You’d still be on Student Council if you had last year.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” she replied. She wanted to say more but knew better.
“I need to go over our receivables with your mother in the office,” Pete said. “You’ve got work to do.”
“Yes, sir,” she dutifully replied. He turned to go to the office. It had the only air conditioning in the place in the form of a window unit. Much of the year it was the place to be, but now the air conditioning served mostly as a dehumidifier. He went back and closed the door, leaving Carla and John up front.
John looked around and then back at Carla. “You did the right thing, kid,” he said. “I’ve got a niece down at Dillman-Arnold who’s in one of those. I hate to talk like this in front of you, but it turned her into a complete slut. If it were my kid he was talking to, I’d have belted him in the mouth.”
“He just doesn’t understand,” Carla replied. “I just want to explode, but Mother says not to, it’s not the Christian thing to do, and it probably wouldn’t do any good. But I can’t understand why he’s making it so hard for me to be the Christian he raised me to be.”
“Don’t take it personal,” John advised. “He means well. Like you say, he just doesn’t understand.”
“You’re right,” Carla reluctantly agreed. “I’ll take the truck around back and start straightening things up before we close for Christmas.”
“I’ll come help you when I can break loose from here,” John promised. Carla turned and walked back towards the truck. John looked at her and said to himself, “That kid’s got everything. . .everything.”