Over the next few days, Dick became quiet and driven. He worked by himself in the ruined building cleaning through the debris and ripping out all the blackened and useless lumber and hauling it off. Everybody else at the commune stayed far away from him. He came to meals dirty and kept to himself as he ate. No one spoke to him.
After his third straight day of work, he found Dandelion and Sowbug and asked them if they had a moment.
“A moment,” said Dandelion.
“Okay”, said Dick. “Here’s what we’ve got. The good news is that your foundation is solid. I’ve kept it and cleaned it up. I’ve gotten rid of everything else. Nothing else was salvageable. I’m sorry but you’re going to have to start over again from there. And without me.”
“And what are you going to do?” asked Sowbug.
“I’m out of here,” Dick said. “No one likes me and the feeling’s mutual. There are hard times coming and I want to be in a place where people acknowledge that. No one here’s willing to really work hard. I don’t think anyone here has a clue.”
“Well, we really do appreciate your hard work,” Dandelion said.
“Yeah, right,” said Dick.
“No really,” Sowbug said. “It’s just that when you come on as strong as you do, you alienate people.”
“We need strong people for the rough times ahead and I don’t think anybody here is ready for it. I don’t care about being appreciated. I want to work with folks who are serious.” Dick shrugged. “I guess it’s so long.”
“Where will you go?” Dandelion asked.
“I’m gonna head south. That blowhard Don was always talking about how much he loved northern climates and I have no desire to run into him again. I guess I’m going to have to just keep trying communities until I find some folks who really get it.”
“Good luck,” Sowbug said.
“Yeah,” said Dandelion, “and thanks.”
“Sure,” said Dick and he turned and walked to his tent.
Within a half hour he had everything packed up and loaded into his vegetable oil powered pickup truck.
He climbed in, rolled down the window, and leaned out and yelled, “See ya!”
He didn’t wait for a response. He drove off leaving behind the odor of a fast food joint.
“Well, I guess it’s over,” said Sowbug.
The commune meeting that week was surprisingly subdued.
Luna sighed. “I don’t know what to say. I guess I’m glad that Dick and Don are gone.”
Sowbug said, “It’s weird. I hated working with them and now I kinda miss them. They were great workers even though they were a royal pain to work with.”
“And now we’ve got to start over,” Dandelion added. “We’ve got the foundation of the building okay but we’re going to have to build the rest of it again. And winter is coming. I don’t think we’re going to want anyone sleeping in tents in November, let alone after that.”
“I think we can figure something out,” Dan said, but he sounded hesitant.
Everyone was quiet for a little bit.
“Do we even know what really happened?” Strange Brew asked. “I mean I heard what the fire chief said, but what was Don doing wandering around in the building with a candle in the first place?”
“I want to know how we can keep folks like Barbara and Don from coming here in the first place,” Marge said. “We’ve got to figure out better ways to screen out people that don’t belong here. I don’t want to see another fire for a long, long time.” She paused before she added, “Or better yet, never again.”
“How can you tell what a person’s like until you live with them for a while?” Cat said. “I mean, I really liked Barbara. I had no idea she was an actress and an arsonist.”
“Well, none of us liked Don or Dick,” Viv said, “and we still couldn’t figure out how to get rid of them before there was trouble.”
There was a long period of silence. Chuck, who was running the meeting and wearing a gorgeous green gown, kept looking from person to person but didn’t say anything.
“I don’t know,” Sal said finally. “I think you can do all the screenings in the world and we can still end up with trouble. And, yeah, I couldn’t figure out how we could get Dick or Don to leave. It’s not like we could call the cops.”
“I want us to get gentler people,” Darren said. “More women, more queer folk, more genderless and genderfluid people. I don’t want more macho men.”
“Me, neither,” said Blue Sky.
“Yeah, I can see how you would feel that way,” Sal said. “But we also need hard workers.”
“Can we find some hard workers that aren’t hard on everyone?” Nancy asked.
“So many good questions,” Chuck said. “I think we may need to wait to find the answers.”
“I never got my question about what really happened answered,” said Strange Brew to Patsy after the meeting.
Patsy sighed. “We may never know,” she said.