Excerpt from The Perfect Stranger, Chapter 2.
By Gregory SETH Harris
Like many a commonwealth, ours had been settled by persons escaping persecution: persons hoping for a better life somewhere where they might be the persecutors instead of the persecuted. Founded circa 1643, or thereabouts, by one Reverend Taylor Brittlebaum (or Reverend & taylor Brittlebaum—the records are ambiguous), our town is best known for its lack of a name; our four-sighted founders believing this a foolproof method of rendering our borders difficult to locate. Stretch your maps the length of any dining room table & you might—if you’re lucky—stumble upon the solitary unidentified dot that is our micropolis (the one w/ no roads leading in or out); but, more likely, you’ll mistake us for a misprint or, better still, a speck of dried debris even your most aggressive thumbnail can’t quite dislodge.
From what few untampered documents remain, our historians trace the original Brittlebaums to somewhere west of Iceland, north of Rome, south of Never-Neverland & east of Eden. These earlier Brittlebaums, according to said documents, had flourished on the outskirts of a great micropolitan trade-center—a center since having sunk into the great lake upon which it was once a thriving island.
Legend has it pride, vanity & too many obese in-laws had sunk the economic mecca. The Brittlebaums, as well as the island’s other noble families, were said to have suffered from that all-too-common malady of believing themselves better than anyone else. As our economists attest, competition fuels perfection, thus many were the families perfecting the upward turn of their noses & the downward sway of their regard—including the Brittlebaums. Unfortunately, when among the older, more established families, the Brittlebaums were easily outshunned. When uncivil war erupted, the unfortunate Brittlebaums found themselves crying ‘Uncle’—a euphemism for verbiage our linguists allege to be unprintable. The once proud Brittlebaums were reduced to servitude &, as the poor, downtrodden & disenfranchised are wont to do, they turned to religion for solace. Decades of devouring humble pie & self-deprecation led eventually to one branch of Brittlebaums (headed by the aforementioned Taylor Brittlebaum) moving family, animals & loyal congregation elsewhere. Months of arduous travel—by boat, by wagon, by creaky caravan—finally resulted in Brittlebaum & company settling this territory, leveling its mountains, deforesting its hills, rerouting its rivers & generally bringing the landscape to its knees.
Meanwhile (so our anthropologists tell us), several Brittlebaums contracted a rare genetic disease traced back to the old country. The Reverend Brittlebaum; his older brother, Aaron; & their kid sister, Meg, simultaneously contracted an inability to see anyone different from themselves. Whatever the difference—perhaps a physical attribute (e.g. height; slender waist; silky, full-bodied hair), or the proud swagger in another’s gait, or whether one called a couch a sofa or spelled theater ‘theatre’—those born on the wrong side of said difference found their toes constantly stepped on, found themselves forever interrupted in conversation & pushed about as if they weren’t even present. Should said persons fail to correct the offending difference, said persons eventually found themselves under a horse andor carriage owned/driven/rented or leased by a Brittlebaum, or descendant thereof. The situation proved not w/ out its tensions.