Gather Round Kids, Lazy-Eye Larry’s Got a Story to Tell Ya
The tavern on the corner of East and Main was run by a man named Joseph Slonenbakker, but ‘round these parts everybody knew him as Tabby — on account of some exploits he got up to in his youth. But ain’t nobody still alive that could tell you what they was.
Now, Tabby was a good man, an honest and gentle man. Not the type of man that survived long after the Fall. But age has a way of tempering a fellow, and who knows what sort of man ol’ Tabby had been back when people knew the reason for his name.
One thing about Tabby was certain. He had never been inappropriate with any of the children or women he took under his care. He wasn’t the sort and he didn’t tolerate that sort fraternizing with his wards, lest they chose it. It was common knowledge among the townsfolk, that unless you wanted to be sober for the rest of your life, you didn’t mess with those who resided in Tabby’s tavern.
The tavern had a few spare rooms above it, on account of people usin’ to stay there back in the Before. But the Fall left many houses empty and there was never any need to sleep at the tavern. Unless one was sleeping off too much drink.
So Tabby filled those rooms with unwanted children (though perhaps, it’s not fair to call them such, being ol’ Tabby had wanted them sure enough.) Rumor was he’d lost his natural children. But it was just a rumor as Tabby never talked about it and nobody ever asked.
Darla was Tabby’s favorite adopted daughter. And everybody in town knew he intended to leave his tavern to her. This, of course, was a problem, because women stopped being people under the New Order enforced by the Gov’ner’s men. As such, women couldn’t own property, so Darla certainly couldn’t inherit Tabby’s Tavern.
Tabby had hoped Darla would settle down and through her husband, might be able to run things on the corner of East and Main. But Darla refused to marry. Said she didn’t need no man to make her human. And at forty-five years old, it wasn’t likely she’d be changing her mind. This forced ol’ Tabby to give up hope and name one of the younger lads he’d taken in as his heir. But the boy was slow and showed no interest in the business.
It was at Tabby’s tavern, on the eve of New Order Day (the territory-wide holiday celebrating the Gov’ners rise to power) when things in town got shook up. Now, things in town hadn’t been shaken up since the time of the Fall, so the events of this night, as you well know, ended up being a big deal in our town’s history.
Darla was running the taps. Ol’ Tabby was up in one of the apartments. He’d long grown infirm with age and now spent more time being cared for by the once-children he’d taken in, than he did taking care of things for customers.
The evening hadn’t been all that special by all accounts, in spite of it being the night before a big celebration. That was until a band of outsiders entered, filling up one of the back tables.
Wouldn’t you know it, take my tongue if I’m lying, but it was the Gov’ner himself who had sat down at that table, along with about six of his men.
Well, Darla was no fool. That’s why Tabby had taken a shine to her and left the tavern in her care (in all but the eyes of the law). She had seven pints of ale brought right over to that table, on the house. Then she put Mixie on the piano to play some lively music for their guests, as she was the best pianist out of the lot.
Mixie was a sweet girl. About thirteen and soon ready to enter her season. She was also a beauty, but that awkward kind of beauty being that she was on the cusp of both childhood and womanness. In a few years time, she’d be a stunner.
But Mixie’s playing caught not only the ear of the Gov’ner, but also his eye. He had no intention of waiting a few years and wasn’t the sort of man used to being denied. He also wasn’t the sort of man who’d just demand a woman. So one of his men proposed a contest on his behalf, in honour of the upcoming New Order Day.
He proposed all of the womenfolk (because although women didn’t get to be people, they still got to be folk) would parade around and be judged by their dress. The best dressed woman would win the privilege of spending the night with the Gov’ner and his men.
Now doesn’t that sound nicer than what it was? ‘Winning a privilege’? Who doesn’t like winning and privileges? On the order of the Gov’ner’s men, the girls all lined up along the bar, most too young to have any idea what they might be competing for. And, of course, Mixie was among them. After all, it was she who the Gov’ner had intended to win.
Mixie had a passion for seamstressin’ that was obvious to all who saw her. So deft was her skill, it had, more or less, been accepted in town she’d one day be making all their clothes. Ol’ Tabby (through Darla) had already begun making arrangements for Mixie to marry the tailor’s son in a few years, once both of them grew some. Anyone with eyes could see that Mixie had the loveliest dress, for she practiced most on making clothing for herself.
Darla, being sharp as mentioned, had her wits about her. She said it was a fine idea and announced, bein’ that ol’ Tabby was resting, she’d choose the winner.
Of course, the Gov’ner and his men didn’t much like that. But the other men in the tavern had already raised their glasses and there was no point starting something when the numbers were against them and the winner already clear. So the Gov’ner agreed and the judging began.
To Darla’s credit, she made a show of it. She had each girl do a twirl and curtsy before sharing their name and favorite thing to do. But there was no way she’d be letting those men near sweet little Mixie. When the time to name the winner came, she named Jenny.
Now you might not think that was a very nice thing to do to Jenny, and it wasn’t. But Jenny, bless her, was already well known by a great many men in town and Darla had to choose somebody. So, please, don’t think too harshly of her and what she’d done. Sometimes in life, there are no right answers, only slightly less terrible ones.
The Gov’ner wasn’t expecting that. And boy, he must have had a temper on him, because he snapped right up and objected to the decision. He pointed out that Mixie was clearly the finest dressed and being that he was the one who ran things, named her the winner. Then he marched right up, grabbed little Mixie by the wrist and pulled her back toward his table.
Well, don’t ya know it, Darla reached right under the counter and pulled out a double-barrel shotgun ol’ Tabby had stored under there for safekeeping and keeping safe. And quicker than a rabbit’s fart, she blew a hole right through the Gov’ner’s middle.
I know, I know. You’re wondering how in the heck did she manage that? What kind of ammunition had ol’ Tabby been keeping in that rifle to completely blow away a man’s abdominal cavity. Well, you’d have to ask ol’ Tabby that one, and he’s not talking.
The gov’ner had the good sense to notice part of him was missing before he collapsed to the floor and departed this cruel Earth.
Mixie screamed, as one might expect of a young girl of nearly thirteen. And the Gov’ners men, unsure what to do, jumped up with their eyes on Darla.
But they weren’t the only men standing. All the patrons in ol’ Tabby’s tavern were up, with their pistols drawn and pointed. Because, while peoples in the Gov’ner’s territory may well be forced to follow the New Order, the people in town had their own sort of order. And part of it was, as everybody knew grow’n up, no one, just no one, messed with the women and children ol’ Tabby housed at his tavern!
Henry (a local farmer who owned the land by the creek back before John Littleton took it over) clicked his pistol back, which drew an echo of similar clicks throughout the room. He politely suggested that the Gov’ner’s men collected what they could of their leader and kindly get out of town. Scrambling like rats, they did just that. The men carried the Gov’ner’s corpse right out. And Henry, along with a few other men, followed to ensure they kept going.
Afterwards, it was decided the town should be a free town and they elected Darla as their first mayor (seein’ as she’d been the one who killed the Gov’ner. Plus, she had a reputation for quick thinking and decent enough aim).
One of Darla’s first acts was restoring personhood and property rights to the womenfolk (as it was a bit silly having a non-person as mayor). And, for the most part, everybody in town agreed.
Well, that must have been what ol’ Tabby was waiting for, because he passed peacefully not long after the declaration, secure in the knowledge Darla would be running his tavern and continuing his life work of housing children in need of a home.
And that there, is the reason why every Freedom Day, we all put on fine dresses (men and womenfolk alike), get rip-roaring drunk, and shoot our guns up in the sky over the town border.
It’s also why you’ll hear us ol’ timers joke that Freedom Day, at its root, is the holiest of days.