Whenever the group got together, things had the potential to get out of hand.
The Meeting of the Dandelion Denizens often assembled to discuss various items. Sometimes they planned the day or the week; other times they met to discuss treatment options; sometimes they had to welcome a new person; there were just many, many reasons to have to assemble.
They didn’t always meet. Sometimes the day was too busy. Sometimes the day would be too stressful. Sometimes, they each did their jobs without communicating. Then there was the issue that some people didn’t talk to each other. In some cases, there were some members who hadn’t met other members.
This day, though, they were doing something potentially dangerous: They were trying to remember. Memories weren’t always safe. Some members could only remember. Some couldn’t remember at all. Others had vague memories, ones that sometimes conflicted.
Two days ago, they had been talking with someone at church, and the name Jill had come up. For some reason, Holly, who usually stayed out front, especially in public, had locked up. Amanda had to rush out front just to make sure Everyone could get home fine. But the group had been stressing every day since then to figure out why the name struck so forcefully. Why did we have to shut down? Why couldn’t Holly function?
For years, the Denizens didn’t dare ask about these situations. Often, they didn’t even know situations like this occurred. They would each do their roles silently, without much communication. Holly hosted the Denizens, but she wasn’t always present at the meetings. They weren’t supposed to meet without her, but sometimes, she didn’t handle things so well, so they had to meet without her.
The number of members who attended the meetings had grown over the years, but there were still some hold outs. Plus, some of the members still didn’t know about each other. Holly hadn’t even met everyone. But with hard work and commitment, more were coming to the table.
Amanda rose first to address the assembly.
“We’re here today to talk about Jill, find out why the body shut down suddenly. Are you ready, Camile?”
Camile looked up from her personal computer and nodded in the affirmative. She also had a No. 2 pencil clenched in her teeth and a notepad lying next to her, just in case she lost power to the computer. After the meeting, she’d have to assemble the notes in a form Holly could read. She did this every time, whether Holly was there or not.
“OK, then. For those of you who don’t know, on Sunday, Holly was at church, talking to Anna.”
Here a small voice piped up, “Anna’s a nice lady.”
Amanda smiled and acknowledged the interruption, then continued, “Anna showed us pictures of her new granddaughter, and she called her Jill. Holly immediately froze. Of course, I’m always on alert when we go to church--”
“Bunch of nonsense,” Germaine interjected. He looked at everyone with a sneer, then went back to picking his black fingernails.
“We’re aware of your dismissal of all things spiritual, Germaine. But that’s not why we’re here today.”
Amanda continued, “Whenever we’re at church, I stand close to Holly, just in case things come back. Places of worship are still hard for us, but easier than in the past.
“Well, when the name Jill was mentioned, Holly froze. I was able to get to the front quickly, so Anna only saw a few seconds of the blank stare. Holly didn’t return until we had been home a couple of hours, and she had no memory since the mention of the name.
“So, that is where we come to now. Who is Jill? Why did it cause us such confusion? We want to know, because Holly is asking questions. Does anyone know a Jill?”
Shelley, the 8-year-old, wearing her pigtails and school girl outfit, started to sniff, but she didn’t say anything. She slowly started rocking back and forth but didn’t look at anyone.
“It appears someone knows her,” Amanda said. “Anyone else?”
Theresa was next to speak. She sheepishly looked at Shelley, paused, and then tremulously raised her hand. After Amanda acknowledged her, she said, “I remember a girl named Jill. I see her in a uniform like Shelley’s. Maybe she was in school with us?”
Theresa was dressed in a neutral-colored pantsuit. She tried her best to blend in. If she could wear the color of the metal folding chairs, she would.
“That makes sense,” Amanda said.
“I don’t know any Jill,” Germaine said, with his head cocked back and a smirk on his face. “But I like thinking about girls in parochial uniforms.”
Shelley whimpered, and Amanda shot Germaine a menacing look.
“Oh, never mind. I need a smoke anyway,” he said as he got up from the table.
“The body is allergic, remember?” Amanda said, more than asked.
Germaine walked away, throwing a one-finger salute to the group over his shoulder as he left the room.
Stephanie, who had been sitting next to Germaine, spoke up.
“I’m sorry for his behavior. This subject gets to him, although I don’t know why. I tried to talk with him about it earlier, but he wouldn’t say much. Just that he didn’t want to talk about it.
“As for me, I vaguely remember her. I think she was our friend for a long time, but memories of her suddenly stopped after third grade.”
Theresa broke in, “Yes, she was at school with us. I think she even came to our birthday parties. Remember when we spilled the punch and Mom yelled at us in front of all our friends? Jill helped us clean it up.”
“That’s right,” Stephanie rejoined. “How did I forget that?”
“OK,” Amanda said, “that establishes that she was a friend of ours at school. But why would her name trigger us?”
Hope, the one with the strongest faith, raised her hand next.
“I think because of the way she left,” she said. “I have a vague memory. We were together, Mom and Dad’s friends were with us, but they were hard to see, almost looked like shadows. I remember feeling scared, and Jill looked at me--”
At this point, Shelley let out a blood-curdling scream. She rocked back and forth with frenetic sobs, hugging herself tightly. She looked straight ahead, with wild tears flying off her face. Teresa ran over to her and tried to comfort her.
“Why is she doing that?” Stephanie asked.
“Because she’s the only one who can remember,” said a voice from the back of the room.
All the Denizens turned to see a large, imposing figure clad in a black habit. Her dark, foreboding eyes threatened as she clung to her rosary beads.
“She remembers, and remembers perfectly. She won’t tell you. At least, not now. But this conversation has brought up memories she can’t handle.”
Everyone sat still, except Shelley, who kept rocking and wailing. Finally, Amanda addressed the group.
“Stephanie, do you remember anything more” -- Shelley screamed loudly again -- “about that” -- another wail -- “night?”
Stephanie looked sideways toward Shelley, and she shook her head. Teresa put her arms around Shelley and tried to soothe her.
“No, I can’t. At least, the images don’t make sense.”
“That’s enough,” Mother Superior said, with her jaws clinched and the stern look they all feared settling in. They all remembered when the hands that held the beads had held a ruler, or a belt, or something worse. Holly often had marks and cuts she couldn’t explain when her memories got too vivid. “This has been too hard for today, and we can’t go any further. Maybe Shelley will be able to talk one day, but for now, I have to protect her. I have to protect us all.”
The Denizens nodded together, and looked from one to another.
“What do we tell Holly?” Amanda asked.
Mother Superior came forward and addressed Camile privately.
The next morning, Holly stretched with a yawn. She rubbed the back of her neck, and looked at the alarm clock.
“Already? It feels like I’ve been asleep, but I’m so tired. Why don’t I feel rested?”
She then went to the computer, where she saw a new file, “Denizens113.” She opened it up, and this is what she read,
“Sorry you couldn’t attend the meeting. It was too short for minutes to be kept, but we tried to remember Jill. It seems we had a friend named Jill, but her parents moved away after third grade. It really hurt when we lost that friend, one of our few friends. Not much else to report. Loye you, Camille.”
Holly smiled, but she didn’t feel convinced. She muttered, “Then why was I so upset?” Suddenly, a memory of a little girl in a Catholic schoolgirl uniform came into her mind. Her red hair and freckles surrounded a contagious smile. She didn’t know why, but all of a sudden tears filled Holly’s eyes.
She and Shelley had a long cry together.
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