The Equality Remedy
by Stephen Measure
On the corner of Beauty and Tranquility, nestled half an acre behind a vast green hedge, lay the fairy castle, the home of Mother Nature herself and countless cheerful fairies. Greg the mailman loved to deliver mail there. It was the highlight of his route. He always saved it until the very end because no matter how many dogs had chased him or snotty kids had thrown mud balls at him, just seeing the grounds of the castle and speaking to the fairies always drove any unpleasant feelings away.
He could already feel the peace settling into his body as he turned the corner onto Beauty and headed toward Tranquility. The sky seemed to be bluer the further he drove, the grass greener. He could hear birds chirping through the open door of his mail truck, and the flowers—oh, the flowers—the flowers were indescribable.
With a sigh of pleasure, he turned into the small driveway that led to the fairy mailbox, the driveway indented a little into the hedge wall itself. As always, there were fairies there waiting for him, and as always, Greg the mailman felt guilty he only had junk mail to deliver.
No one thanks Mother Nature. How often do we stand under a clear blue sky, lift our arms up in the air, and shout, “Thank you!” Never. We never do that. No one thanks Mother Nature, so the only mail she ever got was junk mail.
Greg the mailman parked the car, grabbed today’s junk, and walked up to the two fairies, one red and one blue, that hovered next to the mailbox.
“Did we get a lot of fan mail today?” the blue fairy asked.
“Same as always,” Greg the mailman replied. Actually, it was just two credit card offers and an advertisement from a dentist, but he never had the heart to tell them the truth. They always assumed every bit of mail was fan mail.
“They love us!” the red fairy said, eagerly grabbing the dental advertisement, a dentist’s wife and kids smiling professionally on the ad between the red fairy’s hugging arms. “They really love us!”
The blue fairy seized the credit card offers in the same manner. Greg the mailman smiled. Hey, if it makes them so happy, what does it hurt to not tell them the truth? he said to himself. Then he frowned when he heard what sounded like distant shouting.
“Hey, hey, ho, ho . . .”
He lifted an ear in the direction but couldn’t make out more than the first few words.
“Hey, hey, ho, ho . . .”
“What’s that yelling?” he asked the fairies.
“It’s our fans!” the fairies erupted in unison. “They came to cheer for us! They’re so wonderful! Our fans have come to see us!”
Greg the mailman scratched his chin. “Those don’t sound like fans,” he said, noting the harsh tone to the “hey’s” and the “ho’s.”
“Come see!” the blue fairy said. “Come see our fans!” The blue fairy flew into the hedge, the bushes leaning to each side to provide an entrance. Greg the mailman followed, in awe at being within the fairy compound. And there, atop a small hill, lay the fairy castle. Made of wood, made of stone, made of flower, Greg the mailman couldn’t tell, but it seemed to bloom up out of the ground. And there was Mother Nature herself, looking out a second-story window. She wore a dark yellow dress and her hair was raised up in a pattern as wild as a tree’s branches. Greg the mailman had never seen a more beautiful woman in his life. The woman. That’s what she was: the woman. In all his years delivering mail, he had only seen her a handful of times, but there she was, leaning out of the window and talking to the birds who fluttered around her chirping happily. Then she waved at him. Greg the mailman’s heart skipped a beat. Mother Nature was waving at him! Sheepishly, he removed his hat and waved in return, her attention warming him and making him feel two decades younger. Then he stumbled over a goat.
“What?” he sputtered, his face in the grass. “Who put that goat there?”
He stood up, dusting off his pants and shirt before glancing nervously back up at the castle, worried that Mother Nature had seen him fall. The window was empty. Then he turned back to the goat, which was munching on the hedge. Stupid goat, he thought, tempted to kick it.
But the blue fairy and the red fairy were flying there, blissful grins on their faces, so Greg the mailman returned his hat to his head and turned toward the hedge as the blue fairy parted it.
“See, our fans!” the blue fairy said.
Greg the mailman looked through the hole in the hedge at the most unhappy group of protesters he had ever seen. They were all waving signs, most of which cannot be reprinted here, and they were glaring and they were chanting, and Greg the mailman could finally hear what they were saying.
“Hey, hey, ho, ho, heteronormativity has got to go! Hey, hey, ho, ho, heteronormativity has got to go!”
“It’s not a very catchy cheer,” the blue fairy said, looking disappointed.
The red fairy furrowed miniature brows. “What is heteronormativity?”
“I think it’s another word for reality,” the blue fairy replied.
This cheered the red fairy, who spun in a circle and said: “Foolish humans, they say the silliest things when they’re bored!”
The blue fairy fluttered in front of Greg the mailman’s face. “What do you think about our fans’ cheer?”
“I think it’s rubbish,” Greg the mailman said, disgusted at the whole display.
“Rubbish?” the goat said, raising its head. “I like rubbish.”
“Oh, shut up, you old goat,” Greg the mailman said.
“Sure, be mean to the goat,” the goat said. “No one cares what a goat feels. No one cares what a goat thinks.”
Then the goat went back to its munching and Greg the mailman went back to watching the protesters outside of the hedge.
This is worse than the junk mail, he thought. This is actually dangerous. To have this level of negativity so close to the fairy castle . . . The protesters might do something stupid, or worse, the protesters might make the fairies angry, and if the fairies become angry, and if one of them curses . . . Well, everyone knows that when a fairy curses, they lose all their magic, and when they lose all their magic, just like that, they’re gone.
“Let’s close the hedge and talk about this for a minute,” Greg the mailman said.
With a flap of blue fairy wings, the hedge was back in place, the protest chant once again muted.
“Those aren’t fans,” Greg the mailman explained. “Those are protesters.”
“Protesters!” the blue fairy said. “Why would there be protesters here? Are they bored? Humans do silly things when they’re bored.”
“I don’t know,” Greg the mailman said. “But it’s not good. It’s not good at all.”
The red fairy laughed. “Oh, we’re not worried about a few ornery humans! What will they do, send goblins and ogres against us?”
“Worse,” Greg the mailman said. “Lawyers.”
* * *
And, unfortunately, Greg the mailman was right. Not more than two days later, a court summons came, and Mother Nature herself was called to stand before the court. Greg the mailman was there, fighting for an open seat with the humans and the fairy-tale creatures. They all stood when Mother Nature walked into the room, Mother Nature wearing a long green velvet dress that trailed on the ground behind her, plants blooming out of the carpet in her wake, her hair rising high above her head, a small green bird perched inside it, chirping away a happy tune. Father Time went beside her, his long white beard almost touching the floor, the current year written on a sash he wore over his chest. He would serve as her representative in the proceedings. The two of them took their places at the front of the courtroom. And then the human lawyer entered the room, a hush passing over the crowd as they eyed his perfectly manicured suit and magnificent mullet. There was something distinctly reptilian about him. No, not reptilian: amphibian. The sliminess seemed to ooze off him as he walked up the aisle, the lawyer grinning from ear to ear; and the hand of every man in the room reached instinctively to protect their wallets.
Then, the lawyer and defendant in place, the judge entered the room. Everyone stood as he shambled to his desk. He was a strange-looking fellow, like a cross between the Grim Reaper and the Sandman. Seeing such a being on the bench, Greg the mailman had no idea what to expect from the proceedings. But it all started with the lawyer standing up and laying out the case against Mother Nature.
“We are here today to bring vile charges against Mother Nature,” the lawyer said, strolling up in front of the judge. “Mother Nature is hereby charged with the horrible crime of heteronormativity.”
The lawyer whirled and looked at her. “Furthermore, I charge that she is an unruly dresser and just a bad, bad person in general.” He raised a finger and pointed it at her. “Heterosexist! Heterosexist!”
The crowd burst into shouting, the small green bird perched within Mother Nature’s hair chirping obscenely at the lawyer. Then the judge banged his gavel. “Order!” he shouted. “I want order!”
A stranger sitting next to Greg the mailman leaned over and whispered, “What’s heteronormativity?”
Greg the mailman leaned over in return and whispered, “I think it’s another word for reality.”
“Oh, okay,” the stranger nodded and sat back up. Greg the mailman sat up too.
Then the stranger leaned over again. “Why are we putting reality on trial?”
Greg the mailman thought about this for a moment. To him the answer was obvious: electricity. Surely this level of hubris had only been reached after fermenting for years under the corrupting comfort of artificial lights. But Greg the mailman didn’t share this insight, afraid the stranger might think him a Luddite, with their worship of dark city streets, nonfunctional pacemakers, and melted ice cream. Instead Greg the mailman decided to take a more philosophical approach and he whispered: “Because we’re humans.”
“Ah, of course,” the stranger said, sitting up straight again. “How could I have forgotten that?”
Then the stranger sprang up on top of his chair, raised a fist into the air, and shouted, “Down with cabbage and all its dark deeds!”
The stranger waited expectantly, fist held high, but the courtroom paid him no mind. Glaring at the crowd, he jumped down and stomped out of the room, muttering that tomatoes were a vegetable and he didn’t care if anyone said otherwise. The courtroom door closed behind him.
Then Father Time rose to face the lawyer, who still stood pointing a finger at Mother Nature. Father Time launched into a forceful, persuasive argument, citing precedent, complaining about jurisdiction. He skated around the lawyer—no, really, he was wearing golden roller skates—and made mincemeat of the lawyer’s accusations, his words riling up the courtroom crowd. A man in the first row was so excited he tried to get the wave going, but no one else paid him any attention, so he stomped out of the courtroom following after the stranger.
The lawyer was taken back, dizzied by Father Time’s swift circles around his position. He begged for a month recess, which the judge granted with a bang of his gavel.
* * *
The fairy castle brimmed with joy at how well the first day of the trial had gone. The protesters were still outside, the air full of their constant chanting: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, heteronormativity has got to go!” But as the month past, the fairies paid them no mind because Greg the mailman kept bringing them junk mail, which they thought was fan mail; and thinking it was fan mail, they assumed that most everyone was on their side.
“See, they want Mother Nature to win!” the red fairy said, clutching an HVAC ad. “Not all humans are silly! Not all humans are bored!”
Greg the mailman was happy to see them happy, but he felt apprehensive about the trial. There was something in the eye of the lawyer after the judge granted the month recess. It made Greg the mailman worried.
And he was right to be worried. Once the recess was over and they found themselves back in court again, everyone realized how sneaky the lawyer had been when he asked for a month recess. Now it was January and rather than Father Time walking beside Mother Nature, Baby Time waddled there instead, constantly tripping over the sash he wore around his neck and sucking on a pacifier.
This doesn’t look good, Greg the mailman thought.
It didn’t go good, either. Gone was the forceful eloquence of Father Time, gone were his golden roller skates and his swift circles around the lawyer. The impact was obvious during jury selection. Although the jury pool was mostly human, there was a healthy sprinkling of mythological creatures as well: a minotaur in khaki shorts, a couple of dryads, some leprechauns, a towering treant, a political centrist.
Greg the mailman figured that as long as some of the mythological creatures got selected for the jury, Mother Nature would have a decent shot. But one by one they were all eliminated from the jury pool along with every one of the reasonable-looking humans. Greg the mailman was depressed to see the nine jurors left to decide the case, each one of them puny in stature. Not puny physically, but puny mentally. It chilled him to hear the nine runts murmuring the word “privilege” back and forth like some sort of religious rite. He didn’t know what it meant, but he assumed such superstition wasn’t good news for Mother Nature.
The amphibianish lawyer strutted to the front of the courtroom, the back of his mullet trailing party-like over the collar of his checkered suit jacket. Turning around dramatically, he lifted up his tie for the crowd to see.
“Do you see my tie, ladies and gentlemen?” he asked. “Do you see what color it is? It’s black. For those of you who are color-blind, I’m telling you right now, it’s black.”
The lawyer paused, seeming to listen to the crowd, although no one was talking. “What’s that you ask?” he said. “You want to know why I’m wearing a black tie? Okay, I’ll tell you.”
His face sagged, his eyes becoming wet with tears. “I’m wearing a black tie because I’m in mourning.” Another pause. “What am I mourning? I’m glad you asked. I’ll tell you.”
Then he drew himself up straight, his face becoming hard and his eyes focusing on Mother Nature. “I’m mourning injustice,” he said. “Injustice, unfairness, inequality, discrimination. That’s why I’m mourning, ladies and gentlemen. That’s why I’m wearing a black tie.”
Suddenly full of energy, he strode to the jury box. “Look back in history, ladies and gentlemen. Look back decades, centuries, millennia. What do you see? Throughout all human history, what has been the one constant? A generation comes, followed by another, followed by another, followed by another. Generation after generation after generation. And what has been the constant through all those generations?”
He paused to catch his breath. “The constant, ladies and gentlemen, has been male-female couples. Each generation that was born was there because of male-female couples. Each generation would not have been there had it not been for male-female couples. Throughout time and history, male-female couples have been important, have been necessary, have been essential. But I ask you this, ladies and gentlemen, is that fair?”
The lawyer pounded the wall of the jury box. “No! Ladies and gentlemen, no, it’s not! It’s not fair. It’s inequality! It’s discrimination! Why must male-female couples be so important? Why must they be superior to all other couples?”
He turned away from the jury, walking in front of the courtroom to face the audience. “Oh, I know, I know. Some will say it’s just reality that makes male-female couples superior. Some will say it’s just nature. And to that, ladies and gentlemen, I reply: YES!”
He pointed an accusing finger at Mother Nature. “It’s because nature—it’s because Mother Nature herself—is heterosexist!”
A shocked gasp ran through the jury.
“She is!” the lawyer continued. “She is! She’s heterosexist and now it’s time for her male-female-couple-preferring tyranny to end!”
What rubbish, Greg the mailman thought, sitting stiffly in his chair, his arms tightly folded. What complete rubbish.
“We are here to charge Mother Nature with the vilest of discrimination,” the lawyer continued, walking back to the jury box. “Her so-called natural model of procreation unfairly prefers male-female couples, conferring an inherent superiority to them over all other combinations. This heterosexism must be abolished! We have big dreams, ladies and gentlemen. We have big plans of how to remold civilization into a more just and a more egalitarian model. We demand that Mother Nature stop interfering with those plans! Reality must no longer be allowed to play favorites. Reality must no longer be allowed to stand in our way!”
On and on the lawyer went, browbeating the jury, the courtroom, the judge. Greg the mailman looked around at the cowed crowd and wished that someone would say something about cabbages. Only Mother Nature looked unfazed, sitting there calmly with both hands resting upon the table, one hand on top of the other. But the rest of the crowd was swaying along with the lawyer who continued his rant against nature. And, listening to the lawyer, Greg the mailman felt ashamed of his own humanity. If ever he had wished to have been born a squirrel—and he often had—he definitely wished it now. Not some stupid, fat squirrel that scrambles around park benches picking up table scraps, but a flying squirrel, able to leap from tall tree to tall tree. That way he would be cute and fluffy, plus he could fly, plus he could bite any snotty kid that came too close and no one would object at all because, hey, he’s just a squirrel.
Greg the mailman became lost in his squirrel dream, feeling the wind beneath him as he soared through the air, so he missed the lawyer’s summation. But Greg the mailman’s attention returned when Baby Time stumbled forward and began a rambling, whiny defense, followed by a temper tantrum in front of the judge. Greg the mailman thought Baby Time did an okay job for someone who had only learned to speak days ago, but the presentation simply couldn’t hold up against someone as skilled and slimy as the lawyer. And with such intellectual giants in the jury box, the verdict was a foregone conclusion. Still, Greg the mailman couldn’t help feeling shock as he heard the ruling read by the judge.
Mother Nature was ruled to be a miserable heterosexist. Furthermore, the court ruled that the male-female nature of procreation was irrational and prejudiced. In addition, it was a clear violation of the equal protection of mumbo jumbo and the iron pantaloons.
(That last part had everyone scratching their heads, unsure if perhaps the jury had poor handwriting or if the judge had just decided to improvise and end on a rhetorical flourish.)
Baby Time had been successful on one point, however. He had been able to wring out a concession as part of the verdict that the remedy itself would be decided solely by Mother Nature. The jury had agreed to this requirement, knowing that only Mother Nature truly understood nature and therefore only she could remold it according to their dictates.
The protesters all cheered the verdict. No longer would male-female couples be more important than other combinations. The tyranny of nature had been brought to heel. Reality itself would now bend to popular sentiment. It was a good day for bored humans, a good day for bored humans everywhere. Each and every one of them stayed up late that night, partying incoherently underneath the shallow brilliance of their artificial lights.
* * *
The fairies stared at Mother Nature in disbelief after she made the change. How could Mother Nature do such a horrible thing? Yes, the humans were silly. Yes, they were arrogant. But to take something beautiful and to replace it with this . . . It just felt wrong, so very wrong.
Mother Nature herself mourned what she had done. Dressed all in gray, her hair fell flat down her sides and back, her face pale, her skin cold. No birds chirped around her. None could bear the sight of the tears on her cheeks.
“It is what they demanded,” Mother Nature said, her face falling into her hands.
But as the blue fairy looked out the castle window at the world and perceived what the world had become, the blue fairy felt bitterness; and the bitterness grew and grew until, unthinking, the blue fairy slammed a hand down hard on the windowsill and blurted out, “What a load of horse —”
And, just like that, they were gone.
* * *
Greg the mailman was sitting in his recliner that night when his wife walked into the room wearing lingerie, a flimsy, shiny red thing he always loved to see her in. (His wife didn’t know he dreamed of being a squirrel. She always thought of him more as a raccoon.)
But, watching his wife sway her hips into the room, Greg the mailman realized a peculiar thing. He looked down at his trousers, back up at his wife in her lingerie, and then back down at his trousers again. Well, that’s interesting, he thought.
And what was more peculiar, his wife wasn’t upset at all. She hadn’t been in the mood anyway. It was his night, so she had dressed for it, but if he wasn’t in the mood either, she wasn’t going to complain.
The couple found themselves lying in bed next to each other, his wife still wearing her barely-there outfit, her reading glasses on, with a large book open on her lap. Greg the mailman lay on his back and stared up at the ceiling. He was surprised his wife was reading a biography. She always reads romance novels, he said to himself. I wonder what changed her mind tonight? Then he gasped at a sudden pain in his side.
“What’s wrong?” his wife asked without looking up from her book.
“I don’t know,” Greg the mailman said, rubbing his side. It didn’t hurt anymore, but was that a lump he could feel there?
And the lump grew, every day a little larger. Others were developing them too, always on the left side, always right below the rib cage. And, although no one cared enough to talk about it, it seemed as if everyone else had lost their interest in each other as well. At first no one thought about the source—if they didn’t care, then they didn’t care—but as the lumps on their sides grew larger, someone finally mentioned that perhaps this was the remedy Mother Nature had been forced to impose.
A few made the trek to the fairy castle to ask Mother Nature what was going on, but they were shocked to find the castle no longer there. Beauty was overgrown by poison ivy. Tranquility had become a cesspool. The goat was still there, munching on a huge pile of junk mail and the rubbish the protesters had left behind. But no one bothered asking the goat its opinion.
Months later, Greg the mailman lay in bed next to the Greg-the-mailman-sized lump growing out of his side. Then it happened. There was a sharp jerk, a slight tearing of the flesh, and the lump fell away, its skin rapidly falling apart, leaving Greg the mailman to look at a man lying on the bed next to him, a man who looked just like him. Greg the mailman raised his head and looked down his clone’s naked body, where he noticed one profound difference. Then Greg the mailman lay his head back down and looked into the eyes of his sex-less clone. Speaking in unison, they said, “What a pile of horse —”
And, just like that, we were gone.