Lois Cloarec Hart
Jane Brown was as plain and unassuming a woman as her name. She had reached her middle years with no noticeable accomplishments to glory in. She lived quietly, worked quietly, and if she played at all, it was so quietly that no one ever noticed. Gainfully employed for thirty four years at the same company, she paid her taxes faithfully, obeyed all traffic signals, and generally moved through life without annoying anyone, because no one ever paid any attention to her. If Jane had any distinguishing characteristics, she hid them well. She was a very average woman in all regards...except one: Jane loathed rudeness. She was offended by the increasingly obnoxious nature of modern life and longed for a return to the perceived civility of her youth, when service still meant something and solecisms were not such an ordinary part of everybody’s day as to be unnoticed. In her quiet, unobtrusive, well-mannered way, Jane seethed. She would simply have gone on privately bemoaning the death of courtesy and good manners, had she not one day been gifted with a strange and inexplicable power...
A rash gust of wind whipped Jane Brown’s light coat about her legs and ripped tendrils of hair from her mousy brown bun. Annoyed, she fruitlessly patted her hair into place, then firmly pulled her coat about her as she clutched tightly to the manila envelope she carried. Never one to leave anything to chance, even the availability of a taxi, she had called ahead for a pick-up in front of her workplace. Unwilling to trust a courier with the papers that her boss, Mr. Winthrop, had ordered delivered by day’s end, she was going to make the cross city trip herself. It was close enough to the end of the business day that she was able to justify her short absence to herself, not that her supervisor or fellow employees would have noticed she was gone.
Jane’s sterling work record was a source of personal pride. In thirty four years, seven months and thirteen days of employment at Gallagher & Winthrop, she had never been late, and had taken only two sick days when an impudent appendix burst on a Thursday rather than waiting for a weekend.
Miss Brown had no patience for those who abused the precepts of responsibility and timeliness — not that she ever broached offenders with their misdemeanors. After all, that was not her function. She was neither the boss nor the office manager. After thirty years of rising through the secretarial ranks, she was now Mr. Winthrop’s executive assistant, and consciously held herself above the fray of office politics.
Miss Brown frowned as she idly considered all of the unauthorized absences she had witnessed over the decades. It wasn’t that she didn’t notice when Mr. Donald Fry and Miss Penelope Hardwick returned from a two-hour lunch with colour high and clothes awry. Nor was she oblivious to Mrs. Sheila Graham being called away from her desk for the umpteenth time to deal with her delinquent 14-year-old son. And far be it for her to comment when her boss’ partner, Neil Gallagher, had his beautiful, young secretary tell his wife that he was tied up in business meetings all afternoon, moments before the two of them slipped away from the office together. She was simply grateful that Mr. James Winthrop was a happily married grandfather of seven, so that she herself had never had to deal in lies or deceptions while in his employ.
As for her colleagues...well, it would’ve been impolite to brace them with their personal and professional transgressions; and if there was one thing that Miss Jane Brown could not bear, it was rudeness. She had long ago decided that she could only be responsible for her own actions, and she held herself to the highest standards.
You would not catch Miss Jane Brown braying publicly on a cell phone — she despised the things — or cutting into a line ahead of others, or failing to cover her mouth if she were unable to stifle a cough. She was of the firm belief that a life that consistently incorporated courtesies, large and small, was a life that could justly be termed exemplary. And Miss Jane Brown wished nothing more than to live an exemplary life.
Pushing back her coat sleeve, Jane noted with disapproval that the cab she had requested was now five minutes late. Giving a small sigh, she allotted five minutes more before she would return to the lobby and call the taxi dispatch again. There was one minute to go on her self-imposed deadline when a Checker Cab swung out of traffic and screeched to a halt at the curb five feet in front of her.
With not so much as pursed lips to indicate her disapproval, Jane covered the distance briskly and slid into the rear seat.
“The Linden Building, West 52nd, please.”
The driver, who looked as if he had just rolled out of bed after a three-day drunk, threw the cab into gear and pulled out into traffic, causing the driver behind him to slam on his brakes. Jane winced at the audible squeal, and tried to ignore the blaring horn that signaled the other driver’s fury. She was appalled when her driver thrust up his middle finger and jabbed it at the ceiling. Another horn blast indicated that the driver to the rear had received the message loud and clear.
Jane slunk down further in the seat and uttered a brief, silent prayer that her trip wouldn’t be cut short by testosterone-fueled, road rage-induced fisticuffs. When the other car turned at the next traffic signal, she breathed more easily; but by the time the cab roared to a stop in front of the Linden Building, she was grateful simply to have survived the trip. The cabbie appeared to have little concept of the conventional rules of the road; and apparently to him, traffic signs and signals were no more than officious suggestions.
Somewhat shakily, Jane counted out the exact fare, and though she hesitated, given the abysmal quality of the ride, added a dollar as a tip. She couldn’t help but notice the scowl as she passed the money to the cabbie, nor did she fail to hear the sarcasm dripping from his voice when he sneered, “Thanks a lot, lady. This should put my kid through college.”
Wordlessly, she slid out of the taxi; and if her soul bristled with outrage, Jane’s demeanour remained calm. Watching the cab pull away as the driver tried to intimidate his way back into the nearest lane, she allowed herself a single retaliatory thought.
I wish all four of your tires would go flat at once, you nasty man.
As she made her way briskly to the entrance doors, she was startled to hear a loud bang from the street. Spinning, her mouth dropped open as she saw the vehicle she had just exited, stranded between the lanes, strips of rubber spun off from the flattened and shredded tires.
Flustered, Jane backed away blindly, apologizing profusely when she ran into a gentleman exiting the building. Admonishing herself to watch where she was going, she turned and entered the lobby.
It was just a coincidence, that’s all.
She gave a nervous laugh, then quieted when the others waiting for the elevator looked at her.
Oh, honestly, what else could it be, you silly goose.
With that reassuring if tart thought, Jane returned her attention to the business at hand. She delivered Mr. Winthrop’s papers and secured a receipt for them, then left the building and walked to the nearest subway station. This was her preferred mode of travel, as there was a station within two blocks of her apartment. She only allowed herself the luxury of a taxi when on business.
As it was after five, the station was crowded with people heading home for the weekend. Taking her place in line at the turnstiles, Jane was dismayed to see a young man two lines over hop the stiles without paying and rush off laughing.
Really! You should’ve broken an ankle, and then you wouldn’t be hopping over anything for a long while.
Instantly the young man fell to the ground with a piercing shriek, clutching his right ankle and rolling in apparent pain.
Shocked, Jane paused halfway through the turnstile, only moving on when the woman behind her complained. A small crowd of people gathered around the screaming youth, and a subway security guard made his appearance, so Jane edged by the commotion, deeply shaken by the two absurd coincidences in a row. Frantically she tried to convince herself that the young man must have just tripped over something on the pavement, and that the timing was totally unrelated to her stray thought. Over and over again she reminded herself that the notion she could have caused the incidents was impossible: things like that just did not happen — not to her, not to anyone.
When she finally reached her stop, Jane was able to disembark with her equilibrium restored. She chastised herself for such flights of fancy, and turned her thoughts instead to the evening ahead. An avid moviegoer, most Friday nights would find her in her local theatre, and this evening would be no exception. A new Susan Sarandon film was playing, and she had been eagerly anticipating it for several weeks.
A couple of hours later, after a spare, but satisfying supper, Jane made her way to the theatre, joining the usual Friday night throng. She waited patiently in line and was grateful that the movie wasn’t sold out by the time she reached the ticket window. Handing her money to the bored, gum-snapping teenager in the booth, she accepted the ticket and passed through the doors of the theatre.
Ignoring the grossly overpriced snacks touted at the refreshment counter, Jane made her way inside and took an aisle seat close to the back. Settling in comfortably, she allowed herself a tiny smile of anticipation. For as long as she could remember, movies had been a refuge for her. Far more than simple entertainment, in a profound way they connected her to the larger world that ignored her existence. The actors required nothing from her except her attention; and in turn, she was free to critique, analyze, laud, and even fantasize, if that was her desire. It was a perfect symbiosis, and Miss Jane Brown looked forward keenly to her weekly excursions into the celluloid world.
As it was premiere night for the highly touted film, the theatre filled up rapidly. When the music swelled and the previews began to flash across the screen, Jane was filled with contentment. For the next two hours she would be transported into a world filled with emotion, drama, and derring-do — everything her life lacked.
An hour into the film, Jane was enthralled. The movie was all that the critics had proclaimed it to be. A thrilling plot, deep, moving characterizations, superb acting — all came together in what she was sure would be an Oscar contender.
Blissfully lost in the cinematic drama, she was startled by the harsh discordance of a cell phone close by. A woman two rows in front of her fumbled in her purse. Aggravated by the intrusion, Jane assumed the woman had simply forgotten to turn off the irksome device and would do so promptly. Much to her shock, the woman began a muted conversation with the caller, ignoring the disgruntled murmurs around her.
As the conversation went on, complaints became vocal, but even the public disapprobation wasn’t enough to dissuade the woman from her call.
Finally Jane had had enough. She had already missed Miss Sarandon’s pivotal oration, and was having difficulty refocusing on the plot.
I wish the blessed thing would melt right in your hand.
When the woman squealed and bolted from her seat, waving her hand around frantically, Jane felt none of the earlier shock. Instead she felt a surge of satisfaction that the rude patron had gotten exactly what she deserved for disrupting the viewing pleasure of so many others.
When the woman ran howling from the theatre, Jane ignored her exodus and concentrated instead on picking up the thread of the story. It wasn’t until she had left the theatre, happily reliving the movie, that she gave any thought to what had happened. This time, she was unable to explain away the coincidence as blithely as she had the previous two times, so she gave serious consideration to the possibility that she had indeed caused all three phenomena.
Miss Jane Brown was a practical woman. She had not been blessed — or cursed — with an excess of imagination. She took people and events at face value, and did not waste time on introspection. But this was something beyond the normal scope of her life, and she was unsure how to categorize it. That disturbed her more than the events themselves. She had little pity for the rude cabbie, stile-jumping youth, or obnoxious woman. They had brought their fates upon themselves with their inconsiderate actions. No, what bothered her was there was simply no explanation for it all. What had changed between an ordinary yesterday and the inexplicable events of this day?
As far as Miss Jane Brown could see, the answer was: nothing. She had done nothing out of the ordinary from the moment she had gone to sleep the previous night, to the moment she had exited her office to take Mr. Winthrop’s papers to the Linden Building. Deep in thought, Jane automatically turned the corners and crossed the streets she needed to get to her apartment. Suddenly a cheerful voice tore her from her reverie.
“Hey, Miss B. Howzit going this fine evening?”
A young woman bounced up beside her and fell into stride. Jane smiled at her neighbour, pleased as always to see her.
“Fine, Amber, and how are you doing?”
“Couldn’t be better, Miss B. I really couldn’t be better if I tried.” Startlingly white teeth flashed in a grin, and coal black eyes sparkled as the young woman tossed her bead-encrusted dreadlocks.
“Are you just getting off work?” Jane inquired politely as they halted and waited for a crossing signal.
Amber nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I was supposed to be off four hours ago, but one of the girls didn’t show up for her shift, so I covered. Sure will be glad to get off my feet for a while, I can tell you. Twelve hours on my dogs and they’re crying uncle.”
Jane glanced at the woman’s telltale t-shirt under her short, open, leather jacket. A bright rainbow over interlocked female symbols, with “The Wishing Well Tavern” in predominant lavender letters, proclaimed her place of employment. Amber made no secret of her orientation, and although the older woman had never been able to relate to passion, straight or gay, she had no objection to either, in the abstract. All that mattered to her was that from the moment the young woman had moved in next door, she had been a wonderful neighbour. No foul and suspicious odours seeped under her door. No loud music or discordant sounds shook the dividing wall between them. Amber always hastened to assist the older woman with grocery bags or a laundry basket. Jane appreciated her neighbour’s cheerful exuberance almost as much as her excellent manners, and she was pleased to cover the last few blocks in her genial company.
“You mustn’t let them take advantage of you, dear,” Jane remonstrated gently. “You’re always the one they turn to when someone else fails to live up to their responsibilities.”
“Aw, I don’t mind,” Amber assured her as the signal changed and they crossed the street. “I can always use the extra cash. And besides, Micki had to work evening shift so I wasn’t planning to go out anyway.”
Nodding, Jane acknowledged the reference to Amber’s girlfriend, an emergency room nurse at Anderson General. “All right, but just you remember —”
The rest of her admonition was cut short by Amber’s cautionary hiss. They were entering their neighbourhood, a shabby, run-down, ill-lit conglomerate of aging buildings, whose only virtue was cheap rent. Up ahead, a few buildings before their own, a half dozen, noisy, loutish young men could be seen lounging on a stoop. Given their ill-defined, but unmistakable air of menace, Jane briefly considered crossing the street, but before she could voice the suggestion, Amber firmly tucked the older woman’s arm inside her own. She glanced up nervously, but taking heart from her companion’s determined look, Jane summoned her courage and threw back her head, resolved not to seem like a potential victim.
“Don’t ever let them see you sweat,” Amber whispered, before straightening her spine and marching the two of them determinedly toward the men. Catcalls and hoots began well before the two women drew even, and Jane shuddered as one man detached himself from the gang and stepped out in the middle of the sidewalk.
When Amber tried to steer Jane around the man, he grabbed her arm.
“Yo, sweetheart, you ain’t paid the toll.” His fellows laughed and snickered as they watched the confrontation unfold.
Jane knew she could probably break away and make it to her building while Amber distracted them, but she wasn’t about to leave her neighbour – her friend – to face them alone.
“Let us pass right now, young man, or I’ll report you to the police for harassment.”
The bully eyed Jane in disbelief at her defiant words. “Shut the fuck up, you old hag. This is between this fine fox and me.” As he leered at Amber, his gaze turned to her chest. His expression turned nasty as he read the t-shirt. “Oh shit, don’ tell me you’re one of them.” Turning to his cronies, he spat, “We got us a slit-licker here, boys.”
Frightened now, Jane tried to pull Amber away, but the man had a tight grip on her arm. Suddenly the young woman lashed out with her foot, catching her captor high on the thigh, but missing her target.
“Bitch! You are so going to pay for that!” He punched her, knocking her to the ground and causing her to drag Jane down with her.
His cronies left the steps and formed an ominous circle around the women. Jane was cradling Amber’s head, worried about the blood that was oozing from the young woman’s split lip and scared that things were escalating out of control.
The instigator smiled nastily as he cupped his groin. “Mmmm, baby, I think you’re gonna be changing your mind after tonight. Ain’t no pussy gonna satisfy you after you see what I got for you.”
Amber tried to stand up, only to have one of the others kick her legs out from under her. Truly terrified now, Jane froze, unable to wrench her eyes from where the instigator was unzipping his fly. Two of the men grabbed Amber, hauled her up, and wrestled the frantically struggling woman back into the shadow of the stoop.
As the would-be rapist advanced on his victim, Jane tried to scream, only to have one of the other men cut her off with his meaty hand as he seized and immobilized her, dragging her back toward the wall. Suddenly the memory of her new and unexplained ability flashed through her mind. Without taking time to consider the ramifications, Jane made her wish: I wish your thing would just disappear!
The rapist stared in disbelief at his hand, now empty of the weapon with which he had been taunting a helpless Amber. Dumb with shock, he fumbled in his pants, looking for what was no longer there. His cronies gaped at him, unable to believe the evidence of their own eyes. Then the ungodly scream began and Amber’s captors released her, backing away with widened eyes that flashed between their leader, who had dropped to the ground wailing in agony, and their would-be victim who was equally staggered.
The man who was still holding Jane captive was paralyzed, though she could hear his astonished gasp. Quickly redirecting her thoughts towards him, she repeated her mental wish. Instantly his hands fell away and he howled as he groped his crotch.
“It’s gone! Motherfuckin’ sonuvabitch!! It’s gone! It’s gone!”
His chilling lament was the final straw and the thugs tore off in all directions, leaving their two stricken companions behind. Jane grabbed Amber’s arm, and the two women ran for their apartment building. Once inside, they disdained the slow elevator and ran up the three floors to their apartments.
Amber was trembling too hard to insert her key, so Jane, panting for breath, took it from her and opened the door. Pushing the younger woman inside ahead of her, she slammed the door and bolted it. She could still hear screams through the open window, and she ran to close that, too. With that done, she turned her attention to her traumatized friend.
“Are you all right? Can I get you anything?” Jane hovered over the other woman who had curled up on the couch, clutching a throw pillow. Uncertain what to do, she offered, “Would you like me to call Micki?”
That got a nod from the numbed woman, and she quickly moved to the phone, which had a list of Amber’s commonly called numbers tucked underneath. Micki’s work number was second from the top, and Jane punched the numbers, willing the nurse to be available, as she felt totally inadequate to deal with her neighbour’s trauma.
Explaining it was a family emergency, Micki was quickly summoned to the phone. Tersely Jane told her that Amber had been attacked, that she had gotten away mostly unscathed except for a bloody lip, but she appeared to be in shock. She was pleased with the nurse’s instant response that she would be there as quickly as humanly possible.
She remained with her neighbour until Micki arrived twenty minutes later, then gladly turned the care of the traumatized woman over to the nurse. As Micki gathered Amber up in her arms, cooing and cuddling the shaken woman, Jane quietly backed away. She had just reached the door, when she heard a tremulous voice.
“How, Miss Brown? How did it happen? How did they lose...”
Jane met the scared, confused, dark eyes that were staring at her from the haven of Micki’s arms. Shaking her head, she answered softly, “I don’t know, dear; I don’t understand it myself. But I’m very glad that we’re safe and sound, and that they got what was coming to them.” Giving both the young women a nod, she slipped out and walked quickly to her own door.
Once inside her own sanctuary, Jane headed for the kitchen and put a kettle on to boil. A cup of tea was just what she needed, and none of those insipid herbal ones, either. A strong, unadulterated cup of Earl Gray and a tin of shortbread biscuits would be just the ticket. Deeply disturbed by both the abortive attack and the implications of how it had been nipped in the bud — so to speak — she knew she needed to assess her abilities and decide what to do with them.
Hours later, no further ahead in understanding exactly what had happened, and exhausted, she decided to call it a night. Perhaps a solid eight hours sleep would bring some perspective; or perhaps this unspeakably strange gift would be gone with the sunrise. Taking comfort from that thought, Miss Jane Brown tidied up the kitchen and went to bed.
When Saturday came, she arose at her usual hour. The events of the previous night having disturbed her sleep all night, she had formulated a plan. The first thing she had to determine was whether it had been a one day aberration, or if she still had this...whatever it was.
Over breakfast, she contemplated her options. She supposed that she could simply go out on the streets and punish the first transgressor she ran into. Given the appallingly rude times in which she lived, it certainly wouldn’t take much time to find an appropriate candidate. But Jane wished to see if her ability would work on a grander scale. As her mind turned over possibilities, her gaze drifted about her tiny kitchen, coming to rest on her plain, black phone — and she smiled.
I wish cellular phones had never been invented.
Eager to see if her pet peeve had been eliminated, Jane quickly dressed and headed out the door. Walking to the subway, she passed the site of the previous night’s altercation. There was no evidence apparent, nothing to indicate that anything unusual had transpired on this spot. She walked by, barely giving it a second thought. Instead her attention was on the few pedestrians that passed her. None were playing, talking, or texting on their electronic leashes, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Turning on to a busier street, she scanned all the vehicles passing, and again — none of the drivers were endangering their fellow motorists with distracting cell phone usage.
Spirits rising, Jane descended into the subway and stood at the back of the sparse, early Saturday morning crowd. No one...not one person is using a cell phone. She was positively gleeful, but unwilling to declare victory without further proof.
Jane spent the rest of the day traveling to places that people congregated. She went to malls, restaurants, bus stops, subway stations, and even stopped to closely examine the crowd going into a ballgame. By suppertime she was ready to concede that cell phones were no longer a part of modern life, and she returned home exhilarated with the discovery.
That evening, with her feet resting on a worn, old ottoman, Jane made a decision. For whatever reason and by whatever means, she had been given the ability to return the world to a civilized state. She hadn’t asked for it, but Miss Jane Brown was not one to shirk her responsibilities. Uncertain how long her current state would last, she took a pad of paper and set to work listing all the ways she could improve modern life. When she finally completed it, it was well past her normal bedtime.
Jane had given the lengthy list considerable thought. While she wished to promote civility, she did not necessarily wish to return the world to a pre-technological state. So while she had eliminated cell phones, basic telephones escaped her wrath. She did, however, do away with dispensable features like call waiting. It was a great irritant to Jane to be conducting a conversation only to be put on hold with the comment, “Just a moment, there’s someone on the other line.” As far as she was concerned, it was the height of rudeness to interrupt one call in case the other caller proved to be more interesting or more important.
Call waiting was the first item on her list, closely followed by voice mail, infomercials, telemarketers, and spam. Miss Jane Brown did not own a PC, but even her work computer had been deluged with the disgusting ads for everything from offers to spy on your family and friends, to guaranteed penis enlargements. The world would be a far better place without spam, of that she had no doubt.
She had debated the issue of chewing gum, weighing the pros and cons of allowing its continued presence in her new, improved world. Jane thought there was nothing as revolting as someone smacking their gum in her face, but she acknowledged that gum had a place in aiding those who were dieting or trying to quit smoking. Of course, since she had already added “smoking” to her list, that usage would no longer be a concern. Still, she decided that she could be generous in this instance, and allowed gum to remain an option. If she encountered any rude gum smackers personally, she would simply wish the gum away.
Once Jane had listed all the minor annoyances that she could think of, concluding with those that manufacturers so rudely inflicted on the public — supposedly childproof caps that were also adult proof caps, incomprehensible assembly and usage directions, and overly packaged merchandise — she continued on to more important issues.
Drugs and alcohol. Well, certainly they had to go, and no time to waste, either. Miss Jane Brown had encountered the most appallingly rude behaviour from people under the influence. She had been slobbered on at office Christmas parties, pawed by drunken louts while walking down streets minding her own business, and continually accosted for money by dirty, unkempt street people whom she just knew would take any contributions directly to the liquor store. Those men who had attacked her and Amber the previous night had undoubtedly been under the influence of some form of mood altering substance. Jane had no patience for people who were unable to deal with the world on its own terms, and she firmly added those two items to the list.
Moving on, she spent some time working out how to improve schools. Jane was of the firm opinion that rude children grew up to be rude adults, and this problem too could be eradicated if youngsters were taught respect and obedience from the moment they entered kindergarten. She pondered ways and means, until finally, with a satisfied smile, she wrote, All schools will from this day forth be military schools.
Jane worked over her list, adding and deleting many items as she conscientiously tried to consider the full impact of each element. Finally she concluded her list by eliminating litter, grossly oversized SUVs, rude cabbies, officious bureaucrats, and long waits at doctors’ offices, then sat back, well satisfied. She would go to bed and wake to much more civilized world — a world where politeness and courtesy were the common denominator of everyday life.
It was late, but Jane was so keyed up by her stimulating endeavours that she decided to wind down with the eleven o’clock news before attempting to go to sleep. The usual pairing of a middle-aged male news announcer and an attractive young female announcer came on and began their daily updates.
Jane took a moment to consider the fact that she never saw older women as anchors, and decided that was rather rude to her generation. Noting that addendum to her list, she returned her attention to the news, which had moved from local to international events.
“Breaking news from the Middle-East this evening: tentative peace talks have again ended in failure as terrorists struck today at a Jerusalem marketplace. A suicide bomber carried out his mission as early morning shoppers gathered; first reports list seventeen dead and scores wounded. Israeli response was instantaneous, as tanks moved into the West Bank towns of Ramallah and Jenin, killing and wounding an undetermined number of Palestinian protestors...”
Letting her attention drift from the repetitive details, Jane looked at her list speculatively. Thus far she had only focused on improving her own society, but she wondered now if her ability could be used to civilize the whole world. Could she single-handedly bring peace to the eternally strife-ridden Middle East? Were all the world’s problems subject to her wishes?
Jane felt her heart pounding rapidly at the mere thought. She had never paid much attention to foreign affairs, finding the endless litany of wars, terrorism, famine, and disease simply too depressing to contemplate, especially in the face of any one individual’s helplessness to bring about change. Well, she wasn’t helpless anymore. Could she really stop those brutes and tyrants who put power above the well-being of their own people? Could she put a halt to the endless cycle of violence in every corner of the globe? Could she bring about a modern Eden, all by the force of her will?
It was too much. Jane raised her thin hand and laid it over her chest, willing her heart to decelerate. “One step at a time, Jane. One step at a time.”
Her self-admonition seemed to work, and her breathing slowed, returning to normal. Determinedly she pushed the troublesome thoughts aside, knowing she would have to deal with the possibilities eventually, but needing time to think everything over thoroughly.
Turning off the television, Jane rose from her chair and, suddenly exhausted by the day’s activities, stumbled to her bedroom. She was sure that she would be asleep the moment she laid her head on the pillow, but alas, it was not to be. As the hours slowly passed, she tossed and turned, thoughts of what she might accomplish tantalizing and intriguing her.
Jane was not a particularly altruistic woman, but the magnitude of the gift she might be able to bestow on the Earth awed her. Peace. She doubted that there had ever been a planet-wide peace, certainly never a permanent one. Yet she, Miss Jane Brown, could do something that all the politicians, generals, prophets, and peacemakers had never been able to do: she could stop every global conflict instantly.
At five a.m., Jane reminded herself that, as far as she knew, her ability only worked to eliminate the sources and purveyors of rudeness. At five fifteen a.m., she decided there really was nothing ruder than war. After all, didn’t the dictionary define rudeness as ill-mannered actions offensive to the standards of decency? Surely there was nothing more offensive than killing and maiming your fellow human beings. By six a.m., she had come to a decision: she would do it; she would bring peace to the world.
Now the only question was how best to phrase her wish, and she spent the next hour turning the possibilities over in her mind. Jane was quite certain that the key to bringing peace was in fighting rudeness. After all, it had been her bete noire for as long as she could remember, so why else would she have been selected for this gift? It only made sense. If everyone in the world were polite and considerate, war would be impossible. Therefore, she must state her wish in terms of eliminating rudeness.
Having made her decision, Jane rose from her bed. Feeling the magnitude of the moment, she carefully bathed and dressed, but abstained from breakfast. She gave a moment’s consideration to whether she should implement her studiously composed list before instigating world peace, but decided on the scale of things that peace should come first. Then she would tend to eliminating life’s smaller aggravations.
Drawing several deep breaths to calm herself, Miss Jane Brown closed her eyes and concentrated. Having decided beforehand to keep it as simple as possible, she uttered her wish.
“I wish that no man and no woman may ever again raise their hand to harm a fellow human being. All people who perpetuate such rudeness shall from this moment forth disappear from the face of the Earth, never to be seen again.”
Nietzsche wrote: “Whenever I found a living creature, there I found the will to power.” Miss Jane Brown, a plain, polite, unassuming inhabitant of this planet Earth, had no apparent desire for power. She simply wanted to restore a measure of civility to an uncivilized world. Yet in her quest, she arrogated the power of the gods, and in doing so, met her own destiny. For eliminating two billion people from the Earth in the blink of an eye was really rather... rude.