Sitting behind his computer in his dorm room, Carl Weston grinned at the email he had just received. “Mom’s inviting me home for Springberg’s ‘Dependence’ Day celebrations,” he told his roommate, emphasising the typo.
On July 3rd, Carl arrived in Springberg. He pushed open the porch door. “I’m home, mom.”
“Since when have I been ‘mom’,” his mother called from the kitchen. “It’s ‘mum’.”
As always when Mrs Weston was cooking, the kitchen was chaotic.
“Shall I take the trash out?” Carl offered.
“‘Trash’? Take out the ‘rubbish’ if that’s what you mean. What kind of English are you picking up at university?”
“I get it,” said Carl. “You’ve gone all British for Independence Day. How quaint.”
With his mother regarding him curiously, Carl tied off a bag of garbage and took it out to the trash can.
A municipality truck was parked outside and workers were putting up decorations along the street. Carl did a double take. Instead of ‘Springberg Municipality’, the truck had ‘Springberg Council’ written along the side. And there was no way those flags being fixed to the streetlights were the Stars and Stripes. The blue rectangle in the top left corner had the requisite number of stars, but they were superimposed over a British flag.
“What’s happening?” Carl asked a municipal worker who was unfurling a banner with the message ‘Happy Dependence Day’ on it.
“What do you think’s happening? We’re preparing for tomorrow’s celebrations.” Grinning, the man pumped the air with his fist. “U.C. A.,” he chanted. “U.C.A.”
Back in his mother’s kitchen, Carl asked, “What does U.C.A. mean?”
“United Colonies of America, of course,” said Mrs Weston. “Get me the butter from the fridge, will you? Thanks, dear.”
Thoroughly mystified, Carl excused himself and went upstairs to his bedroom. From a shelf he took down and opened An illustrated Encyclopaedia of American History.
‘Criminal acts,’ read Carl,‘by the Boston Harbour Saboteurs against the Motherland’s economic interests, led to the War of Dependence (1775-1783). After the Blue Coats’ defeat, the Fledgling Fathers of the thirteen Colonies signed the Declaration of Dependence. This signified an end to hostilities and pledged allegiance to the Crown.’
Stunned, Carl flipped to a picture of the flag saw being hung from the street lights. The accompanying text said, ‘The American flag is commonly known as ‘Starry Jack’. The stars represent the fifty American colonies, whilst the main body of the flag incorporates the Motherland’s famous ‘Union Jack’.’
“Come down, Carl,” Mrs Weston shouted from the foot of the stairs. “Your dad’s home.”
Carl closed the book and let out a nervous laugh. “This must be a prank,” he said, scouring the room for hidden cameras. “Let me just play along.”
Carl found Mr Weston out on the porch.
“Nothing like a sun-downer on the veranda,” said Mr Weston, pouring himself a gin and tonic. He indicated the cool box beside his chair. “Grab yourself a can of bitter, Carl.”
It wasn’t until late evening, when Mr Weston raised his glass to toast the Queen of England, and when Mrs Weston suggested that after the Dependence Day parade they could watch the one-day cricket match, that Carl’s patience finally ran out.
“Enough, already,” he said, his speech slurred by alcohol. “This is the United States of America and tomorrow’s In-dependence Day. I don’t know what reality show deal you’ve signed, but this isn’t funny.”
With that, Carl got to his feet, went indoors, stumbled upstairs and flopped onto his bed.
An hour later, tiptoeing to the kitchen to get a drink of water, he overheard voices from the porch.
“This is just like Jeff McCarthy’s daughter,” Mr Weston was saying. “She kept going on about weird sports no one had ever heard of – basketball, and a game she called baseball.”
“I blame university,” said Mrs Weston, “and all these drugs the kids experiment with. So what are we going to do about Carl?”
“The McCarthy girl became normal again after just a week at Springberg Mental Asylum,” said Mr Weston. “Let’s wait until after Dependence Day, then get Carl sectioned at the asylum.”
Making a U-turn, Carl tiptoed back upstairs. “It’s not me that should be in the nuthouse,” he murmured, and lying on his bed made plans to escape from Springberg.
Next morning, blaming his previous evening’s behaviour on a twenty-four hour virus, Carl accompanied his still suspicious parents to the Dependence Day parade. There was the ‘Sad’ King George the Third float (‘Sad’ due to the rebelliousness of his subjects), the Battle of Bunker Hill float with Red and Blue Coats re-enacting the great English victory, and marching bands in eighteenth century regalia beating drums and playing penny whistles.
When the hero Benedict Arnold’s float had passed by, Carl made his move. Ducking in and out of school children attired in period costume, he crossed the street and headed for the bus station.
Once the Greyhound reached its first rest stop, Carl breathed more easily. Inside Gracie’s Diner he ordered coffee and waffles off the menu. Only now could he reflect calmly on what was transpiring in Springberg. There had to be a secret government department that dealt with this kind of thing, hadn’t there?
Staring out the diner window, Carl watched as the side of the Greyhound bus shimmered. The sleek greyhound motif transformed into a pugnacious canine face, and the lettering altered until it spelt out ‘Bulldog Buses’.
Then the waitress arrived at Carl’s table with his meal.
“I didn’t order buttered scones and tea,” Carl insisted, snatching up the menu in time to see ‘hamburger’ change to ‘fish and chips’ and ‘apple pie’ change to ‘rhubarb crumble’.
“Is everything alright, sir?” said the waitress, frowning.
Carl wasn’t sure how to reply. There was something important he needed to remember, but try as he might, he didn’t know what. Instead, feeling a bit of a chump, he smiled up at the pretty young waitress and said, “Happy Dependence Day, miss.”
Paul A. Freeman is the author of ‘Rumours of Ophir’, a crime novel set in Zimbabwe. His narrative poem ‘Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers’, and his second crime novel, ‘Vice and Virtue’, have also been published. Over a hundred of his short stories have appeared commercially in print. He currently lives in Abu Dhabi with his family, and despite reports to the contrary, he never swims in the nude. He can be found at www.paulfreeman.weebly.com.