Dignity, a new book by Ken Layne, is a novel composed of found letters, set in the post-housing crisis California wasteland, when people must learn again how to make food.
My friends in Goleta Meadows,
I think about you always and honor the sacrifices you make for our community.
How is our little group? Are people from the area still showing up for the weekly suppers? Keep your gates open to neighbors, and hide nothing from the honestly curious. We are living without the three poisons by choice, to show the world a new path, in fact a new map of the world. Don’t be weary. Don’t rob yourselves of music and conversation and laughter!
It saddens me that Salvatore and Jane have left us. Why did they leave? I can’t answer that. Maybe it’s because they were the last in your community who knew B. Think of all the questions the newcomers must have, the expectations that those few who lived and worked with B somehow take his place.
You write, “And now we try to live up to what B wanted for us, and not one of us ever saw B face to face.” Maybe that makes it easier. I knew B as well as anyone could, and I often stare at the blank page wondering what to write to our scattered communities.
But I will tell you a story that you can tell the others.
After B was set free from the Los Angeles county jail, those who remained loyal to him gathered at the home of Vera and Tommy in Echo Park, that crumbling old cottage that looked ready to topple down the hillside. We shared a meal around their great wooden table. The blinds were closed because already the unmarked cars were clumsily parked outside and the spies were watching from the street. The table was lit by two great candles and we were about to begin when the garden door flew open and B ran in, laughing, because he was forced to go through the alley and over a fence and then jump down to the garbage cans below and the knees of his pants were ripped and dirty.
We embraced him and he looked at us and said, “This gloom is intolerable. If you can smile and enjoy each other’s company, sit down with me. If not, go outside and scowl at the policemen.”
Then he led us in a song and we filled our glasses and he said, “Honor this food, honor each other, honor this world that is our home.”
Someone, I can’t remember who now, started crying and said, “But what will we do?”
B smiled in the candlelight and helped himself to the food and passed the dish to me, sitting at his left.
“What will we do?” He took a bite and answered, “We are already doing it.”