She believes that dragons still exist in the hills, sleeping in caves that only the dawn people knew, breathing in fog, breathing out steam. Their scales are discolored from the water that drips on them, modern toxins leaching out of the soil to tarnish their prehistoric sheen. Their claws are buried in the silt of centuries, clutching the few gold coins that they stole from the Spanish garrison, the last time they were out in the air, driven back by the smoke and thunder of cannon as they realized that human battle technology was catching up, soon to overtake their ancient mastery of earth and sky.
She believes in the dragons, and she knows that the problems in the hills come directly from small events of dragonsleep. When they roll over, the fault line creaks, shuddering the ground for miles. One of them coughed the time that revolutionary students dynamited the electrical generating substation. A dragon's indigestion triggered an epidemic of mudslides one rainy season. When a sightless eye winked open in sleep, a dream chip escaped and drove a young jogger crazy, causing him to strangle his girlfriend and hide her body. And when another dragon roared at its nightmare of Spanish cannonballs, the heat vented up into a field of dry grass and started the worst firestorm ever seen by two generations of humans.
She takes the dragons very seriously, and she knows from her grimoires and her books of legend and myth that when they wake - and they will wake - these isolated hill terrors will seem as nothing to what will surely follow. She knows that mortars and ballistic missiles would probably route the dragons and harry them from the land, but that the only way to truly vanquish a dragon is to be a knight pure of heart, quick of hand, strong of mind. She practices constantly with her sword and shield, with her lance and crossbow, waiting for that terrible day of waking.
She believes in the dragons, because she knows that they can only be vanquished by one who believes in them.
He likes to read from the suggestion box over the manager's shoulder. He takes all the credit, none of the blame, and he thinks he can guess which of the regulars have been complaining.
"That's from that crazy woman who never wants ice in anything, even on the hot afternoons. That's from the cop who always comes in for his raisin bagel - you can tell he's used to writing incident reports. That's from the travel agent who's always kinda spaced, thinking of boys on the Riviera. That's from that sort of older metal sculptor guy - I guess he just doesn't like my face. I'm always scrupulously polite to everybody, as you well know."
He likes to impress customers with a glancing reference to everything that suggests an encyclopedic knowledge behind his rapid-fire patter. In the space of serving three customers, he's been known to touch on a full two dozen subjects: the drinking habits of chickens, the temperature at which yeast rises fastest, the chemical components of neon gas, the probable year in which the penny will be declared obsolete, the cubic volume of five pounds of alfalfa sprouts, the full name of every artist whose work is currently on display, the coffee beans included in today's house blend, the number of calories per tablespoon of ranch dressing, which of the colors of your outfit best compliment the eye color of the total stranger standing next to you in line, what time it is in Jakarta, the process by which most soft drinks are carbonated, the name of the drummer on whatever song happens to be playing at the time, the most Ben & Jerry's ice cream ever eaten by anyone in a single sitting, how the two-tone muffin was invented, the slang term for parking tickets in Youngstown Ohio, the name of a masseuse who does body piercing for a few dollars extra, how a dodo drumstick was supposed to have tasted, what time the sun rose this morning, the current score of the basketball game in progress, the optimum number of times to blow on your spoon before eating the soup of the day, the nearest large-scale commercial mint grower, the name of the shade of purple that the bus person dyed her hair, the origins of the fabric of which your coat is made, the number of paper napkins that a single tree will yield.
"Y'know, Lance," says the manager, "maybe you do talk just a bit too much. Have you ever thought about it that way?"
He wanted to be a hippie when he first learned what they were, but he never got around to it. He had a wife and two new babies and was just two semesters from an MBA at Harvard Business. The hippie life seemed the antithesis of everything he was doing, and all that much more of an adventure because of it. Sometimes he thought he'd have no problem at all leaving his Friday section on arbitrage to simply climb into his car, drive west, and never look back. Other times he even thought he could convince Jennifer to sit in the passenger's seat and disappear with him. But then he would hear a little cry from upstairs, or notice the baby snot that rimed the sleeve of his sweater, and he would remember that he was now a father, guardian and steward of the next generation, and that raising children in safety and health demanded that he share fully in the material life, that love alone might not be enough.
So he stayed in Brookline and became a stockbroker daddy while living a private life in an imaginary Haight-Ashbury. He devoured news from the Coast, kept his ears open for reliable drug connections on which he never followed through, and bought assorted strings of love beads which he and Jennifer occasionally wore to bed. He talked a lot about peace and love to the kids, but made it a point to keep his comments to a minimum during heated office discussions about the war.
Gradually, it became obvious that the public eye had difficulty telling the difference between hippies and anti-war protesters. What had once been seen with head-shaking bemusement was now a source of revulsion. The barbarians had breached the gate with all their stony sweet talk, and they were polluting mainstream society. Revolution was no longer a utopian ideal but something real and threatening. He tried to ignore the tide of public opinion until the week after the Democratic Convention when he saw two Boston cops cheerfully roughing up a hippie on Bromfield Street. He spent the rest of the day on the verge of tears, his fantasy suddenly thin and foolish. The damage reports still poured in from Chicago as the implications of what had happened there were discussed on the news shows in terms of an ongoing national crisis. There had always been a dark side to breaking ranks with society, and it stared him in the face. He bitterly remembered the innocence of the idea a few years ago, when all it meant to him was freedom.
His subscriptions to Rolling Stone and The Oracle lapsed, and he didn't renew. He took a hard look at Viet Nam and accepted the grim realpolitik of the present situation. He voted for Richard Nixon, and the love beads disappeared from the night stand, turning up in a box in the cellar twenty years later.