Joseph and Emeril sat in an open-air café in the Unmitigated Obstructionism District. They were having an approved breakfast, as good citizens do.
“It’s the texture that I object to, really,” said Emeril, “it’s just not quite right.”
“What’s that?” inquired Joseph, as he pulled a particularly tenacious leech from his forehead. It left a bright red circle of blood where it had been gnawing through his flesh in the search for a good vein.
“The texture,” repeated Emeril, “of my gruel, I mean. It’s far too lumpy. You’d think that, living in an advanced and sophisticated society such as our own, that they could get gruel right.”
“They?” asked Joseph.
“Yes, they. They,” explained Emeril impatiently, “who manufacture the gruel rations. Why can’t they keep the lumps out?” He punctuated his sentence by flicking a leech from his wrist. Two more had attached themselves to his cheek just below his ear. He didn’t seem to notice those.
“I should think,” said Joseph solemnly, “that you’d be more concerned with the flying leeches.” He ducked a flock of flying leeches as he finished speaking. They sailed over his head with a mournful cry. Though their cry was mournful, it also promised vengeance for Joseph’s impudence. They’d get him the next time, and they wanted him to know it.
“Leeches are for the Administration to worry over,” lamented Emeril, “There are men more qualified than me. They have hats, after all.”
“What is it with you people and hats?” asked Joseph. He caught a reflection in his glasses, and ducked. The flock of leeches screamed over his head on their return pass, ruffling Emeril’s hair as they grazed his head.
“Never mind all of that,” protested Emeril, “Help me pick the lumps out of this gruel, it’s disgusting.”
“Help you? It’s your breakfast.”
“Why are you so selfish? We are living in a society, Joseph. We are all responsible for the well being of our fellow men.”
“I cannot fathom how your well being can come to serious harm,” retorted Joseph, “by either the lumps in your gruel, or by my refusal to assist you in removing them. In any case, the state of your breakfast is a trivial problem that you are perfectly competent to correct yourself. Further--” Joseph’s head snapped forward, and he stopped mid-sentence. With a grimace, he plucked three leeches in turn from the back of his skull. With a growl, he stomped them underfoot. They moaned in the manner of dying, flying leeches.
“You are a man of limited imagination,” sneered Emeril. Four leeches flew at his chest. He swatted them to the ground with an open hand. “How can men be content where there are lumps in anyone’s gruel? How can you sleep peaceably at night, knowing that you have not raised a hand to assist your brother in his misfortunate…”
“You’re not my brother,” interrupted Joseph.
“You said brother,” explained Joseph. “I’m not your brother.”
“Metaphorically,” explicated Emeril, “I meant metaphorically, of course.” He looked embarrassed, but not very.
“Oh, of course,” said Joseph, awkwardly.
“As I was saying,” continued Emeril, “It is the responsibility of a society to care for that society’s ills. Each of us is liable for the contentedness of our fellows.”
“That may be so, but I still think that each of us is competent to deal with our own breakfast,” countered Joseph.
“And where,” challenged Emeril, “does that sort of thinking end? It is a slippery slope, my friend. A slippery slope indeed, when you begin to enumerate those charitable acts which are beneath you.”
“Not beneath me. Simply unnecessary.”
“According to you. I think that it is necessary. I find it very necessary to solicit and acquire your assistance in the correction of my breakfast. Who are you to say that I don’t deserve it?”
“I am no one,” conceded Joseph, “but I can decide not to offer my assistance in such a trivial matter.” In the distance, there was a chorus of leech-screams. They were regrouping.
“Aha! You can decide not to participate in the society that provides you succor. And what then, pray tell, will you have left?”
“Self respect,” insisted Joseph. “A clean conscience, secure in the knowledge that I have not contributed to the sloth of men.”
“Sloth?!” bellowed Emeril. “You overreach, sir. You overreach. How dare you accuse me of sloth, while you sit, wallowing in apathy, ignoring my peril?”
“Peril?” balked Joseph. “PERIL?” He stood up from the table. He knocked over his chair. “Am I to understand, sir, that you find yourself in deadly crisis, owing to the fact that your breakfast has lumps in it? Are you insane?”
Emeril stood. He raised a finger. He became red faced. He opened his mouth. He was devoured by a sudden flock of angry, vengeful flying leeches.
“Twit,” offered Joseph.