Tyrone asked Jennifer if he was an out-of-towner, having been born in another town. ‘The out-of-towners are very different,’ she said. ‘You are from out of town but everyone knows where you came from. When someone asks where you’re from, you can tell them. But the out-of-towners don’t know where they came from. They just appear. One day they are just there.’
The out-of-towners are all big men. They’re uniformly well-built, with broad shoulders, strong noses and flat, rippled guts. Tyrone by contrast is small, weak and has a button nose. This is evidence enough that he isn’t an official out-of-towner, Jennifer said.
‘Not only that, but the out-of-towners wouldn’t even pretend to be from somewhere. That’s why no one knows where they’re from, because they don’t tell you and nor do they even lie about it. The out-of-towners just are. They appeared one day and then persisted.’
He and Jennifer first discussed the out-of-towners during a camping trip, very late at night. Parents forbade talking about the out-of-towners. Not because it was dangerous but because it was annoying for them, the adults, to never know.
‘You know they’re out-of-towners because you don’t know anyone they’re related to,’ Jennifer said. ‘Nor do you know anyone that speaks to them. Out-of-towners speak to one another but never to anyone else. Plus they are big, you’re small,’ she said.
Jennifer thought it possible that the out-of-towners were refugees from the cities. Another theory said that they just wandered in from the far Western Plains. Maybe these men materialised from the dirt, or maybe they were once the rocks on the brown earth in the near desert. You could easily imagine these rocks slowly splintering and then blooming into limbed men, because the way the out-of-towners stood, and the little that they said.
You stop thinking about the out-of-towners as the years pass. Instead you drink with friends and discuss each other and the football. Still the out-of-towners are there, but you might only question the phenomenon as frequently as you do the meaning of life, rarely and usually in despair. If you stay up late with a friend and drink slowly until dawn it’s likely the subject of the out of towners will arise, but only because the mind is relaxed and sleepy enough to tease facts from the unknown, to let the imagination take over. The fact is that nobody knew much about the out-of-towners because few people cared. There were other things to worry about, like the feral dogs.