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Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good

                “You really want to know?”
                “Yes. Tell me.”
                “All right, then. I was on my way to work when I saw her. She was nice enough to look at, I guess, but a bit old. Older than me, at least. She was crossing the street and had one of those little hand-carts you see people using to drag their groceries behind them, but she didn’t have any groceries.”
                “What was in the hand-cart?”
                “If you let me finish, I’ll tell you.”
                “As I was saying, she was crossing the street. She didn’t have groceries, though; she had puppies. Lots of puppies. I dare say dozens of puppies. No, that doesn’t sound right. Maybe just one dozen. Maybe a baker’s dozen. Does a baker’s dozen of puppies conjure up the wrong idea? Like ‘ten and twenty blackbirds, baker’s pie?’ I’m pretty sure these puppies were not intended for food, if that sets your mind at ease. Anyway. Puppies.
                “There were all sorts of them: Chihuahuas, Yorkies, little poodles. All sorts. A mixed bag, except it was a cart instead of a bag. I’d seen a lot of people with a lot of dogs in the city, but never that many dogs in a cart. Usually there were as many leashes as dogs out for a walk. But not this time. Well, I was on my way to work, as I said, but my curiosity was piqued. I wondered what she was going to do with the dogs in a cart like that. Pet shop, maybe? Chinese restaurant? I’m just teasing. I already told you that I didn’t think they were food dogs. You can stop scowling. And hitting me. Definitely stop hitting me.”
                “Go on.”
                “So I started following her. She walked down Main Street and through the park, down alleys and across thoroughfares, always pulling her cart behind her by one hand. The strangest thing, though, was that the dogs never made a peep. They never barked, never whimpered. They were lying on top of each other, definitely invading each other’s personal space, but they never made a single noise. Maybe they were de-barked. Isn’t that what you call it, when a dog can’t make no noise? But I doubt it. That sort of thing costs money, and who would want to de-bark a baker’s dozen of dogs? That’d cost a lot of money. A lot more than you’d expect someone like her to have.
                “Anyway, I followed her for a long time until she finally stopped walking. She just stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. I thought maybe she noticed me following but she never turned to look at me. No, she looked up at the building in front of her. Know what it was? Can you guess? A frown isn’t a guess. Seriously, can you guess? It was a Chinese restaurant!”
                “You said the dogs weren’t food.”
                “Have I said otherwise? All I said was that she stopped walking at a Chinese restaurant. Don’t go jumping to conclusions. You’ve never seen a dog-walker eat Chinese food? Shoot, in the city, I’ve seen dogs eat Chinese food. And they weren’t being cannibals. At least, I’m pretty sure the food they were eating wasn’t made of dogs. I’m not even sure any Chinese persons actually eat dogs. But that’s what they say, right? Anyway, the lady stops in front of the restaurant with her peck of puppies in tow. You think that’s an acceptable term? A peck of puppies? It sounds nice but it’s probably not big enough. Maybe a bushel of puppies, even if there isn’t enough alliteration. Alliteration is very important, you know. Alliterativeness is next to godliness, or so I’ve heard told. You’re sighing. Why are you sighing? You’ve never heard that expression?”
                “That’s too bad, it’s a wonderful one. It’s the most famous phrase I’fe ever fed you.”
                “You stink at alliteration.”
                “You stink. Anyway, the lady stops in front of the restaurant. What do you think she did next? Do you think she went in, with her peck or bushel or whatever measure of puppies, and sold the cart of them for dim sum? That’d be a terrible way to end a story, don’t you think? Unless I went in afterward and broke them free and we all ran on a mighty adventure until I freed the puppies back into the wild-oh, wait. Puppies don’t live in the wild. Until I freed the puppies back into the pet shop where they belonged! That doesn’t sound very good, either. What are you supposed to do with a baker’s dozen of puppies then? Besides eat them, I mean. Whatever. I didn’t do that, so it doesn’t matter.
                “She went into the restaurant and just left her puppies there, on the sidewalk, in her little grocery-toting cart. Who does that? Who leaves a gaggle of puppies on the sidewalk in the middle of the day in the city? What, I’m not supposed to say gaggle of puppies? So sue me, descriptive collection police. Can we get back to Cruella DeVille over there or are you going to assault my grammar too? What if I end a sentence in a preposition? What would you do about that? Punish me somehow? Call my mommy? I’d be done for! Aha! A-ha, I say!
                “You’re not even listening any more, are you?”
                “I’ll listen again when you get back to the story.”
                “So, I took them.”
                “The puppies. I just walked up and took them. She left the cart out so I grabbed it with my right hand and walked on by the restaurant. Thanks to me, they were definitely not dim sum!”
                “You said they were never going to be food.”
                “Right, thanks to me. I did that. They could have been food. Maybe not at that restaurant, but you don’t know what she was up to. She could have been taking them to the butcher after a spot of lunch. Stop sighing. Really. Stop it.”
                “What did you do with the puppies?”
                “Well, I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I thought about having an adventure with them, but they were really pretty boring. Even when I poked them, they still didn’t make much noise. I took one out in the park and tried to get it to fetch a stick but it just looked at me funny. So I did what any normal person would do. I put the puppy back in the cart and I went on a walk.
                “I walked out of the park and back down the alleys and across thoroughfares and down Main Street until I came to the bridge. At that point, I was pretty tired of pulling that cart, let me tell you.”
                “Did you leave it on the bridge?”
                “Let me tell you, I said! No, I didn’t leave it on the bridge. That would have been wicked and cruel and inhumane and nasty. Someone could have found them, in that cart, on that bridge, and taken them to a Chinese restaurant and ate them up, yum. Is that what you would have for those puppies? To be tender morsels in oyster sauce? You’re awful. Stop it. Stop it. Stop hitting me. Do you want me to go on? Stop it.”
                “Go on.”
                “Well, I stopped walking half-way across the bridge and looked out at the city. It’s big and bright and gray and noisy, you know? And stinky and gross and full of Chinese restaurants and other dangers to carts full of puppies everywhere. I just didn’t have the heart to let those puppies fall into enemy hands, you know? So I did what any normal person would do.”
                “Which is?”
                “Witches are not normal people, keep up. I don’t know what a witch would do, anyway, that’s not important to my story.”
                “What did you do?”
                “I threw the cart off the bridge.”
                “You threw the puppies off the bridge?”
                “No, I threw the cart off the bridge.”
                “What did you do with the puppies?”
                “Well, nothing. They were in the cart.”
                “So you threw the puppies off the bridge.”
                “They fell. It’s not my fault they were still in the cart. If they were smarter puppies, they would have gotten out when they saw me throwing the cart.”
                “I’m speechless.”
                “I don’t know what that’s like. So, you want to know what happened next? Can you guess? Can you? I bet you can’t.”
                “You went to a Chinese restaurant.”
                “Wrong! See, I was wearing this scarf. It was a great scarf, lots of different colors, made of the softest fabric... Not puppies. No, not puppies. Why are you frowning again? Don’t hit me! Stop it! Stop it!
                “Your scarf.”
                “Right, my scarf that was definitely not made of puppies. It was warming up that day so I had it loose around my neck. As it turns out, it was also pretty windy up on that bridge. So windy that when I picked up the cart to throw it, one end of the scarf wrapped around the handle.”
                “So your scarf fell off the bridge?”
                “Yeah, it did. In a manner of speaking. The other end also wrapped around my neck. It was definitely windier than I thought it might have been on a day such as this. A day ripe for picking puppies. If my name was Peter, they could call me Peter, Peter Puppy Picker. It’s charming, don’t you think? Anyway. Yes, my scarf fell off the bridge. But it pulled me with it. Silly scarf. Stupid scarf. Why are you smiling now?”
                “What happened next?”

The Bad

                “Want to hear a story?”
                “A long, long time ago in a place similar to this, but not quite the same-“
                “No, I don’t want to hear that kind of story.”
                “What do you mean, you don’t want to hear that kind of story? What kind of story do you want to hear?”
                “Tell me your story.”
                “I thought I was. Fine. Here we go. Are you ready? You might want to sit down.”
                “Not too long ago in a place so similar to this that it actually was this, I saw something strange. It was really strange. Not just passing strange, or sort of strange. It was strange enough to make me ponder things that I didn’t usually ponder.”
                “What did you see?”
                “I’ll get there eventually. I was walking through the city on my way home from work. While I was waiting to cross at the light, I saw a lady with the most peculiar cart.”
                “Was it full of puppies?”
                “No, it was full of-. How did you know?”
                “Call it a hunch. Go on.”
                “So, this lady had a cart full of puppies. When the signal lit to Walk, her cart got stuck in a pothole so I gave her a hand. She smiled at me and offered some kind words and when we had reached the other side I went back to my pace and left her behind.
                “I went up A street and made my way to the park. It wasn’t too chilly that day and there were people everywhere, lying on blankets, reading books, throwing Frisbees. You name it, they were probably doing it.  Assuming it could be done in a park. Why are you raising your eyebrows? I don’t think they were doing it doing it. At least, not that I could see, thank you very much.
                “Anyway, I sat on a bench and just enjoyed myself observing: people, the trees, the clouds. Everything. There was a cloud shaped like a bunny, and another shaped like a kayak. When the wind moved just right, the bunny was actually in the kayak. Can you imagine? I would have seen other interesting clouds but I was distracted by the sound of a heavy cart moving past. Yep, you guessed it. The lady with her cart of puppies walked past. I smiled and waved but she didn’t notice me and kept walking. At that point, I got tired of watching the clouds and decided to move on.
                “I went down to the ferry and got aboard. Sometimes I take the train home, some days the bus. But what I really like is the ferry. You can’t get off except for when you’ve reached your destination and there’s a bit of a rough start and stop, and more often than not, someone is hanging off the back throwing up, but it’s nice. On the train, you can’t feel the wind through your hair. On the bus, you can’t breathe any of the outside air for all of the car exhaust. No, the ferry is best.
                “I was sitting on a bench on the back deck of the ferry when I noticed a man calling for help. At first, I thought someone had fallen off and was drowning. I wouldn’t be of much use there; I’m not a strong swimmer. I could gawk like the best of them, though, so I got up and walked quickly over to where the guy was yelling. It turned out that nobody was drowning at all, which I suppose was a good thing.
                “Instead, another man had a briefcase in one hand and a knife in the other. The louder man, the one who had gotten my attention, was shouting that the other man had robbed him. That much was clear, from the briefcase and the knife, but it was good of him to get everyone without line-of-sight up to speed. I ended up on the stairwell between the back deck and the lower deck where the robber and robbed were standing-off. It was a nice place to stand because I could see everything. When I say everything, I mean-“
                “Everything. I get it. Go on.”
                “Right then. I could see the two men below and I could see a metro officer on his way toward them. I could also see the skyscrapers in the distance and the clouds above. This time I couldn’t see any kayaking bunnies; I couldn’t even see a canoeing hedgehog. In the not-so-distant distance, I saw the bridge coming overhead. I’ve always liked to take ferries under bridges, though I’m not sure why. It’s just a view that you wouldn’t ordinarily have, you know? Most people drive over them and ooh and ah at the scenery. Some people even take pictures, though you can’t do that anymore. If you take a picture on a bridge, the terrorists win. Or something like that.
                “Oh, so anyway, the metro officer got to where the robber was and started shouting at him. The robber started shouting back and the robbed man got in on it, shouting at both of them. None of their shouting did much, though. The officer seemed to be testing his patience, which failed; he started moving towards the robber who started running. I don’t know why you’d pick a fight with the police on a ferry boat. There’s nowhere to run and you can always be seen! For that matter, I don’t know why you’d try to rob someone on a ferry boat. “
                “But he did.”
                “Yeah, he did. Anyway, he comes running up the stairs, briefcase in one hand and knife in the other. I’m standing in the middle of the stairs, not to block the guy, but because that’s where the best view of the bridge was. He comes running right into me, cussing up a stream of things that I won’t repeat, and ends up pushing me away with one of his arms.”
                “Did he cut you?”
                “Well, he probably would have but the briefcase hadn’t been sharpened in some time.  Do you think the guy he robbed purposefully kept his briefcase blunted to avoid confrontations with the police?”
                “Yes. I’m sure he did. Go on.”
                “Anyway, after the robber got past me, the officer ran up the stairs and he pushed me aside too. I decided after that to get off the stairs so I went down to where the robbed was standing. The lower deck on the ferry was still open on top in the center but had an upper observation deck cresting its sides. From there I could still see the bridge and the city and the clouds. I could also see a cart of puppies plummeting from the bridge.”
                “You what?
                “A cart of puppies. I saw it falling from the bridge. From where I was standing, the cart seemed to be in a slow freefall straight down. Thankfully it was still upright, or should I say pupright-“
                “Please don’t.”
                “The puppies were still inside the cart, even as it fell. I’m not entirely sure how, but I raised my arms above me, probably to protect myself, and caught it.”
                “You caught the cart.”
                “I caught the cart.”
                “Full of puppies.”
                “Yes, I caught the cart full of puppies.”
                “Were they alive?”
                “Yes, somehow they all survived. I’m pretty sure that I broke my arms, though. Well, I set the cart down and fell to my knees- that may have happened the other way around, I can’t be sure. I started hearing this crazy howling sound so I looked down at the cart but the puppies weren’t making a noise. I guess they were scared silent or something. It turns out that I was the one howling but I didn’t know it yet. I looked up, partly to thank God for not being crushed to death by puppies, partly to see if there were any more puppies on the way, and partly to get a parting glance at the bridge.”
                “Were there?”
                “Were there what?”
                “More puppies.”
                “No, there weren’t any more puppies. Not falling off the bridge, at least. But I did see something. It was obstructing my view of the bridge a bit, but it was very clearly a man.”
                “A man?”
                “Yes, a man. And he was wearing a distinctly colored-“
                “Yes. Have you heard this story already? Did I already tell you?”
                “No. Go on.”
                “Well, the man was also plummeting from the bridge, getting larger and larger as he fell toward me. When I looked up at him for a second time, I remember seeing the bridge behind him, the city in the distance, and the clouds above them all. Still no kayaking bunnies, but I did see a Volkswagon.”
                “And then what happened?”

The Ugly

                “Oh dear. Are you sure you want to hear this? It isn’t pretty, not like me.”
                “Yes, go on.”
                “All right, all right. I was walking through the city that day, on my way to lunch. It was Tuesday so I always eat at Ho Fat Friday’s. I was walking along and my cart got stuck, right there in the middle of the street. It was a bit of a nightmare, I don’t mind telling you. Me, my cart, and all of my children were trapped right in the middle of the street! Can you imagine?”
                “Your children?”
                “Yes, my children. My little snuggly-bears. My lovelies.”
                “Your puppies.”
                “Yes, of course, my puppies. What else would they be? Anyway, my cart was stuck right in a large pothole and try as I might, I could not lift it free. After what seemed like ages, a nice man happened by and lifted it out for me. He helped me across to the other side and I thanked him profusely. I’d have given him a dollar but he walked away before I had the chance. A dollar! Can you imagine turning down a dollar? It’s just as well that he did, though; I wouldn’t have been able to afford lunch.
                “Anyway, I walked up to Ho Fat Friday’s and was about to go in when I saw a sign on the door: No Dogs. Can you believe it? I couldn’t even take my children in. What on earth do you think the problem could be with having dogs in the restaurant? Because it’s a Chinese restaurant, do you think the other patrons would think they were appetizers? Ha! I kid.
                “I sat at my regular table, a lovely booth in the back, leaving my children on the sidewalk outside. They didn’t seem to mind. They didn’t make any noises of protest, but I guess they wouldn’t, would they?”
                “Why wouldn’t they?”
                “Well, they’re all mute.”
                “Why were the dogs mute?”
                “I don’t know the details, but I got them from a rescue shelter. I don’t like to imagine what kind of monstrosities my children required rescuing from. Can you? Can you imagine? I hope not. Truly, I hope not.”
                “Go on with your story, please.”
                “Anyway, I was sitting at my table enjoying my lunch when a man came to my table. He wasn’t a server; I could tell. You know what I mean. And he wasn’t the owner; I could tell that too. You still know what I mean, right? Why are you glaring? Anyway, the man. He came to my table and offered to pay for my lunch. He told me that I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid eyes on and wanted desperately to know me. Intimately.
                “Why are you laughing? Stop laughing. Why is that funny? Maybe he didn’t say intimately. Maybe I added that part. But it was inferred. I can read between the lines. And why wouldn’t he have meant that? You can see my face. You can see my body. You’ve heard my voice.”
                “I’ve heard what you’ve said, too.”
                “Precisely! In any case, I refused his offer. I can pay for my own lunches, thank you very much. He looked rather dejected until I suggested a rain check for that evening. At that, his face lit up, much like mine often is, and we made plans. I finished my lunch in silence, paid for it with my last dollar, and walked back out to the street. Can you imagine what I saw, then?”
                “Not your children.”
                “Not. My. Children. They were gone! The whole cart of them! I had half a mind to turn back into Ho Fat’s and demand that they return them, unharmed, but then I saw them. They were quite a distance away, of course, but I saw them. Some terrible man was pulling them over the bridge! Well, I would have none of that.
                “I put my hand out for a cab so that I could make my chase. It took a few minutes, but eventually a cab came by and picked me up. ‘Follow that man!’ I shouted at the driver. He started to drive, then had the nerve to ask me ‘What man?’ Can you imagine? How could he not know? The only man worth following! The man with my children!
                “I gave direction and we were off. There was a small amount of traffic and so it took us a bit longer to catch up than I might have expected. It’s possible that I could have caught up to the man on foot more quickly. Be that as it may, we did catch up to him. I got out of the cab near the center of the bridge but when I went to pay him, I realized that I didn’t even have a dollar to my name! Naturally, the driver was upset but I assured him that I could pay him if he just waited for a moment; he could leave the meter running and take me to a bank after I retrieved my children.
                “He seemed to agree to that, so I set off towards the man who absconded with my children. I began shouting at him, saying such vulgarities as ‘Hey you!’ and ‘You there!’ but he never seemed to notice. I suppose it was a bit windy on that bridge. When I got within a hundred paces of the brute, he did something most heinous. I- I can’t even bring myself to say it right now.”
                “He threw the dogs off the bridge.”
                “Yes! He did just that! I began to scream but before I could use my voice, the man went over the side too! It was awful, just awful. I ran to the edge and looked down. I don’t know why I did that; what did I expect to see? Nothing good, I can imagine now. In any case, I did look down and I did see my children. They were somehow perfectly safe. The man who threw them over the bridge was lying on another man, though. They seemed less perfectly safe. In any case, I knew where my children were and so I ran back to the driver and demanded that he take me to the ferry dock on the other side of the bridge.
                “He sighed something fierce, but I would have none of it. I told him I would pay him double after I retrieved my children and away we went. There was another small batch of traffic, but it took time for the ferry to travel so I didn’t mind. When at last we pulled up to the dock, I ran out to the dock at the exact moment that the ferry pulled in. What luck, wouldn’t you say?
                “I began screaming to the ferry about my children, things like ‘Give me my children!’ and ‘You monsters, give them to me!’ They didn’t pay much attention to me, though, or else they couldn’t hear over the sound of the horn. When at last they lay down the gangplank, I rushed over it just as quick as could be. At just that moment, though, a man with a briefcase came running in the opposite direction.
                “He ran right into me and we both fell to the ground. He cursed at me like a sailor, then jumped up and ran away. I stood up but felt a bit woozy. When I looked back at the briefcase-carrying man, I saw something glint in his other hand. It may have been a knife, I can’t be sure, but it was tinged with red. When I looked down, I was also red. I fell, then, right off the gangplank and into the water.”
                “And then what happened?”

The Epilogue

                In unison, they spoke: “Well, I died.”

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