Sunday, June 24, 2007

Unintended Consequences

"My Aunt Tillie, I've told you about her - she's my mother's sister, the dominicker cross that showed the most spots in the family until I showed up and my mother always said I had more than she did at my age so heaven knows what I'll look like by the last few molts in my broody hen years - anyway my Aunt Tillie always used to sing a certain song in the mornings when the light first touched the barnyard..."

Toad thought slowly about this story. It sounded familiar and he checked his careful store of hibernation information and realized that it was there in four or five different variations. The song was not always the same, and he was vaguely troubled by what it might mean to say, "always" connected with something that was not always the same. But then he slowly realized that chicken's stories had never actually disturbed anything more than the flight of midges that happened too near her always open beak, and he was content again.

For years toad and chicken were always placed together in the same spot on the shady terrace, down the long stairs. He liked her constant chatter. It made the world one long smooth predictable river of sound, and she never paused long enough for him to reply, so he was free to relax and drift along without effort.

This year they had been moved to the fountain. Rumor had it that someone had felt pity for toad. They believed someone else should share the burden of listening, so toad and chicken had been placed near Debbie, the hippo, so she could listen, too. Toad smiled slowly and sagely. He felt there was something funny about that notion, though he could not quite figure it out. Maybe this winter he would understand it during the long sleep.

Debbie joined in the chorus, "Jimmy crack corn and I don't care, Jimmy crack corn and I don't care, Jimmy crack corn and I don't care, my master's gone away..." holding the notes longer than chicken, which ruffled her feathers a bit, but she went on to the next verse. The river of sound was broader and deeper than last year, and toad dozed contentedly in the wash of words and the blending of the two voices. Warm blooded animals had so much restless energy it was hard to understand how they figured anything out at all.

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