Storytime: The Short Straw.

July 26th, 2017

Just me and Bob out by the lake. Sitting by the fire, like brothers do. Sharing supper cooked on a spit, like brothers do. Taking turns scratching our ass and swatting flies and tearing off mouthfuls.
“I don’t know why it’s so important we take turns. It all goes into the same stomach anyhow.”
“There’s more to a meal than a full stomach, Bob. You want to taste it. Savor it.”
“Half-cooked crawshark? I don’t think so, Bill.”
“You’ve got no damned palate at all. Folk would pay good money for this.”
There was a polite cough from the edge of the campfire.
“You sick, mister?”
“No, no, no, no no,” said the stranger. He was smallish and humanish and only had a single head, but he made up for it with a big smile and his voice was chummier than the water around my uncle Tom’s sharking dock. “I just wanted to announce myself. I’m just a poor, poor, very poor starving old traveler and I was wondering if you could spare a bite or a bit or even a measled morsel for me? In exchange I can listen to all your fascinating talk of all this money you’re on about.”
I shrugged, making Bob bite his tongue and mutter something vicious.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full, Bob. Sure, y’want some? It’s crawshark. The little fellas. Not gotten stinky yet, nice and sweet still. You’re gonna have to bring your own butter, though. Bob’s used our lot.”
“And you just made me spill half of it down our shirt y’fat lump of old-”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you, err….” He squinted at us. “Both?” he decided.
“Don’t mention it mister.”
“We worked hard for that meal,” Bob complained as I handed over a good pawful of flesh. “Scraped and scrapped and cheated at three games of dice with Edna ‘n Elda, and all so’s you could give it away.”
“Games of dice? Are you a betting ma – ah, that is to say, betting men?”
Bob said “Not really,” but I’d started first and got my “damned straight” in right over top of him. I could feel his whine brewing in our belly and bopped him on the shoulder behind our back, quiet-like. “Best for miles. With cheats or without ‘em.”
“Wonderful. Tell you what, my friend…s. I’ll bet you for this fine feast you’ve gone and gifted me. What do you say to that?”
I felt Bob’s mouth open and bopped him again. “Sure,” I said. “Shoot.”
“Well, this lovely bit of meat you’ve given me is delicious, but it’s made me thirsty. As a matter of fact, it’s made me so thirsty that I’ll bet you I can drink that whole lake there right down to the mud.”
I blinked. Bob picked up our hands and moved them strategically, framing and angling the stranger, squinting furiously.
“Nah,” he said. “You’re off your skull. No way it could fit in there. Y’d have to be, something like…three times bigger.”
“Five,” I hazarded.
“You’ll take that bet then?” he asked.
I grinned. “Done,” I said, just ahead of Bob’s “Nope.”
“Excellent! Now then, I’ll just have to get ready for this. Tell me, do you have a straw?”
“Bill, he’s-”
I shrugged. “Nope.”
“Hmm. Do you have a spoon.”
“Got a shovel.”
“No, that won’t do. I don’t suppose you have any paper or anything that I could roll into a straw? Something sturdy, or glossy – enough for a short, sturdy straw.”
“Got some funny little paper bills we won off’ve Edna and Elda. Those do?”
The stranger’s smile was a beautiful, gleaming thing. “Oh, lovely,” he cooed, and he took them and wounded them up into a tight scroll. “Now, I don’t suppose you have a stick or something I could keep this around, so it doesn’t uncoil?”
“Hey, you should-”
“Here,” I said, and I handed him the spit with me and Bob’s leftovers on it.
“Wonderful! And now that I have my straw, I could use some seasoning. I enjoy mineral water, you see. Do you have any metals or minerals I could drop into the lake to make it tastier?”
“He’s gonna-”
“Think I’ve got some change hereabouts,” I said, and I dumped a handful of the shiny little gold things I’d found in a ditch in front of him. Oh my, that man could smile, I tell you.
“Wonderful!” he cried. “Oh perfect! Almost ready. Just one thing. Do you have a boat? I find it’s best to start drinking from the center of a lake, where the water’s deepest – prevents having to trudge in from the shore as you drain it.”
“Right on the shore,” I nodded. “Just be careful with it.”
“I shall! I very very shall! Well, thank you and goodbye – for the moment.”
And the stranger and his smile and his meat and his coins and bills jumped into his boat and started rowing like a madman, splashing all the way out.

I hummed to myself a bit. I knew nothing got Bob to come out of a sulk like a good humming. It makes his tongue itch.
“You know, what I was trying to say-”
“What you were INTERRUPTING to say, Bob. You know that nobody likes folk who do that.”
“-what I was TRYING to say was, it wasn’t particularly charitable of you to not inform him that the lake was undrinkable on account of all the crawsharks in it.”
I shrugged. “He didn’t ask. ‘Sides, he had a worldly look to him. No sense trying to pull one over on a bloke like that. And well, that boat was leaky anyways.”
“Waste of money though.”
“Ahhh, you know damned well the nearest human store’s forty miles off. No way we’re walking all that way for the chance to buy a half-supper. Nah, we’re better off this way, Bob.”
The splashing intensified suddenly, then stopped.
“If you say so.” There it was, that grudging tone that meant I’d won another argument.
“I always do. Now, let’s go home. We’re out of butter. Nothing worse than eating crawshark without butter.”
“Getting eaten by crawshark.”
“Well now Bob, who’d be so damned foolish as to go and do that?”

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