We walked up to the Indian and she looked it over. It had a rack on it that wasn't there last night.
"Hot ride," she said, giving me a tacit look of approval over her sunglasses. "Maybe he'd give me a ride if'n you don't want none."
"I liked the ride. And it's 'maybe hit'd give me a ride i'fn you don't want none.'"
Gentle correction; that was the way. Just speak it like you know it, and correct the grammar of those you've chosen to educate and the rest would fall in place. It's always worked that way before, in six different languages.
"Oh, hey Dani," Topher's voice said from behind.
Tammy took off her sunglasses and stared past me.
"Ain't he a fine specimen? Dani, if you ever don't want this sucka, just help a sistah out and let me know, won'tcha?"
"I told you, hit's a Rarebit."
"That don't close no holes. Girl, if hit won't be pokin' me full o' babies and looks like that, I'm down wid it."
"I can't believe you just said that. And what about sex?"
"What about it? Hit got a tongue, right?"
My mouth was literally hanging open.
"What am I, a zoo exhibit?" Hit dialed his voice down to 'suburban white bread' and said "see the rare and exotic Rarebit, this year's model is roomy, accommodates the entire family, and does housework."
"Sorry, Tophe," I said, turning several shades of progressively redder reds.
"So who's the bitch?"
It was Tammy's turn to be offended.
"Oh no you dit'n't," she fumed, syncopating her head and the rhythm of her speech. I need to come up with a word for that too. Syncopation, oscillation. 'Syncollation'? I'd have to think about that one. Or maybe 'oscipation' would be better? No, that sounded like something that started with a bowel, not a vowel.
"You think you're black?"
"Hold it, you two," I said, stepping between them and lowering a stiff arm like a turnstile. "This is entirely my fault."
"Yes," they both snapped at me. "It is!"
I didn't know what to do, and things were getting out of hand fast.
What's the rule, when the rules don't work?
When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles scream and shout.
No, that wasn't it.
People are stupid.
True, but that didn't help either.
We were standing right out in front of the shop and there was about to be a catfight, only with no cats. Topher was carrying a smallish box that appeared quite heavy and Tammy was armed with a pair of sunglasses. T & T were about to duke it out—TNT, and it was fixin' to blow the hell up.
I thought about running into the shop and getting the Barrista. They'd have to do something, right? It was on their sidewalk.
That rang a bell.
They're on Snoopy's sidewalk.
That means it was Snoopy's problem, not mine, and they did have a rule:
No fighting, no arguments. Anyone caught bickering will be asked to step out back.
Dani, you're brilliant. I'd have kissed myself if I could've figured out how.
"HEY GUYS!" I yelled as loud as I could.
They both looked at me. I was still within arms-reach of them both, so I grabbed their hands like naughty school children and towed them into the coffee shop.
"Hey barkeep," I hollered back into the kitchen, "I caught these ingrates out on your front porch breakin' Rule One."
The barista stepped into the kitchen doorway, polishing a cup. He was a dumpy-looking guy in his early thirties, not the cute chick with pink hair who served us last night.
"Take 'em out back," he said with a grimace.
"Nuh-uh," Tammy said, breaking free of the chain. "I ain't a goin' out back to no wood-shed!"
I didn't know if she was playing or not.
But Topher seemed resigned to his fate; hit let me pull him along, stopping only long enough to set the box on the counter.
"Come on, Tammy," I told her sternly. "It's the rules. You gotta."
"Oh no, I don't." She didn't sound playful.
"Yes, you do," I pointed out, constructing a logical sequence in my head. "You see, Snoopy's is hallowed ground for freaks. If you're counter-culture you must follow the rules here."
She didn't look convinced.
"Come on girl," I said, playing my trump card and hoping it worked. "You ain't black if you don't come Out Back."
She looked like she'd been slapped. She was thinking about it, and her face got progressively more screwed up.
"I hate you," she said, but followed me out the door.
'Out Back' was a six-foot by eight-foot concrete patio fenced in with privacy fence covered in untold layers of shredded cardboard. There was an anvil, a hammer, and a half-dozen or so hard objects, and it was all covered in potsherds. There was a battered trash can in one corner, chocked full of levers—broomsticks, bats, a crowbar, a broken pool cue, even an umbrella.
The only thing not so covered was a huge trash bin beside the door that led out to the alley. A broad metal dustpan hung on a hook hanging from the rim, and there was a broom hanging alongside it on the fence.
The barista kicked the heavy door out of his way and stepped out onto the patio, crunching ceramic under his duller-than ditchwater engineer boots.
He looked like any old hash-slinger from the school of the greasy spoon. He wore black pants and a wife-beater undershirt beneath his apron. There was the ubiquitous pencil stub and order pad of his profession and he even wore that paper garrison cap cooks in really cheap restaurants used to wear.
He was carrying a laundry basket that had seen better days. Inside were various pottery works. He set it on the ground and stepped back.
There were cups in there, of course, but also other stuff. A votive candle holder, an incense burner. Delicate figurines of animals. There was a particularly sad kitten—a Siamese—a once mighty warrior who looked to have been raising hits right paw to smite an enemy. Hira leg had been broken off flush and now the poor thing was consigned to an existence of perpertual indignity.
"Hea' ya go," he said around his cigar. "Knock ye'se'ves out."
He moseyed over to the trash can and lit up his stogie.
"You're a potter?"
Tammy was looking at a gorgeous faux-Ming vase with an ugly crack running down its side. It was on the anvil, and she held the hammer above it, poised to strike.
"Yes," hit said.
"So why pottery? That's a really old profession."
"Maybe the oldest in the world."
"Not likely," I guessed. "The oldest known pottery is in East Asia, maybe ten or twelve thousand years old. There were bakers long before that."
"They gotta have some way to store it, and I bet they didn't use Saran Wrap."
"They didn't use pottery either. Before modern stores, people lived in villages and stored their grain together, that way they could protect it—from thieves and vermin. They would only grind it shortly before they used it. It didn't keep as well as bleached flower. That's why you have bakers, because real bread doesn't stay fresh very long."
"How do you know that?"
"I read. There are all kinds of interesting books in my house."
"Impressive. Anyway, I am a potter. It's a noble profession. Do you have a problem with it?"
"No, I don't." I gave hir a smile. "In fact, I think it's quaint."
"I cain't do it," Tammy cried and dropped the hammer.
"Sure you can," Topher encouraged her. "It's good for the psyche."
She pointed at it, curling her two middle fingers slightly inward, and then turned her hand palm up.
"It's just too pretty."
"But it's flawed, Tammy. You gotta break it." Topher reached down for the hammer.
"We're all flawed," she said and started bawling.
I didn't say a word. This was better therapy than Dr. Hopewell any day.
Topher held the hammer out of her view and put hits other hand around her shoulder.
"Don't kill it; please don't kill it."
"It's not alive," hit pointed out. "I made it out of clay."
"Like Adam and Eve," she said, wiping her tears on the back of her hand.
"You have a gift," she continued, "you can bring this clay to life. You breathe art in to it. That's like a soul, really."
"But you can't kill a soul by destroying the body it's in. The soul remains, so does the art."
"You think so?"
"Certainly. Here, let me show you." Hit raised the hammer but she put out her hand.
"No," she said stoically, "give it here. I'll do it. It's mine to destroy."
She hit it sideways, and it exploded into a thousand pieces. A big fragment caught an edge in the little hole in the top of the anvil and spun for a fleeting, beautiful moment.
As it spun, I could still she the image it contained—it was a dragon, but the tail and one hind leg were missing, each fragments in their own right, and he danced around the top of the anvil like a dervish on the last stage of his life.
Within a second, he'd spun to a stop and teetered off the anvil. The shard bounced and broke in two pieces, the smaller one landing face up, showing half an eye and the right side of his face; the larger one landed face down.