Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cautionary Tale #361

Art went out in back of the house to empty the trash. He should have done it earlier, the way his wife asked him to.

"Art, would you just empty the damn trash? It's full."

And he said, "Just a minute."

And he said, "When the next commercial comes up."

And he said, "As soon as the show's over."

And on and on, like a kid stalling before bed. Until it was before bed, and Art's wife said, "Empty it, now."

So he pulled on a pair of sweatpants and dragged the bag out the back door. Took barefoot steps down the cold sidewalk. Through the back gate, and what was that? Something rustled in the laurel bushes. Probably the damn raccoons again. Art had to hold the trashcan lid on with a bungie cord just to keep the little bastards out. He bent down to unhook it. Sure enough, there were deep scratches all over the lid.

"Goddammit," he said. He ran at the bushes. Waved his hands and shouted, "Booga booga booga!"

That's when the bear jumped him. Launched itself out of the bushes with a noise like "Rargh!" Ate him up, just like in the fairy tales. And the moral is, Take out the trash when you're supposed to. Or wear one of those bear bells, so they can track the bear down by listening for the jingle inside its stomach.

They never did find Art's body. Just his head, set carefully on top of the trashcan, facing north.

Your bear likes to start eating a person from the toes and work its way up. Come morning it waddles off, bells jingling in its stomach, in a hurry to get home before the sun's rays touch its pelt and turn it into stone.

Art's wife wanted an open-casket funeral. Her brother said that wasn't a bad idea. They could save money on a casket and just use a hatbox or even one of those little cases for carrying around 45 r.p.m. records. But then, he thought, Art had kind of a big head, so they might have to use a bowling ball case.

But Art's wife wanted a whole casket, and the mortician was going to have to make an entire wax body to go in it. He worried about the temperature in the chapel and whether the body was going to go all soft and slumpy.

Then the head turned oracular, and the open-casket funeral never happened.

It happened when the wildlife department was packing up the remains. There had been procedural fight with the police department, the medical examiner, the forest service, and zoo over exactly whose job it was. They had it in one of the bags they keep in the truck just in case they come across a head that needs bagging up. Very nice. Red velvet with a tasseled drawstring.

They were about to put the bagged-up head the cab, in the space behind the seat, when it started talking. It talked in numbers in a reedy little voice. Repeated the same numbers over and over: "4, 16, 19, 28, 35, 36." Kept it up all night long in the little head-sized drawer down at the morgue.

It was only on Sunday morning, when the lab dishwasher was flipping through the paper while the Petri dishes went through the rinse cycle, that he noticed the six numbers on the lottery page—4, 16, 19, 28, 35, 36. Seven million dollars, and nobody won it.

They pulled open the drawer, but the head wasn't talking. It looked off in the distance and pretended not to notice. Pursed its lips in a way that said, "You should have paid attention."

Art's head is on ice now, in a little head-sized vault in the basement of the lottery commission offices in Olympia. They won't let anyone see it. The only person with access is the state Prognosticator General. He can't make any sense of the seven numbers the head is repeating now.

He tried dialing them on the phone once, but all he heard on the other end was growling and the jingle of little bells.

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