It was a terrible scene, there on that little strip of lawn that’s between the sidewalk and the street, where stuff that’s going to be thrown out gets put. Also trees. It was a pair of sofas, battered, smashed up, their backs fallen off, their cushions piled over one another, the uncomfortable metal frames exposed to the elements. I could understand it, I guess. It’s been a hard season, and clearly, the two sofas destroyed one another in what should have been nearly ritual combat ahead of sofa mating season. It’s tragic seeing nature be so cruel to her own furniture.
“Is it time yet?” our pet rabbit wanted to know. He was anxious, and I saw him getting ready to chew the wires of his pen to hurry me along.
“For … what?”
He grabbed his pen with his forepaws, which is fine, because that’s not so rattly. “To go outside! I’m all ready and set, let’s go!”
“You mean to play the raccoon?”
Here I have to explain. We put up a wildlife camera in the backyard, and it’s taken a month’s worth of photographs of us checking to see if the wildlife camera is taking photographs. We asked our rabbit if he’d go outside and hop around, so we could know whether the camera would photograph something like a raccoon.
He started to chew on the cage, “Yes! I’ve been doing a lot of research and I’m all set!”
“You really just have to exist. You’re already very good at that.”
He stood up on his hind feet and looked up and raised his left forepaw, and cried, “Arr!”
“It’s threatening rain. I thought we’d wait for … what?”
“Avast ye mateys! Ready with the jibs! We’re off to the Egg Harbor!”
“That’s a pirate.”
He nodded. “I’ve been doing a lot of research for this part!”
“We asked you to play a raccoon. That’s completely different from being a pirate.” He looked at me impatiently. “I’m sorry to be the one who tells you this.”
He rolled his head back and sighed. “I’m playing a raccoon who plays a pirate.”
I lapsed into a dignified silence because I was unprepared to answer something like that.
“My raccoon character is named Berkeley Nishimori, and he’s long been fascinated with the history of piracy on the Atlantic seaboard.”
“You don’t need to have a character, though. You just need a body, and you’ve got one.”
“If I don’t have a character this’ll be lifeless. It’s having someone who wants things that makes for compelling scenes!” I looked toward the back window. “Drama or comedy, put in an obsessed character and you’re in good shape! Mister Brock, we’re off for the Egg Harbor!”
“But all I want is you to be there.”
“Now, Berkeley has gotten particularly interested in the mid-Atlantic coast, and he’s set up his pirate character as operating from the South River, as the Dutch termed the Delaware River, but obviously operating as far afield as possible.”
“… Really doesn’t come into play for hopping around the pond.”
“He reasons that the Delaware Bay area is a good one for operations since even though it’s less active than Boston, the divided authorities between the main of Pennsylvania, the Lower Counties, Maryland, and the reunited New Jerseys will make hiding from official inquiries easier.”
“I figure if you just look at the camera, and then look away from the camera … ”
“Now, Berkeley sets Davis — ”
“Yes, Davis, and I admit Berkeley hasn’t established whether Davis is his first or last name, but it seems one historically plausible enough either way, and he’s leaning towards working `Trent’ in there for obvious reasons, is aware that at this time New-Jersey itself was administered by the Governor of New-York, so that helps the administrative confusion, obviously.” No, I did not doubt that he was using the hyphens for the colony names.
“Maybe stand on your hind feet. I imagine raccoons in the wild do that too.”
“Now, Berkeley has figured that Davis isn’t a pirate for reasons of petty greed, of course. He reasons that Davis was driven to it to support his family, disgraced after being named as accomplices to the theft of the colonial treasure chest from the western capital of Burlington in 1714.”
“So all I mean is, you don’t need to have a recursive mass of character.”
“Obviously, I’m drawing on the 1768 theft of East Jersey’s funds from treasurer Stephen Skinner’s house for this. But Berkeley figures that setting his pirate in that era necessarily involves him in pre-revolutionary politics that he doesn’t want to explore just now, and while it wouldn’t require relocating the action to the North River — ”
“The Hudson. I know.”
“Well, it would bias the setting anyway. I should say I don’t think I’ve completely ruled out the other interpretation of this relocating, besides just making up an incident.”
“I really think you’re over-working the part — ”
“And that is, maybe Berkeley is just sloppy about character development. He might have made it up without realizing there was a strikingly similar scandal a half-century later.”
“You really don’t need a character.”
He sneezed at me, so I knew I was in trouble. “You know you’re terrible at improv? You haven’t given me a single `Yes, and’ all this time.”
“Hold on. First, not all life is improv” — he sneezed again, that little buzzing noise — “and second, you haven’t actually responded to my perfectly reasonable skepticism about you over-planning a little hop in the backyard, so how good at this are you?”
He didn’t sneeze at that, but his ears did droop.
“I need to establish,” he finally concluded, “whether Berkeley is deliberately moving the Skinner treasury theft to Burlington circa 1712 or whether he’s making it up. We can wait.”
I agreed, but said, “You’re getting caught in a research spiral. Carry on like this and you’ll build everything about your character and never play him,” while it started to drizzle outside.
“I have a stick.”
I nodded to our pet rabbit. “Stick-wise, that is indeed a thing you have.” The phrasing seemed to confuse him; he shook his front half out and set down the chew stick again.
“It’s my stick and I have it,” he said, “And I can do anything I want with it.”
“I know. For instance, you can chew it.” This stopped him in the middle of chewing on it, so, that’s how I knew this conversation was going to go. “Or not, if you don’t want to,” and that should have him completely flummoxed.
“You know why you don’t have a stick?” My thought was that I could in some sense be said to have every stick on the property, including as a subset the sticks that our rabbit has. But is that the same conceptual theory of having that he was working with at the moment, and if it’s not, is it compatible enough for us to have a meaningful conversation? This is the kind of thing that goes through my mind whenever, say, the waitress asks which kind of bread I’d like for my toast, which is why I’m always running about four minutes behind the conversation. Here, for example, our rabbit answered, “Because I have it!”
“I know you have the stick. I gave you the stick.”
“As well you might!”
“In fact, I gave you all those sticks,” pointing at a partially-tied-together bunch of chew sticks, most of which were scattered around his front paw, and a couple of which were rolling out of his pen, and one of which he was taking turns holding in his mouth and putting down to lecture me about.
He nodded and said, “I chewed the twine off them!”
“And we were glad to see you do that. It proved to us that you’re not a fascist.” And here I have to point out that while I exaggerate certain aspects of my conversations with our pet rabbit for dramatic effect, the “not a fascist” joke is one that my love and I actually did observe while watching him chew the bundle of sticks loose, which shows you what kinds of jokes we have flying around the house.
He scrunched forward, looking kind of like a sack full of rabbit flowing forward under the tides, pushing his front paws onto the sticks, which was adorable. It struck me he’s been doing a lot of adorable stuff lately, more so than usual.
“This is about the mouse, isn’t it?”
He jerked his head up and back. “You think?”
“Are you worried we kept that mouse in here?”
“Why were you keeping a mouse right on top of my cage?”
“He wouldn’t fit underneath you.” The mouse we had found wandering around the dining room, at the height of winter, and we caught him and put him in a cage because we weren’t so cold-hearted as to release him to the wild while it was still too cold for molecular motion out there.
“Male mice can’t help how they smell,” I said. “Biology dictates that they use an atrocious body wash so that female mice know they’re engaged in important male activities.”
He barked, somehow, which might just be his way of snorting. “He made that wheel squeak all the time.”
“You can’t blame the mouse for following his biological imperatives of running on a wheel, smelling bad, and hoisting things.”
He flopped over on his side, which is again, adorable, and said, “Mice follow too many gender-normative stereotypes.” I allowed that. But I reminded him, we let the mouse go several weeks ago, and he hasn’t been back. “And I’m better than a mouse.”
I had a hunch. “Are you worried we were going to get a mouse to replace you?”
“No mouse could replace me! Not ten mice mousing together could replace me!”
“I’d guess not. We’d never think of replacing you.”
He rolled up onto all fours and cried, “Ah-ha!” So I gulped. “If you never thought of it then how come you just asked if I thought you were thinking of it?”
There might be no way out of this. “Well. We once got to talking about what would be the worst thing that could possibly happen” — he frowned a little less, which is how rabbits smile — “and we agreed the sudden and irrevocable failure of the electromagnetic force would be the worst. But having to replace you with anything would be one of the four or five worst things.” He actually came in third, but, I didn’t want to swell his head too much after comparing favorably to the complete dissolution of the laws of physics.
He looked satisfied, and announced, “I have a stick,” and picked his chew stick up again.
“The floor isn’t food here!” complained our pet rabbit.
It was a complaint I knew was coming. I couldn’t realistically pretend otherwise. So I said, “I agree with you.”
He sat up and rested his front paws on the cage, the traditional pose for indicating this was a major issue or it was dinnertime. “So make it better!”
We had taken him outside a couple days ago, when it was warm and sunny and we had some work to do on the yard. So we set up his pen and then pulled him, against his express wishes, into the pet carrier for the trip outside. Once there, and convinced that we weren’t going to take him anywhere in the car, he came out of his shell, or at least the carrier, and judged that this was all not intolerably bad.
“You don’t want me to do that.”
“I know it means going in the box but it’s so short a ride in the car I’ll forgive it!”
“Yes, but it’s cold out today, and it’s rainy. You wouldn’t like having water drizzling all over your body all the time you’re out there.”
“I’m not scared! I drink water all the time.” It’s possible we haven’t let him outside quite enough to understand.
“You’d hate it. It’d tamp down all the fur you were planning to shed for a couple days and nothing would get into the air. It’d set you back by days.”
“Oh.” He’s still recovering from when we vacuumed out his cage, filling nearly two bags and reducing the amount of fur in the room not at all. “Are you fibbing?”
“ … Fibbing?”
“Because you’re afraid of what I’ll do out there!” I brushed his head, which made him squinch his eyes a little, and made enough fur shed that I had a loose glove when I took my hand off. He shook it off and said, “I’m ferocious!”
“I saw you out there. You really mowed down those dandelions.”
“I ate a tree!”
I nodded, but, “Technically.”
“All the way, too, leaves down to roots!”
It was a weed maple, something with about two leaves and maybe three inches tall, including the roots. It’s been a banner year for weed maples, with something like four hundred thousand growing in the driveway alone, and their getting even denser on the ground where there’s dirt or soil or older, less self-confident plants to grow on top of. We don’t know why; maybe it was the harshness of the winter, or maybe the local innovation center gave the maples a seed grant. Anyway, our rabbit had spotted it as a thing, and hopped over, and started eating before we could wonder whether he ought to be eating itty-bitty little maple trees.
He noticed how impressed I wasn’t. “Did you ever eat an entire tree?”
This seemed like something I’d have to answer no, but, could I be quite sure I hadn’t ever eaten something which could be taken as equivalent to a tree? I thought about whether eating an acorn could qualify as eating an acorn tree, except that I couldn’t think of myself eating an acorn, unless I did it when I was very young and so put anything in my mouth. Later, of course, I’d realize that I have eaten apple seeds, and any definition by which acorn-eating qualified one for tree-eating status would be satisfied by apple-seed-eating (I don’t share a birthday with Johnny Appleseed for nothing, though I haven’t got much out of the coincidence), but that’s the kind of idea that comes to me too late. This sort of thinking is why it can take me up to five minutes to answer a question such as “would you like to buy this pair of pants?” There’s too much to ponder about the issue of “like”.
“Look, even if it weren’t pouring out, it’d be unfair to take you outside because you scare the squirrels.” And this is without exaggeration true. There are normally anywhere between two and fourteen hundred squirrels are in the backyard. When we took him out, the squirrels all vanished. Yet within a minute of his going back in, they’d come back. None of the squirrels said they were afraid of him specifically, but, they were.
“I’m ferocious!” he said. “But I’ll let squirrels share the floor with me. Tell them that.” I nodded, but he said, “Wait! I’ll share it just as soon as the floor is food again! Work on that first.”
I peeked in his dishes. “You’ve got lettuce left over from the morning. Eat that first.”
“But that’s just lettuce,” he said.
“You’re not hungry if you’ve got lettuce left.”
He hopped over with some ka-dunks that rattle the living room floor, and said, “I can eat whole trees.”
“And any time I want.”
“This is poison, isn’t it?” said our pet rabbit, as he chewed on the leafy part.
I’d had the accusation before. “It’s Swiss chard again. There wasn’t anything poisonous about it last time either.”
He hopped up and shook out a little, which is the sort of happy thing rabbits do and didn’t match his tone at all. “Why are you trying to poison me?” He sniffed and then chewed some more at the leaf.
“Why on Earth would I even want to poison you? You’re too darling to poison.”
He pulled his head up, which is some new behavior he’s picked up and exposes this adorable dark-colored patch in the middle of the white-colored patches of his chin, and it’s only his quick reflexes that keep it from being tickled. “I can’t know your motivations. If I make the a priori assumption you’re a rational agent I could expect you to inevitably come to a sufficient moral awareness to keep you from choosing to poison me, but for all I know you’ve had a partial or a defective moral upbringing. And I know you’re not fully rational because I heard that awful movie you watched Saturday.”
So this explained why the bookmarks in my Beloved’s books of Kant keep getting moved around, and maybe why there was a nibbled corner of the Critique of the Power of Judgement. I should probably mention here that not all pets kept by philosophers end up acting like. Ludwig Wittgenstein, for example, famously kept a pet squirrel who did little but kick the him in the shins, less because of the squirrel’s treatise on the origins of ethics and more because Wittgenstein was the sort of person who inspired people to kick him. Also in my defense I was watching Foodfight extremely ironically and felt a little bad for even doing that.
“I can’t prove to you that I’ve got a functioning moral compass” — and he interrupted with a sharp HA! — “but if you really suspect the chard is poison you don’t have to eat it.”
He stopped chewing and looked up indignantly. “You yelled and laughed when I ate that dog food!”
“We didn’t think you’d really eat it! We thought you’d sniff at it and refuse. That stuff contains meat, you know.”
“Then why’d you put a kibble out for me?”
“Well, it’s cute seeing you sniff at things you rear back from.”
“Because you figure I won’t eat poison!”
“Again, though, you haven’t suggested a reason for me to poison you. And just saying I’m irrational doesn’t excuse the need for a reason. You need an irrational reason.”
He huffed a bit, the way he does when he realizes he’s being pulled into the pet carrier. “You envy my superior lifestyle. I can just hop around the house and eat and nap all day.”
“That argument won’t obtain,” which sounds like a smart thing to say, because it’s a weird use of the word “obtain”, one I’m not sure is defensible. “I’m a telecommuter. Functionally we’re equivalent.”
“If you’re not envious then why don’t you ever name me when you write about me on the Internet?”
Ah, that. Probably best to go with the honest answer. “I don’t want people getting your name and ringing up fraudulent credit card charges. It protects you.”
“Oh.” And he started chewing on the stalk of the chard. “You could give me a stage name.”
“I can’t think of any that could capture your personality.”
And he did that little shaking hop.
“You know, when I bought that chard, the cashier asked if red or white tasted better.”
He let the stalk of the chard drop. “What did you tell him?”
“I told her I didn’t know. We just buy it for you.”
“And she asked why you’re poisoning me?” He picked the stalk back up and started inhaling it, like a log disappearing into a buzz saw.
“She asked whether you liked it.”
“And you said?”
“I said you were still working out your policy regarding Swiss chard” — he snorted again — “but you look so adorable chewing the stalk that we couldn’t resist.” And he finished the last of it.
“I name you when I write about you on the Internet.”
“If this isn’t poison why don’t you eat some?”
“The last time we ate any vegetables we bought for you you called it the end of the world.”
“Well, that’s honest at least,” and he flopped out on his side.
Oh, no. No. She noticed me, didn’t she? She saw.
But it’s so nice to eat in a restaurant now and then. It’s warmer than a fast food place, the furniture is cozier, there’s something more generous in it being trusted you will pay when you’re done than putting your money up front. It’s so much less likely there’ll be the guy rambling about Iraq and the Federal Reserve to the baffled university student who can’t find a graceful way out of this and doesn’t want to just bolt for the door.
But she saw me.
I just tapped my glass. It wasn’t on purpose, I was just fiddling around because the hand wasn’t needed for the book and it has to do something and it’s either fiddle with the cutlery or touch the glass. But the glass was almost empty, just soda-stained ice and the straw left, and now … yes, she’s come. What if she thinks I’m beckoning her over to demand a refill?
She dips her head and smiles and I just know she’s thinking I think she’s there to jump to my whims. Diet Coke isn’t much of a whim, but it’s the contextually appropriate one. I don’t want to be one of those customers. I want to just fade into the background and someday, eventually, pay my check. I can’t save the situation. “Thank you,” I say, before she opens her mouth. One.
“Would you like a refill?”
“Thank you,” I say, fumbling the first word so it comes out in three syllables. Two. She grins and takes the glass and I’m panic-stricken that she doesn’t remember it’s diet I was drinking. “Er, that’s Diet Coke,” I say as she recedes, marking myself as someone who beckons the waiter over and barks out refinements of my demands. Why oh why did restaurants stop putting slices of lemon in diet soda? It saves so much agony in making sure the waiters remember who the freaks are who care about the difference. “Thank you,” I pitch after that, whether she hears it or not. Three.
I shouldn’t have said anything. She surely remembers. There’s just me at the table, there’s no complicated ordering going on. I wouldn’t dream of it. I didn’t change soda mid-meal, unless now she thinks I did because I specified and now what must she think of me? At this point she’s got to have figured my only saving grace being that I didn’t demand things be sent back to the kitchen, and is working up such a sarcastic blog post about me that’ll go up on the Internet somewhere I won’t even see. Good heavens. Why don’t I flee? No, that would be worse, clearly worse.
I see her again. She’s got the soda. Maybe it’s diet. Maybe not. “Thank you,” I say, as she gets near the table, and she nods. Four. Does she mean the nod? Is she just putting up with me? Does she suspect how this is all a horrible mistake? Is she aware how much less tense I’d be if she just hadn’t noticed me? How much I wouldn’t have felt under-served? How I could’ve paid and been on my way to have something embarrassing happen at the video store instead? I can’t explain any of it, that’d just take up her time and it’s not like she can un-pour the soda.
“Thank you,” I say again, as she walks off to patrons who she hasn’t got every reason to hate. Five. I said “thank you” five times for a soda I had no reason to care about getting until it was too fraught with emotion to not get. I have to do something with it. I take a sip, and then a longer one. If she looked back at my table then she knows the soda was used for its intended purpose. The crisis is passed. I can wait a decent time and then hope she brings the check.
“Oh, you are thirsty,” she says, taking me by surprise. “Would you like another?” Something has stolen ten minutes and two-thirds of the soda, and my hands are resting on it again.
“No, thank you,” I say, and realize I forgot to say the “no” part out loud.
“Can I help you?” I said, looking down, at the rabbit who was shoving my shins.
“Yes,” said our pet rabbit, which was enough for him. He gave my ankle a nudge with his adorable little forepaw.
So I put the rest of his morning kibble in the dish, and he looked ready to lumber over and eat it, and said, “What do you need?”
“Seventeen papayas, eight raisins, and three slices of apple,” and then he sneezed, this little buzzing noise that sounds like an old-fashioned roller coaster security bar locking, which is one of his more attractive amusement park-evoking actions, up there with releasing clouds of fur into the air like tiny balloons of sneezing, or selling season passes for next year. “That’s not the important thing.”
So it was going to be one of those talks. “We haven’t got any apples right now, but I can put it on the grocery list for us to forget when we go shopping.”
“Good,” he said, “Now you fix the window.”
There’s eleven windows in the immediate area that we might do something about, and another four that he might have noticed while being taken to the car for one reason or another, mostly to be driven someplace. They’re all in good working order, what with being windows made of glass and continuing to exist like that. “What’s there to fix?”
“The one you broke back when it was hot,” he said, testily. “You made noise and everything and now look what it did.”
That sounded a little more familiar. “The one I pried open back in summer.” He nodded and stumbled toward the food dish, but held back, I suppose so he could scold me. “I just unsealed it, so it can open. It’s not open right now.”
“You made noise and broke the window so it wouldn’t be so hot. And now it’s cold and you have to fix that.”
“How do you even know it’s cold outside? You’ve spent two minutes outside a house or a car in the past three months.”
“And I nearly died!” he said while stomping on my foot. I leaned down to rub his ears, a diversion so obvious he wouldn’t have any of it. “If you’d left me out in that horrible little transit cage and forgot I was there my adorable tail would’ve fallen right off in the cold!”
“We couldn’t possibly forget you. You punch the cage too hard.”
“Because it’s cold and you have to unfix the window so it’s not broken anymore.”
I don’t want to overstate it, but getting that window to open was one of my life’s greatest achievements, household repairs division, far exceeding the time I opened up a desperately-needed hole in the drywall by swinging my elbow backwards without looking, giving me the chance to practice patching holes in the drywall. The window had been painted and swollen shut for decades, and which was sound enough that it could hold an atmosphere against the vacuum of space, or keep water out to a depth of four hundred feet. Getting it opened required hours of hitting the window, some of it with a hammer and chisel, some of it with a hammer and crowbar, and when I succeeded in getting the window to slide open I ran into the street and demanded people bow before me. They ignored me, because it was the middle of summer and about 180 degrees out were climbing into the bags of ice at the convenience store.
“If the window were open, there’d be a breeze. You’d feel the cold air coming in.”
“I know cold when I smell it! The window’s all cold and you come in wearing like forty-squillion things when you come in and you keep complaining it’s cold! Now fix the window so it doesn’t open and make it stop being cold.”
I promised to do something about it, and the noon news was hopeful. The weather guy said that it was going to get above freezing sometime in the next couple days, and maybe into the forties next week. This is crazy talk, of course, because temperatures that warm no longer exist, but the weather guy has clearly been taking a lot of abuse from his co-workers for the last month of frigid temperatures. When the anchor went to give him a high-five he flinched. But I pointed that out to our rabbit, who said, “I’ll believe it when I see it, and if I don’t see it, I’ll thump.”
I know he’s not bluffing.
It was my brother on the phone. “I need your help with something,” which is the traditional opening for a lot of great ideas that I never really get around to following up on.
“Well, if I can help, sure,” which is a useful thing to say in any situation since that little conditional leaves you completely off the hook.
“I want to start a new service. See, there’s all these people who want to make movies or TV shows or stuff like that and they’re not getting through to production. You know why that is?”
“You’re making an awful noise,” our pet rabbit said, in his most scolding of tones.
I stopped swinging the rubber mallet and let go of the putty knife. “Yes, I know, but it’s for a good reason.”
He poked his nose between his cage mesh, almost close enough to nibble at the knife’s handle. “I don’t think you understand. It’s you and you’re doing that thing where you make noise.”
“I’m sorry, but there isn’t another way I’m going to get this window open.”
“Windows don’t open,” he said, and crossed his paws together. “Hasn’t anyone ever explained that to you?”
“How can you say you’re glad Carol doesn’t hang out with us anymore?” said an Ira as incredulous as any such Ira will get before setting down his coffee on yet another quirkily off-shaped coffee shop table.
“Well, I can’t think of one time I was glad to have seen her.”
Erica said, “Oh, now, you’re being pretty harsh on her. I know you and she had your little differences of opinion, but every friendship has a couple of scratchy points.”
“We were never friends. I put up with her because you all found something appealing that nobody ever let me in on.”
Jon said, “Oh, I know she liked you. What are you holding against her?”
“The first time we ever met, she told me my job was stupid and I should be ashamed of taking money for it.”
“Aw, don’t you feel like that about your job yourself?” said Jon. “I’ve said it about mine sometimes.”
“She didn’t even know what I was doing.”
Ira said, “It was probably a joke. You know what a sense of humor she has.”
“Like the time she spat in all our coffees before she went to the bathroom?”
Erica smiled, though with a little hollowness that wasn’t quite satisfying enough after that. “Well, that was … this conceptual thing. You had to be there to see what was funny about it.”
“I was. It wasn’t. What was the joke?”
“Well, what kind of person would spit in her friends’ coffee if it wasn’t a joke?”
“A horrible person. A person we’re lucky we don’t see anymore.”
Erica said, “Well, we spat in her coffee while she was away.”
“No, we didn’t. We agreed that would be fair but nobody was willing to do it.”
“Oh, yeah,” Erica admitted, “But we thought it was OK, so it all evens out. Wrongs on both sides, and all that.”
Ira added, “You can’t fault a person for doing something nasty when her friends are doing the same thing.”
“That’s — do you remember what she said, when your father was in that car crash?”
Ira scratched his cheek, and then nodding, said, “No, but I remember it being comforting.” And after a pause, “And that you made some drama over that.”
“She said that if you were lucky your father and mother would die and you’d be free of them.”
Ira waved a hand. “Oh, she was just trying to make me see how good his chances were. You’re overreacting.”
“She said she hoped he couldn’t take morphine so he’d be in agony every minute.”
Erica pointed a finger, one of her favorites, this one acquired by honest means. “But then you went and made this scene when you punched the dartboard.”
“Carol punched it. And yelled at the guy who tried putting it back up. I was the one telling her she was being insane.”
“Oh, that’s right,” said Jon. “I couldn’t think why you would punch a dartboard.”
“I wouldn’t. Nobody would. Carol’s punched that dartboard off the wall at least four times. Last time she broke the drywall.”
Jon nodded. “Yeah, that is the sort of thing she does. It’s kind of great, isn’t it?”
“And they made me pay for it.”
“Be fair. Most of the fire damage was from your flailing around.”
“After she set my hair and shirt on fire!”
Ira accepted this but held up just two fingers, thus making his point more convincing than if he’d held up just the index or even his whole hand. “But if you hadn’t provoked her she wouldn’t have had to — hey, isn’t that the time she grabbed Erica’s phone and sent the Doom Text to her boss?”
Erica nodded. “Oh, boy, it took me forever to live that down.”
“How did I provoke her? Was it intemperate public declarations of my belief in my non-flammability?”
“Let’s just say,” Jon proposed, “that there’ve been wrongs and hard feelings on both sides, then.”
“I’ll bite. What’s one thing I’ve done to her that’s anything like what she does to us?”
Following the short yet infinite pause Jon said, “Well, look at the way you’re talking about her.”
“Yeah,” said Erica, “and when she’s not even here to defend herself.”
“That sort of thing will keep Carol from coming around again,” Ira added.
“I need to set something on fire.”
This was agreed to be an unacceptable response to the situation. Carol, after a text inviting her to the gathering, reported to Facebook that they had all died.