“Lissen' here, Gutboy,” said Prentice, the silver-haired exterminator chimp, “I gots me a lil' story to share wif' you, so I needs you t' juss shuddup and siddown.”
Gutboy was in no mood to cooperate. Gutboy was enjoying the gladiator match far too much. His low-carb roast mutton wrap with arugula was not helping matters, either. He chewed (not silently, unfortunately) and shook like a bowl full of schmaltz as he watched the chariots tip end over end.
“Gutboy, youse de' one I gots' to tell dis' here story to,” spouted Prentice in desperation, “I GOTS to tell de' story. If'n it don' get told, it goes away fer' good. Don' choo get it?”
Gutboy stared into space. When a person does not want to hear a story, you can hardly force it on him, can you? No, of course you can't. Forcing a story on somebody is just ridiculous.
Prentice reached out with a meaty paw and seized poor Gutboy around the throat. Now, while we have seen things like this played out before in our fine literary establishment, it has never been the throat of a poor, unwitting puppet that we have seen grasped with a meaty paw. It has always been right around the cranium (the work of very large hands) or the lapel (accordingly, that of very small hands). Necks, while seemingly a fine target, never get grasped in the way you might expect. Perhaps it is due to the soft flesh. Perhaps it is due to the proliferation of fragile bones in that region. Perhaps it is due to the neck-devils that so many people seem to be sporting these days – neck-devils with barbs of stainless steel and the occasional spool of concertina wire.
Who would want to grab a neck-devil?
Prentice grabbed Gutboy around the throat without a thought to the neck-devils, and his gamble paid off. Gutboy made a sharp gulping sound and lurched forward. He lurched backward. He lurched inwardly, attempting to escape the meaty hand by means of existential absence. Nothing seemed to work. Prentice increased the pressure on Gutboy's throat until the poor fellow could no longer concentrate on the gladiator match and the low-carb roast mutton wrap.
“Okay...now you sits down an' I tells you de' story.” Prentice dropped Gutboy's limp body to the floor. His spirit sailed aloft, however, hovering several feet in the air.
“When I was just a lil' chillun', I used to hafta' go an' gets my daddy a pail a' beer from de' corner tavern. You know how dat' goes? When you gets a nickel slapped in yer meaty ol' paw from a way meatier paw? An' den' you hasta' go an' walk t' de' tavern for de' pail a beer?”
Gutboy's spirit shook its head. Prentice never saw it, so he went on.
“An' de' one day you gets to de' tavern, an' at de bar 'dere sits de' biggest ol' lumpkin of a man – puffin' on his ciggy-but an' hampherin' away at de' ol' lumpkin next to him.”
Prentice made a pantomime motion of a man smoking a cigarette.
“Well, when I gets to de' bar an' de' barkeep' he up an' sez “well Master Prentice, wha' choo' want? Nudder' pail a beer fo' yo' daddy?” an' I looks at him and sez “yessir.” Well, de' hairiest and biggest ol' lumpkin of dat man, well he reaches on over an' tweaks my cheek wif' a meaty set o' fingers and a smelly, bony thumb.”
In mid air, the spirit of Gutboy pondered what a bony thumb might smell like. He gave up after but a moment.
“Well, 'dat bony thumb, it lef' a mark. It lef' a deep mark. Like dat' man said as he tweaked it, “be careful what you pretend to be, because you are what you pretend to be.” I dint' know what he wuz talkin' 'bout at de' time, an' dat' he wuz usin' anudder man's words. Dere' wuz worse, too...”
Gutboy's spirit hovered and with a wispy ethereal hand made a 'so, go ahead...go on...' kind of motion. Prentice never saw it, of course, but he went on anyway.
“I got home wit' de' pail a' beer, an' my daddy din' even say thank you. He din' even say a 'ting. As time got goin' by, I got to prentendin' dat' I wuz a whole lotta' bad stuff. An' dat' kin' be really bad. Just look.” Prentice swept his hands in front of himself, as if to display what he was wearing.
“But now, I ain't gonna' preten' no more. You kapiche? Gutboy? You kapiche?”
Gutboy's body was motionless on the ground. Gutboy's spirit nodded his head though, and said silently with wispy, ethereal lips “kapiche.”
“Gutboy...Gutboy, youse de' one I gots' to tell 'dis here story to. Ain' choo' gonna' say somefin'? Ain' choo' gonna' say? Do I gotsta' go on wif' de' pretendin'?”
Gutboy wept. Not for himself, but for Prentice. His spirit flew away, not caring anymore about gladiators and low-carb roast mutton wrap with arugula.
Spirits have bigger things to care about.
And spirits don't have to pretend.