Whistling Season (Ivan Doig)

I stare out the window of my home office and wonder. The ground that was brown for all the summer is, here at the edge of winter, green as Emerald Bay. Well, I think to myself, as green as I suspect Emerald Bay is, since we didn't quite make it there because of the crowds at the park and we went to Meeks instead.

Speaking of crowds, one seems to be forming in my very own back yard. Sure, it's only one wee lad, but still. One is the beginning of an infinite string of numbers, people. I stomp down the steps and out the back door.

"Oy!" I yell. "What is this, Occupy the Abbey?"

The crowd has doubled in size. Prasad, the boy I saw from the window, stands at the foot of a fence on which is perched that kid whose name I can never remember. Prasad adjusts his tie and stands as tall as his three feet will allow. I can tell he has been looking at my dead birthday tree and judging me.

"Have you come to visit my shrine to birthdays past?" I snarl.

"Our appearance before you today, sir," Prasad is always so polite, "was not a matter of our own volition. We are such stuff as dreams are made on."

"What?"

"He means," comes the voice atop the fence, "that we are not real."

"Well, that's what I've been trying to tell you for years!"

"Prasad's theory is that we have no existence aside from when you want to talk about a book -- "

"What's the first thing you remember?" Prasad wants to know.

"What? I don't know. I think it's my parents going off to a Redskins game and leaving me with my sister at --"

"Don't bother with that. Prasad is showing off by quoting plays."

"Oh, I liked Bye Bye Birdie, though I don't remember much of it."

"What was the last book you read?" the boy without a name asks. These kids are so inquisitive.

"I guess it was Whistling Season."

"There you go."

"What?"

"A key theme in that tome is that names are important and powerful things, more vital than mere labels. For example, there is a scene where the discussion of professional fisticuffs --"

"What?"

"Boxing."

"Ah."

"Different predictions for the outcome of the bout are proposed: when simply comparing skill and when comparing the assumed stage names."

"Hmm. And I have always resented that my friends never liked me enough to give me a nickname. I hope you are not here to invent a nickname for me."

"Actually, Prasad's theory is that your inability to remember my name is somehow significant here."

"Who says I can't remember your name? Perhaps I simply choose to eschew our culture's bondage to traditional nomenclature-assignment rituals. See what I did there? That use of 'eschew'? I can use big words, too."

"Six letters! It's not even a bingo in Scrabble."

"Look, it's not that I don't think you're important --"

"No, you're just not smart enough to remember."

"I forgot the question," Prasad says.

"Exactly," says the kid who chooses to insult me.

"Or maybe," i suggest with a huff. "Maybe the book is yet another example in a long line of American West stories where people who sound all smart and use big words and stuff are not to be trusted."

"You are thinking of Twain's Duke and Dauphin?"

"Actually I was thinking of The Great Brain, but you get my drift."

"There is certainly a level of flimflammery in the tradition," the unnamed boy remarks. "In this book, the high-falutin' characters have hearts of gold, no? I think you are simply feeling over-matched."

"There is no sin but ignorance," quotes Prasad.

"Innocence," the other boy corrects.

"Stop it," I say. "What I really wanted to talk about with respect to this book are the blurbs. I was having trouble seeing how the book could possibly be described as "courageous," as one of the reviewers does. But I think talking to you people takes a certain kind of courage."

"A man talking sense to himself is no madder than -- "

"Stop it! I'm going back inside. You two can leave or do whatever. Just don't break the fence or knock over my dead tree."

"When shall we three meet again?"

"I'm not listening!"

"Careful the things you say, Children will listen."

"Aaagh!" I slam the door and run upstairs. It takes a special kind of courage to run away from your imaginary friends.

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