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August 08, 2022

The Garden of Peed-In 17

By Paula Petruzzi

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Nobody said anything for a few moments. Either Skeem hadn't even thought about making another trip to the beach, which was unlikely, because of the way he was acting, or he was weighing the benefits of being the sole crystal supplier against the drawback of having to do something in order to get the crystals. If he didn't find any crystals, it would mean a lot of wasted effort, and a sore ass from all that riding, and everyone would laugh at him. But if he found a lot of crystals, well, that meant a lot of trades. It almost sounded like one of Hala's "math" problems. Hala had invented math, shortly after she had invented writing, and I had watched her trying to teach the math to some children. I could almost hear the question that she would ask Skeem, if he were one of her students: "How many crystals do you need to find, in order to make the trip worthwhile?" Then she would have him write down a list of everything that he would need for the whole trip, like food for himself and the horses, on one side of a clay tablet, and on the other side of the tablet, he would make a list of the items he would be able to get in exchange for the crystals.

Then again, I suspected that the math wouldn't matter. For the first time in his life, people were paying attention to Skeem, even if it was only because they wanted something from him. And if he was successful, that would mean even more attention. It wasn't hard to figure out. I would have bet a bowl of Zan's beef stew that another poor horse was going to have to carry Skeem's fat ass downriver again.

And I would have won the wager. "Well, I suppose I can do that," Skeem finally said. "It will take a little bit of planning . . . "

The ladies were delighted, and they finally stopped pestering him and went away. Skeem looked disappointed that his audience had left him. He sat there for several minutes, apparently lost in thought, and then he heaved himself to his feet and waddled off. I sneaked after him, enjoying my little game, as he tried to find someone. What was he up to now?

Skeem finally found who he was looking for, a man named Kanive. Well, that was interesting. Kanive was the closest thing Skeem had to a friend, probably because he was almost as useless as Skeem was. Maybe the two of them would go on the Crystal Expedition. That would be a laugh! I pictured them arguing over who would set up the tents, who would make dinner, who would feed the horses, and so on. Those little dramas would be quite entertaining, and there would also be plenty of chances to Watch Skeem And Kanive Fuck Things Up, but I knew that Wimsie wouldn't let me go on another beach trip. No way.

"Hey, Kanive, I have an idea," Skeem said, as soon as he had caught his breath.

Kanive looked at him warily. "Yeah? What kind of idea?" Kanive was as clever as Skeem, and as far as I know, he was the only person that Skeem had never been able to take advantage of. He was wise to Skeem's tricks, because he used them himself.

Skeem glanced around, but I was the only one nearby. I yawned and rolled over on my side, pretending to be nothing more than a bored and overfed dog. But I was paying close attention to the Tricksy Twins. "Remember those crystals I found on the Truffle Expedition?" Skeem asked his friend.

"Yeah, you found some rocks," Kanive said, and he shrugged. "So?"

Skeem leaned toward Kanive and said, in a low voice, "I traded those rocks for stuff!"

Kanive crossed his arms. "What do you mean, you traded them?" Kanive said, sounding skeptical. He always sounded skeptical, so that didn't mean much.

"I mean, I gave those crystals to five different people, and they gave me five different things in return," Skeem said.

Kanive laughed as if he had just heard the funniest joke in the whole world. "And why would anyone do that?"

"I don't know!" Skeem said. "Women just seem to like those crystals, and they gave me things for them."

I could tell that Kanive was interested, because he hadn't walked away like he usually did when he'd had enough of Skeem's bullshit. He showed just enough interest to keep him talking. "So, what kind of things?"

Skeem ticked off the items on his fingers. "Cookies, and eggs, and ham, and cheese." He paused for emphasis. "And also a pair of moccasins."

Kanive laughed again. "You gave them rocks, and they gave you food and shoes?"

"Yep," Skeem said, and he gave Kanive a chance to digest the information.

Kanive scratched his chin. "So what was your idea?"

Skeem gave him a big grin. "We go and get more crystals, and then we can trade them for more stuff. Maybe even better stuff."

"And how many people are in 'we?'" Kanive said.

"Just you and me!" Skeem said confidently. "Just you and me, and each of us gets half the crystals."

On the alert for bullshit, Kanive leaned forward and looked Skeem straight in the eyes. "And each of us does half the work!"

"Okay, okay," Skeem reassured him. "Half the work, half the crystals. Deal?"

Kanive didn't answer right away. I knew what he was doing: examining the situation from all angles, figuring out how Skeem was going to try to cheat him, and also figuring out how he could cheat Skeem. "Deal," he finally said, and they shook hands.

The Crystal Expedition left about a week after the picnic, and I was probably the only one who noticed that the two men were gone. I was also the only one who noticed when they came back, because I had been watching for them. They went straight to the well at one end of the village, where the women often gathered to work and to gossip, and they dumped two bags of crystals out on opposite ends of one of the tables.

They had found a shitload of crystals. I was surprised, because I really hadn't thought they would find that many. The crystals that I had found, when I had been searching for a nice one for Wimsie, had been right on top of the muck. I hadn't wanted to dig around in there, but apparently, that's what the two men had done. Either that, or they had hammered them out of the cave walls, and I seriously doubted that they would have gone to that much trouble.

The ladies got all excited, and some of them ran to get their friends. Skeem and Kanive were soon surrounded by women who wanted to make a trade. And that was where the entertainment began, because there was something that neither of them had thought of.

Bina was standing at Skeem's end of the table. "I'll give you a blueberry pie for that one!" she said, pointing at the crystal that she wanted.

"A whole pie!" Skeem said, his eyes gleaming. "Deal."

Kanive wasn't about to let Skeem get the first trade. "You can have one of my crystals for half a pie!" he said to Bina.

Skeem gave Kanive a dirty look, and then he picked up the crystal that Bina had pointed at. "You can have my crystal for a slice of pie!"

Delighted with her trade, Bina plucked her crystal off the table and went to get the slice of pie.

Skeem and Kanive glared at each other, but before either of them could say anything, a woman named Neda picked up one of Skeem's crystals and said, "I'll give you two eggs for that one."

"Two eggs?" Skeem protested. "But last time, I got a whole basketful of eggs for a crystal!"

Neda put her hands on her hips. "Well, you're not getting a whole basketful from me, when all Bina is giving you is a slice of pie!"

There was a chorus of agreement from the ladies around the table. Skeem glanced at Kanive, who was smirking at him, but he was just smart enough to keep his mouth shut. One by one, the ladies picked out their crystals, and the men accepted, without argument, all of the items that the women offered in trade.

The women finally left with their pretty rocks. The two members of the Crystal Expedition eyeballed each other across the table, each one waiting for the other to say something. I thought they might even start a fight, but then it occurred to me that fighting would be too much work for those two. I would probably have to settle for a good argument instead, so I made myself comfortable and watched the Crystal Expedition fall apart.

Skeem was the one who finally broke the tense silence. "Do you see what you did, you moron?" he said hotly. "We were supposed to work together to get bigger trades and not smaller ones, and then you turned an offer of a whole pie into half a pie!"

"And you turned the half a pie into a slice of pie!" Kanive pointed out. "How brilliant was that?"

"You undercut me, so I undercut you," Skeem said. "I was going to give you half of that whole pie, and half of everything else I got, and you were going to give half of your stuff to me. That was the deal."

I lounged on the grass and watched the two jackasses bray at each other. It was great. Kanive had Fucked Things Up, and I was keen to see if he could wriggle his way out of it.

"You said I was supposed to 'bid' against you, but . . . " Kanive protested, but Skeem didn't let him finish.

"You went the wrong way!" Skeem shouted, thumping his fat fist on the table. "You were supposed to go up and not down, after I held out for more!"

Kanive stood up and leaned on the table, gripping the corners tightly. "But you didn't hold out! She offered you a pie, and you accepted it right away, instead of passing the ball to me!"

At that point, it looked as if Skeem was the one who had officially Fucked Things Up. His face turned beet-red, but he wasn't done yet. "Because I thought a whole pie was good enough!" he explained. "If she had started with a slice, I would have held out, but it was a whole pie! What were you going to try for?"

Kanive ignored the question. "Oh, so I was somehow supposed to know that it was good enough!" he said, glaring at Skeem. "I forgot how stupid you get when there's food in front of you!"

"And I forgot how stupid you are all the time!" Skeem shouted. "We didn't even get enough in trade to be worth the trip!" He pointed at the crystals that they still had. "Even if we get a slice of pie for each one, it still won't have been worth it!"

Kanive spat on the ground. "You think I don't know that? I'm the one who did all the digging!" He snatched his remaining crystals off the table and put them in one of his pockets.

So Kanive had done all the digging. Well, that was interesting. I could almost hear Skeem's tale of woe about his good intentions and his conveniently forgotten shovel. And there was no way that Kanive would have let Skeem use his shovel, because Skeem tended to break tools that people loaned him. It was part of his overall plan to deliberately Fuck Things Up so people wouldn't ask him to do anything.

Skeem glanced at his own pile of crystals, and then he turned and waddled away, leaving them on the table. He untied his horse and left without another word.

"You're being stupid again," Kanive said quietly. He waited until Skeem was out of sight. Then he shuffled over to the other side of the table and scooped Skeem's crystals into a different pocket. Whistling a cheerful tune, he patted me on the head, untied his horse, and led it away.

From that point on, Skeem and Kanive avoided each other. But something funny happened. Skeem apparently missed all of the attention that the crystals had brought him, and he missed it so much that he started doing some honest work once in a while, just so he could be around people. And when folks saw that he was willing to get off his fat ass, they bent over backwards to help him out. At first, I thought he was merely up to something again, but he seemed genuinely happy to have found a place in life, and maybe even some new friends. So that was nice.

Kanive, on the other paw, was up to something. Several times, I even saw him watching Skeem as he hung out with his new friends. As far as I knew, he still had those crystals, but I was damned if I could figure out what he planned to do with them.






To be continued...

Article © Paula Petruzzi. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-03-24
Image(s) are public domain.
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