Chapter Five: The Conversation
After that first meeting, although rhyming contests only sprang up once in a while, the rivalry between Muffin and his new neighbor grew. Muffin noticed that, each time Bagel made one of his stupid jokes, he would do the little whirl. Their arguments usually took the form of, "Who's better?" A month later, with only a few weeks of summer left, they were still at it.
"I am clearly the superior baked good," Bagel declared one day, as they were rolling down the sidewalk side by side. Muffin was always afraid the hot sun would burn him. Since no hat would stay on his head as he spun along, he wore a cap in both summer and winter that fitted snugly between his rim, or top, and the rest of him. As Bagel had explained, he did not need a cap or hat, because his poppy seeds had been specially treated to block out the sun's rays. Muffin did not ask him about the spaces between the seeds, which he noticed were turning a darker brown as summer wore on. He thought that, if the hot, sunny weather lasted long enough, Bagel might become a pumpernickel bagel -- with poppy seeds, of course. He would practically be an "everything" bagel.
"Watch where you're going, Superior Bagel," he now warned his friend, "or you'll be eaten by that cat over there that has her eye on us. Besides, what makes you 'better'?" As soon as the question was out of his mouth, Muffin was sorry. To ask Bagel this question was like pouring oil on a fire. Muffin was getting tired of the stupid argument, but he still did not want to lose.
"Well, for starters, try eating a muffin with cream cheese and lox."
"Right! But try eating a bagel with nothing. A plain muffin is delicious, but when you start chewing a plain bagel, all you get is a mouth full of tasteless dough."
Bagel stopped to consider this. "That reminds me," he said, spinning around. "What makes bakers keep baking?"
"They need the dough. That joke is as old as a bearded bagel."
"Then did you hear this one: what happened to the poor butcher? He backed into the meat grinder and got a little ..."
They completed the joke in unison: "... behind in his work."
"Ouch!" said Bagel. He almost flopped onto the sidewalk, but caught his balance just in time. Moving to one side, they both leaned against a brick wall between two stores so people, carriages, and dogs could pass without knocking into them. Weeks ago, Muffin had scored a big point in the endless argument by pointing out that, unless he leaned on something, Bagel, whose legs were weak and tiny, couldn't even stand still without toppling over. Muffin's own legs were also small, but stronger. Life can be unfair.
Muffin went on the attack. "Not only is a plain bagel just a big lump of dough. Let's consider the different kinds of bagels and muffins. Sure, a bagel can be plain, whole wheat, pumpernickel, sesame, poppy seed, salt, sourdough, and so forth. But there's very little difference between them. Now take, say, a corn muffin, or a blueberry muffin? Yum! And that's only two of the many forms we muffins can take. I rest my case." He bounced up and down a few times, doing a little victory dance.
As he often did when an argument seemed lost, Bagel fired off a pun: "Well, you, yourself, are a corny muffin, my friend!"
Instead of replying, Muffin shot back a sarcastic look, implying that the weak joke was not even worth answering. Looking annoyed, and without another word, Bagel spun around and wheeled toward home. Muffin did not follow. Instead, he stood on the sidewalk beside the wall, deep in thought.
"This childish argument is getting more and more annoying," he said to himself, (at the same time keeping an eye out for danger). "Bagel just doesn't get it. I can't even tell if he really thinks he's better, or if he just won't admit the truth: that I am, in fact, the King of Baked Goods." Muffin scratched his head against the clean-looking wall. Then, he had an idea. "I know," he said, "I'll introduce Mr. Holey-er than Thou to my friend, Leo. Brilliant! And ..." Chuckling to himself, Muffin rolled swiftly toward the park, thinking about ice cream.
A week later, when Bagel knocked on Muffin's door, he was met with a surprise. Instead of Muffin, the door was opened by a tall boy wearing red glasses, a black soccer tee shirt, and blue shorts that showed his long, skinny legs. Of course, compared to either of the baked buddies, the boy was a giant.
"You're not Mu ..." Bagel exclaimed.
"No," said the boy, "I'm his friend, Leo. You must be Bagel. Muffin told me all about you." Afraid he might hurt Bagel's tiny hand if he shook it, Leo grasped Bagel's side and shook him, but not too hard. "Pleased to meet you," he said.
"Is someone there?" called Muffin, from inside the room. He came to the door. "Hey, Bagel. What's shaking?"
"Leo is," replied Bagel. "And so am I. He just shook me. But don't worry, he didn't hurt me." They all smiled at each other.
Muffin led his friends into his room, where they sat down in armchairs that had nothing to do with baked goods. Since the day was very hot, he served them each a large glass of cold water.
Muffin's room was very pleasant. There was light blue wallpaper with pink ripples running up and down, making it look like the sky. Although there was only one window, on the back wall, which was also the back wall of the ground floor of the building, it faced south and let in a lot of light.
"I always like visiting you, Muffin," Leo said. "Your room manages to feel cozy, but not cramped."
Muffin thanked him for the compliment. Not to be left out, Bagel said, 'Yep, Muffy, nice place you got here. Almost as nice as mine -- just kidding!"