Oh, It’ll Be Something Else
For Bill & Elise
By Jim Senti
It was another dreamless dreary day as the ugly kind of rain continued to slop down from the sky, in sheets and in buckets, splashing a saturated crust in a way a zookeeper cleans a dirty elephant. Slap after splat of wetter weather poured down from who knows where and had been doing so for who knows how long, so that long. A curious old man in his weathered, stained, and stale overcoat wore his faded scarf looped around his wrinkly and crackly old neck tucked in as neatly as it could be. He wore an old hat, too, that at one point was most certainly new and was the pride of his wardrobe during a time that was too long ago to say. The grizzled old man looked out over the vast, wet, gray and empty landscape full of nothing but some of the deepest, largest, and messiest mud puddles. He himself was standing in one of the messiest of them all. The old man stood where he had stood for what seemed liked years but who knows how long, so that long. The mud was just above his knees or his knees were just below the mud. The old man could never seem to figure out which. He let out his daily sigh as he stared forward, wiped his nose with his sleeve, lifted his hat and scratched his head, and continued to stare in the direction he felt he wanted to go. There was no going though. He was stuck in a mud puddle in this vast landscape of empty mud puddles. A cool breeze whistled by his ears and like wind whipping through a cornfield, it tickled the graying hair inside of them. He gave the inside of his ear a scratch, and then another and then another. As he extracted his fingers for the last time from his ears he swore he had heard a very faint voice calling out. Incredulous, he scratched his ear again and then again and again and then again.
He scratched again.
“Hel- Turn your head to left!” The voice cried out.
Startled by hearing a voice for the first time in who knows how long, that long, his grey tired eyes lit up and the old man turned his head to right.
“To - the - Left!” the voice cried.
The confused old man did so and goodness was he shocked. There beside him, through the drizzly and milky rain, only 90 feet or so away, was the most curious old woman. She too wore a once glamorous overcoat faded by time and weather, and she too wore a scarf wrapped about her wrinkly neck, and she too had a once fine hat, and she too was up to her waist in a giant mud puddle! After a moment of squinting and stuttering, he spoke.
“Wha-bu-H-How long have you been there?”
“Some time.” She replied. “You?”
“Yes, yes, some time too.”
“No fun, is it?”
“No. Well, it’s fine, I suppose, but yes, no fun.”
The two took in one another for a prolonged amount of time. A silly prolonged amount of time in fact. The pause was horribly loaded with confusion, excitement, and more confusion. The nervous man turned his head back forward, and then looked to his left again just to check and see if what he saw was what he saw. Not knowing what to do or say to the woman he looked forward again toward where he thought he wanted to go.
“There’s a sign over there.” The woman said.
He turned back to her and looked out over the landscape. There in fact was a rotting wooden sign, just barely in sight, crudely nailed to a post driven in the side of a wet mud puddled hill.
“ I see.” The old man said
“Do you?” said the old woman
“Well I see it's a sign but I don’t see what it says”
“Oh, I see.” Replied the woman.
“No, I see. I see what it says.” She explained.
“Oh, I see.” He said back.
“I understand.” He clarified.
“How can you understand it? You can’t see it.”
“No I understand that you can see what it says.”
“I see.” She replied.
After a brief moment of clarity and another brief moment of anticipation the old man called out to her.
“ So what does it say?”
“ Ah!” She bounced back. “It says…” She struggled and squinted in an effort to get it right and slowly spelled it out one word at a time.
“If – you - touch – each other- it’ll be - something else.”
“That’s silly.” Said the man.
“Quite!” Said the woman.
They both quietly stood staring at the sign on the rainy, and sloppy landscape unsure what to do or say. The sign was ultimately disappointing. It already had been quite a day for the two of them. They both found one another without moving an inch, stuck in their puddles, and they actually saw something for once, though odd, that briefly gave them a touch of hope which in turn, as hope often does, reminded them of their desperation and despair. They both sat uncertain as to what got them to where they were and how they came to be knee deep in mud, and though a bit different of a day, they were both reminded they certainly weren’t where they wanted to be. After a long pause filled with whistling winds and the light patter of rain the silence broke.
“How could we possible touch each other? You are far too far!” He said.
“Perhaps we could create and intricate system of sticks?” She queried.
The old man looked around his puddles immediate circumference.
“No sticks about.” He said sullenly. Though disappointed, he was inspired by her attempt to fix the situation so he decided to come up with his own idea.
“Perhaps we could yell for help!”
“Tried that. Never works.” She said.
“Hmm, True.” He said. “Who’d want to get in the mud when they’re not in the mud?”
“I’ll say.” The old woman squawked. She gave him a long labored look as he looked about the landscape in search of inspiration for more ideas.
“You know” she said “I’m not sure I want you to touch me…I don't even know you.”
After a moment he replied,
“Though it would be something else…” She said.
“That’s what the sign suggests, yeah.” He replied.
“Maybe if we just try to walk out of the puddle we could wiggle ourselves free…” She said.
The old man shook his head “I’m sure that is what got me stuck in the first place.”
The old woman dropped her head in thought and the two continued to sit and think of ways out of their personal puddles and to no avail. For the next three days, without sleeping, the old man and the old woman kept coming up with failed idea after failed idea to find a way to touch one another. Even though the hundreds of ideas did not seem to pan out there were moments in between when the two puddle stuck people started to chat. They found a lovely report as they started to joke and share silly and sad stories. They talked about their pasts, about their mistakes, and their memories. They talked about their fears and their triumphs, frustrations and embarrassments and guilt and guilty pleasures. Those long moments of pause began to disappear and so did the ideas, mind you. They no longer took notice in the rainy days nor of the puddles they stood in and the chatting continued on an on and on some more. They would make up songs, and catch phrases, playing odd games like making weird noises and giving it a name. Their worlds were beginning to change. The laughter would rattle the mud puddles across the landscape, seemingly creating more ripples than usual, and it even seemed the rain would become quiet when they listened to one another. As the old woman finished a story the old man patiently waited for the end. He realized there was something he wanted to say. The old woman was rattling on about a time when when she noticed his stare and stopped abruptly in the middle of her sentence.
“What?” She said. “What is that? That face?”
After a moment he looked to her and said, “This is fun.”
She giggled an old woman giggle “it is.”
At that very moment they forgot where they came from, forgot where they wanted to go, and paid no mind to the puddles they were stuck in. A rush of warmth and excitement came over one another and the blood rushed from their feet to the very edges of their brains. As he looked at her he noticed something horribly odd. He saw her eyes come to life, brighten, begin to shake, and suddenly, without warning, her right arm simply popped off and plopped into her puddle! And then her left arm! The old woman stood armless and the old man stared at her in pure shock! This is precisely when her head began to teeter forward and back and simply flopped backwards and plopped into the puddle and sank to the bottom! Her legs stayed stuck in place as her overcoat became limp and flopped into the deepish water. The old man was horrified! He had no idea what he could do! His dear friend! He was especially horrified as his arm popped off into the water and then the other! He felt his very own head begin to teeter too! And suddenly plop! His head and the old coat sank to the bottom of his puddle.
Though seemingly inexplicable and grotesque, as life can tend to be, over both puddles something remained. Beneath their old coats, hats, and scarves, beneath their wrinkly old skin, bones, rickety rib-cages and confused wet heads were two luminous, and giggling hummingbirds. Their dirty old coats, hats, and scarves, along with their silly old limbs and heads, had sunk into the thick milk shake mud. Those things were gone, but what was beneath, a couple of shiny iridescent hummingbirds, simply hovering over where they were, once stuck, took a moment to recognize one another. The two fluttering masses gasped, and zipped quickly to meet one another right in between their puddles.
“This is something else.” Whispered the old woman.
It most certainly was. The old man, now a hummingbird, nodded and the two of them took off and away from the puddles, away from the mud, away from the rain and…