Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
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Friday, May 15, 2009

Continued: meeting Eve

It had been a few centuries since I last saw Eve, and that didn’t end well. Not for us, not for anyone watching, and not for the residents of the surrounding countryside. I found her in London at the turn of the century, the 17th century that is, playing ratcatcher in the sewers just to see if she could catch plague. Eve liked to live on the edge, and ever since that whole tossed out of the Garden thing, she had been trying to die. This was her third go-round with the Plague, and it wasn’t working out any better than the last two. I’d heard of the mad ratwoman all the way up in my home in Austria, and I knew right away who it was. I also pretty much knew the outcome of our meeting before it happened, but that didn’t stop me from going after her. Again.

I found her outside the Rose, one of the new style of theatres. She looked like hell. Eve had never been classically beautiful, but over time she came to revel in filth, as if she could hide the mark on her soul if she layered enough dirt on her body. This time around her hair was long, hanging nearly to her waist, and matted with things I’d rather not describe. Never a tall woman, she had affected a hunched-over posture and a limp that I suppose made her less obtrusive in her current surroundings. That’s one thing about the both of us: unless we go to some lengths to hide it, after a time it becomes obvious to anyone around that we’re not exactly normal. We looked the same, after all we are the original people, but there’s something just a touch off. We have no clearly-defined ethnicity, because there wasn’t such a thing when we were Made. And there’s something in our eyes, something about the weight of a few dozen centuries that’s impossible to hide. So we don’t look to many people in the eye. It’s nothing personal, too much eye contact just leads to questions most people aren’t interested in the honest answers to.

Eve had gone to remarkable lengths to hide herself, dressing in the filthiest rags she could find and apparently taking a daily bath in the sewers for good measure. Her face was char-woman dirty, and a cloud of stench hovered around her like a cloud of hungry flies. Come to think of it, there was more than one fly hovering around as well. She was, of all ridiculous things, sitting on the steps of the theatre playing a recorder.

“This isn’t Hamlin.” I said as I stopped just outside ground zero of her odor.

“Bugger off.”

“Good to see you, too.”

“I wasn’t jokin’. Bugger off. I’m spending quality time with my friends. And they don’t like you.” That’s when I realized that maybe Eve had spent a little time with that Pied Piper fellow after all, since there were a dozen or so rats starting to gather. Most of them were the size of large mice, but a couple of them looked like small cats, and one reached nearly as high as my knee when it reared up on its back legs and hissed a warning at me. If it had been a few hundred years later a witty remark about Mrs. Frisby might have come to mind, but at the time I just kicked it in the guts.

“Why’d you do that?” Eve screeched as her “friends” scattered back into the shadows and sewers.

“I don’t like vermin.”

“Really? And here I thought rats of a feather and all that.”

“Eve, what are you doing here?”

“Don’t call me that! And I’m doing what I please. Just like you, doing what you please, in your little chalet or whatever you call it up on your little mountain. Why’d you come down here bothering me anyway?”

“I heard about a crazy ratwoman who goes into the deepest plague pits and comes out none the worse for wear. I thought it might be you. I guess they missed that “worse for wear” part, but I did find you.”

“Like you been lookin’.”

“I have, Eve. I looked for you for thirty years after you left me in China.”

“Well now you found me. What. Do. You. Want?” She spoke slowly, precisely, as though to a mental deficient. Which, I suppose, in her eyes, I was.

“You. Me. Us. I want us back.”

“There hasn’t been an us in a thousand years, and won’t be an us for another thousand. Now bugger off and leave me to my friends!” With that, she played another shrill tune on her pipe, and rats streamed out of the sewers at us like a roiling tide of furry, smelly water. I couldn’t hold my footing and was swept along with the rats out of town and across the bridge. All I needed was the Ramones in the background and it would have been classic crowd-surfing. Except I was rat-surfing. And the Ramones wouldn’t be born for another couple centuries.

So there I stood, on the outskirts of London, watching helplessly as thousands of city rats took a holiday from London, clearing out most of the Plague from the town, but with the unfortunate side result of spreading it throughout the English countryside. I suppose I should have felt guilty, but they were going to die anyway, so did it really matter that much when? Sometimes taking the long view of things can make one seem a little heartless.

So I headed back up my mountain and spent the better part of three decades learning to ski and paint landscapes in Austria. I lost track of Eve again, and when I hopped a ship to the New Country I figured she’d either find me someday, or she wouldn’t. Again, that whole “long view” thing. But now, I knew I had to find her, even though I didn’t know why. I just knew that if we weren’t together the next time I ran into Lucky, it was going to be very bad for us. And if I didn’t classify what happened to us the first time we both hung out with Lucky as “very bad,” even I was a little nervous about what this time might bring.

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