Authors: Richard Scrimger
This section of moving sidewalk ends. Two other sidewalks go off from it in two different directions. There’s a sign beside one of them:
CLOSED TO PUBLIC – MOVIE EXTRAS THIS WAY
. A man with uncombed hair stands beside the
sign. His eyes are closed. He’s got a headset and a clipboard. He slurps coffee from a Styrofoam cup.
“Hey, they’re shooting a movie,” I say to Frieda.
“Yeah, so?” she says.
“Right here in the airport. Cool.”
“Cool? You say that, where you come from? Cool?”
“I wonder who’s in the movie?”
“I don’t care.”
No one else seems to care either. I guess New York is used to movies. I’m not. They shot a made-for-TV movie in Cobourg a few years ago, and we’re still talking about it. My mom and her girlfriends spent an entire weekend walking up and down in front of the set, hoping to get a glimpse of a star who used to model underwear.
“Watch it, kid!”
Frieda reaches to push me – hard. Clutching our bags, I stumble out of the way of a motorized cart full of other people’s luggage. The stickers on the bags say
LEONARDO DA VINCI AEROGARDE, ROMA, ITALIA
. Rome, I guess. Probably what the loudspeaker voice was saying. Not
“Thanks,” I say to Frieda, who doesn’t reply. I follow her onto the next section of moving sidewalk. The sign up ahead says
WAY OUT – BUSES AND TAXIS
. The sidewalk is moving us quickly towards it, as if it wants us to go this way.
Frieda’s staring at something up ahead on the left. “Hey!” she says in a whisper. “Hey, Alan, look over there, behind the pillar. Who do you see?”
I turn, and peer closely. “No one,” I say.
“I thought I saw the guy with the dyed red hair and the cologne – you know, the guy I slapped,” she says.
“Oh.” I stare, backwards now, because we’re still moving. “I don’t see him,” I say.
“He was pretty creepy, wasn’t he? And the other guy – the skinny government guy – acted funny too.”
“Do you really think that red hair was dyed?” I ask.
She frowns up at me. “With those dark eyebrows? Of course.”
“He’s not that old. I thought only old guys dyed their hair.”
“This sounds crazy, Alan, but I think he was after … me. He was interested in me. So was the skinny guy.”
“He was interested in your Horus the dentist earrings,” I say.
She doesn’t smile. “There’s a lot of kidnapping going on these days,” she says. “We get taught about it in school. How to avoid it.”
An amazing idea. What kind of school does she go to, I wonder? “We get taught about fire safety,” I say. “And to look both ways before crossing the street.”
“I wonder if they want to kidnap me.”
Is she kidding? She’s got to be kidding. Kidnapping is like floods and earthquakes and civil war. It happens far away, to strangers.
“One of my classmates got kidnapped last year, you know. Her parents had to pay a hundred thousand dollars to get her back.”
She’s not kidding. I choke. Bad enough to be on my own in New York City. Now I’m thinking about being on my own with kidnappers.
“Let’s go back,” I say. “We’ll go back to the policeman.”
“Yes.” There’s a sidewalk moving the other way. It’d be easy enough to hop across. I turn my head to see if anyone’s coming – looking both ways, like they teach us in school – and there he is! He’s well back of us, behind a bunch of people, but he’s on our moving sidewalk. I know it’s him. He sees me looking, and immediately ducks his dyed red head, as if he doesn’t want me to notice him.
“Oh, no! He’s behind us!” I whisper. Not that he could hear me.
“Who? The slouchy guy, with the dyed hair? You saw him?”
“What’ll we do? What’ll we do?” I look around for a police officer. There isn’t one. “Help!” I call, to … well, I don’t know who. I look up, maybe for a sign from the heavens, but we’re still inside.
“First, we’ll get a cab,” says Frieda.
She pushes off. The wheelchair skitters forward on the moving sidewalk. I follow her as fast as I can. People get out of our way.
“Do you have enough money?” I ask breathlessly.
“I have a fifty-dollar bill in my purse,” says Frieda. “My dad says you should never travel without a fifty-dollar bill for emergencies.”
An amazing idea. What kind of parents does she have? “My mom says you should never run with scissors,” I say.
The moving sidewalk ends. The doors to the outside open automatically. There’s a crowd of people waiting for a line of yellow taxis. It’s a lovely clear morning, now, but a gang of dark clouds are chasing the sun across the sky. Sooner or later they’re going to catch it.
There’s a problem with the cab at the head of the line. An old lady is complaining, pointing with her cane at the cab. The cabdriver is trying to explain something.
“I tell you, it’s not my dog,” he says. “She just hangs around here. Ask anyone! Ask Harvey, there. Hey, Harvey, is this my dog?”
Harvey is a big fat man in a tight shirt. He clambers out of his cab, the next in line.
“That’s Sally,” he says.
“Is she my dog?”
“Nope. She’s no one’s dog. She just hangs around here. She likes to take cab rides.”
“You see?” says the first cabdriver. He opens the door to his cab, and a dog climbs out.
Funny-looking dog – about the size of a police dog, but with huge pointy ears, like a bat. The ears stick straight up, and give the dog a permanently surprised expression.
“Oh, the sweetie!” says Frieda.
The old lady stamps on the ground with her cane. “But the … the
has been inside the cab. I will not ride in a cab where an animal has been!”
A man with a briefcase and cigar brushes past her. “I’ll ride with anything,” he says, getting into the first cab. “Borough courthouse,” he directs the driver. “And step on it.”
The first cab drives off. Harvey gets back in his cab. The whole line of cabs moves forward. The old lady opens the door to Harvey’s cab. And Sally the dog climbs in.
I look behind me. I don’t see Slouchy. People are milling around, complaining about the old lady, the delay, the humidity. I take a deep breath, and, oddly enough, feel myself carried away, out of the present. For a moment it’s as if nothing has gone wrong yet. I feel hopeful: my dad
waiting for me; we’ll shake hands and go to the hotel, where there’ll be a swimming pool and a video game player, and we’ll order room service, and I’ll get to stay up late.
I’m back to reality – back to panic. It’s Slouchy. He’s caught up to us. He’s wearing a windbreaker and sunglasses. He slouches up to Frieda, smiling. One of his teeth is silver. It glints. “Here we are again,” he says.
Frieda doesn’t answer. She rolls herself over to me for moral support. I hope she doesn’t want any other kind. Slouchy smiles at me too. And takes a candy bar from his pocket.
“What a coincidence,” he says. “I’m just off work and you’re waiting for a lift. It’s … Frieda, right? Frieda Miller? I remember the name from your suitcase.”
He smiles and unwraps the candy bar. She’s right. He
“Want a bite?” he asks. “I’ve got more in my pocket. This one’s caramel.”
“No,” says Frieda.
“I hope you don’t think I’m sore about that slap you gave me,” he says. “The mark’s gone, and I’ve totally forgotten about it. A misunderstanding. Friends, okay?”
Frieda doesn’t say anything.
“Say!” he exclaims, as if he’s just got the idea. “How about coming with me? I’ve got a car waiting. Me and my cousin would be happy to give you a ride home.”
“That’s okay,” she says. “We can take a cab.”
“Oh, but taxis are so expensive. And the drivers don’t always know where you want to go. Better come with us.”
“No,” says Frieda.
“We’ll save you taxi fare. Your parents will appreciate it. They’ll love you for saving them money – mark my words.”
parents?” Frieda laughs – not happily. “You don’t know them,” she says.
Slouchy raises his hand and beckons. A blue car I haven’t noticed pulls up to the front of the cab rank. It looks like a whole lot of other cars, except for the pink tassel tied to the aerial.
Slouchy opens the back door for us. “Come on,” he says. “You’ll be home in no time.”
The driver is the skinny government employee with the long nose and the federal powers. “Plenty of room,” he rasps.
All this time the taxis have been sliding forward, one at a time, like pop cans in a vending machine. The funny-looking dog, Sally, is frisking up and down the line, jumping in and out of the waiting cabs. The crabby old lady is tired and upset. Poor crabby old lady.
Skinny’s car is ahead of all the cabs. Sally chases the old lady towards it. When she gets to the open door, she practically collapses onto Skinny’s backseat. “Thank you, thank you,” she says to Slouchy, who stares at her, openmouthed, his silver tooth gleaming. “I live at the Northwestern Hotel, in Manhattan,” she says, mistaking Skinny for a taxi driver. “No pets allowed.” She reaches out, and closes the car door firmly in Sally’s face.
Sally backs into Frieda’s wheelchair, and stands there, quivering. Frieda reaches out and strokes her flank.
Slouchy scowls at the old lady. Puts his hand on the door. Then he takes a sudden step back, and starts shaking his head. He waves his arms around, slapping at his neck irritably. “Bees,” he says. “I hate bees.”
I look up – now I’m outside, I can see the sky – but I still don’t see any sign from heaven. Or do I? There seems to be a flash of something small and golden hovering near Slouchy’s neck….
Sally’s big bat ears twitch. She runs over to Slouchy and starts barking and leaping up. She wants the candy bar. She’s a big dog. Big enough to put her paws on Slouchy’s chest when she jumps. He stumbles backwards, along the length of the car. Sally’s jaws snap together, near the candy bar. Near the bee too.
The voice is high-pitched. Not Slouchy’s voice. He uses the front door handle to pull himself to his feet. He’s staring around like a man who’s heard a ghost. Sally jumps again, knocking him down.
Beat it! Go away!
The voice again. Can it be? I’m sure I know the voice well. “Norbert?” I say, taking a step forward. “Is that you?”
Sally, very excited, jumps again. The candy bar, and the bee, disappear.
Slouchy is lying on his back beside the car. “All right, all right,” he mutters to himself. “I’ll beat it.” He fumbles the car door open and crawls in. Skinny drives away. And, echoing strangely, the voice returns once more.
Great steaming mugs of cocoa! Where am I?
The dog stands perfectly still for a moment. Then she sneezes three times in a row. Then she circles herself, chasing her tail. Then she sneezes once more, very loudly, and sits down. The expression on her face reminds me of the time my friend Victor ate what he thought was a jellybean, only it turned out to be a bath oil bead.
The cab line moves forward. People get in. Cabs drive off. Nobody’s paying attention to us. Sally moves over to Frieda’s wheelchair and puts her paws up on Frieda’s lap. Frieda strokes the dog’s head, tentatively.
“Hi, there, sweetie,” she says.
Sally makes a snuffling sound.
“Aren’t you beautiful,” says Frieda.
Thank you, I suppose I am
“Norbert,” I say. “So it really
you.” I know it’s Norbert. It’s his voice, and it’s just the kind of thing he’d say.
Frieda gives a little shriek, and draws back. But she doesn’t let go of the dog.
“Is that you talking, Alan?” she says. “Or is it the dog?”
“Neither one of us, actually,” I say.
I try to explain it to her. Norbert is a tiny, squeaky-voiced alien from the planet Jupiter. For a while last year he lived inside my nose, the way a friend would stay over at your place while his parents are out of town. Norbert didn’t feel cramped. Apparently my nose is bigger than I thought, with a living room inside. Yes, I said
. There’s also a bedroom, a back room, a kitchen, and a garage for Norbert’s spaceship.
No, I don’t understand it either. Norbert stayed with me for a few weeks, and then left to live in k.d. lang’s nose. Yes, the singer k.d. lang. Apparently the whole planet Jupiter just loves our country music. As far as I know, Norbert’s been with Ms. lang ever since.
I’ve kind of missed him.
Yes, it’s really me
, he says, from down beside my knee.
You called for help, didn’t you? Who were you expecting – Mighty Mouse?
I should say that Norbert is not always polite. In fact, he’s quite a mouthy little fellow.
“Where are you? Are you … inside the dog?” Sally barks.
“Inside the dog’s … nose?”
Hey, it’s a lot roomier than yours Dingwall. It was a shock at first, landing in here, but I’ve had a chance to look round, now, and I think I like it. I’ve got a studio, you know, with two skylights. I may take up oil painting again
Frieda frowns at Sally. “You can talk,” she whispers.
Yes, I can. So can you. So can Dingwall, here, which means it can’t be that tough
“Hey!” I say.
See what I mean?
A blushing Demosthenes
. Of course I am blushing. Frieda smiles slightly. “But you’re talking to … to me,” she says.
Oh my achy breaky heart! Come on, girlie! Try to catch up. I am speaking to you. You are speaking to me. It’s called conversation
Can the people nearby hear? No one turns around. No one notices.
“Norbert! That’s rude!” I say.
Funny, I wouldn’t have cared what anyone said to Frieda on the plane. She is, after all, an annoying girl. I figure it’s her wheelchair that makes me want her treated more nicely. Being in a wheelchair makes her more vulnerable. Why is it, I wonder, that you only want to be polite to someone because they’re already in trouble? After all, she’s still an annoying girl.
The dog looks up at Frieda, and barks. Frieda’s expression clears. She strokes the dog.
Shut up, Sally
Quick now, Dingwall. Where are we going?