www.common-place.org · vol. 2 · no. 2 · January 2002
"Am I not correct in believing, Padlin, that you were prepared to kill me this morning?"
The Hungry Eye, Episode 3
The Canine Letter
As soon as he had some elbowroom, Waddley pulled his tattered pad from the relative protection of his armpit and propped it against the pit wall. Despite his trepidation, betrayed by occasional furtive glances to the right and left, Waddley was the quintessence of efficiency. He quickly defined Butts astride Crib's corpse, merely suggesting the terrain of the fighting pit and the surrounding bleachers (now quickly emptying) before he impetuously turned to another page.
Padlin slouched beside Waddley, arms dangling between his knees. The portly youth's energetic pencil work was barely tolerable to him. Padlin was completely spent and yet the fight was still churning through him, making all the images and activity about him too brilliant, too vibrant--like an overvarnished canvas.
Abruptly, Waddley dropped his pencil and slammed his pad down against the upright planks.
"Damn you, Padlin! Why don't you draw?"
Padlin was too overwhelmed and too tired to respond.
Waddley angrily turned back to the pad and made a few vicious swipes with his pencil. He stopped, staring at the paper. He let out a long breath.
"All right, Padlin." Waddley flipped the pad closed, laid it on his lap and awkwardly crossed his short legs. "Let's be frank with one another." He placed his hands on the pad, entwining his fingers. "What are you scheming?" Waddley looked up, searching for Padlin's eyes. "For God's sake," he suddenly snapped, "take off that damned hat!"
Padlin didn't move or speak
"I admit, I underestimated you," Waddley continued. "I admit, sir"--the last said with an emphasis that pronounced disingenuousness--"that I find your tactics unfathomable."
Waddley set his pad on the bench between them. With a grunt, he twisted to better confront his colleague. He briefly gazed over Padlin's shoulder, his lips forming silent words, his hands bobbing in the air, the entwined fingers pressing tighter. Padlin watched the flesh bulge around the ring that adorned Waddley's left hand.
Waddley nodded in recognition of some resolution: "Am I not correct in believing, Padlin, that you were prepared to kill me this morning?" He waited a moment, his expression quickly sinking in tandem with his expectation of an answer. "Yes," he finally said, Padlin's surrogate. "And, am I not also correct in believing that your attempt on my person was your own peculiar way of achieving this assignment?"
Again, a pause before Waddley accepted defeat. "Yes," he exhaled. His clasped hands began to jitter up and down. "Then, please, explain this to me. Explain to me why you conceded the contest even as we entered this wretched place. Explain why you won't even try to set your meager hand to paper."
Waddley's clasped hands thumped the bench. "All right. Then tell me this." He squirmed, cocking his head in a manner that was meant to suggest intimacy but only reminded Padlin of the late Crib. "Tell me what possessed you to bellow during the fight?"
Another moment passed before Waddley, still speaking as if on Padlin's behalf, said, "Yes." His expression suddenly dilated, like the victim of an electric shock. His spectacles slid forward on his sweat-slick nose. "Now I see it," he stammered. He fearfully peered up at Padlin, the apex of his still-clasped hands shaving his nose. "You didn't shout to bring calamity down upon yourself," Waddley whispered. "It was to bring calamity down upon me."
Padlin looked at Waddley, amazed at the infantile terror palsying his features. "You don't understand," Padlin finally said, shaking his head. "You can't understand." Padlin glanced toward the pit. "I thought I understood. But I don't--"
Butts stood in the dirt below, no more than four feet away, his mauled face turned up toward the two Special Artists.
His muzzle was swollen, one side thick with clotted gore. His brindled hide had lost its luster, the short hair mottled by patches of dried blood. Butts's stance, though, was steady and his eyes alert. Those eyes, Padlin thought, what had Mollie Maloney said about them? Padlin couldn't remember, but their concentration was remarkable. Disconcerting. Padlin tentatively leaned forward. Maybe it was the effect of their color. The eyes were flawlessly blue; looking into the pupils was like gazing into depthless sky.
Butts's clipped ears twitched, his eyes narrowed and his flews curled into a snarl. The wounded skin crackled as the fangs and black gums appeared. A long growl rose from his throat, a clearly pronounced rolling "r." A tumbling, menacing canine letter.
Waddley scuttled back on his seat. Padlin remained crouched over the pit wall. He carefully raised his hands.
"Jakesy," Padlin said.
The dog blinked. The ear stubs shivered.
The growl died. The dog's expression faltered. The change was eerie, its flexibility too extreme. The dog grimaced harshly, a cringe that did not suggest primitive fear as much as painful recollection.
Padlin's stomach scraped against the pit wall. "Jakesy," he said, "I knew Mollie."
The eyes fluttered open. Padlin now remembered what Mollie Maloney had said about the eyes, how they conveyed a tortured life and a terrible knowledge of mankind. But she had been wrong. The eyes did not alone transmit such . . . such consciousness: it was his whole countenance doing that, the workings of the tiny muscles and nerves rendering a contorted map of character and conscience. What Padlin saw was a being trapped in a living hell.
Continued next issue.
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