Dobby is invited to tea at Sylvia’s but panics when he learns she lives with her squirrel children in a treehouse. He recites an accurate but wholly unsatisfactory rendition of the blimp disaster to Gari.
If you started reading here, it might help to know that Prince Dobalob is visiting his childhood friend Gari in the southern Kingdom of Rous. You’ve already missed a bunch of the story. Here’s a link if you’re one of those types who prefer to start at the beginning. There’s a big old chart below to help you sort out the myriad characters. Recommended snack: ice cream and cookies
Dobby fiddled with the radio on the way home while Gari dodged the potholes in the road. The truck was a lot bouncier without the heavy Segways in the back. In addition to the leftovers from dinner and a mountain of cookies, they had the ferns from a couple days ago. Sylvia had taken them out of Dobby’s car and put them in a basin of water to keep them fresh, but everyone had forgotten about them until this afternoon.
“So tell me again about the alligators. Where are they? Do you think there were any where my car slid off the road?”
Gari thought about it for a minute.
“There aren’t many alligators, only enough to keep everyone on their toes. For the most part, they hang out in the river where it passes near a fire swamp. In areas where there are lots of ferns and berries and healthy vegetation, there are no alligators. So probably none where your car went swimming, though you never want to turn your back to the river. The only other places where alligators creep around is near town, in disturbed areas with buildings and streets. The habitat is messed up enough that alligators can sneak around without anyone noticing. Kinda like the cities are paved fire swamps.”
“Are there many fire swamps near here? I haven’t seen any from the road.”
“They start farther south: south and east of here. That’s why it has been such a surprise to see alligators coming down the river into town. That must mean there are fire swamps up north, once you get east far enough. That’s why I mentioned that nobody has done a survey of the swamps yet. A map of fire swamps and alligators might show a pattern. Not that anything can be done about it, anyway.”
Gari steered the truck off the main road onto the driveway to his villa. He parked it and the chums hopped out and went directly in to the puzzle table and sat down. Gari’s staff was already unloading the truck.
“We haven’t gotten too far on this thing, have we?”
“We’ll have a little more time tomorrow,” said Gari. ”Sylvia said your oil pan had come in but she wouldn’t have time to install it until after lunch tomorrow. Don’t forget that her kids invited you up to tea tomorrow. After school, I imagine.”
“Up to tea? What’s the up part of it?”
“They live in a treehouse. Squirrels, you know,” said Gari. “What’s the matter? You look a little pale.”
Dobby was wondering how he could have been so stupid. Squirrels: of course. Porcupines live in trees, too. He really liked Sylvia, but this sudden reality check meant that their future was uncertain. Oh, well.
“I can’t go up to a treehouse. Sorry. I’ll have to decline the invitation. You can go without me.”
“What are you talking about? Of course you can go up into the treehouse. The kids will be disappointed, and I thought you liked Sylvia.”
“You remember that blimp I bought?”
“Now I’m completely confused—”
“Just hear me out. So, I got my blimp online. It was a whole bunch of boxes when it arrived, but I put it together—”
“Wait, wait, wait,” said Gari. “You put it together? Or Rodney put it together?”
“Um, Rodney wouldn’t have anything to do with it. He was all pumped up about the zeppelin, but this online blimp was, well, beneath him. I had my regular crew put it together. So, it wasn’t me, exactly, who put it together. Fine. I supervised the crew who put it together.”
“When does the treehouse come into the story? I’m still confused.”
“Can we have some ice cream and cookies? That’s going to really help the story,” said Dobby.
“Great idea!” said Gari. He looked around. Some of his staff was playing cards at a tiny table near the kitchen door. They looked up and smiled and a couple of them scurried off to the kitchen. They knew that all of them would be having ice cream and cookies, not just the big capybaras.
“Thanks. So, as they were putting it together, we discovered some, um, limitations, you know, to the product. First of all, it was more of a blimp shaped hot air balloon than a genuine blimp. Not a big deal, sort of a you-get-what-you-pay-for lesson. It was the basket that was the biggest disappointment. It fell apart almost immediately. And that’s the part you ride in, so not cool.”
“What do you mean by ‘it fell apart.’ And where’s the treehouse?”
“I’m getting to that part, but I have to tell you about the basket, first. It had a great big gaping hole at the bottom.”
“That sounds dangerous! And they shipped it to you like that?” said Gari.
“Well, the hole wasn’t exactly at the bottom. It was more like on the side, but near the bottom. So we were going to put in a door, and then we decided a drawbridge would be better,” said Dobby.
“On a basket, right? You’re putting a drawbridge on a basket. Got it. Great idea.”
Gari rolled his eyes. For a minute or two they were distracted by heaping bowls of ice cream and a plate of cookies. Dobby picked through the cookies, set all the ones with birdseed on the side of the plate closest to him.
“Okay, so this is where the treehouse comes in. So, you know my hens live in a treehouse, right? I’ve never been up there, because, you know, capybaras do not climb trees. They keep inviting me over, but I can’t do it. My hens are the only ones in the principality who have birdseed. Nobody knows where it comes from, not even the hens. At least that’s what they say. So, for a long time, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get up to their treehouse so I can check out their birdseed. I’m suspicious that they have a huge stash of it. Maybe, you know, they have all of the birdseed, all of the birdseed in the kingdom, a gigantic pile of it.
So, when the blimp was assembled, I decided to visit them. Kind of a test voyage. The hens met me at the workshop, and because Annabelle has the most flight experience, she took the controls. Well, it turns out that it was too hard to properly dock the blimp. If Annabelle couldn’t do it, nobody else was even willing to try. So I still haven’t been into their treehouse.”
“That’s it?” said Gari. “That’s the story? Why didn’t you want to tell me it before?”
“These cookies are pretty good, but they aren’t as good as the seed cakes the hens make,” said Dobby. He was pawing through the cookies again, in case he missed any with birdseed.
“I get it,” said Gari. “That’s not the whole story. Something else happened, didn’t it? I’ll ask Annabelle next time I see her.”
Dobby looked up at him and squinched his eyes.
“She’ll tell you the exact same story.”
For a while, they worked on the puzzle in silence. The sound of the waves crashing became the conversation, as if the beach had joined them. They finished the edge of the puzzle and kept right on working. Gari broke the silence.
“I was expecting a more dramatic blimp story, like an explosion or a crash or something. Where is it now?”
“It’s in my picnic area. The kids love playing on it and it’s rather festive out there. I’m ready to start work on the zeppelin. It’s going to be spectacular!”
“Hmmm. The zeppelin. Have you started work on that?”
“It’s still in conceptual development.”
“In other words, no. Let’s talk about the treehouse, again. So you’ve never been up to the hen’s treehouse? And that’s why you can’t have tea with Sylvia’s kids?”
“Well,” said Dobby, “have you been up to Sylvia’s treehouse?”
“Yes. Of course. A bunch of times. Sometimes I babysit for her when she takes classes.”
“Classes? What kind of classes?”
“Mechanical engineering. She’s working on a master’s degree. Mostly she works on her thesis, and she can do that at home. Once in a while she has to take a class or an exam.”
Dobby gulped. He had finished high school, but college had eluded him. To be honest, being a prince was hard work, and anyway, he had never seen a college degree called ‘Prince.’ When your dad and mom are King and Queen, you grow up knowing you will eventually have many duties, but it is mostly on-the-job training. As a prince, he didn’t have many assigned duties yet, so he concentrated on improving the quality of life for everyone in his principality. If Sylvia was studying to become a mechanical engineer. How could she possibly fit in? He suddenly realized that Gari was talking to him.
“–elevator. Sylvia has an elevator.”
“Wait, what? An elevator? At her treehouse? Big enough for the likes of us?”
Dobby had a puzzle piece in his paw and launched it across the table at his friend. Gari caught it and turned it over to examine it. He carefully turned it around and fit it into place. He couldn’t hide his grin as he looked up at his friend.
“Thanks! Do you have any more pieces over there with black and white stripes?”
After a pleasant night’s rest on the rooftop sleeping porch, the chums took a walk on the beach. That was after a light breakfast of ferns, corn on the cob, two boxes of cookies, some stale donuts, and a pitcher of root beer. Dobby stopped to play with some mole crabs in the swash zone.
“You’re not still hungry are you?”
“Ick,” said Dobby. “I forgot how fun it is to dig holes to find these guys. I also forgot that you can’t turn your back on the waves or you get soaked. I’m going to need to go swimming to get this sticky salt water off.”
“We don’t have to be in town today until the kids are out of school in the afternoon, but we need to do some grocery shopping. I’ve been treated to their tea before, and it’s very cute, but you’ll be ready for a nice dinner afterwards. I’m thinking we can tootle into town on Segways, leave them with Sylvia, and come back in your car. She said it would be ready.”
“Good plan. I should probably head home tomorrow. I’m thinking of asking Sylvia to join me for lunch on the way out of town. Just the two of us, you know. Do you think she’ll want to do that?”
Gari thought for a minute. “You can never tell with women, but my guess is if you leave town without at least asking, she might be disappointed. She seems to like you. I suspect she’s hoping to spend more time with you than just paying the invoice and giving you a receipt for your car repair.”
“Do you think she’s too smart for me? I mean, what if she thinks I’m dumb?”
Gari turned to look at his friend. “You aren’t serious, are you? Of course she’ll think you’re dumb. I think you’re dumb but I’ve known you practically my whole life! I think she’s going to figure that out pretty quickly.” He ducked to miss the flying mole crabs his friend threw at him.
“She’s really studying to be a mechanical engineer? She doesn’t like being a car mechanic?”
“That’s just a job to her. Keeping cars and Segways running isn’t as fun for her as inventing something, making new stuff.” Gari had turned around and they were now walking back toward the villa. “Did you notice her motorcycle? When we’re at the shop take a look at the sidecar. She built that so she could drive her kids around. Oh, yeah, and the elevator. That was a custom job, for sure. She uses a lot of recycled material and natural power sources.”
“What else has she built?”
“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask her. She lived out of town before she took on the kids, and I didn’t know her then. When the kids were little she was too busy with them to socialize much. She was all business, no time for small-talk. I just dropped off the Segways and picked them up again. When I found out she was going to college, I thought she was nuts, but now that they’re in school she has more time. Still, don’t take it personally if she doesn’t have time for lunch tomorrow.”
“Do you think she knows anything about zeppelins?”
“I’m sure she knows more than you do.”
Prince Dobalob was finally getting back into the Segway mode of transportation. It reminded him of his youthful, carefree days, when he and Gari Segwayed all up and down these roads during summer vacation. But his mother’s birthday party loomed before him. The prospect of making his grand entrance in his zeppelin helped to push back his fears and trepidations regarding her party, the neighboring castle with its fowl-spelling royalty, those loathsome princesses, the news that Caplin couldn’t make it—
“Look out,” said Gari. “You almost hit that pothole in the road!”
“Yow! I was thinking of my mother’s party,” said Dobby. “It’s going to kill me one way or another! Where is that corn stand? Did we pass it yet?”
“We’ll be coming up to it pretty quick. Are we stopping for corn? I’m glad I grabbed the Segway with a basket.”
“I’m going to eat it all, anyway.”
They stopped and he did. Once more, Dobby poured out a pile of gold coins onto the counter and walked away. Once more, Gari stepped up and carefully slid each coin into the payment slot.
“There’s a peanut farm up ahead on the way. Let’s stop by there and get some for Sylvia and the kids.”
They eventually pulled to a stop in front of Sylvia’s auto shop. They maneuvered the Segways through the door and into the shop. Gari unloaded three big bags of peanuts and plopped them onto the counter. Sylvia emerged from somewhere in the back of the shop and smiled at him.
“Ooh, thanks! Are the peanuts for Cu, Sali, and Tix? Your car is ready, Dobby. Help yourself to some popcorn while I print out the invoice.”
He had stepped off his Segway and made a beeline for the popcorn while Gari was unloading the peanuts. He turned around sheepishly and looked at her.
“I didn’t see you there, so I—”
“That’s fine. Take as much as you like.” Sylvia was grinning at him, and winked at Gari. “You’re here kind of early. The kids aren’t home from school for another half hour and they need a few minutes to get tea ready.”
“We have some grocery shopping to do. Can we pick up anything?”
“No thanks. We’re good.” She called over to Dobby. “Your invoice is printing. Cash or credit?”
Gari rolled his eyes and leaned over to whisper to Sylvia. “Cash. Always cash.” To Dobby, he said “Come on. We can get more popcorn later. You ought to bring in a big re-useable bag instead of using all those little paper bags.”
Dobby sauntered over to the counter and set down eight red-and-white striped bags of popcorn. He pulled the invoice over and examined it. He reached into his left waistcoat pocket and pulled out a wrinkled red-and-white striped bag and set it on the counter. Grinning, he reached into his right waistcoat pocket and pulled out another wrinkled red-and-white striped bag and set it on the counter.
“Will this cover it?” He met Sylvia’s eyes and watched as she opened each bag and peeked inside. The gold coins inside were reflected in her eyes. She looked back up at him.
“It’s much too much.” She closed up the bags and pushed them back over to him.
“It’s not too much if you’re going to send those three kids to college. Set it aside for them.”
To be continued . . .
The quite extensive Cast of Characters:
This story desperately needs illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about the capybaras at the beach, or popcorn bags full of gold?), draw a picture of it, and send me an email. I’ll reply so that you can attach a digital copy of your masterpiece to it. I’ll add it to the story!
Or, if you’d rather help with the glossary, send me the list of words you had to look up (or should have looked up, but didn’t!). When I finish writing the ending, I will start putting together the glossary.