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TALKIN’ TAHOKA % after his conversation with Birch, Howard left the Manse, helped himself to a bowl of stew, and visited Cooty in his cabin. The centenarian was dressed and alert in his Bruegel robe and acorn cap. They sat down to eat, Cooty’s hands on the tiny table folded as if in prayer. He was clean, his teeth gleamed, his eyes with their new contact lenses glowed; only his thin white hair refused management, flying up the sides of the cap like continually flapping angel wings. Howard ate slowly, as he always did with Cooty’s stew, and recited the story of his foolish idea to turn himself in for killing Billy Jordan only to discover that the body was missing, how Critter managed to get him incarcerated—“admirable, I have to admit”—about his release from jail and his subsequent meeting with Birch at the Manse. “So, I says to Birch this tall lady shows up and asks me all these questions. She says, ‘I understand you’re a widower.’ I says, ‘No I’m divorced .’ She says, ‘There’s nothing in your record of a divorce.’ I says. ‘I promised to love, honor, and so forth until death do we part. My wife dies, we part, it’s in the Bible—death is a divorce—not that I actually read the Bible.’ She says, ‘I believe the phrase until death do you part does not come from the Bible but from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.’ I says to her, I says, ‘Angle-kin? I got no angle-kin that I know about.’ She says, ‘It’s my understanding that you believe in reincarnation .’ I says, ‘I believe in re in car nation, yes.’ She says, ‘If you could come back in a future life as an animal, what would it be?’ I thought about that for fifty seconds, and I says, ‘A cow.’ She says, ‘You mean like a big strong bull?’ I says, ‘No, a farmer-in-the-dell cow. Moo.’ She says, ‘Now why would anyone want to be reincarnated as a dairy cow?’ I says, ‘Because your life is mainly mealtime, eat all day, and when you rest, you cough up your cud and get to eat your meals all over 174 again, plus you get the bonus of having your tits played with twice a day.’” “Sounds reasonable to me,” Cooty said. “I says to Birch, ‘You sent that tall lady to prove I got old timers disease to get me out of the hoosegow, right?’ He laughs and says, ‘Yeah, Grandpa.’ I says, ‘So, am I demented?’ He says the results were ‘inconclusive ,’ but he got me out anyway, because Critter Jordan wouldn’t file a complaint, no doubt because he wanted to keep a low profile.” “Inconclusive—that means they’re not sure if you’re demented or not,” Cooty said. “Indubitably,” Howard said with an expression of exaggerated gravity , then added, “Inconclusive being the very conclusivity I combobulated myself.” “Conclusive about being inconclusive—that kinda scares me, Howie.” “Cooty, I would have sworn a month ago that you had crossed over into the land of woodchucks and angels—or maybe angle-kins—but all of sudden you seem younger, smarter, almost normal, and I’m the one with the holes in his head.” “Oh, I wouldn’t want to be normal. That’s the scariest mentality of all. Ever since Luci and Wiqi drilled those holes and put in the magnets , it’s like I can figure better. You come to say good-bye, Howie?” “How’d you know that?” “Birch talks to me, like you and Freddy talk to me, and then I tell it to Luci, which makes me remember it better,” Cooty said. “I already know that,” Howard said, echoing one of his grandson’s favorite sayings. “It’s some kind of plan, but I don’t know whose.” Howard took a last bite of stew. “Usually Birch and I talk alone in his office, but this time he wanted to talk in front of a fire downstairs, burning big green logs so they snap, crackle, and pop like Rice Krispies. I says to him, I says, ‘You knew all along that Critter Jordan cut down my elm tree, right?’ He says ‘Not really, but I strongly suspected, though there was something peculiar about the very idea. Seemed too elaborate for Critter.’ I agreed with him on that one. No doubt Birch had had trouble...


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MARC Record
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