Seven

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Lately he had begun to think, not just process information but to reflect on it, sift through it, put some things together. He had experienced enough of what he called 'the human world' to make some general conclusions. There was a lot of activity among them. They were very busy creatures. There was an energy, part excitement, part fear, a mixed-up sense of danger and caution, a lot of noise and lights. He was ultra-sensitive to both and tried to stay away from their sources. As he'd ventured further into the city, he'd found fewer safe places, fewer bushes, trees, empty spaces. He was more exposed out there, and found himself moving and reacting more quickly, as cars and trucks and buses roared by, as people emerged from buildings and vehicles and rushed along their way, as planes appeared overhead from nowhere, as dogs rushed out from yards and barked, baring their teeth and charging him.

The dogs were the only ones who seemed to take any notice of his presence. The pedestrians did not. They streamed past him, not more than glancing in his direction. The drivers of cars did not even do that. More than once he'd barely escaped collision. He separated out the objects in his line of sight between those that challenged and those that didn't. He had an instinct for self-preservation, but it was only instinct. There was no emotion to it. The only things he felt were ease and unease, and both only mildly.

The best thing he had found was to stand along the riverbank and watch the water slowly flow. This was something he could do for hours. It was where he was when Cookie Marquette decided to approach him. She had been keeping an eye on him the past few nights, always at a distance, always out of sight. She liked to keep track of all the people in her domain, and whenever new ones arrived, she scoped them out, sized them up, and either made her move or let them be.

This one was too intriguing. He was out there every night, all night it seemed, wandering about, doing nothing, going nowhere, never in a hurry, never with a pattern. What caught her attention was the way he'd vanish at the slightest disturbance, like a feral cat in the woods, keeping safe, and then, slowly, re-emerging when the flash and bang had passed. He reminded her of a wild horse. She had to tread lightly. She quietly crept to a spot upwind and downlight from where he stood, about twenty feet further on the path. She stood there quietly, without moving, for several minutes, until she was certain he hadn't noticed her. If he had, he would have fled. When she spoke, it was gently.

"They say the fishing's not like it used to be", she said. Dave was startled by her voice, and flinched, quickly glanced around for a tree or a bench to slip behind, but there was none. She went on right away, with the same even tone.

"Of course, nothing's like it used to be, am I right, or am I right, or am I right?", and she chuckled softly. She paused for only a few moments before continuing.

"I like to watch it go. You wonder how it never ends. Where's all the water come from anyway? Seems to go on forever, and why?"

"It's what it does", Dave spoke up. "It’s what it is."

"You said a mouthful there", Cookie nodded. "I am what I am, I know that much for sure. Name's Cookie."

Dave did not reply. He had turned to look at her, as she had turned to face him too. They were both in the dark - the other was barely more than a shadow - but there was a calmness each sensed in the other. The night felt good and slow. After a long pause, Cookie asked him what his name was. Dave paused before replying.

"Ed", he told her. "Eddie."

"Well, I'm pleased to meet you, Eddie". She turned toward the river again for fear of scaring him off. Getting a name out of someone was often a nervous event. They might feel they had given away too much. The people she came across, all too often, had little else they possessed besides their identity. It became even more precious to them.

"I carry this big old sack around", Cookie said. "Inside it there's all sorts of things a person might need. You be needing anything, Eddie? Clothes? Food? Anything at all?"

"I'm okay", Dave replied. "I don't need".

"There's two kinds of people", Cookie went on, as if used to that kind of answer. "Them that take and them that give. I'm the kind that gives. Are you?"

"Maybe", Eddie said after thinking it over a bit. "I don't know."

"Maybe you've got a family?", she asked. "Maybe you've got a job, a place to stay? You got somewhere? Some people?"

"I have a place", he said. "I'm okay", he repeated. Cookie nodded and considered for a while. She could only take a person at their word. She could offer, but she couldn't force. At the same time, she was always on the look out for the other side, people who could help as well as people who needed help. Those were the two kinds of people she had in mind.

"If you'd like", she said, "you could find out. What kind you are, I mean. We can always use a hand."

"I don't understand", Dave told her. She was confusing him. He didn't think she was dangerous but he didn't know what she wanted, and she seemed to want something. Like all the humans, he thought, needing and wanting all the time.

"I like to go around at night", she explained, "I look for people out here, people who are hungry, people who are cold. People who need a place to go or someone to talk to. I carry all this stuff just in case. I've got sweaters, coats, shoes. I've got bread and soup. You name it, I've probably got it. You could come around with me sometime if you wanted. I could show you. Then if you wanted to could help."

"Oh", Dave said. He didn't know there were people who did that. He had seen the others and wondered. Why were they not inside their homes? Why were they huddled beneath the bridges? Why were they looking in the trash cans? He had thought that they were doing what they wanted to do. Maybe it wasn't like that.

"I don't know", Dave said, and then added, to be polite, "I will think about it."

"Do that", Cookie said. "I've got to be on my way now. It was a pleasure meeting you. I hope to see you again soon."

"You too", said Dave, and he watched as Cookie heaved up her giant sack and flung it across her back, then made her way across the grass, back onto the boulevard and down towards the city lights. He felt relieved to be alone again. The effort to talk that much had been tiring, but he also felt a longing to talk some more to that person, that she was like a path that he would like to follow.

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