Why is everyone staring? said Harlan.
Don’t mind them, said Alex, they’re just zoonophobic.
What are you looking at? said Harlan. There’s a knot in one of the roof boards, said Blurtso. Yes there is, said Harlan. I wonder how it grew that way? said Blurtso. I don’t know, said Harlan, the wood around it is smooth and symmetrical. A whirlpool in the stream, said Blurtso. Yes, said Harlan. I wonder if the roof is weaker or stronger where there is a knot? said Blurtso. I believe it’s weaker, said Harlan, because when the wood gets dry the knots can pop out. Yes, said Blurtso, now that you mention it, I’ve seen old boards with holes where the knots had been. I guess there’s no good reason, said Harlan, for a knot to remain in a board after it has already asserted its independence by going against the grain. Maybe this one, said Blurtso, asserted its independence by staying.
What are you doing? said Harlan. I’m looking at a piece of straw, said Blurtso. Oh, said Harlan. It’s a very nice piece, said Blurtso, with lovely color and shape. Yes it is, said Harlan. It’s been a while, said Blurtso, since I really looked at something—it’s quite refreshing. How long have you been looking? said Harlan. I’m not sure, said Blurtso. That long? said Harlan.
Everywhere you go, said Blurtso, people are talking about the economic crisis. Do you think we should be worried? Worried about what? said Harlan. About our university, said Blurtso. How are we going to continue offering the services we’ve promised? What services? said Harlan. Our world-renowned classes, said Blurtso. The classes are free, said Harlan. What about our books? said Blurtso. The books are from the library, said Harlan. What about our Thursday evening pumpkin pies? said Blurtso. The pumpkins are from Pablo’s garden, said Harlan, in fact, everything in our university is absolutely free. It’s hard to believe, said Blurtso, what we’re doing isn’t against the law.
Harlan? said Blurtso. Yes? said Harlan. Do you think anyone else stays awake like we do, talking in the dark? Yes, said Harlan, I’m sure they do. What do you think they say? said Blurtso. They tell tales, said Harlan, of what they did during the day, or say silly things like children who can’t sleep, or say sad things about the sorrows they hope to change, and then they sing lullabies to each other, until they forget their sorrows, and sleep like children who can sleep.
Isn’t it amazing, said Blurtso, how people can spend so much time building something, then never look at it when they’re done? What do you mean? said Harlan. This treehouse, said Blurtso. Alex and I built it almost two years ago, and when we were building it we selected the boards with the greatest care, then measured and cut them, nailed and braced them, then raised the pole with the house on top, and then we climbed up and never really looked at it again. What’s this nick in the rail? said Harlan. That? said Blurtso, that’s where I dropped the skill saw when my ice cream fell out of its cone. There’s a nail missing here, said Harlan. Yes, said Blurtso, it kept poking out, so I removed it. What are these scratches? That’s from my screwdriver, said Blurtso, when I was screwing down the floor boards. And this stain? That’s the grape juice I spilled when I was using the nail gun. And this burned spot? That’s where I set down the circular sander with the power on. You do beautiful work, said Harlan. Thank you, said Blurtso.
Harlan? said Blurtso. Yes? said Harlan. Do you think we’ll ever see our snakes again? I don’t know, said Harlan. I wonder, said Blurtso, what else we’ll never see again? It’s impossible to tell, said Harlan, what will be gone in the morning. Harlan? said Blurtso. Yes? said Harlan. I’ll do what I can to be here in the morning.