Guide to Moral Living in Examples: Wooden Tops

"A dime for a diamond, I'm giving them away!" Scubbers cried. "Come one, come all, to Scubbers Savetasmigraphic Stall, where all of your wealth woes will wither! Please buy something, as I'm surrounded by boxes and have to sell my way out!"

Scubbers told the truth. He had barricaded himself into his stall behind stacks of boxes. A mangy dog whined at Scubbers from the other side of his counter, an upended box. The pedestrians flowing past the stall had to step around the dog, and nobody even stopped to listen to Scubber's interminable patter, let alone make a purchase. Until a small boy stopped to pet the dog.

"You, youngun, yes, you!" he hollered at the boy, who looked equally as mangy as the dog.

"Terrible tops tugging your tearducts?" Scubbers asked, pulling a wooden top from one of the many bags at his feet. Whomever carved it obviously hated the delight of children at play: the polite phrase for the shape of the top was 'fucking oblong' and it contained more splinters than a toothpick factory.

"Ain't nuffin wrong wif my cryin'," the boy said, eyeballing the top.

"Of course not! A sturdy son, not a nervous navelwort!" Scubbers said. He tried to drop the top back into the box, but instead he dropped it onto his foot, which his shoes did a very poor job of protecting. Several of its splinters pierced the paper-thin leather.

"Thousands of thundering thaumaturgists throwing thamnophiles!" Scubbers roared, spinning around like the top wouldn't, smashing into the stacks of boxes and strewing their goods across the cobblestone. A genuine diamond necklace cracked under his foot, and his other foot hit a bunch of pearls that had broken free from their string. He toppled.

The boy had started to dash away, but Scubbers looked so miserable that he hesitated.

"I'm not gonna steal nuffin," the boy said.

"You don't have to say that," Scubbers replied.

"I do! Norm'ly, I'm the scapegoat for takin' fings."

"You really don't have to. This is the sort of merchandise that somebody would carry into a shop under their shirt and leave on the shelf, not the other way round," Scubbers said.

"Why sell it?" the boy asked. He rummaged around in the rubbish that had spilled from the boxes.

"I've always been a natural salesman. A little too natural, as the case may be. The owners of the last three shops kicked me out. Well, two of them kicked me out. The third one had a broken jaw and had to communicate his desire for me to leave with an unnecessarily long series of rude gestures."

"You cuff 'im?"

"Certainly not! I merely created such a high demand for their services that he suffered some minor, superficial, almost unworthy of mention trampling," Scubbers said. He sighed and picked up a knife that was sharp enough to seriously mangle an apple and still be able to mash potatoes. "This junk is all that is safe for me to sell."

"But what about this'n?" the boy asked, picking up an emerald as large as his fist. "S'real, or I've had a baf this year!"

"Jumping jade jaguars! I thought that I'd gotten rid of that!" Scubbers said, leaping to his feet. "Put that away!"

A dozen customers had assembled.

"How much, then, for that lump of green glass?" said a man in the silks of an upper-class merchant.

"Oi, now, yer a jeweler up from Lupenne Avenue," the boy said. "You don't have no need for a lump of green glass."

"How would you know that, urchin?" the jeweler said, squinting at the boy like he might at a lump of horse hookey on his delicate shoes.

"I see you 'round next door, makin' elephant noises with Miss Frennam and all those pretty young ladies that live with her," the boy said. "You like elephants?"

The jeweler flushed redder than he did when he made elephant noises, and stormed off into the crowd.

A priestess of the goddess Nellanor the Impoverished stepped forward, dressed in rags only slightly less repellent than those worn by the boy.

"Please, the children down at the orphanage would like to put on the play, uh, 'The Magnificent Emerald of, uh, Emerald of Truth,'" she said. "Please, that rock isn't worth anything to adults, but to my children, it would help them feel proud of their play. They have so little - our stage is made of broken wooden boxes, by Nellanor! If you could find it in your heart to donate it to the orphanage for that purpose, it would shine some light into the lives of some sad orphans."

The boy turned to Scubbers, a broad grin spreading across his grubby face.

"Now there's a fing!" the boy said. "I knock 'round wiff some o' boys down at the orphanage, and they're always goin' on 'bout how the holy ladies face lots o' hookey in dealing wif tings, like they always need a hand or two to move 'round them big crates of coin they keep in their sleepin' rooms."

The preistess drew herself up to her full height and began to speak, but by a stroke of poor timing, the unmistakable clank of gold coins shifting in a leather pouch emanated from beneath her rags. She sniffed once, then dashed into the crowd.

A burly man with a thick club pushed his way up through the crowd.

"Gib to me or I make you flat. You got no secrets on me. E'rybody know I bad," the man said, gesturing with his club. Nails had been hammered into the wood, but not all the way through: only the blunt heads stuck out. Scubbers didn't think that it mattered a whole lot considering the size of the brute.

The boy reached down into the rubbish, quick as a flash, and came up holding the splintery top. He hurled it into the man's face. He stood there for a moment, with the spiny thing hanging off of his face from its spines. He snuffled, once, then let out a howl and shoved his way into the crowd, which dispersed upon seeing that no gossip or blood remained to be spilled.

Scubbers grinned at the boy.

"You might be just the unlucky charm that I need!"

The Moral: even a plate of jellied eels is dangerous if used hard enough.

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