Sunday, January 29, 2006

A real long time ago, in the wild white prairies of some faraway lonely county called Quapaw, their was a girl named Mable who was very young and so absolutely filled with life.
Since before she could remember, Mable had lived with her Nana and Pop--two of the oldest elderly people in the entire county.
Her Nana and Pop were like splendid antiques, delicate and frail, their skin was the shade and tenor of a piece of ancient crumpled paper. But as old as they were, they never acted their age. They were adventurous and alive, and for that reason Mable always felt young inside, never old.
Together they all lived inside the little filling station they owned. It was an old fashion kind of place fast asleep on the side of a never ending strip of two-lane. There Mable and her grandparents were happy and content. There they lived a life worth living.

Then something rather unfortunate came about.
It was autumn in Quapaw. The scent of Nana’s pheasant dinner was present in the cold evening wind, and the sky above the prairie looked like an endless ocean turned upside down--dark blue and baron.
Mable and her Pop were horsing around at the little fishpond right next to the filling station. Mable was performing daredevil dives from the height of the stations neon sign--a splendid glowing structure perched high on the stations wood shingle rooftop.
“Watch me Pop,” Mable shouted down to her Pop. “This one’s going to make a splash.”
Her Pop was sitting by the shore in a deckchair, reading an old torn up comic book about a mechanical monster. He closed the pages and looked up at Mable. “What do you call this one?”
Mable slipped on a pair of swim goggles. “A triple summersault spinning torpedo dive!” she shouted. Then with a running start, Maple cried out the words “Bonsai,” and she did a swift nose-dive off the top of the sign.
Her form was almost perfect. It would have been a beautiful dive. But then suddenly there came a dreadful gust of freezing wind. It howled and it screamed and it snuffed out the bright neon sign with the quickness and ease of a candle being blown out. The pond water went as black as ink, and since Mable couldn’t see a thing, she messed her trick and hit the water with a smack.
Her Pop pulled her out of the water and swallowed her up in a beach towel. “Jiminy Christmas, that one had to sting?”
Mable took off her swim goggles. “Is the neon sign dead, Pop?” she asked.
Her pop looked up at the sign. The sign looked like a cold dark skeleton standing in the lonely twilight--it was most surely dead, and her Pop shook his head sadly. “It’s to cold to swim, Mable,” he whispered, his teeth starting to chatter. “So lets go back home. Dinners probably done.”
Mable agreed. She lent her Pop an arm, and the two walked home together.

The following weeks would spell doom for the little filling station.
Since there was no neon sign to proclaim the selling of fine ethyl gasolines, the gas trucks stopped refilling the pumps. Since there was no gas in the pumps, travelers had no cause to pull in for a pit stop. The filling station slowly went into disrepair. The pumps rusted away, the brickwork crumbled, the paint began to fade and peel, and by months end the station was a real sorry mess to behold.
Then Mable’s Nana and Pop started to get sick.
All day long they sat on the porch in rocking chairs, reading old comic books to each other and drinking funny tasting tonics to get better. Mable had to start selling souvenir snow domes to passing tourists just so they could eat food and pay the electric bill on time. It was quite a rotten situation.
So one afternoon Mable went to her Nana Pop. “Let’s take a trip in the crop duster,” she suggested with a bit of hope. “Pop can show us some of his old stunt pilot tricks. We can do corkscrews in the clouds. We can storm barns and spook the prairie pheasants. We’ll have some real great fun, and the air a mile up might even cure your sickness.”
Her Pop’s eyes lit up and he put down his comic book. “That’s a king idea, Mable,” he said, rising up from his chair. But then a freezing wind came along and quickly sat him back down. “But me and your Nana can’t take a trip in the sky, not today. It’s much to cold, and our bones would probably freeze solid and snap like icicles.”
“I understand,” said Mable, and she went away.

Mable spent the rest of that afternoon selling snow domes to passing tourists. She sold three snow domes to a family in a noisy green station wagon from Iowa. But other then that, business was rather slow on the old two-lane, and Mable spent most of the day watching the only cloud in the empty blue sky--a colossal thunderhead floating high above the filing station. Mable thought it was shaped like an enormous fat coy fish, or maybe some kind of octopus.
“Let’s take a dip in the fishpond,” Mable suggested to her Nana and Pop that following afternoon. “Pop can show us the tricks he learned from his secretive Navy frogman days. We can perform underwater maneuvers. We can go on deep dive missions. It’ll be a blast, and the water in the pond might even cure your sickness.”
Her Pop lit up and he put down his comic book. “King idea. Don’t you think?” he asked Mable’s Nana. She nodded her head. Her Pop let out a hoot. “Great. I’ll gather my gear. Snorkels in the attic, my swim fins are under the bed.”
But before he even had a chance to rise up from his chair, a freezing wind came up on the porch and Mable’s Pop began to chatter.
“It’s cold out,” said Mable. “And the waters never a fun place when it’s cold out.”
Both her Nana and Pop agreed. “Do you want to read comic books with us,” her Pop asked with a bit of hope. “I have a real fun one about a mechanical monster.”
Mable stepped off the porch. “You guys should probably grab some rest,” and she went away.

That afternoon Mable came to a decision.
No longer could she bear to watch her Nana and Pop grow old. So Mable parted ways with the filling station. She went over to the fishpond to perform a few last daredevil dives before she went away forever.
While preparing to dive from the height of the dead neon sign, Mable took notice of something quite peculiar above. The sky was deep and empty, and in the sky there was a single solitary cloud--a colossal thing, floating high above the filling station, and strangely in the shape of an enormous fat coy fish.
It was the cloud she had seen yesterday, only it hadn’t moved an inch, or changed shape even a bit. It was a stationary cloud, and Mable was no cloud scientist, but she new that was a very strange thing.
So being the young daredevil that she was, Mable climbed into her Pop’s crop duster. It was a decrepit little thing that glinted like a piece of silver foil, and with a rusty takeoff, Mable set course for the Indian blue sky.

Mable flew up and up in her old rickety crop duster, flying for what seemed like countless hours. The sky slowly filled up with darkness. The temperatures dropped into freezing. Then sometime in the late afternoon, Mable finally reached her mysterious destination.
The coy fish cloud was a marvel to behold. Great towering peaks and mountainous snow white billows rose upward for millions of feet, then plummeted downward into vast ferocious canyons. Mable weaved her tiny airplane through the bizarre labyrinth of peculiar swirling formations and natural wonders. After an hour she came into a snug little valley untouched by sun light and covered in blue icy shadows. There she spotted something absolutely amazing. “Jiminy Christmas,” Mable whispered, blinking her eyes to make sure it was real.
In the hart of the shadowy valley, there was what could only be described as a splendid city shinning in the cold afternoon. The city was a jumble of modern mechanical structures, with a towering cluster of aluminum lighthouses growing out of the very center. The lighthouses were each a thousand stories tall, and as Mable circled the skyline, she could clearly see what appeared to be scores of glistening robot people standing on the rooftops and lining the streets below.
It was a splendid city of robots, and Mable couldn’t have been more excited. Robots live forever, and she knew she had found the perfect home.
But unwittingly her noisy crop duster was sparking panic below. The whole of a hundred air raid sirens suddenly sounded off in the city, and the fearful robots sent up a colossal warrior pheasant to attack Mable’s crop duster.
The creature was the size of a seaplane. It cried a raspy cackle and easily captured the silver aircraft in its prickly claws. Then it took Mable into the city, setting her plane down in the courtyard of a futuristic aluminum castle.
As Mable crawled out of the cockpit, the robot prime minister and his loyal court came dashing into the courtyard. Each was quite a striking sight to see--covered from head to toe in a seamless casing of tin as red and glittery as a red painted wagon. Their elegant clothing and mechanical features were painted with precision onto their skin, and the prime minister wore a blue tinsel cape that flapped in the wind.
“I declare, friend or foe!” the robot prime minister snarled at Mable with his lazar pistol drawn.
Mable approached with her hands high in the air. She uttered the very first thing that came into her head. “Your skin is so nice-looking. Like the skin of a toy I once owned.”
The prime minister looked at his reflection in the shiny surface of his hand. He flashed Mable a dazzling white smile. “We are rather shiny and brand-new looking, aren’t we.”
“Is it true you never pass away,” Mable asked.
“Quite true,” said the prime minister.
Mable fell to her knees. “Then I beg of you, sir. Can I stay in your city? Can I live like a robot lives--ageless and forever?” From her pocket she then pulled out a gift of sorts--a plastic souvenir snow dome with a tiny Cherokee Indian stuck inside, and she handed it up to the prime minister.
The prime minister gave the snow dome a shake. The snow began to fall inside and he roared with laughter. “You can stay forever, if you so wish. But first you must understand one important thing. Tin skin is much better then flesh and blood skin. Because unlike flesh and blood skin, tin skin with never wear or tear.”
Mable nodded her head. “Yes, I know.”
So with a satisfied expression on his face, the prime minister presented Mable with a gift. A glittery red tinfoil dress which she was politely instructed to wear every single day and every single night.

That evening the robot prime minister and his court celebrated Mable’s arrival. They threw her a feast in a soaring rooftop banquet hall that almost reached into the shallows of blue black outer space.
Dinner was made all out of things plucked from the sky: roast duck, Cornish game hen, scrambled quail eggs, and for dessert, vanilla ice cream scooped straight from the cloud.
Mable was starved. All she had to eat that entire day was a tiny snack cake, and she couldn’t wait to stuff herself full. “My thanks to the prime minister and off course to all the robot cooks,” Mable declared as she went to take a taste of the ice-cream.
But in the very second she sunk her spoon into the cold icy dessert, the robot prime minister made a very noisy fuss. “What on earth are you doing!” he said.
Mable dropped her spoon. Bits of ice cream plopped on the perfectly polished table. “I was just…”
The prime minister interrupted. “We admire the meal. We converse before the meal. But we never ever taste the meal.”
Mable went red in the face. “But why not?” she asked. “Food tastes really good.”
The mechanical court shook their motorized heads with disapproval and whispered with each other. “Because,” said the prime minister, pounding his fist to settle down the court. “A meal would goop up our very complicated inside workings, and sully the splendid condition of our glittery tin skin.”
Mable’s stomach made growling noises. She sunk in her chair and apologized for the cultural mix-up.
For the rest of the evening the robots went about conversing--mostly about the weather. It was all quiet dry. Mable was bored out of her mind, but she pretended her best to be thoroughly interested.

It was very windy and very cold that following morning, and the sun was a ball of pure blinding silver in the thick misty sky.
Mable had been invited by the robot prime minister to go sunbathing with him and his court on the shores of a sapphire rain pool high in the billows outside the city.
So with much enthusiasm Mable went, and for most of the day she had quite a ball. All the robots were dressed up in candy cane bathing suits and futuristic swim goggles, and they all looked pretty funny. They sat by the water in deckchairs while they made conservation about the whether.
“The weather is quite windy and cold,” said the robot prime minister.
“And the sky, it’s really really blue,” said Mable, inspiring a dozen or so Robot voices to all at once agree:
“Sure is.”
“As blue as a blueberry is.”
As the morning progressed, the boiling sun became rather unbearable--at least for Mable. Unlike the robots, she had been cursed with her grandparent’s sensitive skin. Skin that would roast and peel on the balmiest of winter days.
So not wanting to roast and peel in front of her brand-new robot friends, Mable decided to take a dip in the rain pool. So she climbed the height of a high billow rising over the pool like a diving board. She slipped on a pair of futuristic swim goggles, and shouted down to the court, “all eyes up! For your enjoyment, I’m about to perform my patented triple summersault spinning torpedo dive!”
The court began to panic. Their screams sounded very much like air raid sirens. The robot prime minister also went into a panic. He turned the volume dial on his chest up to super high and hollered up to Mable, “What on earth are you doing?”
Mable stopped suddenly and almost slipped. “Performing a daredevil dive, that’s all,” she said.
The prime minister turned his volume dial up as loud as it would go. “We enjoy the color and sparkle of the water. We bathe or splendid tin skin at the edge of the water. But we never ever set foot in the water.”
“Why not?” asked Mable.
The court began to snicker. The prime minister quickly settled them back down. “Because if we did, a most horrific thing would happen. We would rust and drip like an old sunken ship, and our splendid tin skin would grow as rough and coarse as old man skin.”
Mable apologized for yet another cultural mix-up.
For the rest of the morning, she sat in her deckchair not saying a word, while the autumn sun cooked her like a TV dinner inside her tinfoil dress.

A week past by and Mable started to grow weary of her time in the city.
The prime minister had set her up with a room inside his futuristic aluminum castle. But Mable hadn’t been able to sleep in days.
Since robots never sleep, day and night, the city was filled with noise and commotion. Rowdy tickertape parades were constantly roaming the boulevards. Strange mechanical aircraft and rocket ships crammed the skyways, and the air was always thick with the wild sounds of the robot city jazz clubs--it was utter madness, and Mable started to miss the quiet calmness of her Nana and Pop‘s little filling station.
So on one especially lonely night, Mable took a trip outside the noisy city. She went to the base of the highest billowing peak, and she climbed through the night, up to the very top. At the edge of the summit there was a perfect view of the little filling station far far below, and for a very long time, Mable sat quietly just watching.
She wondered what her Nana and Pop where doing at the very moment. She imagined they were sitting on the porch together, her Pop reading old comic books out loud, both of them having quite a time.
But that night the filling station was very quiet, so dark and completely still it could have been a haunted house. It was a terrible sight. Mable felt horrible inside and she wanted to cry. But then a loud commotion startled her.
“What on earth are you doing?” a voice called out. Mable looked up and saw the prime minister hovering high above. An obnoxious fire spitting rocket pack was tightly strapped to his back. “We never ever climb to the summit of the highest billowing peak,” he cried. “Because if we were to trip and plummet down to earth, we might put a dent on our splendid tin skin.”
“But I’m homesick,” Mable told the prime minister. “And I miss my Nana and Pop.”
“What ever for?” he cried back down. “It’s a proven fact that we tin robots are much better then your Nana and Pop. Because unlike your Nana and Pop, well never wear or tear.”
Just then the sky filled up with the smell of rain. It became very windy, and dark stormy clouds appeared from above. “I don’t think that’s true,” Mable said firmly as the sky started to rumble with the sound of thunder.
“But it is,” said the prime minister, shielding himself from the rain that was starting to fall. “It’s a fact. It’s been proven by our very best scientists.”
Mable stepped bravely on the edge of the billow. Below there was a sheer drop a million countless miles all the way back down to Quapaw.
“What are you doing?” the prime minister asked.
Mable smiled. “I’m going home,” she said. “I think my Nana and Pop might need me.” She gave the prime minister a wave goodbye, then jumped from the cloud, shouting “Bonsai,” as she fell through the sky--aiming herself for the waters of the fishpond far far below. The drop lasted only a minute. Then seconds from impact, Mable performed one of her patented dives--the triple summersault spinning torpedo dive. She hit the water in perfect form.
But far above, the coy fish cloud was anything but perfect. A great storm had hit and the cloud was becoming a rainy mess. From the gloomy sky’s poured buckets of rain and flashes of terrible lighting. The cloud quickly turned to soup, the robot city rusted up and crumbled, and all the robots rained down upon Quapaw.
Some of the robots crashed landed in the prairie. Some fell on the roof of the filling station, some in the branches of trees, and some on the old two-lane. The robot prime minister’s malfunctioning rocket pack tossed him in the fishpond right next to Mable. Like all the others, he was very badly damaged. His skin dripped with rust and decay, and his head was dented in pretty badly.
“Our splendid tin skin has been ruined,” he griped to Mable, trying his very best to keep afloat. “Now us tin robots are as ugly and rickety as a bunch of old lawnmowers. Were as foul and untidy as a shed full of dirt encrusted tools--what on earth are we possibly good for now?”
Mable laughed as she floated in the pond--she was very glad to be back home. “There’s no need to pout, prime minister. I can think of something you’d be just great at,” she said, and she helped the prime minister paddle back to shore.

That night, Mable gathered up all the rusted ruined robots, and she put them all to work. With the robot prime minister incharge of barking orders, the robots toiled through the night, fixing up the filling stations dead neon sign.
By dawn the sign was alive and well--glowing like a burning cinder high above the dark morning prairie.
The dazzling neon brought Mables Nana and Pop down from the porch to see. They both seemed alive and well, their sickness cured, and Mable swallowed them both up in her arms. “Where on earth have you been, Mable?” her Pop asked. “It’s been a real humdrum week with out you.”
Mable was about to tell them about her entire adventure--it would have been a fantastic tale, filled with splendid tin skin robots, towering futuristic cities, and colossal warrior pheasants. But before she even had a chance to utter a single word, a blue station wagon pulled into the filling station and the service bell rang.
“By the way, Mable,” her Pop asked as he put on his bowtie. “All those robots on top of the roof, who are they?”
Mable looked up on the roof. Under the shade of the neon sign, all the robots were resting and drinking bottles of cold soda pop. They waved hello to Mable. Mable smiled and waved hello back. “They all work here now, Pop. If that’s okay with you.”
Her Pop thought it was a king idea.
So for countless years to come, the tin skin robots worked at the old filling station for fifty cents an hour, and Mable’s Nana and Pop were able to spend there lasting days having some real fun. So together with Mable they traveled the endless skies in crop dusting airplanes, read old thrilling comic books out loud, performed a million countless daredevil dives, and lived a life worth living in the wild white prairies of Quapaw.