In which two girls walk in the dark, talking about porcupines and boys and such.
"No! I want nothing to do with your wild schemes, no matter what they are!"
"Tusla, Tusla! We have been friends since playschool! Have I ever let you down?"
"How about two days ago? With your fabulous, incredible, mind-numbingly brilliant idea of calling that very same person?"
"It could, like, have gone sooo well! If only you hadn't panicked!"
"Well, trust me to panic! I will do it again! Besides, you are probably planning something even wilder this time!"
"What, me? I just try to be nice and tell you that I've got Invisible Boy's street address."
"Invisible my plump behind! You probably just looked in the opposite direction of where he was running. And if you think you'll get me into stalking a customer ..."
"Women don't stalk. Men hunt, women gather. So just think of this as information gathering."
"Right. Don't mind me creeping in your bushes, I am just gathering your information!"
"Tell me again" said Anne-Linn as they walked along the now dark alley, "how you managed to talk me into this."
"I think it began when I offered to go with you and let you borrow my binoculars."
"Wasn't it the most amazing coincidence that to happen to have these big binoculars in your purse, on this of all days?"
"There must be, like, some higher purpose to it, no doubt."
"And now, please tell me again why we are doing this in the first place!"
"To study the feeding and mating behavior of the European porcupine, which is a nocturnal animal often found in old suburban gardens and hedges?"
"Right. Now please tell me why we are really doing this."
"To check on the health and the, er, well-being of one of our best customers."
"Jon is not one of our best customers. He buys a bag of groceries each Saturday."
"Well, that's still more than some of those pensioners who just come in to buy a smoke."
"But it is less than any of the families."
"True. I guess that spells the end of the live-in girlfriend theory... or perhaps she buys her own groceries?"
"There is no way he is living with a girlfriend. She would have done all the shopping."
"Don't be so old-fashioned. Perhaps she's a carpenter and bodybuilder, while he likes cross-stitching and interior decoration. We won't know for sure until we have used those binoculars."
It is quite dark already. Now and then cars pass them without slowing down. The orange light from the street lamps makes their shadows change form all the time as they walk. Shorter, longer, shorter, longer.
"This is too stupid. I am not going to do it. We should just go home now."
Shorter. Longer. A dog barks somewhere to the left. More cars drive by. The dog keeps barking.
"Tassen will wonder why I don't come home on time. He will miss me."
"Porcupines are lonely too, but they are so very shy."
"What are you talking about?"
The next road to the left has fewer street lamps and less traffic. In between lamps they can see rifts in the clouds, and stars in the rifts. Their footsteps are the loudest sound when there are no cars. It is like the beat of a drum which they do not control. The darkness and a drum and the impossibility of it all makes it a dream, and she tries to wake up.
"I am not going with this crazy idea. I am going straight home."
There is no answer, and she keeps walking. The beat of the drum does not change its rhythm.
"Ask me anything you want to know about boys."
Anne-Linn jumped as her friend suddenly broke the silence. "What was that about? Why now, all of a sudden?"
"You know birds, and those other things that go with birds..."
"Right. Birds and eggs. Someone has forgotten to have that talk with you, about birds and eggs. So we are doing it now, before it is too late."
"Too late? What are you talking about?"
"You're like, what does it say on those bottles? Extra-virgin, that's it! Your body is 18, your brain is 28, and your heart is 8. That's not good."
"Marianne, we are friends. But that doesn't mean that we have to do the same things. I am perfectly happy to remain a virgin until I find the right man."
"That's nice and all. What worries me is that you are not just a virgin, you are a clueless virgin."
"What do you mean, clueless?"
Marianne turns toward her, a strange grin on her face, like some barely domesticated predator. "Well, for instance: Do you know what turns a shy boy on?"
"Bzzzt! Wrong answer! If you strip naked, you'll scare the poor boy out of his skin! It is too much, too fast. He cannot make the mental jump from nothing to everything, and he won't be in the mood at all. See? It's a good thing I am here to answer all your questions. Now, try again!"
"Uhm, how about porn?"
"Sure, most boys like porn. But not if you bring it. That would make you a slut, and nice boys don't like sluts. OK, let me ask the question in a different way: What body parts will turn a shy guy on?"
Anne-Linn hoped the darkness would hide her furious blush. "Er, uh, genitals?"
Marianne suddenly stopped walking and just stared at her. "You sicko! What's wrong with you?!"
"Hey! I wasn't the one who started to talk about dirty things here!"
"No wonder you never get a boyfriend!"
"That's not fair! It's not like I've tried. And anyway..."
"If some guy suddenly whipped out his hammer with no warning, would you think that was sexy?"
"Of course not! What a perv!"
"Right! So, what body parts?"
"Breasts! Our secret weapon, which turns kings into slaves, saints into sinners, and wise men into fools! They all fall, like wheat before the reaper, helpless before our BREASTS OF DOOM! Muahahahaa!"
"You don't need to sound quite so happy about it." Anne-Linn muttered, hoping nobody has heard her friend's quite loud proclamation.
"A bouncy chest is indeed the ultimate weapon, but now I was talking about shy guys. And, believe it or not, that makes a difference. You know why? Because you have eyes! Your eyes will catch the poor guy like a deer in the headlights. He will not dare to stare at your chest... well, not unless you're blindfolded. And that's kinda difficult to arrange without rousing their suspicion. Which leaves us with your backside."
"The butt? That's it?"
"No, I mean it literally. You have to turn your back on them from time to time. Of course the seat of your pants is the main attraction, and should be able to hold their attention for hours. But don't forget the rest. With long hair like yours, you should try letting it down so it runs like a river down your back. Lots of boys like hair. Others like legs; be sure to let them get a good view of your legs. Short skirts can be good, if you avoid looking too trashy. And the back itself is good, especially the lower back. A short top that accidentally shows a bit of skin, for instance. There are also some trousers that will conveniently slide a little bit down. But with hips and thighs like yours, you can always fall back on the basics."
"You're pulling my leg! My backside is larger than life and looks like a sack of wheat."
"I have mirrors!"
"Mirrors lie. The truth is that size doesn't matter, unless it is extreme one way or another. Like Guinness Book of Records extreme. You need the right clothes, which you don't have, and the right walk, which you do have. Make sure to accidentally wiggle at the right time, and you will hypnotize them like a snake hypnotizes a sparrow. And don't forget the hair, the back and the legs. And now, shut up. The house is there."
Marianne pointed up the short road, where they could see the roof of a small house surrounded by large hedges. A big iron gate was the only opening. The two girls walked up to the gate in silence. In fact, one of them practically tiptoed. And then they stopped, dismayed. The windows were dark. Not so much as a candle was shining anywhere within those gates.
"Well, so much for that good idea" said Anne-Linn with half-hearted relief. "We know he is alive and able to work, so he is simply not home right now."
"That's almost too good to be true!" Marianne suddenly beamed. "You know what this means, right?"
"We can go home and forget the whole thing?"
"Quite the opposite, my dear associate. This means we can safely inspect the house from close up!" Marianne opened the heavy gate. The sound of its screeching seemed to echo off every wall in the neighborhood. Anne-Linn knew that was just her imagination, but she still looked quickly to the left and the right. Not a soul in sight, of course. Quickly she slipped inside the gate after her friend.
As they moved toward the house, the darkness grew heavier. The hedges were tall and dense, and the moon was still hidden; only the stars added their feeble glitter to the tired yellow glow of street lights pouring through the gate, cut into pieces by the iron bars. Gradually the girls' eyes grew more used to the dimness. None of them wanted to speak loud enough to attract the attention of the neighbors, so Anne-Linn almost whispered: "What is the point of looking when we cannot see?"
"Patience, oh inexperienced one. In five minutes, we should be able too look in through the windows. For now, let us check the front door."
"The front door?"
"Yes. If it is, by some miracle, unlocked ..."
"You want to break in?"
"It's the breaking part I don't want. Entering is good."
"What if he comes home?"
"Then we quietly slip out. Somehow."
"I admire your confidence."
"I know these things. I've watched a lot of movies."
The door is locked. Marianne fumbles under the doormat, but finds no key. Anne-Linn hangs back. The feeling of unreality is back. She is acutely aware of each breath she takes, as if that is the only thing that anchors her to the world she has known until now. How did she end up trying to break into a house? Marianne drags her along, checking windows this time. They are all securely closed. Then, a small exclamation from Marianne. "Got one!"
Anne-Linn looked in dismay. "It's a bathroom window", she whispered.
"So what? Windows don't smell." It creaked slightly as she opened it.
"But it's so small! And chest high, too."
"It's not that small. Come on, you help me in first, then I help you." Marianne had the window fully open now, and put her head and arms through. Anne-Linn tried to help by lifting her friend's legs, but the slender and athletic Marianne could probably have made it alone. There was a small clatter from inside and a couple words that were not found in children's books, as the descent inside seemed to happen a bit faster than she had expected. Anne-Linn bit her lip. "You OK?" she called as softly as she could.
Some horribly long seconds passed, then she could make out a shape in the darkness inside. Marianne had got to her feet. Her hair was severely out of place, an unusual sight for her. "Right on the WC" she muttered. "Why do men have to put up the seat??"
Anne-Linn could not help but giggle. "You don't sound seriously hurt."
"Only my pride. OK, your turn. Don't worry, I'll hold you so you don't suffer my fate."
"I am more worried about not getting through."
"Don't be silly." Marianne grabbed under her arms and pulled. She slid through the window fairly fast ... at least until halfway through. It seemed, after all, that Anne-Linn had harbored a more realistic view of her third measure than her friend. "I'm getting stuck!"
"Darn it! You are almost through!"
"My hips get wider the further down you get."
"Only to a point. Come on, wriggle, and I'll pull."
"I'm wriggling, I'm wriggling!"
"So I see" says a deep yet cultured voice startlingly close. "Although I think it would have been faster to simply ring the bell."