Tootles and the Grasshopper
Copyright 2008, Jim Penny
Word count: 1445
This story was first told on 31 December 1995 as a bedtime story. It was told once more on 21 March 1996 at the first chapel service of spring held by Greensboro College. The dudes required fresh stories every night; repetitions were not allowed. I had to apologize for the repeat of this story, even though it was a chapel service.
Note: Thbpt is that rude noise we refer to as a “raspberry.”
It was a warm mid-morning in early summer toward 1961, and Grandmother, already dusted in White Lily self-rising flour, was busy in her kitchen getting lunch, what she would call dinner, together. The entire family was coming in today for some reason I don’t remember, probably because I was too little then to remember details outside my own world of precious stones and toads.
The nine-pane window over the double sink was open, and the morning breeze fluttered the yellowed curtain, tugging lightly from the sash where Grandmother had tied it earlier that morning while the first streaks of dawn painted the sky.
She hummed to herself, sometimes in tune with the birds in the pecan grove by the house, sometimes with last Sunday’s choir, but never in tune with strange and unfortunately familiar thbpting sound that drifted through the window, a sound laced with the other, sweeter, sounds of summer’s morning.
Had she not been so busy with the big lunch for her family, she might have taken time to investigate that thbpt further, and if she had, she would have found, yet again, it was Tootles, the blue and green Muscovy duck, chasing a grasshopper through the garden. Seeing Tootles taken with honest labor would have warmed Grandmother’s heart toward the old duck, and Tootles needed all the human sympathy she could get, especially sympathy from Grandmother, but she didn’t investigate the sound, she didn’t see Tootles hard at work debugging the garden, and Tootles missed a golden opportunity to win a kindly thought and perhaps a morsel of table scrap.
This morning, Tootles was ready for a snack. No, she needed a snack! She’d had a big breakfast of corn sprouts that morning, and Grandmother had not yet noticed the missing sprouts even if they were in the first row of the garden. The bean sprouts planned for lunch were waiting in the next row. Tootles needed her mid-morning snack, just like everyone else on the farm, and she had her eye on a grasshopper, one just the right size for a hungry and hard working Scoby duck.
The problem was that the grasshopper had his eye on Tootles. He also had a rascally bent about him, something not uncommon for a grasshopper, and he was not inclined, not in the least, to be a duck’s snack, but he was inclined to tease a hungry Scoby duck, and that was just what he was doing this morning.
Tootles was hunkered between the beans, stalking, as best a duck can stalk, this green and brown grasshopper, one she knew would make a crunchy tasty morsel before her mid-morning nap in the garden. Her big feathery wings stuck straight out, her large webbed feet stepping through the sand and dust in slow motion. You could hardly see her breathe. She might as well have been a Ninja Duck.
The Grasshopper was not unaware of Tootles’ shenanigans this morning. Au Contraire, he was in complete control, and poor Tootle didn’t know it. How could she? She was a hungry duck. Just before Tootles was close enough to nab her crunchy snack, the hopper would twitch his fuzzy bottom. (No, science doesn’t not yet know why hoppers have fuzzy bottoms. It’s still a mystery.)
Well, that was just too much for this easily excited and very hungry duck, making her lunge and thbpt just a step too far away, giving the ornery hopper all the time he needed to jump off the bean, spread his hoppery wings, fly away on a looping arc, and buzz down on another bean on another row where he munched on his own snack while waiting for Tootles to find him again. Boy hoppers can be rascally that way.
Jump. Thbpt. Buzz. Jump. Thbpt. Buzz. Jump. Thbpt. Buzz. What a concert it was! A drama extraordinaire, it was, all morning long.
In the house, we had all gathered to eat lunch, though it was more a feast. If you can imagine it, if it were food, if you could find it in or near the garden, Grandmother had cooked it. Collards, turnips, corn, snap beans, butterbeans, and garden peas. Biscuits, cornbread, and hush puppies. Chicken, ham, and turkey. (But alas and alack, no duck.)
In the middle of that table, surrounded by all that food and a gaggle of hungry people, were two beautiful, white coconut cakes for our desert. We ate with a vengeance, like soldiers on a mission, and the object of our culinary battle was those two cakes, placed before us all, unattainable until we had cleaned our plates, twice.
Out in the beans, Tootles was at her limit, her ducky patience about gone. She had caught onto the hopper’s evil plan, and now she had one of her own, a design surely to get that crunchy bug in her beak, to end the rumbly in her tumbly. She took bigger steps. She lifted her head less. When the hopper wiggled his fuzzy bottom, she waited to lunge, just a tiny bit, and then she did it.
She lunged and thbpted like no other Scoby duck in all the history of Muscovy had ever jumped or thbpted before, but this time, with Tootles’ beak so close, the hopper suffered a shock; the kind of shock from which a hopper dates! A close brush with mortality can do that for a bug, and he spread his brittle, hoppery wings and flew like the wind, or as best to like the wind as a locust can fly. Just behind his fuzzy, now flying, bottom was Tootles, first running, then jumping and flapping, finally just flapping, thbpting on every stroke of leg or wing. She wanted that bug!
The two made a fine summer symphony of buzz and thbpt, and they were headed straight for the open kitchen window.
We had finished with lunch, and were admiring the cakes. Grandmother was standing to the side of the table preparing to slice the first one, smiling at the empty bowls and scrapped-clean plates spread before her. We had done our job well, declaring that we just didn’t know where we’d find room for the cake, knowing full well we’d eat a slice, maybe two, even at the risk of exploding.
So taken were we with the moment that no one noticed the little hopper sail through the window., but we all noticed Tootles as she spread her wide Scoby wings, put on her feathery brakes, let out one last giant thbpt, and then land perfectly on the table, one foot in each cake.
Grandmother was not amused.
We all sat at the table, frozen in surprise. Tootles was stepping in the cakes, puzzled by the sticky frosting clinging to her feet, legs, belly, and wings. She was nibbling a few beans off my plate when Grandmother attacked her with the broom, a handmade broom of straw gathered by my grandfather from the field across from the house. She swept that duck across the kitchen, over the refrigerator, under the counter, knocking dishes from the drainer to the sink, touching every base, and making a tremendous mess in the process.
Finally, the pair, sweeping, thbpting, flapping, thbpting, and molting were at the top of the backdoor stairs. Grandmother pulled back the broom in a form from which Arnold Palmer could have learned, and she swatted Tootles square in her feathered bottom, launching the poor, still hungry, duck through the gap in the pecan trees, high above the garden, and down to the round pond towards the end of the field.
Tootles barely missed the pigs rooting in the mud at the edge of the pond as she plomped down without ceremony into the shallow water, telling the pigs that she meant to do that. It took a while to wash the icing from her head, wings, and tummy. Her feet took longer. The pigs, being just a notch above Scoby ducks on the evolutionary ladder, were much amused by the incident. The fish in the pond enjoyed the special icing treat.
As for the grasshopper, he flew back out the window to the beans in the garden, enjoyed his lunch, and settled down for a long siesta under a shady leaf.