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I can do anything you can do”
by O. Pauline Walters

The cold bit deeply. Snow fell upon ground already covered with sleet. My brother was ill, too ill to tend the trapline that I had helped him set the day before.

The traps had to be tended every day: tripped, baited, reset and cared for. Jim looked at me and pleaded, “Sis, can you do it?”

“Jim, I can do anything you can do!” Whether I could do it alone or not, I had to try. I tied a scarf over my head, pulled on a pair of his jeans, his boots and mackinaw, called his dog, Bulger, and plunged into the frozen loneliness.

At the bank of the Little Colorado, I stood for a long moment looking skyward. Gazing across the vast expanse of white, I could feel a freedom in this lonely land. It was a freedom Jim and I shared and loved.

The work began smoothly. I found the first four traps sprung, the bait gone. I reset them and hurried on. It was nearing noon, and there were still eight traps to tend. Three were badger traps. Vicious instruments: all steel and almost impossible to set. I wondered if I would be able to do it. Then I thought, “I can do anything you can do!” and plodded on.

After springing and resetting the next three traps, I scraped snow from a large rock and sat down to eat a cold sandwich, wistfully thinking of hot tea, wondering if Jim had felt well enough to eat a bit.

Bulger sat on his haunches and whined for a share of my meager meal. Calling him a no-good lazy beggar for not hunting his own lunch, I divided my sandwich with him. He disposed of it in one gulp and begged for more.

Soon it was time to move again. The chill was beginning to penetrate to the bone, but from here on each trap would bring us closer to home. The next trap held nothing. Night would be here soon, and we had to hurry to take care of the last trap. As we approached, Bulger sniffed the air, snorted, then tucked his tail between his legs and ran. I scolded him back, caught his collar and held him for a few minutes. Lazy coward that he was, I felt safer when he was near.

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We rounded a small hill, and the last trap came into sight. It held a full grown badger, as large as I had ever seen. Though caught by the steel jaws just above his foot, the badger went into a fighting crouch. He bared his teeth and sounded a war cry that raised Bulger’s bristles right from the spine. My own hair tried to lift my scarf.

Bulger charged to within safe distance and bounced around and around the badger, crying challenges as if he held the world at bay. I couldn’t move. I was sure there had never been even a grizzly larger than this badger.

For a moment, my heart faltered. This beautiful wild life, caught in a pitiless trap. How I wished that Jim felt as I did, that all life should be free. But Jim trapped for a living, and the badger was money. His fur was sleek and faultless. I hoped that I could keep it from becoming torn.

If it were possible, I would have set the animal free. But he wouldn’t let me. I would have to kill him to release him.

I let Bulger run around and around the trap to weary the badger, while I looked for a stout club with which to knock him on the head. That would be the best way to protect his fur.

I had to wander a long distance before I found a proper cedar club. As I started back toward the battle, Bulger streaked toward me in fear. I though the badger had freed itself and was chasing him. But Bulger stopped close and looked at me as if to say, “I’m not fighting him all by myself!”

Between teeth that chattered with cold and fear, I grated, “Coward!” and walked on.

At the trap, Bulger again cried outrage and fiercely feigned attack while I tried to reach our quarry from the opposite side. Each time I came close enough to strike, Bulger whined, tucked his tail, and fled. The badger would then turn on me and I had to jump out of reach, which Bulger took as a signal to attack again from the other side. We danced this ballet for thirty minutes when slowly lifting clouds revealed that the sun was about to sink out of sight. The fight had to be ended – soon!

I drove in, swinging my club; and I didn’t run when the badger lunged at me. I came down heavily with my club, missing his head and striking him across the back just as he hooked long, sharp claws above my boot and brought me down. The badger would have cut my leg to ribbons if Bulger hadn’t suddenly forgot cowardice and attacked with the fury of a protective lioness.

The violence of their battle defies words. It was a bare, elemental struggle to death. Though the badger was hampered by the hold of the trap, pain and wild rage made him the superior fighter. The dog could not win this contest.

Desperate, I reached for my rifle, called Bulger off and, in the sun’s last rays, aimed and squeezed the trigger. The badger collapsed.

In the abrupt silence, Bulger approached me and, forgetting his own wounds, began to lick mine. A quick check showed that neither of us was badly injured. Just bloody.

I pulled Bulger’s ears and crooned, “You big fake. He had to down me to prove what a brave fellow you are.”

I was barely able to open the steel jaws to free our quarry’s leg, and it took most of my remaining energy to sling his forty pounds to my shoulder.

The mile-long trek home was a marathon in pain and fatigue. My worried brother was fully dressed and about to start looking for us when I fell through the doorway, the badger on top of me and Bulger close behind.

Jim relates that, after he washed the blood from my legs and face and hands, and carried me to the fire to thaw, I opened my eyes, grinned, and said. “I can do anything you can do.”

He says he is inclined to agree, except that it sometimes takes me a bit longer.

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The Naked Sea
by Austin West

How fair you are my seraphim
So bare, so bold, have you become –
No frills I need to captivate
Or set my thoughts to speculate
On curving thighs that shoreward lean
And fan desire with clouds of green
As I stand and stare at the naked sea,
And fall in love quite shamelessly.

How to be a pedestrian in three languages

The first few times we stepped into airplanes, Shirley and I were petrified until we got into the air… and completely undone when the planes began their landing approaches.

We’ve since learned that the greatest danger is not in the air, but on the ground; not at an airport, but on city streets – in Mexico City, or in Rome, or in Bangkok.

In Chicago, where we live, you can bluff your way across. The drivers here play a game that always – almost always – ends just short of mayhem. If you walk, they’ll stop… usually.

Not so in other countries. I have visions of finding myself in a foreign hospital and unable to communicate in sign language because of broken arms.

Shirley is more concerned with our lives. She just doesn’t think we can negotiate most busy foreign streets without being killed.

Our first exposure to the dangers of foreign traffic was in Mexico City. The most famous boulevard in that metropolis – the Reforma – is a marvel of space. Multi-laned, smooth, split along the center by a wide, paved parkway with trees and benches, it is bordered also by grassy parkways which separate the main road from parallel local streetways, along which stand many of the hotels and restaurants and shops of this cosmopolitan city.

Traffic buzzes on the main ways in clumps of autos which are regulated by clusters of traffic lights at complex, statue-dominated, multi-directional intersections.

In time you learn to cross well away from the traffic lights. Cars converge from so many directions around the magnificent statues and fountains that it’s almost impossible for you to sort out your own right of way. Away from the intersections you can slip in between the pulses of traffic. With luck – and if you move quickly and cleverly – you can cross almost safely.

Our nemesis in Rome was the Via Veneto. The first time we tried to cross – near another statue-dominated, helter-skelter multi-intersection – we were literally pinned to the sidewalk by maniacally speeding autos.

We were about to hail a cab in desperation when an Italian priest stepped to the curb and assessed the traffic situation with an experienced eye.

“This is our break,” I whispered to Shirley. “This guy knows the territory and he’s on a one-to-one basis with God. We go when he goes.”

Our benefactor stepped to the street and proceeded through a mysterious break in traffic. Halfway across, he glanced to the right, lifted the skirt of his cassock and sprinted wildly the rest of the way. We all reached the goal together.

The greatest challenge we have found so far was in Bangkok, Thailand. The only way to cross a main street in that city is to be born on the other side.

Near our hotel, cars leaped into the fray from a multitude of streets which emptied into – you guessed it – a statued intersection; and they leaped out with complete disregard of other cars caught in the centrifuge.

We couldn’t tell whether a policeman standing there was trying to control the traffic or hail a cab. He stood near the curb, waving a hand nervously as vehicles darted on the surface of the street with the suddenly changing directions of water spiders skimming on a pond.

Finally he retreated to the sidewalk and stood with arms folded, gloomily regarding catastrophe.

There were no stoplights to help the policeman. Indeed, during our five day visit in the city we saw only three traffic signals; and they were located well away from the central area.

There is a system, devised by a photographer-writer team, to cross busy Bangkok streets. Milt and Joan Mann had to find a solution in order to complete an assignment there. They had noticed that the relentless flow ebbed in response to vehicle horns. A normal klaxon slowed it by a slight response, and a truck horn’s powerful blast brought all vehicles to a crawl.

They bought a small fog horn and secreted it in a plain paper sack. One blast of that horn brought everything to an immediate halt, and they rushed across before the drivers recovered from the shock. It worked every time.

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Vengeance of the Cats

Yesterday I got even with that guy. It’ll be a long time before he drags me and Sis out of our house again and dumps us into a hospital with a bunch of howling dogs and other poor dumb animals.

Sis and I are cats. Her name is Toil and mine is Trouble. The old man – he’s my mistress’s father – calls us a few other things when we climb the drapes.

He started the whole business. The old badger put us in this hospital, and when we woke next day our front claws didn’t work. He must have bribed one of the humans in that joint to step on our paws, because they hurt to beat hell. Or maybe the old curmudgeon did it himself, ’cause I scratched him when he hauled me into that snakepit of sick dogs and other dumb animals.

I don’t know what he had against Sis, though. She rode on Andrea’s shoulder and didn’t hurt her at all. Andrea is the fossil’s daughter. She’s good to us.

They left us in that asylum for three days before they came to get us. All smiles he was, and gentle, that damned old hypocrite. If he was so concerned about us, why didn’t he come to get us earlier, instead of waiting for a day that was cold and rainy. By the time he carried me to the parking lot we were both wet and miserable. That’s no big thing for him, drat him. He’s miserable most of the time. But it made me mad and mean.

That’s when I decided to get even. Instead of jumping into the car as he opened the door, I dived out of his arms to the ground and scooted under the auto. You should’ve heard him yell. Then he tried to wheedle me with sweet talk, and that made me sicker than ever.

The ground was wet and cold, so I jumped onto the rear works of the car and yelled back just what I thought of him.

After coaxing me for about five minutes, the old fool got down on the ground and tried to slide under the car and grab me. He couldn’t get in far enough on account of his big damned stomach, so he lay there with his clothes soaking water and tried to entice me off the warm exhaust pipe that I sat on. I let him stay there a while to experience the indignity of living close to wet ground. He made a fool of himself trying to coax me. I would have enjoyed it if I weren’t feeling so bad myself… and cold… and scared.

I decided to let him capture me so I could warm myself in the car. I eased to the ground but kept out of reach, forcing him to crawl from under the car and run around to the other side and get back down on the ground in order to catch me. He grabbed my sore leg so hard it scared me silly, and I forced a real tug-of-war before I released my hind claws from the asphalt.

A couple of people walked by just then, and they looked like they wanted to laugh. I didn’t think it was funny at all, and the old badger sure didn’t act like he got a kick out of it. He muttered to himself all the way home about his new jacket being all wet and dirty. Hmph! What about my fur coat!

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Anticipation and Disappointment
by Clara M. Wenner

The grass is always greener
On the other side of the fence;
And ’til you fin’lly get there,
It may keep you in suspense.

But oh, how disappointing
It oftentimes turns out to be;
When once you reach the other side
It’s an exact facsimile.

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Uggle and Muggle Delay the Advent of Advertising

“What we need now,” said Uggle to his brother, Muggle, “is to set up an advertising campaign for our firewood sales.”

“Good idea,” agreed Muggle. “Uh, what’s advertising?”

“That’s somethin’ else we’re gonna have to invent. The idea is simple. All you have to do is tell people what they need – even if they don’t need it – and tell them what they want – even if they don’t want it. You make them believe that they do need it and must have it, and that the need and must is their own idea. You’re just pulling out needs and wants and ideas that have been floating around in their subconscious.

“Wow!” whispered Muggle. “I hope you understand all that. I sure don’t.”

(It might be wise to explain at this point that Uggle and Muggle were Neanderthal brothers who not long before had invented the wheel while building a firewood business.)

“Let’s see, where was I before that pen pusher interrupted?”

“What’s a pen pusher?”

“That’s a writer, but don’t bother your head about it. We don’t have pens yet, and writers ain’t never gonna amount to nothin’ anyhow. Let’s have an organization meeting.”

“Because you invented the wheel by sliding home on a rolling log, we’ll let you be president of the firewood company.”

“What do I do?”

“Just sit around and look skeptical.”

“Okay,” Muggle replied. “But you sure make it tough on a guy. I don’t even know what skeptical means.”

“Later,” mumbled Uggle. “Now, I’ll be the account executive.”

“I hate to be obtuse,” broke in Muggle again, “especially since I don’t know what ‘obtuse’ is. I don’t even know what ‘especially’ is. But what does an account executive do?”

“That’s a question, pal, that probably will defy the ages. Near as I can figure, he’s the guy who first finds out how the business owner wants his product advertised, and then he goes and tells the agency how the product should be advertised, and then he convinces the client that it’s all the agency’s idea.

“If the product sells, the business man will be happy and the agency will make a lot of money on the account and the account executive will be a hero. If it doesn’t sell, then phtt! everybody goes down the drain.

“Uggle,” broke in Muggle, “my head is beginning to ache. Why don’t we just go out and cut some firewood and bring it back and sell it to the folks around here like we’ve been doing since before the last big snow?

“Wel-l-l,” said Uggle, “there doesn’t seem to be much progress that way, but it does sound simple and direct. Maybe we’ll forget about advertising for a while and work out a chain of game food restaurants. I understand there’s a good buck to be made in exotic foods.”

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Time Out for the Necessary Non-Essentials

Body type is IBM Century (strike-on cold type), considered by many to be a bromide face, but bringing to me fond memories of first sticking type while reporter and editor of a high school newspaper. Headlines are set in Lydian and Lydian Cursive on a Stripprinter photo typesetter. Printed on a Davidson 500 offset press at the Circle Press, Chicago, IL 60659. Harold Smolin, prop.

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