I left the coffee shop shortly after Binks did. Unsure of what I wanted to do next, I decided to go home, if for no other reason than to get some sensible shoes.
When I got home, I had a bit of a shock. I discovered that the house was completely gone, and the entire lot was occupied by a nicely landscaped pond. Although man-made, the pond was not freshly installed, if the plant life and the age of the wood chips that were spread over the beds were any indication. This pond had been here for quite some time. Exactly how that could be, I didn’t know. I double-checked that I had the address right, and I did. My house had been replaced by a pond.
My initial concerns were for the beloved quartet of Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude. I had no way to know where they were or if they were safe. My secondary concern was for my shoes. I would be stuck with duck feet for at least a little while longer.
In the front corner of the lot, there was a park bench that faced the pond. I sat down, intending to calm myself so that I could begin to apply my intelligence to the problems before me. The fish in the sky were reflected in the pond’s still waters and seemed almost to mock me. I became convinced that my house’s disappearance had something to do with those wretched fish.
I had been sitting there, thoughts churning, for about two minutes when Barbara crawled from beneath the bench and hopped up beside me.
“Hi, Barbara,” I said. She deigned to let me scratch her behind the ears. “Got any advice for me? I’m in bad shape here.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have much help for you,” said Barbara with a sigh. “It is quite possible that your home can never be restored. Unfortunately, the only thing I can tell you for certain is that your female companion is safe.”
On hearing the news that the beloved quartet was safe, the vise that had been squeezing my entrails for the past few minutes evaporated. The sudden change in pressure made me laugh. Barbara regarded me quizzically. “They’re okay,” I said. “That’s the most important news you could have possibly told me.”
Barbara shrugged. “If you say so.”
“So where are they?” I asked.
“That, I don’t know. I only know that she is currently safe and in no imminent danger. Her whereabouts are hidden from me.”
“Oh. Well, that makes the news not quite as good.”
We sat looking at the pond for a while. After a time, Barbara said, “What are you going to do?”
I sighed. “Well, my first instinct is to see after Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude. However, I have a feeling that the more selfless and noble course of action would be to move forward with the fish business.”
“Which will you choose?”
“I have a strong hunch that the two choices are interconnected. So if I focus my efforts on retrieving my loved ones, I will also be making progress on the fish front. Hopefully.”
“So you will follow your own selfish ends and leave the world to its fate?”
I looked at Barbara. “I don’t see it that way,” I said. “Fix a small piece of the world, and the whole is improved, however slightly.”
Barbara gave a nod of approval. Then she said, “You still have a mailbox.”
I glanced to the other front corner of the lot. Sure enough, the old mailbox was still there, the only element of my house that remained. “Well, I guess I’d better get the mail,” I said, standing.
“I’ll leave you to it,” said Barbara. She hopped down from the bench. “We’ll meet again soon.” She trotted daintily into the bushes and disappeared from view.