How Many Coffins Are There on This Maine Island?
I was driving toward Whirlpool Eddie McCoy’s Gently Used Car Emporium — I needed a new brake pedal, because mine fell off — when I saw a bright white pickup truck turn off toward Henry’s place. There’s only one bright white pickup truck on the island, and I knew this was the Big Showdown. The Übergeek from the Canadian Ministry of Outport Management was heading off to count Coffins.
I spun a neat 180 in the Island Car, which for me looks a whole lot more like a three-point turn than the squealing spins you see in most car-chase movies, and I headed off in hot pursuit. I wasn’t going to miss this for anything.
By the time I parked and ran up the porch steps, Larry the CMOM Guy was knocking on the Coffins’ front door. Meg answered and shot me a sweet, snaggle-toothed smile over Larry’s shoulder.
“I’m here on official business, ma’am,” Larry said in his best officacious tone. “Canadian Ministry of Outport Management. I need to know how many people reside in this domicile.”
Oh, I wished he was asking me that question. Straight-laced little Meg will give him a boring, honest answer. But I would come up with some kind of smartass, dumbfounding answer that would make his pointy little —
“I think there are thirteen of us,” Meg said cheerfully.
“You think there are thirteen?” Larry snapped back. “You’re not sure?”
“Well, I don’t know whether Aunt Edna’s dropped the twins yet,” Meg answered, adjusting her faded purple beret. I couldn’t believe my ears. “She was supposed to deliver those little rug-rats a week ago, but she’s determined to get out of doing her chores just as long as she can, I reckon.”
“I see,” Larry replied, scribbling into his notebook. “Let’s assume the twins. Do I understand that there are fifteen people living here?”
“Oh, I don’t know what you understand,” Meg said, flashing me another grin. “But let’s see. There’s my father Henry, my grandfather Henry, and my uncle Henry, and there’s my —”
“Hold it!” Larry retorted. “Do you mean to say that three of the people living here are named Henry?”
“Well, I just don’t know,” Meg replied with a serious expression. “If one of Edna’s twins is a boy, which my cousin Henry is predicting — and he’s never wrong, you know — then there might be more. I think Edna likes the name, too.”
“Wait a minute,” Larry persisted. “Your cousin Henry? He wasn’t one of the ones you mentioned a moment ago.”
“Didn’t I? I’m sorry. Let’s see. There’s my grandfather Henry, my cousin Henry, and my father Henry. So that makes three. And then there’s my mother Cory and her sister Meg —”
“You forgot your uncle Henry,” Larry said.
“Oh, you can’t forget my uncle Henry. He’s the black sheep of the family. Always getting in trouble for running cigarettes into Canada illegally. So there’s my uncle Henry, and my cousin Henry, and my father Henry, and my mother Cory, and her sister Meg —”
“Running cigarettes! I’ll have you know I work for the Canadian government!”
“And I’m sure you do an excellent job,” Meg said, patting him on the arm. “Now let’s see — there are the nieces, of course: Molly, and Maggie, and Marie, Maria, and Melinda, and Marcia.”
“Are Marie and Maria the same person?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think so. Then there’s the nephews — Bobby, Henry, Joe, Frank, and —”
Meg kept this going for almost half an hour. Eventually, Larry marched off the porch with a notebook full of names and arrows and margin notes and crossed-out things. I think the total he finally got was eighteen people living in the one house.
I just gazed at Meg with newfound admiration. Who knew that delicious deviousness could lurk beneath a simple, Quaker exterior?
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — MapleLeaf249: It’s really not funny to mess with the Canadian government. And it’s even less funny to write about it in your blog. I’m sure the authorities will see this and give you a stern talking-to.
Comment — Leonardo: The only way we can throw off the shackles of oppression that capitalist systems use to keep us down is by thwarting their efforts at every turn. What Meg did was noble. Power to the people!
Comment — Edith5545: I just don’t know about all this.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.