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Prairie Dogs

Bill isn't the sharpest tack in the drawer. He's been that way pretty much his whole life or at least since I've known him, which is close to the time he left the womb. Now most people think Bill just came out that way but not me. I think that when Bill was a kid he just took too many pucks to the head. He's not much of a skater so they'd always throw him into goal. Unfortunately, he's not much of a goalie either. But that's neither here nor there, for the final result is the same. Bill needs a little extra care and understanding.

He's a large man. Not fat, but tall and solid, and when you combine that with the dim-witted look that he has about him, a lot of people find him kind of scary. It seems that everyone just expects him to do something nasty. It's almost like they want him to, so they'll have a reason for feeling about him the way that they do.

I know Bill better than that. I know him to be as gentle as a kitten and as innocent as a child. I know that he didn't do what they're after him for and I wasn't about to sit by and watch them punish him for it. That wouldn't be right.

That's why we boarded the train. And that's why I sit across from Bill now, watching him stare out at the blank canvas of a wheat-covered prairie. Once in a while I'll see his eyes light up and he'll smile like he's laughing at a joke that nobody else gets. Then his look will fade as quickly as it came and he'll just stare intently at the fields. I'll be damned if I can ever see what he's laughing at.

"Can I get you anything?" I hear in a French Canadian accent. I look up to see a lanky steward pushing a refreshment cart through the centre isle.

"No thanks. Bill, you want anything?"

He just shakes his head. Bill's a man of few words. The steward moves on offering his wares to the rest of the disinterested passengers. I turn back to Bill just in time to see that stupid grin come across his face again. I look out the window, but I can't see anything there. Maybe he thinks the noon sun has truly turned the field of wheat into a sea of gold. Or maybe, having never seen the prairies before, in his simple mind he thinks that a gold ocean is what he's really looking at, the train has turned into a boat and we're sailing away into a new magical land called Toronto. I find myself envying the childlike way in which he sees the world.

We've always been friends, or well, the equivalent of it anyway. I've always looked after him. I was looking after him when I got him the job working for Marion Janson.

"Johnny, why'd we have to leave?" Bill asks with a sincere lack of understanding.

"Those people were after you. And if they found you, there's no telling what they would've done." I respond.

"But I didn't do nothing for them to be after me for. I would never have hurt Mrs. Janson; she was always nice to me." There seems to be a bit of pain added to the confusion in his voice.

"I know that, Bill, but those people had their minds made up."

"Maybe we could've talked to them," he appeals.

"When a group of people get the same angry notion in their heads, it's damn near impossible to reason with them." I rationalize.

"We could've tried," Bill sulks as he turns back to the window.

I can understand why he's upset. Marion had been nice to him. Well, that is to say, she treated him the same way she treated everyone else, which is not something that Bill's used to.

He worked in the yard for her. Cutting grass, gardening and the like. It was a good job for Bill. That was why I recommended him for it. I'd known Marion for close to a year, ever since she moved to the area. She'd inherited a bunch of money from her husband and she bought a large Victorian farmhouse just outside of town. It needed some renovations and that was where I came in. Actually it was more restorations than renovations. I had to scrape down and refinish all of the woodwork in the house. She wanted everything to look as though the house had just been built. Then she wanted to fill it with antiques so that stepping through her door would be like stepping into the past.

I worked up there for a few of months completing it all. During that time I'd really gotten to know her. She would always compliment my work, telling me what a good craftsman I was. It was nice to hear, especially from someone as particular as Marion was.

She was forty-six, making her ten years my senior, but her long blond hair gave her a youthful appearance. Her late husband had been twenty-five years older than her. He was a Canadian ambassador who had worked in embassies all over the world. I thought that Marion had been to pretty much every country you could go to, every one you'd ever want to go to anyhow. She had souvenirs all over the house from the places she'd been.

She was most proud of her Oriental rug. First time I saw that carpet I didn't know what to think. I was afraid to touch it for fear of damaging the thing. Then I became fascinated with it. It was so intricate, as Marion put it, every time I looked at it I would see something new and I never tired of looking at it. It was like a puzzle, a rare and beautiful puzzle. I'd never been that close to something that was so beautiful and exotic. The delicateness of the pattern was actually quite deceiving for it had a rigid underside. Its funny, for all its intricacies it was really no better then any other floor covering, she just thought it was.

The rug covered the newly refinished floor in the sitting room, which was where we would sit and talk over the tea that she made me. She'd made Bill tea as well. In a way, that's what got us into this predicament.

"Where are we going to?" Bill asks me with a bit of resentment still in his voice. He sounds like a pouting child, sort of a 'but I don't want to' voice.

"Toronto," I reply.

"I don't want to go to Toronto," he whines.

"Not many people do Bill, but the best place to hide is in the middle of the herd. There's so many faces there that nobody will even notice ours." I explain.

That doesn't really seem to comfort Bill. And you know I don't blame him. Bill's used to everyone knowing his face, whether they liked it or not was another matter, but they knew it, and Bill knew theirs. That's the only life Bill has ever known and he'd grown very comfortable in it. Feeling comfortable in a place is more important to a person like Bill than it is to everyday folk. Bill seems to need familiar surroundings just to be able to get though his daily routine.

I feel kind of bad taking Bill away from that. Even though I'm giving up that same life so I that I can look after him and keep him safe, it's going to be easier for me. I'm just not sure that I did the right thing. I don't really know how he's going to take to city living. As I sit here worrying about all this I look over at Bill. That silly smile comes over his face again as he looks out the window. I wonder what goes on in that slow moving brain of his. Maybe he's just amused by the prairies themselves, the breadbasket of the world. And look at it, the flatness, the nothingness and all the loneliness that comes with it. Who would have thought that there could be so much life in nothing? Bill seems to see the life more than the nothing , he can even find entertainment in it. Maybe it's the swaying wheat beards that bring him so much enjoyment. Perhaps, to him, it's a grand ball and the wind is whistling a waltz for them dance to in perfect time. As I stare at Bill, I can't help thinking how nice it must be when things are so pure, and amusement so easily found.

It was when I was finishing up there at Marion's that she asked me if I knew anyone that could look after the yard for her. That was when I recommended Bill. I'd even driven up there and dropped Bill off for work sometimes, if the weather was too bad for him to use his bicycle. When I did, I would stop in and say hello to Marion. After a while I would stop up there in the middle of the day just for a visit. I'm going to miss those visits. She seemed to have such a kind way about her.

With all the time we'd spent together I'd really grown attached to Marion. She was just so beautiful, always dressed in elegant gowns and carrying herself with such class. Her age only added to her worldly sophistication, making her all the more alluring. Perhaps it was my own lack of travel and knowledge of the world that made her seem so mysterious and made me so blind.

The day it happened, I'd stopped in for a visit. Well, more than a visit, I wanted to know if she felt the same way towards me as I'd come to feel towards her. It wasn't until I suggested the possibility of something happening between her and myself that the mystery was lifted and I truly saw her. I came, in an instant, to realize just how patronizing her kindness really was. Her tenderness was that which you might show to a dog or a cat. That was how she thought of Bill and I, like pets. In fact I think that was how she thought of most people. When I realized that, my temper just flew. The combination of her reaction and the heat caused me to ... she shouldn't have laughed.

It must have been the heat of that day which caused Bill to take off his coat when he was in for tea and forget it on the back of that chair. She'd grabbed a hold of it on the way to the ground. That was how they found her. The blood had turned her beautiful blond hair to crimson. Her expensive gown was torn and the Oriental rug was ruined. The look on her face was strangely calm especially considering how twisted her body lay. Bill's coat was so tightly clenched in her hand that it looked as though she had ripped it right off his back.

Of course I didn't realize it was his coat, not until they came looking for him had it dawned on me. I knew that Bill didn't have a chance if they caught him, so I did what any good friend would do. I got him out of there. Knowing that Bill wouldn't be able to look after himself, I decided I should go with him.

I guess life is going to be different now. I've always looked after Bill but now I'm going to have to make sure that he keeps his head down. I guess we'll be living like those prairie dogs whose heads I keep seeing appear and disappear. I wonder if that is what Bill keeps smiling about.

"Bill, what is it that you keep smiling about?"

"The prairie dogs." He replies grinning.

Well I'll be damned.