BODDER GIB BAN BALL
by Paul A. Toth


DA BURL GOME BOWN
DO BA DOTTO BA DA MAUL.
BE BOO GER BAN BE BIDDER,
BODDER GIB BAN BALL.

If Cecil's sleeping pills worked at all, the pills were sleeping, as tonight completed his second straight wide-eyed week. It used to be the ribbeting frogs in the field behind the house, but now this. His feet, which hung over the foot of the bed, twitched as the same car with the same squeaking brakes and the same crappy speakers pounded THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-BOM-BONG, along with its chanted rapping nonsense, just as it had since his insomnia began. How did his wife sleep through the racket?

DA BURL GOME BOWN
DO BA DOTTO BA DA MAUL.
BE BOO GER BAN BE BIDDER,
BODDER GIB BAN BALL.

Probably some 17-year-old suburban kid on the way home with the blue balls and da-booger-botta-beeb-it-boo-ba-ba. Raised fist: Can I get a witness? To what? Exactly. Close the door, lock it. "Mom! Don't come in!" Stomping, stamping, thwacking: THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-BOM-BONG.

DA BURL GOME BOWN
DO BA DOTTO BA DA MAUL.
BE BOO GER BAN BE BIDDER,
BODDER GIB BAN BALL.

He swore the driver slowed in front of the house, rolled his window down and let it, as the kids said, pump. Just to rub it in: "I'm out here and you're in there. You live for sleep. Not me. My real life is better than your dreams."

Oh, wait: Cecil was thinking of his own teen years. The kid in the car probably already knew how to get laid, the little fornicating, tongue-piercing piece of shit. But he'd learn soon enough the way biology tricks you into greater responsibilities with its hormonal strip tease.

On two occasions, Cecil tried to spot the young man's face. He even tried binoculars, but the trees blocked his view. On the last attempt, he hid behind the trash can and waited, but that night the kid never showed. The resulting distress kept Cecil awake all night. He imagined the song and the garbled but rhyming words until the car might as well have passed the house all night long, back and forth, like a skipping record on wheels.

Then, on Monday night, the first line of the song came clear.

DA BURL GOME BOWN
DO BA DOTTO BA DA MAUL.
BE BOO GER BAN BE BIDDER,
BODDER GIB BAN BALL.

The girl gone down! Of course. After all, the whole town had been talking about the girl who disappeared two weeks before -- Little Lisa, they dubbed her, or Little LL, because her favorite rapper was LL Cool J.

Would the rest come clear now?

One day was all it took, Cecil's brain, he imagined, making that sound that hard drives make, sputtering triiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii, tra-la-la-la: "I'm working here."

THE GIRL GONE DOWN,
DO BA DOTTO BA DA MAUL.
BE BOO GER BAN BE BIDDER
BODDER GIB BAN BALL.

Simple as that, as if he were making up the mystery himself and playacting detective. The funny thing was, the driver had increased the volume, like he wanted Cecil to understand. Somehow the car did not explode, tweeters and woofers dropping like dead birds and dogs.

Now Cecil remembered something on the news about Little LL dragging her aunt to the mall because LL Cool J had a new CD out. So the aunt took her. The aunt, sister of the girl's father, told the reporter, "Ah, I feel real, you know, bad, man, 'cause, ah, LL she never gets much in the way of gifts. And then this happens." Only, by the way she talked, it seemed she was pre-guilty; that is, she seemed to fret about something else, not the kidnaping, or whatever happened at the mall, but something even before that.

The next day Cecil wandered around the house rapping the last two mystery lines,

Be boo ger ban be bidder
bodder gib ban ball.

Get down, MC Cecil. But it wasn't coming. And when the driver passed the house that night, the words bing-bobbled in his brain, bouncing around like half-inflated basketballs.

***

The next morning, frogs in a bedroom swamp chanted:


WE TOOK HER,
WE TOOK WE HER,
WE TOOK HER, TOOK HER, TOOK HER.
WE TOOK HER,
WE TOOK HER,
WE TOOK HER, TOOK HER, TOOK HER.


Cecil woke up smiling as grinning bedroom frogs sprung off the bed. They landed on the carpet and sang while doing the hotfoot.

THE GIRL GONE DOWN,
TO THE BOTTOM OF THE MALL.
WE TOOK HER AND WE HID HER,
BODDER GIB BAN BALL.

Hid her.

He called the police. The officer seemed downright irritated at the call, breathing a majestic sigh of please, please, please will you understand this job is killing me by the micro-second? "Sir, we searched the goddamn molecules of that mall. You're telling me rap songs from passing cars keep you awake at night? Join the club."

He hung up the phone. Dreams crumbled from his breakfast brain like muffins. A frog tipped his tophat, winked and said, "So sorry."

"Yeah, well, get on the good foot, frog."

"Ribbet. Say buddy, you want the last line? It's -- it's --"

"Give it to me."

"Say, you got trouble with the TV Guide crossword? Three across, six letters long? Male roommate on Three's Company? That's John Ritter. Three down is Rin Tin Tin, nine letter TV dog. Anyway, it's 'Father big and tall', of course. "

The frogs hopped away, toward hidden swamps in distant lands. Meanwhile, Cecil had the last piece of his jigsaw rap song:

THE GIRL GONE DOWN
TO THE BOTTOM OF THE MALL.
WE TOOK HER AND WE HID HER,
FATHER BIG AND TALL.

As the pitter-patter of frog feet eroded into silence he remembered the tall man in the girl's driveway. He was almost as tall as the garage and looked just a little like Wilt Chamberlain, although perhaps that was a delusion created by height, for Wilt Chamberlain had been a childhood hero of Cecil's, so much so that extremely tall men, black and white, made him think of Wilt Chamberlain. Only this tall man suddenly stood not only 7 feet but also accused, of something bad to do with his daughter. And that aunt, Cecil guess, must have known it, or suspected, at least; hence that awkward TV interview.

"Thank you, frog, from the bottom of my mind."

A cool frog reply from somewhere deep: "S'all right."


***

Cecil waved a flashlight outside the girl's house. He left home just after the driver would have arrived, to make sure the kid did not show up that night, confirming he was in on it.

Little LL's driveway was empty. There were signs of abandonment: overflowing mailbox, porch littered with newspapers.

But then, creeping toward the door, Cecil saw the outline of a small body, drawn not by teacher chalk but, judging by the matching color of the dead butterflies nearby, that of mariposa wings. Ole! Achtung, sommerfugels! Pretty as flecks of sunlight in a rare nighttime appearance.

"What am I, a goddamn nature detective?" Cecil asked himself out loud, as detectives on televison will sometimes do.

***

He approached the mall a half hour later, sneaking. The guard finished his cigarette and left the door unlocked, the one by Sears nearest the cineplex. Cecil watched through binoculars. The guard mosied on down the corridor toward the food court.

Cecil rushed in while he had the chance. He heard the guard shoes click in a U-turn, footsteps headed Sears-west. Cecil noticed a body-wide space beneath the Sears gate. Inside, a mob of teens roamed the aisles, swiping UPC's, inventorying merchandise. Cecil slipped under and rushed down the first escalator to the bottom of the mall.

The bottom floor was black, the merchandise already tagged. As Cecil oriented himself in the dark, a butterfly fluttered past, one whose wings glowed, and Cecil was able to follow it through the store to the corner where it hovered, flapping like a pretty little bat. When Cecil approached, it moved down the aisle of dressing rooms into a booth. Cecil swept the curtain aside. He caught sight of his image in the mirror and said to it, "Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? How did I get here?"

His image nodded toward the stairwell at Cecil's feet and said, "Why don't we switch places now, Mr. 3-D?"

But Cecil forgot his question as he bounded down the stairs after the butterfly.

"This way, bub," the butterfly said.

"Great: You talk, too?"

The butterfly, Cecil noticed, was smoking a tiny cigar. "You got a problem with that?"

Bright light. The first thing Cecil saw was a man sitting crosslegged on the floor, a beard pointing straight up from the top of his head.

"What are you, a sideways wise man?" Cecil asked.

"That's exactly right, my friend," the man said, and repositioned the beard until it rested under his chin.

"Is that thing hooked on by a string or --"

"WYSIWYG. What you see is what you get."

"Is this some kind of anti-shopping cult?"

"We love to shop. Open your eyes. We're in the bottom of a mall. And what brings you here? The 'news'? You've been watching too much TV. So, so much TV. And this girl. You watch all the shows. This girl over here concerns you too much. By 'this girl' I mean the girl you think she is, which is quite different from the girl she really is."

"'ello," Little LL said British-style, which seemed to break her hover and cause her to fall from the grip of the butterflies holding her by the vertical outline of her body.

The butterflies scattered. The girl approached, bowed and danced a little jig.

"Aren't we charming?" the man said.

"But you're all right?" Cecil asked the girl. "Are they holding you captive?"

"Me, I'm a tweeterbird."

She unfolded her hands, revealing a bird made of what looked like jellybean. Then it shot away in the manner of a hummingbird.

"A tweeterbird? What the hell's a tweeterbird?"

The girl wandered away as the sound of ribbeting frogs emerged.

"Okay, you got me. What's with the frogs?"

"You're seeing frogs?" the man said.

"I mean, they're around."

"Doing what?"

"Dancing, talking."

"That's a good sign."

"According to?"

"According? Can't you just enjoy the frogs?"

Looking deep into his surroundings, which intensified with his focus, Cecil realized he was in a kind of greenhouse. The air was richly humid and dots of water had formed on his skin. There was something intensely narcotic in the air and he was about as happily sleepy as a person could be without actually nodding off.

The man said, "Hold your arm out. Good. That's your wife you've got your arm around. You haven't even mentioned her to yourself in quite some time."

"I've been a little obsessed."

"Are you afraid of children?"

"What? Who's afraid of children?"

"Lots of people. One mountain said to the other, 'They see things too closely down there, the talkers. It must drive them crazy, like living through a microscope.' Come here, Cecil. I want to show you something."

They moved into foliage dense as jungle. The man cleared the brush aside. There was the driveway Cecil had inspected an hour before. The tall man stood in the outline of the body, the dead butterflies at his feet. Only, the tall man was Cecil himself.

"Your life is wilting, Mr. Chamberlain. You don't sleep. And you surrender too easily, to yourself. Perhaps we should call you Wilt Neville Chamberlain. But you hate sports and politics. What is it you like again? Hmm. Maybe you'll think of something. But do you realize that everything you're seeing right now emerged from a song you couldn't quite hear, from the lyrics that eluded your grasp and flowered into this situation? All because your wife is pregnant? You're a creator. You're a lover, not a fighter."

All at once the girl whizzed by in the grip of butterflies, waving as she passed and heading, Cecil noted, in the general direction of his home.

"There she goes now," the man said, "your daughter. Unless you think you'll let some harm come to her, or even cause it."

"Who the hell are you?"

"Let's fix things, Mr. 3D," the man said. "Stop playing dumb with me. Absorb me."

All at once Cecil realized that he had been inventing great unsolvable mysteries. Emerging from the womb of this bottomless artificial mystery, he realized he was only himself, standing outside a mall, with a pregnant wife at home, waiting for what she called his temporary boyish madness to end. When the car drove by he did not attempt to decipher the unintelligible lyrics, nor did he this time allow the ribbeting frogs to disturb his sleep, for he, too, needed plenty of rest for all the things to come. He fell asleep as the words bodder gib ban ball bounced like a child's rubber ball through his mind, trailing colors that shred into the most pleasant blurs and smears of time extended, mountain time, through which tweeter birds soared and butterflies released their prey into the wilds of biology.

 

 

**

Paul A. Toth lives in Michigan.  His short fiction has appeared or will appear soon in Iowa Review Web, The Barcelona Review, The Mississippi Review Online, Exquisite Corpse and many others, with nominations for the Pushcart prize and Best American Mystery Stories.  His novel Fizz will be published in late 2003 by Bleak House Books.  He recently completed his second novel.  His official website at http://www.netpt.tv/ includes complete credits, news and audio stories.




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