The sun set gently over the city of Poort Van Winkle. Mothers leaned out of windows and called their children in to supper. Scruffy cats emerged from the long shadows between buildings, yowling and hissing at each other over scraps of fish. When the sky turned from orange to deep purple, an old lamplighter appeared, shuffling from streetlamp to streetlamp in his own pair of blackened breadclogs. He reached into the tall lamps with his long lighter and lit them, one by one, throwing a golden glow across the canal. When he arrived at the lamp closest to Mamma, however, it wouldn’t light. He tried several times before he noticed her watching him. “Sometimes they just don’t light,” he shrugged, and moved on, leaving the lamp cold and dark.
The other barges and boats behind Mamma finally gave in as well. One by one, they turned around or carefully puttered backwards up the canal to look for another way to the harbor. The barge captain tossed a few final curses at Mamma for good measure, but she paid no attention. She simply sat in the motor-car, scowling at the troll’s booth.
“Thinks he’s pretty high and mighty up there, doesn’t he?” she muttered. “I’ll bet he’s stewing, wishing I would go away. Well, fat chance! And just think—all he has to do is apologize, and this will all be over and done with. Just three simple words! ‘I…am…sorry.’ He might also add ‘you were right,’ and if he really wanted to set the record straight, ‘I was wrong’ as well. But quite frankly it would be just fine with me to hear ‘sorry,’ just that one word. It’s pitiful he’s too proud to do even that. Shameful, really.”
Evening turned to night. The stars winked on overhead, one by one, and the faintest sliver of a crescent moon rose over the rooftops. Merchants locked up their stores and went home. Residents shuttered their windows. Silence descended upon the canals. Mamma listened to the sound of the canal’s water gently rocking the motor-car. Gradually, the lights in the windows of the buildings around her snuffed out as the citizens of Poort Van Winkle tucked themselves into bed. Soon, the only light remaining, aside from the dim streetlamps, was the lantern in the window of the toll troll’s booth.
A chill drifted in across the water. Mamma rubbed her arms.
She shuffled some kegs around to try to make a more comfortable space. Stacking one on top of another, she felt the motor-car rock unsteadily. She leaned back to regain her balance, but her foot caught on the seat, and she desperately thrust both hands out in front of her to grab something, anything…with a sickening heave, she felt the entire car shift beneath her feet.
The motor-car flipped. Boxes, barrels, sacks, and Mamma all toppled together over the side and into the dark canal water.
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