Mr. Saturday

Ransom shook his head and replied:

I’ll tell you how it was that I came west. It was nothing like that. I left the very next morning after old Mr. Saturday came to visit. Mama Haynes always said: “Send dreams not mischief, Mr. Saturday.” Now I know what she meant. I can see Mama Haynes now, chuckling. “Everybody sees him once at least,” she would say.

I was in the study with Enrico rebuilding (for the fifth time) the sprocket wheel guide on the orbital track mount. We had been working obsessively on the orrery for over two months neglecting hygiene, nutrition, friendship and sleep — our house was a foul-smelling unhealthy place and we were by this time arguing bitterly over every gear and pulley.

Responding at last to loud knocking I opened the front door, and he walked in smiling, all white teeth and white eyes, not saying a word. I had never seen Mr. Saturday before, but there was no mistaking him, a thin dark man wearing a shabby top hat, bowtie, and an old soot-smeared black suit. He glided straight past an open-mouthed Enrico to the kitchen and sat down at the breakfast table. The table was still littered with dishes, crumbs, and the Sunday paper. He sat right down, with his thin hands folded in his lap; with his bloodless car-accident smile and his wrinkle-creased suit. I can tell you it sent a chill right through us. We followed him into the kitchen and stood in front of his chair.

The left corner of his crooked disapproving mouth twitched twice. There was a wheezing rumbling sound like a distant avalanche which we realized came from his stomach. He looked directly at me. Mama Haynes had told me many times that Mr. Saturday has a big appetite, so I offered him the remains of the congealed macaroni and cheese. He gobbled it down with such alarming speed that I feared for my fingers. We opened the refrigerator and gave him more. He ate greedily, appearing to get hungrier, to accelerate, as we fed him: Enrico’s old lasagne, the last of the Cap’n Crunch, some moldy orange-flavor beef from Szechuan Garden. We kept the food coming, and the detritus clung to him. Crumbs from stale cranberry muffins stuck to his white-whiskered chin stubble. Viscous globules of Thousand Island salad dressing dropped onto his stained jacket. Bacon grease glistened on his thin fast-moving fingers.

Toward the end, we began to realize that he would swallow anything: a box of peppermint teabags, the entire spice rack from the ground Jamaican ginger to the Hungarian paprika along with the salt and pepper shakers. I began to worry about what we were going to do when we ran out of everything remotely edible.

It was Enrico who hit on the idea of feeding him books after we saw him gobble up the Sunday paper. Presently we were bringing everything off the bookshelves: textbooks, fieldguides, religious tracts, all 17 of O’Brian’s sea novels. They all went down at a quickening pace, though he slowed down briefly as he chewed through the Bible, the Tao Te Ching, and Luck’s Arcana Mundi. Once the shelves in the apartment were empty of books, we pulled the maps and posters off the walls. I fed him mom’s old ukelele and both of my concertinas. He devoured my small collection of CDs in one abrupt jaw-popping thrust. With each slobbering mouthful he seemed to grow larger and more threatening, until in heartbreaking desperation we began to feed him our precious machine. First the blueprints, then the spare brass gearworks, and at last the entire nearly-complete orrery. Finally I brought him the old broken-glass charm that Mama Haynes gave me before she died.

At this, he paused and appeared to think for a bit. Then he leaned back suddenly in the squeaking chair, his hands rubbing his bulging belly. A long wet gurgling belch bubbled out of his food-smeared lips, filling the room with a sickening odor of fish heads, WD-40, and bleach. He cleared his throat, preparing to speak.

His dry clotted voice rattled: “Tell me what he sees. Like it or not. No time to lose. Tell me what he sees.”

There was a long pause before he continued “A big bear wearing a bright red cap balances on a sagging blue ball. A small maiden in sequins dances on the back of a galloping horse. A toothless leopard old before her time paces in a filthy circus cage. Crack goes the ringmaster’s whip: the bear waddles to the left. Crack goes the ringmaster’s whip and the bear waddles to the right. Crack! goes the whip; now the bear steps off the ball and rushes past the ringmaster into the crowd. The bear rips at the canvas walls of the circus tent, pulls down the poles. The tent falls into itself and is crushed from sight. The bear, alone, looks up at the sky. Tell me this: what does he see?”

Now his eyes were glowing match heads stubbed into dark sockets. “No time to lose. Like it or not. TELL ME WHAT HE SEES.”

We had no answer, but he leaned back, apparently satisfied for the time being. He plucked an ivory toothpick from his waistcoat and picked at his shiny teeth so violently that one of them popped from the back of his mouth and rattled across the floor, stopping next to my foot. Undistracted, outstretched palm toward me, he considered his thick yellow corrugated fingernails, pursing his lips. Then his eyes sparked and he flashed a carnivorous smile. He stood to leave, thumping his hat onto his head. On his way out the door, he put a bony forefinger to the brim of the hat and said: “See you later.”

Where he had been sitting there was a dogeared playing card face down. On the back, the words “No Time To Lose” straddled a sideways figure eight. I turned the card over: three of spades. Three of smiles. Three of teeth. Mama Haynes used to say: “Everything Mr. Saturday says, he says verbatim.” How true.