Riddles & Answers
In the Bird House, Madame Alouette lumbered over to Detective Weisell and plopped down beside him. Weisell moved his chair to make room for the baker. Ming Zhao brought tea and cake and placed the food before the detective and bowed. He took a seat and waited.
Weisell sighed. His problems had multiplied.
“Tell me again,” said Weisell. “The only thing missing is this blue-covered book?”
“Affirmative,” said Madame Alouette. “Absolutely. Indeed.”
“Yes,” said Zhao.
“Is it worth anything?”
Madame Alouette waggled her chins around. Weisell wasn’t sure if the waggling meant Yes or No.
“Not really,” said Zhao.
“And what exactly is this book about?” said Weisell.
“It’s the secret history of our success,” said Madame Alouette. “The key to our kingdom of cakes. It is the story of our lives, a long tale about an empire of ingredients.”
“It’s a recipe book,” said Zhao.
“That’s it,” said Madame Alouette.
Weisell frowned. He would need to fill in a Stolen Goods form, a Crime Scene form, and two Victim Interview forms for Zhao and Madame Alouette. He was already behind on his paperwork for Edward’s earring.
“They entered through the window?” he asked.
His stomach rumbled quietly.
Why aren’t we eating that cake? said his stomach.
“We always leave the small window above the door unlatched,” said Zhao, ”but no one could fit through it. We found two of the large windows open this morning, and no sign of forced entry.”
Weisell thought of all the dreams people had told him about that had somehow slipped away in the dead of the night, escaping unnoticed through small, unlatched windows.
“This case worries me,” said Weisell.
“We are sorry to hear that,” said Zhao.
“We’re distressed,” said Madame Alouette. “We’re flustered and ruffled.”
Weisell took out the star-shaped earring and showed it to Madame Alouette and Zhao.
“Have you ever seen this?” said Weisell.
“Never ever,” said Madame Alouette. “Under no circumstances. Not at all.”
Her chins waggled sideways as she spoke.
“I have,” said Zhao.
“You have?” said Weisell and Madame Alouette.
“I may have,” said Zhao. “I believe I saw What’s-Her-Name with an earring like this. I recall its starry form, and I remember thinking I could make wishes on her ears. I asked her if she was interested in astronomy.”
“What did she say?” said Weisell.
“She said No.”
Madame Alouette sniffed. “Who is this ear-wishing What’s-Her-Name?” she said.
“The socialite with the little poodle you dislike.”
“Oh,” said Madame Alouette. “I like the poodle. It’s the woman I don’t like.”
“Just list the facts,” said Weisell.
“Fact number one,” said Madame Alouette. “She doesn’t like cake. Who doesn’t like cake? She orders cake, and then she feeds it to her dog.”
“Fact number two,” said Zhao, “Wilhelmina—isn’t her name Wilhelmina Something?”
“I don’t trust her,” said Madame Alouette. “A woman who doesn’t like cake I cannot trust. I cannot recommend the making of wishes on her ears.”
Detective Weisell took out his notepad and wrote:
Earring, Wilhelmina Something.
Why doesn’t she like cake?
Wilhelmina Something (actual name: Wilhelmina Nightingale) liked to say she was one of the few people in the world and the only person she knew who did not like cake.
This was not true.
Wilhelmina did like cake.
Wilhelmina liked cake as much as anyone and more than some—much more. In the privacy of her home, Wilhelmina liked to close the curtains, lock the doors, and together with her butler retire to the kitchen and indulge in large pieces of cake. They often had seconds.
Despite this, Wilhelmina chose not to eat cake when she visited Ming Zhao’s Majestic Teahouse of Many Delights. She had eaten a cake there once, she said, and found it did not agree with her.
This was true.
Zhao’s cake had the same effect on Wilhelmina as it did on everyone else, and therein lay the disagreeable part: the cake conjured a memory.
Wilhelmina did not want to remember.
There are many things I wished to do in my life, she thought. I dislike these long luncheons, tedious teas, and endless evening parties. I do not know how I drifted so far from what I wanted. And yet here I am. I do not care to remember my old dreams.
Wilhelmina’s most important jobs involved shopping for clothes, sending and receiving invitations, and exchanging gossip. Wilhelmina did not find happiness in this shopping and sending and receiving and exchanging. She did not enjoy navigating the hotbeds of intrigue, dodging scandals and chasing the limelight.
In her heart, Wilhelmina longed for something more, but her calendar had no room for wishes and dreams.
Many of these events took place at the Bird House, where Wilhelmina would meet and greet and smile and laugh and do her best to appear one hundred percent normal as she ordered tea and cake along with everyone else. And because Wilhelmina did not wish to remember the many things she wanted to but believed she could not do, she no longer ate Zhao’s cake. Instead, she made a fuss out of feeding her cake to Mildred, her miniature poodle.
“Why don’t you nibble a little cake for poor Wilhelmina,” she said to Mildred. “Nibble, nibble.”
Because Mildred spent so much time eating Zhao’s cakes and reflecting on her past (fifty-six in dog years), she had an unusually calm and placid disposition.
“She’s like a little philosopher,” people said. “A curly-haired monk with a thousand mile stare. A four-legged Buddha.”
Mildred rarely ran or romped or played with the other dogs in the Park. She preferred to visit a particular oak tree with bumpy branches and a blurry incision in its trunk of a heart that wrapped around the letters S + E. Mildred sat beneath the tree and observed the Park and watched the world go by and contentedly dwelled on deep canine thoughts.
Other dogs tried in vain to get her to romp with them.
“Don’t you want to chase that squirrel with me?” said a beagle. “That squirrel is begging to be chased.”
“I have chased squirrels in the past,” said Mildred. “It is unnecessary to chase them again.”
“But squirrels are bad,” said the beagle. “They need to be chased forever.”
“Why are squirrels bad?” said Mildred.
“I’m not sure,” said the beagle. “It might be something to do with the way they flick their tails and sneer, or their cheeky insults and the way they yell and scream.”
“I wonder,” said Mildred. “When we value one thing as good, another thing must become bad, and yet it is impossible for us to truly know these things.”
“I’m pretty sure squirrels are bad,” said the beagle.
“And even if squirrels are bad,” continued Mildred, “they are, like all creatures, constantly changing. At any moment, that squirrel could undergo an astonishing spiritual transformation. To chase him would be to deny that possibility. If we approach the world with open minds, our hearts will remain at peace.”
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about,” said the beagle. “I only wanted to know if you want to chase squirrels.”
“Here’s a thought,” said Mildred. “Think of your food dish at home. What is the most useful part of the dish?”
“This one I know,” said the beagle. “It’s definitely the food part. I love that part.”
“No,” said Mildred. “It’s something else.”
The beagle grew flustered.
“I don’t know,” he said. “What other part is there? The foot? The curvy part?”
“The most useful part of the dish,” said Mildred, “is the emptiness that can hold the food.”
The beagle stared at her. A squirrel ran past and paused just long enough to make a rude comment before he scampered off into the bushes. The beagle watched him go. He sat down next to Mildred.
Mildred gazed peacefully out at the Park.
“Are you hungry?” said Mildred. “We could eat some cake.”
“I don’t know,” said Madame Alouette. “I thought her name was Mildred.”
“Isn’t her dog the one named Mildred?” said Zhao.
Weisell snapped his notebook closed. His stomach growled again, louder than before.
Cake, said his stomach.
Hold on, said his brain. We’re working.
“We can answer this riddle later, along with all the others,” said Weisell.
“Maybe,” said Zhao. “But maybe some riddles don’t have answers. Last night I dreamed of a dark wind. Perhaps the only explanation for the missing blue-covered book is a dark wind that blows through the night. But I also felt this in the morning: today, everything could happen.”
Maybe, and maybe.
“Has everything happened yet?” said Madame Alouette.
“I’m not sure,” said Zhao. “I think only some of it has happened.”
“Here’s a riddle for you,” said Weisell. “I fly without wings, and I cry without eyes, and darkness follows wherever I go. What am I?”
I dreamed of a dark wind, thought Zhao. Something is changing.
“You’re a cloud,” said Madame Alouette.
“I am,” said Weisell. “And I believe all true riddles have answers. If there’s no solution, then there’s no riddle.”
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© 2018 Colin Lewis · Brought to you by Unlikely Objects