The Prince of Logic
by Miri Fern
Mr. Triponov lived in a house on a street called Laurel Hill St., in the town of Rickett Bluff. The country was the United States of America, and the year was long past the time you will actually read this.
The house he lived in was small, only one story. It had one bedroom and one bathroom, respectively. He lived alone, had for forty years, and would go on living alone for another forty years. Mr. Triponov was very set in his ways.
Now, on the particular day you will be told of, Mr. Triponov was standing outside, on his driveway, a gardening hose in one hand and a soapy sponge in the other. I am fond of describing hands, and his were not unusual. Or maybe they were--long fingers, tanned, leathery skin, the veins visible through thin flesh. In fact, all of Mr. Triponov was skinny, and most of him was tanned; at least, everywhere but where the sun didn't shine, that is.
Mr. Triponov was washing his car: a faded old Chevy that used to be red, but now looked a pale peachy color. He did not look very happy while doing it, but that was probably because of how his face was. It had a drawn look, and age had hooded his eyes.
Suds now covered his windshield and the hood of his car, several years' worth of dirt and dust scraped away. He leaned over to scrub a particularly nasty buildup of splattered muck at the base of the glass, dampening the elbows of his black jacket. In some neighbor's yard, the sound of loud music could be heard, the singer repeating the words "Who are you?" over and over again with drums and a guitar playing in the background. The beat vibrated the driveway ever so faintly.
Mr. Triponov straightened, and raised the hose, rinsing off the soap. Just as he lifted his arm, he felt a strange sensation--the hairs on the back of his neck prickled, and he felt as though he were being watched. His expression carefully unchanged, he looked to his left.
On top of the stone fence that separated his property from others, a girl sat. She wore a pair of orange overalls, her sneakers dangling over the edge, and her dirty blonde hair was braided into two pigtails on either side of her head. He guessed that she was about thirteen, maybe younger, maybe older.
"Hello." She said.
Mr. Triponov frowned, as always, and looked down at his shoes. Then, he looked up again and said, "What are you doing?"
"Just sitting here." The girl replied. She went on swinging her legs in time with the music.
"Why are you sitting there?"
She chewed her lip. "Because… I dunno. I felt like sitting here."
Mr. Triponov raised his eyebrows, then went back to washing his car. When he looked up again a few minutes later, the girl was gone.
He finished with the hose, then went up to the pump and turned off the water. The Chevy dripped, the streams flowing off into starved grass. He shoved his hands into his pockets and walked up to the front door.
The outer screen banged against the frame first, then he turned to close and lock the entrance. Hearing the click, he turned around and dropped the keys.
The girl bent over and picked up his keys, holding them out to him. His hand shook as he took them from her smaller, softer palm.
"How did you get in here?"
She turned and pointed. "Back door was unlocked."
Mr. Triponov shut his eyes and took a deep breath. "What do you want?"
"Nothing, I guess." She shrugged. "I dunno."
He reached behind him for the doorknob. "Then, would you please--"
But she was gone. Where?
"You've got a nice place here, mister!"
With a jolt, Mr. Triponov ran to his living room. She was there, sprawled across the couch.
"Where's your TV?"
Mr. Triponov stared at her. "I don't have one."
She seemed to consider this. "Nice. I have a TV, but my brother always hogs it. There's nothing good on, anyway--except maybe the reruns." Her forehead crinkled. "Hey, what's your name, anyhow?"
He didn't answer, as he was busy digging around for his phone, a commodity he rarely ever used and was hoping still worked.
"Aw, you don't have to answer. I already know your name. I just thought I'd be nice and ask anyway."
No reception. He slammed the receiver down and faced her. "Look. I don't want any trouble--"
"Trouble? Who said anything about trouble? Look mister, I'm not a burglar, or an axe murderer, or anything bad." Suddenly, she grinned lopsidedly. "I'm just here on bail."
When all Mr. Triponov would give her was a look of exasperation, the girl jumped up, pigtails bouncing. "I was kidding. Do you have a bathroom I could use? I promise I won't make a mess."
With a strange calm, he pointed down the hall to the only bathroom. The girl skipped off to it and locked the door behind her.
Immediately, Mr. Triponov made a move towards the door. Then he stopped. It was only a girl, but a very strange one at that. If he left, how did he know she wouldn't set the place on fire, or go scouring the nooks and crannies for spare change? He could get one of the neighbors to help. But what good would that do? They'd likely laugh it off or slam the door in his face. Or both.
As he considered this, the girl came out. "Nice soap you have. None of that scented junk my mom uses." She wrinkled her nose. "Will you tell me your name now?"
"You said you already knew my name."
"I forgot." She stuck out her tongue to the side. "I'll tell you mine first, then. I'm Tammy. Not Hammy Tammy. Just Tammy."
Mr. Triponov could not understand why anyone would want to call her Hammy Tammy, but Mr. Triponov had not been a child for some time either.
"And you are…?"
He hesitated a moment longer. "Leonard Triponov."
Tammy stuck out her hand. "Nice to meet you, Leonard."
This made Mr. Triponov jerk. "Don't call me by my first name."
"Because I'm older than you. It's not respectful."
"Then, what is?"
He scratched his head. "Mr. Triponov, of course."
She sounded so utterly disappointed, Mr. Triponov decided he'd had enough. "Look--why are you here? Normal kids don't just walk into the houses of strangers."
She shrugged. "I'm not a normal kid. At least, that's what Dad always said…"
He pinched the bridge of his nose. "What I meant was, it's not reasonable. There's no purpose to it. It's not logical."
"What are you, the Prince of Logic?" Suddenly, she brightened. "Yeah, that's what I'll call you. The Prince of Logic!" At the dark look on his face, she began to redden. "Uh, well, you see--I came here because… uh…"
He waited. "To answer your question… I--I came here because--I love you."
Tammy's face had turned the original color of the Chevy. "I--well, I've seen you around, a whole lot more than you've seen me, to be honest, and after a while I just sort of… fell in love with you?" Her voice went up at the end of her sentence, as though she were having a hard time believing them herself.
Mr. Triponov recovered from his shock, and his face went back to it's usual near-scowl. "I don't know what you want from me, but making up crazy stuff isn't going to get you anywhere."
"I'm not making it up!"
"Look, kid." He interrupted. "How old are you?"
"Thirteen going on fourteen."
He jabbed a finger against his chest. "And how old do you think I am?"
She clasped her hands behind her back, twisting from the ankles up. "Forty?"
Half frustrated and half flattered, he struggled to keep a straight face. It was all so absurd! "I'm old enough to be your grandfather."
"Well, gee, mister! You don't look that old. You still have all your hair."
Self consciously, Mr. Triponov ran a hand through his hair. She was right; he hadn't even begun to go gray yet.
"And anyway, it doesn't matter. Age is nothing but a number."
"If you were an adult, you could think about making that argument. But you're only thirteen. A child." He flung out his hands. "At this age, you can't even comprehend love!"
Tammy bit her lip. "Are you mad at me because you're already married, and your wife will be home any minute, and if she sees me she'll think all sorts of bad things and up and leave you?"
Mr. Triponov looked genuinely bewildered. "What?"
He paused. "I'm not married."
"Then why are you angry?"
"Then you ought to be glad!"
Like a deflating balloon, all the air seemed to be sucked out of the room. Mr. Triponov looked down at Tammy--he was 6'1", and their difference in height was clearly showing--and thought, with some begrudging irony, Gee, why aren't I glad?
After some time, he said: "Can't you just go home?"
"Nah. Jim'll hog the TV, remember? Besides, the old reruns don't come on until evening…" She sighed. "Fine. If I go home now, can I come back tomorrow?"
Without thinking, he responded: "Sure, sure--wait!"
He realized too late his mistake. The back door clanged shut, and Tammy was gone. Of course, she would be back…