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My Prima Donna Swamp Princess [ 21 ] : HEARSE

Feb 15, 2006

"So how much time have you spent in Internet cafes?" I asked Arva once the waitress bought me the whiskey and I took a long sip. "Every day, several hours." "But I don't understand. How do you do it? I mean, you're from the 15th century, you're illiterate, you can't read! And even if you could, all the languages you speak are dead! You just can't log on to the Net and read about Albert Gore in Skalvian!"

"Listen, professor, how many times do I have to explain to you that in ancient times the Balts knew how to read and write 's we had a rich literary tradition and huts full of books 's it's just that the Teutons came along and spread all these vicious lies about us in order to brainwash people." She looked at me as if I were a child. "How do you think they recruited so many knights and warriors? By painting us as snake-worshipping children of the forest."

"Which is exactly what you were."

"And what we shall be in the future!" Arva declared with confidence. "Anyway, like I told you before, I'm good with languages."

"You taking English lessons."

"In matter of fact, I am."

I switched to my native tongue. "So let's speak English."

"I'm learning to count 's only backwards."

"Go ahead," I said impatiently.

"Ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden's"

"Stop!" I cried. "Please don't go on 's I'll be sick."

"And I'm learning animal names, of course," the princess said.

"Of course."

"Want to hear?"

"Sure," I said.

"There was an old lady who swallowed a goat, just opened her throat and swallowed a goat. She swallowed the goat to catch the dog. She swallowed the dog to catch the cat. She swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider's"

"Okay, okay, I get your point. You don't have to continue."

"I don't know what she swallowed the fly's"

"Please stop!"

"I think she'll die."

I downed the whiskey and flagged down the waitress. "More please!"

Arva pouted for a minute, frustrated by my sharp response. "By the way, what's a hearse?"

"A hearse is a car that carries the casket from one place to another, usually the cemetery. Have you seen one? There not too prominent here."

"That's what it means!"

"What?"

"Never laugh as the hearse goes by, for you may be the next to die; they'll wrap you in a big white sheet, and bury you down about six feet deep. All goes well for about a week, then your coffin begins to leak. The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play Pinochle on your snout. They eat your eyes, they eat your nose, they eat the jelly between your toes's"

By this time Arva was practically singing the rhyme. If I ever doubted that she was a true Balt, the doubts vanished right there, in the center of Boogie Woogie's dining lounge in downtown Klaipeda. Her singing Baltic spirit liberated itself, and in full vocal ecstasy she sung a lullaby about one corpse a-rotting.

Oh, Perkunos!

"Your eyes fall out, and your teeth decay, a rotten end to a lovely day. A big green worm with bulging eyes crawls in your stomach and out your thighs. Your stomach turns a glossy green, and pus pours out like whipping cream. You spread it on a piece of bread, and that's what you eat when you are dead."

Honestly, I have no idea whether anyone in the restaurant understood what the devil she was singing about, but no one seemed to mind. When Arva finished her song, everyone applauded. A few laughed. I wanted to crawl into a sewer and hide for about four months.

Anyhow, the waitress, noticing my embarrassment, brought me more whiskey. A good sales technique, but one fraught with consequences. Like the old saying goes, drinking fine whiskey is like communicating with a 600-year-old princess: too much of a good thing can kill ya'. Sure enough, I drank with abandon, and at some point in the evening our discussion turned to Baltic politics, and it wasn't pretty.
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