Ally & Oz

Two Buckets and a Conversation (Fifth)

by William L. J. Galaini

William and Ashley had frantically looked for Ally and Oz that morning. They ran down the spiral stars and into the den, calling out to them as they lifted cushions and examined potted plants. On a whim Ashley opened the courtyard door, and saw the nefarious fluffy duo both floating on their backs in the steaming warm fountain as snowflakes fell about them.

Needless to say, Ashley and William were not pleased.

After Oz had explained the perils and adventures that the previous night held, it was lecture time.

This was a lecture unlike any Oz or Ally had ever heard before. Neither William nor Ashley yelled, or even got angry! They were firm, however, and explained why they were upset. Truth was that they were worried, scared even for Ally and Oz’s well-being.

“We would never want anything to happen to either of you!” William pressed upon them. “Oz, if you found Ally was missing you should have woken Ashley and I up, that way we could help find her. We’d want to help.”

“And Ally, if you’re sad that’s fine. If you need alone time, that’s fine. Just don’t travel so far, all right? I prefer the greenhouse for deep thinking, myself. Next time, don’t wander off. It will just scare us.” Ashley added.

Ally didn’t want to scare Ashley, and Oz wanted to give William all the chances possible to help. They both gave heartfelt ‘sorrys,’ but both Ally and Oz behaved uneasy at the breakfast table soon after. Oz barely ate his pancakes, and Ally wasn’t stalking her French toast as usual.

“What’s wrong, guys?” William asked. “Is something bothering you?”

Both of them sunk in their chairs a little.

“Are you two afraid that we’re mad at you?” Ashley asked observantly. “Do you fear that we’re going to punish you?” she continued, cocking her head. “We wouldn’t do that, you know.”

Oz looked embarrassed. Ally couldn’t make eye contact.

“What are we doing today, honey?” William asked, directing the question at Ashley but intending it for Ally and Oz’s ears.

She looked at him blankly in return.

“I was thinking that I could steal Ally and Oz and we could go tromping in the hills for . . . something . . . .” William winked at Oz and Ally, hoping to lift their spirits and assure them that things were fine. “You know explore and stuff.”

“Oh, sure!” Ashley caught on. “I can do some reading in the greenhouse, or maybe take a long bath.”

Ally bent over to Oz, and she began whispering in his ear. His little face went sour, and they began to whisper to each other with the heated pitch of bickering. Finally it seemed that Oz relented.

“Ally is . . . Ally is tireds. She needs a nap. She does not feel wells enough to go. Maybe some other days . . .” Oz grumbled, defeated.

“Are you sure, Ally?” William asked. Ally whispered in Oz’s ear again. Their bickering continued until Oz’s voice rose.

“I is not goings without you and that is finals!”

“I have an idea, but both of you will have to stop arguing for me to offer it.” Ashley explained before things got more heated. “I’m guessing that Ally doesn’t feel adventurous today, and Oz refuses to leave his friend out of the fun, so he won’t go out now either. Is this right?”

Both nodded.

“Well, an easy way to settle this is Oz will go with William to explore and Ally will stay home with me and we’ll lounge in the garden, nap in the den chair, or maybe take a long bath together. Does that sound good?”

“I feel bads about leavings Ally alone . . .” Oz lamented.

“She’ll be with me, and we’ll have a girls day in! How does that sound, Ally? I’m excited already!”

Ally couldn’t help but flop her tail back and forth, trying to contain herself.

“Are we good?” William asked everybody.

Oz and Ashley nodded, while Ally began munching on her French toast.

William put on a long, brown coat and black gloves. After a few modifications, he strapped on an old Army backpack filled with supplies, a shovel, compass, water, and provisions. Wearing his scarf, Oz snuggled into a little fold William had made in the backpack, giving him a seat with an over-the-shoulder view of the world.

“Forward Mr. Williams!” Oz commanded with an outstretched hoof after they both received kisses from Ally and Ashley. Into the courtyard they marched, down the steps, around the tree and fountain, and out through the crippled old war gates into the snowy fields beyond.

As they disappeared from view Ashley swung the huge iron-riveted oak door closed, one final wisp of freezing air tossing her hair about. All was silent inside once the door’s echo settled, and Ashley and Ally stood looking at each other.

“What do you want to do first?” Ashley asked, leaning down with her hands on her knees.

Ally just looked up at her expectantly, wishing that Ashley already knew because the offer was so intimidating.

“No one else is here, Ally . . .” Ashley whispered, getting down to her knees and stroking Ally’s back. “If you talk, I won’t tell anyone. And besides, I can only guess what you want to do and I wouldn’t want to guess wrong. If you tell me we’ll do it. I promise.”

This seemed to energize Ally. Some kind of internal struggle was going on as she twitched and wiggled her tail. She wanted something deep down inside, and her need and desire for it made her feel ashamed. Embarrassment flushed through her, and Ally was certain that she would annoy Ashley with her request.

On its own, the question slipped out of her.

“Could you read to me, please?” her tiny voice mellifluously begged, ashamed and small.

“Oh Ally!” Ashley sang out joyously, scooping her up and spinning her about. “I would be delighted! I love books. Let’s go to the library!”

And they did. Ally picked out many of the books she had seen earlier, and each passage sounded new and alive when read aloud by Ashley’s rich and thick voice. Romeo was more earnest in his affections, and Dorothy was filled with much more awe. Alice was more confused and Siddhartha more wise. By early afternoon Ally had visited Minas Tirith and had meet the king of Elfland’s daughter. She had murdered the old man with the evil eye, and she had loved the gypsy girl. Swelling with vivid thoughts and otherworldly places, Ally eased into Ashley’s arms with an ease she had never felt before.

“Can we take a bubble bath? Could we soak?” Ally asked, in her full voice.

Ashley responded with a kiss to her snout.

William kept a brass bowl full of pinecones and pot-pori by the bathtub for whenever Ashley just felt like soaking. She emptied it into the bubbly-tub, and slipped into the hot water, slowly, across from Ally. Outside the wide window the ocean gently thrashed the cliffs below, and they both felt themselves become heavy with the bathtub water’s warmth.

“Ashley, this morning I was afraid that you were just trying not to be mad at me, and if I did something fun I would be made to feel guilty about it later. I thought you’d change your mind and punish me even harder, after I had had fun outside with Oz.” Ally confessed. “I’m sorry to think that about you.”

Ashley just smiled. There was a long silence, then Ally spoke again.

“Does that upset you?”

Ashley shook her head. “I’m just listening to your pretty voice.”

Ally couldn’t take the compliment without blushing, so she quickly submerged. However, even alligators lack the lung capacity to hide underwater long enough to avoid kindness. Eventually, she rose back to the surface, and Ashley was there smiling.

“It doesn’t upset me, Ally. I’m very touched that you told me. It was very brave of you. You must feel safe with me to tell me that. Thank you.”

Ally slowly swam in circles for a bit, her nostrils breathing in the sweet scented air.

“Ashley?”

“Yes?”

“There’s a lot I want to say, but I don’t know how. I wish I could write it like a book we read.”

“You could speak and I could write it, if you like.” Ashley offered.

“I wouldn’t know what to say . . .”

Ashley gave Ally time to gather herself from distant thought. Finally Ally continued.

“I wouldn’t know what to say, except I feel like I’m spinning . . . aiming in all directions at once but not moving in any of them.”

“Sometimes grief can be boring, and motionless. You just have to try and be patient and have faith. Grief and hurt need lots of time to subside.” Ashley bit her lip, deciding to press a question. “Ally, do you want to tell me where you and Oz are from? Do you want to tell me what happened to the two of you?”

“No.” Ally weakly replied. After a moment she scrambled for more words, continuing apologetically. “I-I just don’t know if I’m ready yet. Maybe soon. I don’t know.”

“That sounds very wise, Ally. I’m sorry to make you so uncomfortable. I just want to help and I hate seeing you and Oz hurt. No matter what it was, I know without a doubt that is wasn’t your fault.”

At this Ally froze, her little eyes staring into some inner landscape of hurt. She just floated there, tail still, without causing a ripple.

“It wasn’t your fault.” Ashley repeated gently. “It couldn’t have been.”

That little grunting sound came from somewhere in Ally, and tears started to roll from her eyes.

“Ally?” Ashley asked, sure to get her attention. “Could I have a hug?”

Shooting up out of the water like a torpedo, Ally leaped into Ashley’s arms.

Much cuddling was had, Ashley hold Ally so tightly that the water squeezed out of her. They sat like that for some time, Ally safe and sound until the water went lukewarm. Next came the blow-drying and toweling and as soon as they were both decent they scrambled downstairs to the kitchen, per Ally’s request. Ashley lit the brick oven up while Ally nosed through a baking book for just the right brownie.

“Double chocolate fudge.” Ally finally decided. “With chocolate chips.”

Out came mixing bowls, eggs, flower, and a rolling pin which soon led to powdered faces and chocolaty hands. It didn’t take long before the brownie-mix was poured into a pan and set into the oven.

As they waiting for the fruit of their baking labor, Ashley and Ally sat at the kitchen island with a bowl of leftover chocolate chips to nibble. Ashley scratched her nose, leaving a dark brown smudge and the sight of this was so cute and warming to Ally that she filled with love. But how could she say it? How could Ally thank Ashley and William for being there for absolutely no other reason than to be kind? How does one express thanks and love? Quickly Ally became lost in thought, and she was comfortable enough to ask a question.

“If it wasn’t my fault, than why did it happen?”

“I’m not sure if you can really find a true answer, but there is some comfort to be found.” Ashley replied.

“Comfort?”

“Mmm-hmm. Comfort in that you have the strength to ask that question. To wonder why bad things happen, to explore your hurt, is to have the confidence that you can make things better.”

Ally had to digest this for a moment.

“Does that make sense?” Ashley followed up, leaning over the little alligator and dusting some flower off of her tail.

“Oh yes. Better is here. Better is the future.” Ally said, right before licking the chocolate off of Ashley’s nose.

After their tummies were full of well-baked chocolate goodness, they both settled down by the fireplace at the base of the bedroom stairs.

Wrapping them selves up in a long woolskin, Ashley sang to Ally, rocking her gently. Her singing was off key, but Ally didn’t care being that she was so warm and safe, deep under the covers with only the tip of her snout sticking out into the air . . . her nostrils slowly expanding and contracting as she slipped into a pleasant dreamland.

Everything was the color of cotton, and the tree in the central courtyard had icicles hanging down where leaves once were. As magical as the castle by the sea was, winter’s first snow seemed to make it even most mystic.

“Snowed earlier than I thought it would.” William said.

The air had a numbing nip to it, and the cold had made his cheeks rosy. Oz, however, was no more pink than usual, and he stood at William’s feet, looking up at him expectantly.

“It’s uh . . . It’s kind of cold out here now that we’re standing still . . .” William finally said, scratching his chin. Both of them were covered in mud and snow from head to toe, for they had spent the warmer part of the day looking for truffles, trekking into the wide fields beyond the castle walls to search at the bases of whatever trees they could find. Yet no truffles had been found.

The day had been fun, and both of them were exhausted. When their quest had started, Oz kept asking if everything in sight was a truffle. Clouds, rocks, bugs, roots, and field mice were all suspect as potential truffles until William explained things some more. After a short lesson, Oz felt ‘in the know’ in regards to his favored prey: the truffle.

“We is dirty, Mr. Williams.”

This jarred William from his introspection. “Oz?” he spoke gently, placing his hands on his knees and leaning down. “Oz, you can call me William, without the ‘mister’ part, if you like. You sleep on my head. I think we’re past salutations.” The last part was spoken with a smile.

Oz looked a little perplexed. “Okays.” He said, his little black eyes looking off into the distance. “But we is dirty.” Oz continued. “And we will tracks mud and get in troubles with Ashey!”

“Right. There’s a hand pump by a well in what used to be some stables. That way we can wash up enough to go inside. Sound good?”

Oz agreed.

The stable was a wooden structure, slightly rotted and gnawed, that leaned on the side of the castle. A small arcade led the way, and after passing through some doors they entered. Inside was dark, save for long lines of light that came through the deteriorating ceiling, slicing the place with ambiance. In the center of the stone floor stood the pump, and next to it a well, covered with wood planking.

“Alright, little oinker!” William said. “Let’s get you clean or else I’ll get in trouble.” Gripping the pump’s long metal handle, William began thrusting it down and up with all his might. Water began to spout. “Okay . . . Oz . . . go . . . under!” William called out between thrusts, the water splatting on the ground.

Oz, however, backed away slowly.

William stopped. “What’s wrong, little oinker?” he asked, catching his breath.

“That water, well, is cold. And it smells funny.” His front hooves, caked in mud, covered his snout to protect it from the offending odor.

“Well, uh . . .” William wiped his hand over his face, clearing his mind to think. “Which bothers you the most? The smell, or the cold?”

Oz thought for a time, sitting back on his haunches while fidgeting with his ears. “I do not likes the cold!”

“Got it!” William straitened up and ran out of the stable. Oz waited patiently, listening to the structure creak and groan with the nudging of the wind. Soon William came back with two wooden buckets. “Okay!” he said while he huffed and puffed, filling them full with the pump. “Right!” he seemed to explain, in some sort of reduced language made purely of affirmations. Placing both buckets side by side, he flopped his large body on top of them!

Oz burst out with a giggle at the bizarre site of it all. “Mr. Williams, what is you doings!?”

“Well, Ashley says that I’m the warmest thing in the world. So, given that, nothing can warm these buckets faster than me!” he was breathless, and obviously uncomfortable, but undeniably delighted. “Besides. This gives us a chance to chat.”

Oz’s smile of amusement immediately faded to worry. With caution, he asked “What is we goings to chat abouts, Mr. Williams?”

“Whatever you like, Oz. So, what would you like to chat about.”

This clearly made him feel better. “Uh . . . TRUFFLES!” he burst. “What do we do whens we catches them!?”

“Oh. Well, we eat them.”

Oz gasped in shock. “We eats them!?”

“Oh sure.”

“But-but . . .” Oz walked up close, nose-to-nose, to William’s beet-red face. “But they would screams!” He whispered with hushed horror.

William laughed. “Oh, Oz! Remember how I said that they were a fungus?”

“A fungus?”

“Right, remember? Do you know what a fungus is?”

With a drooped head, Oz was clearly too embarrassed that he had forgotten the answer.

“A fungus is just like a plant. It’s a plant that we’re hunting.”

Oz digested this quickly, and felt better. His little cotton mind wandered as he thought of all he had learned in regards to truffles, and finally a question came out at random.

“Williams, do you loves me?”

Despite being surprised by the question, and the wavering little voice behind it, William did not hesitate to answer.

“The only time I’ve loved anyone as quickly as you was Ashley. Do you know what I mean by that?”

Oz nodded, seeming to be even sadder. “Why, uh, why is it that you loves me but my . . . Mommy and Daddy do nots?” The second half of Oz’s sentence was spoken with tears and choked sobs. William, delicately balancing himself on the buckets stomach-down, reached out a hand to hold Oz’s fore-hoof. He was at a loss for words, watching the little stuffed pig cry, each sob ending with a little snort. “Do you loves Ally?”

“Of course, ‘Ashey’ and I love you both. We do. You’re both so sweet, and clever, and kind, how could anyone not love a little pig and a little alligator like you two?”

Oz was really crying now, and he collapsed into William’s outstretched hand. Pulling him in close, William kissed the little pig’s forehead.

“I do not understands!” Oz squealed. “Why do they not loves me! What dids we do!?”

They snuggled, William holding Oz fast to his shoulder, and Oz just crying and crying and letting everything pent up inside out. Eventually his sobs eased to a whimpering, and his whimpers eased to a long sigh. Finally he was quiet.

William was in some pain by now, from his weight thrusting two-buckets into his midsection, but he cared little. “Oz, I can’t give you any answers for such a hard question. But I can give you cuddles. And, I think, that may be what matters most.”

Oz straightened himself up, with what dignity a small stuffed piglet could muster, and wiped his eyes. “I loves you too, Williams.”

“I know.” William smiled. “Did you notice that when you asked me you dropped the ‘mister’ part of it?” Getting off of the buckets, he presented them to Oz. “Piping hot, right from the furnace.”

Oz approached them, but with a single wiggle of his snout his face turned sour. “Uh, Williams? I change-ed my mind. I thinks the smell bothers me more thans the cold.”

“Hmmm.” William thought some more. “I bet the water from the well itself doesn’t have that metal smell.” Gathering up a nearby chain, William attached one of the buckets to it. Pulling the wooden cover off of the well, he peered in and lowered it down until a splash echoed from the dark. After some tugging and rattling of the chain, the bucket emerged. The water was warm to the touch, and lacked any odor whatsoever. “Heh. Must be somehow connected with that spring water we found you in this morning. Perhaps it runs to the cliffs and into the ocean . . .”

Oz’s tiny eyes narrowed, and he tapped his back hoof in precise thought. “Williams, truffles can be founds in dark places, yes?”

“Yup.”

“Dark wet places?”

With this, William understood Oz’s point, and they both looked down into the well as though an unseen treasure was just beyond the darkness.

“I’m not sure if it’s safe for us to go down th-“

Oz raised a hoof sharply to interject, cutting William short. Still looking into the well, he spoke, his piglet voice resonating to its depths. “I happens to know the greatest swimmer ever to lives!”

© William L. J. Galaini