The Grubby Man

That tiresome spring there appeared in the town a man surpassing grubby. The sheer filthiness of him, in body and soul, caused untold jitters in the townsfolk. Tongues wagged in taverns, and they did more than wag. There was spitting and cursing and imprecation, until hotheads were quieted by the sending of a citizens’ delegation to the good burghers of the town. These burghers were good, and they were elderly, and had terrific beards, and some were blind or losing their sight, but this betokened, for the townsfolk, great wisdom, on account of lore and legend.

A hammer thumped thrice upon a panel indicated the good burghers had made a decision, and the townsfolk gathered in the square to hear it pronounced. The grubby man was to be coaxed into a tub of hot water, and scrubbed with soapy brushes, scrubbed and rinsed and scrubbed and rinsed until all trace of visible filth was expunged, and he would step from the tub to be enwrapped in a large rectangular towel albino white while the water in the tub was poured down a drain into the sewer.

And so it came to pass.

But voices were raised, in taverns and on street corners and in civic hubs of social cohesion. The visible filth still lurked below, in the sewer, bubbling and frothing and ready at any time to burst up through the piping, and also, also, never forget, there was the grubbiness of the grubby man’s soul, invisible yet the more potent for that. A second citizens’ delegation, a second thumping of the hammer, a second gathering in the market square.

This time the good burghers made two determinations, to meet the two concerns of the townsfolk. First, that each day, forever, the sewers would be scrubbed and rinsed, with brushes and hot water and carbolic soap, scrubbed and rinsed from end to end, by volunteers. Second, that the grubby man would endure a course of moral instruction and his soul examined daily, for hours and hours, under duress, until every fleck of turpitude was obliterated in the pitiless light of Blötzmannist Lovely Thought.

And so it came to pass.

And hard as it may be to hold in your head, that man surpassing grubby became, oh after many a year of instruction and examination, a pillar of the community, never quite a good burgher yet one whose advice was sought by townsfolk young and old on such matters as dogs and cats and postal deliveries and running track maintenance and lamppost height and Belisha beacon brightness and the fish market and soup recipes and ballet troupe recruitment and gusts of wind and air temperature and flocks of swooping scavenger birds and bus stop furniture and mountaineering equipment and oil waste and Japanese fog monitoring systems and duck calls and the vanity of human wishes and snow flurries and the raking of autumn leaves and pig feeding and the brains of lobsters and the Flemish Primitives and mulching garden plots and filth and muck and untold grubbiness.

For scrub and rinse as they might, the volunteers never quite managed to eradicate the visible filth from the sewer.

And on the seventh day, petals fell in Petaluma.

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