Huffin the Puffin (A children’s story)—D. McShea, 2012
Huffin the puffin sat on a fence overlooking the sea. Seagull fluttered down next to him.
“Hi,” said Seagull.
“Yeah,” said Huffin.
There was a silence. It seemed to Seagull to go on forever. You know, thirty seconds. A thirty-second silence can be forever.
“Well?” Seagull said finally.
“Well what?” said Huffin. “Oh, yeah, sorry. I meant to say ‘hello.’” He paused, “Hello.”
“What I meant to say was: what’s the puzzle?,” said Seagull. :You always have a puzzle.”
“Oh,” Huffin was thoughtful. “Yeah I do sometimes have a puzzle. But not today. No puzzle today.”
Another long silence.
“No puzzle, really?” Seagull asked. He was thinking he was happy not to have one. Although as it would turn out, he was wrong about that.
“No. No puzzle this time.”
“That’s fine.” Seagull said, surprised now to feel a little disappointed.
“No puzzle,” Huffin repeated, staring straight ahead.
“I don’t need a puzzle,” said Seagull. “I was expecting one, because you always have one. But I’m good without one.”
“Good. Because I don’t have one.”
“Not even a small puzzle?”
“No, not today. No puzzle at all.”
“Fine.” Seagull turned to face the sea. The sun was just rising, and a breeze rose up over the grassy cliff edge in front of them. “Great day, huh?”
“Well, maybe a small puzzle.”
“Oh.” After being ready for a puzzle, Seagull now wasn’t ready at all.
“A tiny one. An easy one. I’m sure you’ll know the answer right away,” Huffin said.
“Oh.” Seagull worked to pull himself together, getting ready to think, which for him took a few moments. But now he was ready. “Go ahead.”
“Are you sure? It’s so simple, it really shouldn’t be called a puzzle. You’ll laugh when you hear it, it’s so simple.”
“So you know the answer to it?” Seagull looked over at Huffin.
“No, no, I don’t,” said Huffin, “but I’m sure you will. It goes like this. Let’s say there are only two kinds of thing in the world. First there are all the things in the world that are that dandelion over there,” he pointing with his wing at a small yellow flower growing from a tuft of grass in front of them. “And second, there are all the things that aren’t.”
“Aren’t what?” Seagull was lost already.
“All the things that aren’t that dandelion,” Huffin explained.
“Two kinds of things?” wondered Seagull. “No there are lots of kinds of things. There are trees and fences. There’s the sun over there. There’s the sea down there.” He lifted his wing to point to each, in turn. “I think the tide is coming in.”
“That’s true,” Huffin agreed, never-minding the tide. “Lots of kinds of things. But I’m dividing them into just two kinds. All the things that are that dandelion. And all the things that aren’t. So the trees and the fences and even the sun, they all count as things that aren’t.”
“Yeah, ok,” Seagull nodded, catching on. Then he laughed, “Lots of things in that second group, huh?”
“You bet,” said Huffin. “Almost everything.”
“And not many things in the first group,” said Seagull, still smiling. “Really, just one, pretty much, huh? That dandelion.”
“Exactly one thing, yes, that one dandelion.” Huffin picked up the pace now. “So let’s call the first group, with just one thing in it, let’s call that group “that-dandelion.” And let’s call the other group, with everything else in it, let’s call that group “not-that-dandelion.”
“Not-that-dandelion,” repeated Seagull. “Say,” he added, a little excitedly, “you and I are in the second group. We’re both not-that-dandelion!”
“Right,” said Huffin. “We’re both not-dandelions. We’re alike in that way, wouldn’t you say? It’s something we share. We’re both not-dandelions.”
“Ok,” Seagull was fine with this. “I like that we’re the same. Both not-dandelions. So what’s the puzzle?”
“We’ll get there,”said Huffin. “But there’s another step. Now let me divide things up in a different way. You see that big pink rock way down there, down on the beach?” He again moved his wing to point. I’m going to divide the world up into things that are that pink rock, and things that aren’t.”
“So it’s pink rock and not-pink-rock,” Seagull said, pleased to be following so easily. “The pink rocks are made of granite. I’ve heard that,” he said. “It’s a true fact.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Huffin. “Granite, huh? Interesting.” Seagull stood tall, thrilled that he knew something Huffin didn’t. Then Huffin continued, “And I’m glad it’s a true fact and not a false fact.”
Seagull frowned for a moment, but Huffin paid no attention and went on, “So that’s the division. There’s things that are that-pink-rock and things that are not-that-pink-rock. And again, there’s only one thing in the pink-rock group – that pink rock down there – and lots of things in the not-pink-rock group. Almost everything is a not-pink-rock.”
“Yes, including the dandelion,” Seagull added. “It’s a not-pink-rock.”
“Yes, yes!” Huffin said. “The dandelion is a not-pink-rock. And what’s more, the pink rock is a not-dandelion.”
“Y-y-y-yes.” Seagull was pretty sure about this.
“And we can say even more,” Huffin went on. “We can say that this fence we’re sitting on is both a not-dandelion and a not-pink-rock, right?”
“Ok-k-kay.” Seagull said slowly.
“And the sun, rising over there,” Huffin pointed straight ahead at the sure-enough rising sun. “The sun is both a not-dandelion and a not-pink-rock.”
“Uh-huh,” Seagull said, but tilting his head at Huffin uncertainly.
“They’re the same that way, the fence and the sun. They’re both not-dandelions and both not-pink-rocks. This fence here under our feet is the same as that giant ball of fire 100 million miles away. The same. I mean the same because both sun and fence are not-dandelions and the same because they’re both not-pink-rocks.”
“I see,” said Seagull uncertainly. Then, with more confidence, “And it’s not just the fence and the sun. It’s us too. We’re the same as each other and we’re the same as the fence and the same as the sun. We’re all not-dandelions and not-pink-rocks. And …”
“Right,” said Huffin. “Right. Pretty much everything is the world is the same as pretty much everything else. The same, I mean, just because almost everything is both not-dandelion and not-pink-rock.”
“Well, that’s kind of fun,” Seagull chirped happily. “But I don’t see a problem yet.”
“Boy I see one,” said Huffin. “Think about all of the other things that the fence and the sun are not!”
“Huh?” Seagull shifted from foot to foot on the fence. He had an idea – really half an idea – of what was coming next, and it made him very unhappy.
“Well, the fence and sun are not-dandelion, and they’re not-pink-rock, and they’re not-grass-blade, and they’re not-this-breeze-blowing-over-us-right-now. They’re not-earthworm-down-there-coming-out-of-the-ground. They’re not-the-city-of-Halifax. They’re not-my-dentist. In other words, they’re the same in being not-all-the-things-you-can-think-of. It’s a huge list! And the sun and the fence are the same in being not-ALL-of-these-things!”
There was a pause. Seagull had been holding his breath without knowing it. Now he knew it and let some of the air out. “I’m confused.” Then, “Wait, you don’t have a dentist.”
“I know …,” Huffin began.
“You don’t have teeth,” Seagull went on. “You’re a bird.”
“I know,” Huffin insisted. “And that’s what makes it even worse. If I did have teeth and did have a dentist, both the fence and the sun would be not-my-dentist. Fence and sun are the same, not only in not being all the things they actually aren’t, but also in not being all the things that they could not-be!”
“Oh,” Seagull paused. “That makes sense,” he said. He paused. “But not to me,” he added with a sigh.
“Which means,” Huffin went on, “that the fence and the sun may be different in a lot of ways, in size, in temperature, in where they are, and in what they’re made out of. But they are the same, the same-same-same, in a much bigger number of ways. In an endless number of ways. In an infinite number of ways.”
“Oh no,” was all Seagull could say, at first. “That can’t be … .”
“I’m sure you’re right,” Huffin said, sounding agreeable. “It can’t be. Because that would make everything pretty much the same as everything else.” He stretched out the “pretty much,” as he said it. “Which would mean there’s pretty much only one kind of thing in the world. And we know that’s not true. … Say,” Huffin interrupted himself. People think of interrupting as rude, but it’s ok when you do it to yourself. “Say, I’ve got to go. But let’s talk some more about this another time.”
“Where are you going?” Seagull wanted to know. The puzzle was very much not solved, and he wasn’t ready to let it go.
“Somewhere else,” said Huffin.
“Where?” Seagull demanded.
“Not here,” said Huffin, spreading his wings.
“What?” Seagull eyes went wide.
“Not here,” Huffin repeated. “The same place you’ll be going whenever you leave. Not here.”
“But … .”
“I’ll see you there soon,” Huffin grinned at him.
“Not-here. See you not-here soon,” Huffin flapped and rose off the fence into the breeze.
“How do I get to not-here?” yelled Seagull after him.
But Huffin was gone.