A Penguin Comes to Tea

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The Cart

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James held his breath and poked the shovel one more time into the pile of manure. He did not know how one horse could produce so much dung and he did not see why he had to clear it up when it was not even his horse.
“I can ride my bike faster than any horse,” he had said, when his father first proposed the idea, “and I don’t have to feed it or clean up after it.”
His father had thought he was smart, beating the oil shortage by buying a horse – nag more like. James had been the butt of jokes at school for weeks until the girls started coming round to pet the horse and the boys realised that the best way to impress the girls was to claim to be able to ride the horse. Riding had lasted one week until the fourth boy fell off and James’ father had stopped them from riding.
“The horse is for transport,” he said, “so we must train it to pull the cart.”
The cart. That was another object of ridicule: a converted trailer with a sports canopy on top.
“We have to work with the materials we have,” his father had explained, “and your mother can hardly go grocery shopping or take your sister to school on a bicycle.”
James was so embarrassed the first time his father took the cart out that he had spent the day at home rather than let anybody he knew see his father riding around on the contraption. But that had been two months ago and he did not worry so much about appearances any more because their lives had changed so much, and all because of the oil ban.
He had never really thought about how much gas the old car used, nor where it all came from, although he had been aware of the prices creeping steadily upwards and his parents’ worries. When they told him he would have to give up baseball because they could not longer afford to drive to the games he was furious and sulked for a week, arguing each time the car was taken out that the journey was not as important as his baseball game but gradually all his friends gave up their sports and activities too. The lucky people who had electric cars had been able to keep driving for a few more weeks but then the government banned the recharging of cars and overnight all means of transport other than public trams were banned, and even they were rationed by a very selective coupon system.
That was when James noticed how far it was to everywhere, even on his bike. Riding the half hour to the skate park had never seemed a chore before, but now it was half an hour on his bike to the library, to school, to almost anywhere he wanted to go, and of course he had to carry his stuff with him. The smart kids had bought bike panniers when the crisis started but by the time James thought of that the store had sold out and of course with no new goods coming into the country there was a shortage of everything.
His mother still taught at the elementary school, although the number of students was declining each week as more and more kids stayed at home to help with finding food and work. His father had given up his job in the city once he could no longer get there on a daily basis and was now stuck at home, trying out this crazy scheme of using a horse and wagon as a taxi service, and he, James had to clean up the taxi poop.
It was just not fair.
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