Tagger by Tim Gallagher
The two-handed hissing of spray paint is a horizon line for Tagger's keen awareness, so the click of a blind person's cane at the top of the stairs comes to his ears like the
slow-motion snap of a passing grasshopper's wings. Click click click in rhythm with a soft squeak of shoes. Without looking he can tell it is a woman, and as she nears she
Woman (about 60 years old): My first thought was of two kitties fighting. Then I knew it was a mischievous young person even before I smelled the paint. Why do you
deface pubic property? I hope you're wearing a mask. Young people think they can woof paint and live to be a hundred. What is your name?
Woman (laughing): Tagger the spray-paint tiger! Or are you more of a tigger, Tagger? Just what is your tale? Is it worth telling or do you just bounce on it?
Tagger: I do art. Secret but great art.
Woman: It's no secret that you increase the tax burden.
Tagger: Would you pay a penny tax to support the arts?
Woman: I would rather my penny helps keep art in schools.
Tagger: A penny for your thoughts.
Woman (laughing): So this is a tax rebate!. Hmmmm. I am from Egypt. They climb ropes of sand there, you know. Just for amusement. There is nothing at the top of the
rope. Isn't that a waste of magic?
Tagger (smiling): Take my arm.
They board the train and take seats. On the train is an 18-year-old man and a middle-aged woman. The woman (W2) looks distraught and the 18-year-old (18) is smiling sociably and stretching his arms behind his head. There is a fat leather bag abandoned next to a nearby seat. This bag has W2's attention.
W2: (Starts nearly whispering, then builds to a fevered pleading) ) Oh, no. Probably nothing. Wait! No! (Begins motioning toward the bag) Before the door shuts! Get it
out! That bag! A dark man left it! Out! Get it out!
Doors close and the brakes let loose.
The 18-year-old stops stretching as his expression changes to concern.
18: Oh, man! That dude forgot his bag.
W2: It's a bomb.
18: A bomb? You hear tickin' or what?
W2: I just know! That dark man.
Woman: In what way was the man dark?
W2: Like an Iraqi. Like the Devil!
Woman: Artists of the Crusades painted the devil as a Middle-eastern man. And Gypsy women as seductresses. The latter is certainly true. I am from Egypt and, (turns
head toward Tagger) as you can see, I picked up this young man in less than a minute.
W2: What the hell are you talking about? You're crazy! We're all about to be killed!
18: Jesus! We need to blow up all those bastards!
Woman: Do I sense irony here?
18 and W2 rush to the back of the train and cower behind the last seats.
Woman: If the Tigris and Euphrates Valley is the cradle of civilization, than it is a cradle built by our ancient fathers for our ancient mothers. To destroy it is to deny that we once slept in that cradle, dreaming of a destiny we may never reach. How foolish to destroy the forest from who's timbers the cradle was built, and what malevolence moves us to kill the children who stayed at home to guard it.
Tagger, open the bag and let the poor thing out.
Tagger, startled, hesitates, looks at the woman, gets up and walks over, picks up the bag and brings it back to their seats. The bag is on his lap.
18 and W2 are peering in horror over the rear seats.
W2: My God! No, you idiot! Holy Mother save us!
18: Jesus! God damn!
18 and W2 duck back down.
Tagger slowly unzips the bag and looks in, then smiles broadly.
A sleek Siamese cat crawls up out of the bag, sniffs Tagger, then walks over to Woman's lap. It stretches up to her face and rubs noses with her.
Woman laughs softly as a tear runs down her cheek.
Woman: So, you found me at last. (turns toward Tagger) I belong to this cat now.
As the train pulls into the station, 18 and W2 emerge from hiding. W2 brushes herself off and 18 stretches his arms behind his head. Both quickly make for the door. W2
is out in a flash, 18 stops, looks at Woman, the cat and Tagger, scratches his head and says, “Jesus.” before leaving.
With the cat in her arm, the woman finds her cane and gets up. Tagger helps her to the door.
Tagger: My pleasure.
Tagger begins his work immediately. As Woman walks away, she stops and turns around.
Woman (calling back to Tagger).By the way, you do beautiful work!