what can you rip the lid off, when all the lids have been ripped?
what do you with the champagne glass, when all the champagne has been sipped?
what do you do with the river, when the last sun has set?
what do you tell satan, when he comes to collect on his bet?
what can you do for an encore, when the last note is played?
where will the last raindrop fall, when there are no more parades?
what will st george do to pass the time, when the last dragon is slain?
who will swallow the last white pill, when there is no more pain?
when the last train leaves the station, who will wave goodbye?
not the cat asleep in the corner, or the dog with a tear in his eye
not the hamster chewing his piece of wood, oblivious to fate
or the cockroach crawling desperately across the empty plate
when the last man dies, who will dig his grave?
when the master ascends to heaven, who will free his slave?
not the maid asleep on the mistress’s bed, when the trumpet sounds
or the fox running forever, away from heaven’s hounds
it’s midnight in st louis, sunrise in algiers
the countess discovers her rubies gone, and wipes away a tear
the international jewel thief taps his cigarette on his case
in the window on the speeding train - just another pretty face
once upon a time there was a little orphan girl who made a living by selling cheeseburgers. on sunny days she would set up her grill and table in the old quarter of town behind the old palace and sell her cheeseburgers to passersby.
on days when it snowed or rained she would make the burgers in the little hut she lived in down by the docks. she would then put them in a sack and walk through the rainy or snowy streets accosting pedestrians and urging her burgers on them.
"warm burgers, good people," she would cry, "tasty burgers for a rainy day!"
now it must be said that the little girl's product emphasized price, not quality. she could hardly afford the finest cheeses and as for what the meat in the burgers consisted of - given her proximity to the docks and alleys - well, few people in the old town would have any illusions on that score.
like many large and small entrepreneurs in the history of commerce, the little girl emphasized price, price and price.
she would not be undersold.
the little girl had a particular rival. another girl, slightly older, who also sold burgers, but from a covered stand in a good spot in the old main square.
the little girl (our heroine) thought of her rival as "dark eyes" or "black cloak" because she had dark eyes and usually wore a black cloak.
dark eyes charged more for her burgers but make a great show of making her burgers with the finest goat cheese and the choicest fresh goat meat.
our heroine did not like dark eyes's competition. nor did she much care for what she felt was her superior attitude.
dark eyes proclaimed herself, by little statues and pictures in her stall, to be a devotee of the god bing bang.
therefore our heroine developed an implacable dislike for the god bing bang and all his followers.
things went on in this way until disaster struck - for both girls and for many other small vendors in the old city and the kingdom.
the imperial department of health, information and reality issued a decree forbidding the manufacture, importation and sale of burgers, effective immediately.
dark eyes disappeared. our heroine never saw her again, but she always suspected that the followers of bing bang were in some way responsible for the new laws.
the little girl tried to get by by selling grilled cheese and seaweed sandwiches, but these proved a tough sell, and she barely made enough to keep rags on her skinny carcass.
times grew hard, and there were rumblings in the streets that what the kingdom needed was a good war to bring the good times back.
our heroine heard these mutterings, but kept her own counsel, in this, as in all else.
one rainy day the little girl was walking the streets trying to sell her grilled cheese and seaweed sandwiches - barefoot, because she could no longer afford shoes - when a carriage came along containing her imperial majesty victoria vii.
her majesty recognized the little girl, for she had occasionally purchased her cheeseburgers back in happier times. her majesty was not a gourmet, and only ate whenever she felt hungry, so she would often buy something from the nearest vendor whenever she was escaping from the castle and her onerous duties as ruler of half the planet, as she was wont to do.
the carriage was stopped, and the empress leaned out of it to purchase one of the little girl's sandwiches, when a sudden gust of rain hit her in the face.
"bah!" cried her majesty, drawing back but keeping the door open, "get in, child, before we are both washed away."
the little girl jumped into the carriage, and as it sped off, took a sandwich out of her bag and handed it to the empress.
the empress took her time eating and digesting the sandwich. she looked out the window the whole time at the deserted rainy streets and did not speak to the little girl, who, of course, did not presume to speak to her.
finally she spoke. "that was not half bad," she said. she turned to the little girl. "though not quite what i remember from the last time we met."
our heroine started to explain about the ruling of the department but her majesty held up her hand. "yes, yes, i know all about it." she sighed. "it probably was not the wisest move, but i can't keep track of everything these damned bureaucrats do, can i?"
"i suppose not," the little girl answered.
the carriage continued on in the rain with neither of them speaking.
"look here," the empress said at length. "i think you have showed some real spunk in keeping on keeping on under the circumstances. and you seem to know how to keep your mouth shut."
the little girl just nodded.
"my children and all my nieces and nephews are a bunch of worthless ingrates and airheads. and chatterboxes. here is what i propose to do. i am going to send them all packing. and i will install you in the castle as my successor. when i die, which i trust is not any time soon so you may have to wait a while, you will succeed me as the empress victoria viii. how does that sound?"
"better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick," replied the little girl.
and so it was agreed, and the following day some servants came to the little girl's hut on the waterfront and escorted her to the castle, and installed her in some apartments which were not too luxurious but which were warm and dry.
the years went by.
the former cheeseburger girl had nothing to do all day except eat, sleep, occasionally accompany the empress on her rides about town or to the theater, and occasionally listen to her vent about the state of the empire.
which was not that often, for even as the empress grew older, she was mostly given to keeping her thoughts to herself.
our heroine was often bored, almost to tears, but she remembered her days walking the streets barefoot, and kept her part of the bargain, always being there when the empress wanted her, never plotting against her or taking part in palace intrigues, and keeping her mouth shut.
and there was a lot to keep it shut about, for the empire was in decline and inner turmoil.
dissent and rebellion were in the air. the former cheeseburger girl felt that most of the blame lay with the followers of bing bang, but as the empress never asked her opinion on the subject, she never offered it.
in time, the followers of bing bang gained control of the rival empire on the other side of the ocean. many felt that this new regime did not treat the empire of victoria vii with the proper respect.
old and new grievances were aired between the two empires.
voices in the palace bureaucracy, and in the popular press, called for war, but the old empress held firm against it.
finally, on the verge of dotage, the aged victoria vii died in her sleep.
the former cheeseburger girl ascended the imperial throne as victoria viii.
with the crown barely settled on her brow, her first action as empress was to declare total war on the rival empire, and on all the followers of bing bang.
after centuries of only the most occasional skirmishes, the armies and navies of both sides fell to battle with a will.
neither victoria viii, or her counterpart on the other side of the ocean, slackened in their resolve.
no quarter was given. no prisoners were taken, or negotiations even attempted.
the war fed on itself, consuming cities and subject nations in ravenous gulps.
the armies and navies on both sides mutinied and shattered. rebellion and banditry broke out in such areas of the earth as were not completely laid waste.
civilization was destroyed. darkness covered the planet.
there was no longer an empire for victoria viii to rule.
on a particularly dark night, without even taking leave of such servants as remained in the ruined castle, the former cheeseburger girl returned to the docks.
she could no longer expect to return to her former occupation. such customers as there might be would be more inclined to catch their own food in the alleys, and there was no cheese or bread to make any kind of burgers or sandwiches,
in the chaos of ruin, one thing was in plentiful supply.
paper, from the bursting archives of the former imperial offices, civilian and military, blowing through the streets.
the erstwhile empress used the paper to fashion flowers which she attempted to sell for a few pennies, or cigarettes, to such few people as braved the darkened streets.
to anyone at all, even bandits and deserters who sported the blue colors of bing bang.
in this way she went from being a little girl who sold cheeseburgers in the streets, to an old woman who sold paper flowers in the streets.