And then the Night-Time turned to me, a little worried, and said, "I don't know how to flirt."
Usually, saying you don't know how to flirt is just about the cutest way to start flirting with someone, but that's not how the Night-Time and I roll, and besides, she was really worried. The dread of loneliness isn't the worst of tragedies, but it's up there.
So how could I say no? I lept up with a prerequisite laugh and took her by the hand and ran off to the park bathroom and drew a doorway on the wall out of cigar ashes and stopped to wonder what I was doing. The Night-Time protested that she needed to be back by Dawn so she could pass things on and I said sure, and then she gave me a shy smile and jumped through.
And on the other side the city was even dirtier, and the fog was everywhere, and there was a big black dog snarling at us.
"Oh, hi," I said, "We're here because she needs to learn how to flirt."
And it wasn't sure whether to eat us or talk to us. It decided on the former, and we ran away fast. Fortunately, the Night-Time is good at moving fast, around the world in 24 hours every day, and we got away just find, but then we were lost in a maze of coal-filled clockwork streets, and we stumbled into a factory-workers' pub.
The Night-Time bought drinks for the house, which was awfully nice and maybe an attempt at flirting, but no one took her up on it, so we just sat in the corner, drinking Guinness and trying very hard to relax. I think we were both hoping a mysterious stranger would approach us, but no one did, which made us sadder and a lot more nervous. We finished our drinks in silence and walked out and hopped on a city train.
"Hey, which stop do we take to learn how to flirt?" I asked the conductor, and he tipped his hat and gave a wink and a devil-may-care smile and pointed at the map.
She thanked him and gave him a bicycle-chain bracelet, which is as close as we could get to paying the fare, which seemed to leave everyone pretty satisfied.
When we got to the right stop, there was this big 24 hour pet store, and we bought some fancy organic dog snacks that looked good enough for people to eat, but we didn't risk it, and we got into a conversation with a cat lady. A real cat lady, sworn from sanity, hair in a grey tangle, hand-knit brown sweater covered in cat fur.
She looked out into the night sky and said, "I was good at flirting once."
"Yeah? So how do we learn?" I asked, and the Night-Time scowled at me for being too forward.
She said, "On top of this hill here there's a plague of dragon locusts. They can teach you, but if you anger them they'll chew you down to the bone."
"I make it a policy not to learn social skills from hungry pests," I said, but the Night-Time elbowed me in the ribs and thanked her and up the hill we walked.
I can't tell you what the locusts told me, but the Night-Time is better at vermin etiquette than me, and I'm pretty sure we survived the experience, because now I'm getting back into my truck and heading home. I wished the Night good night, which isn't as ridiculous as it might sound once you know her well. Soon I sleep and I hope I don't dream of dog food.