And so it was that the Captain and the Colonel sailed above the snow in the ski lift, uttering the usual nonsense that so often passed for conversation between them.
'Did you know,' asserted the Captain, apropos of nothing, 'that the plural of mongoose is mongeese, or can be without committing grammatical error?'
'I didn't know that, no, ' the Colonel said, 'but it doesn't surprise me, because the plural for plum is please.'
'No it isn't,' said the Captain indignantly. 'I've never in my life heard of such rubbish.'
'It absolutely is,' reasserted the Colonel, chewing on something that the Captain had not actually seen him place in his mouth. 'Because when I was a wee lad, sometimes I would ask to have some plums, and my mother would retort, "please!" Since she could not have been pleading me for some plums, as she was in possession of them, I think you'll concur that the only possible explanation was that she was correcting my grammar. You see! A wee lad's intuition is rarely wrong.'
'Well it's wrong in this case, I strongly suggest,' suggested the Captain. 'You have in no way proved your point by telling me the anecdote. In fact, you've only caused me to suspect the watertightness of your logic even more, since you've confided that you were a mere boy - and a wee one at that - when you reached the conclusion. And while wee lads are to be praised in many areas, I'm sure, we cannot concede them the faculty of advanced logic. The capacity simply isn't there.'
Getting off at the top of the ski lift, the Captain and the Colonel made their way towards the the slope. The effort that this non-descending activity required momentarily robbed them of their elderly breath and made continuing the conversation impossible. They knew that this would likely be the state of affairs until they had reached the mountain bottom again, too, because they would be simply too far apart and windswept to allow their usual nonsense to be heard by each other. This wasn't ideal, because they both loved the sound of their own voices, but it was something they had resigned themselves to as they began their descent.
They descended, it seemed, almost always in life, and it often struck them both, though they never articulated it, that they must have designed their lives to allow them to always descend. Whether they were ever in the military it was now impossible for them to recall, because all that was Too Long Ago and Far Far Away, and their minds were getting worse at travelling back to such places. Ok, they had memories. They rattled around in their minds like nuts and bolts flown off a washing machine and condemned to rattle and make a noise whenever that machine was turned on, or awake in their case. They could remember, for example, a foxy woman in her thirties in a ski-suit that was quite a lot unzipped. They could remember a small gun, the size of a prize in a cracker, one of those toy-like weapons that are actually lethal, but they had no idea whose it was or whether it had ever been fired. If I could give you a third thing they could remember that might be nice, because it makes for better literature to have things in threes, but truthfully, at that time, they didn't actually have a third broken-off nut rattling round, only the two.
As the Colonel came to a particularly large tree, he wondered whether he should ski to the right or the left, and eventually he decided that it wouldn't be dangerous to attempt both, a decision he only retracted at the very last moment when he realised that in fact there was only one of him, and that one person cannot be split in two directions, so he went left. The Captain, who had been approaching the same tree with the exact same thought in mind, retracted his too at the last moment and went right, and this put them on a terrible course of collision that was in fact not long enough to be a course at all, just a collision, because a course must be at least ninety metres in length (they were already on a course in that sense, of course) and for a long terrible moment, which wasn't actually long at all, but for different reasons than it wasn't a course, they were like two cartoon panels coming into jagged contact with maybe the word BOOM or KERANG emblazoned at that point of nuclear fission. But after the moment was done, they found themselves merely in a heap, the outline of which only vaguely resembled two old fools dressed in inappropriately 'young' skiwear - including military shades - and more aptly resembled just a clutter in the corner of an Austrian teenager's typical bedroom, let's say.
If anyone who knew them - and no one really did, except for themselves, so it's a moot point - had any hopes that they would stop talking nonsense after they had collided, like a kind of reverse concussion effect, they would have been sadly mistaken, for the first words that came out of the heap were, 'Perhaps it was a badly designed mongoose.'
Of course, this wasn't either the Captain or the Colonel talking but the pride of the Colonel, who, still letting his thoughts cohere - if cohere is not too strong a word - around the notion of mongeese, was picking up the conversation precisely where it had been after they descended the ski-lift and before they descended the slope.
'What was a badly designed mongoose?' groaned the Captain, but he groaned it not in a discouraging way but quite the opposite, i.e., a way that suggested he was very much up for continuing the mongeese debate and it was only his concussion that was getting in the way of his clarity of tone and making that clarity, instead, a groan.
'Well, you said that the plural of mongoose is mongeese,' said the Colonel, 'and then pooh-poohed the idea that the plurals of things more generally might follow a phonetically comparable dynamic, that plum might become please. So I'm saying, ok, maybe you're right about the dynamic, in which case maybe your original statement, that mongeese is the plural of mongoose, is also wrong, and maybe, therefore, mongeese is in fact just a badly designed, imperfect mongoose.'
'I've never heard such a warped self-justifying heap of twaddle,' said the Captain, getting up from his own heap, or the one he was sharing with the Colonel, and rubbing his bruised old head, which had for once, at least, stopped its washing machine rattle. 'So you're trying to tell me that it would be perfectly within the laws of grammar and logic to say, rather than 'Mind those badly designed mongooses,' 'mind that badly designed mongeese!''
'Absolutely,' said the Colonel.
'What utter nonsense,' the Captain replied. And having said that, he picked himself up, all the while rubbing his head, picked up too his poles and his shades, the latter of which had flown off in the collision, to land, like a snowman's blindness, just down the slope, and continued his descent, leaving the Colonel to do likewise in his wake, a wake which was, incidentally, very easy to follow in the virgin snow, and glittered a little like a trail of goose fat in the afternoon sun.