Friday, March 03, 2006

The Enchanted Toasting Fork, Episode Eight

'Can you smell something strange?' Cossima asked, as she stepped into their entrance hall, her initial sigh of relief turning into a cough, 'Claudio, do you think that smell is damp? I've been wondering about Phoebe's asthma.'

'Oh, you're a family of hypochondriacs,' Claudio said, 'but you're right, there's something smelly. Not damp, more like...dead monkey.'

'Dead monkey? Don't be ridiculous, Claudio. We don't have any monkeys. Oh my god, you don't think it could be the rabbit, do you?'

'Definitely dead monkey. Used to smell them in Africa. How odd, haven't smelt that for years. Funny, isn't it how smells are so evocative. I can actually see where I was the last time I smelled that. My parents were at the club and my sister and I had snuck around the out of bounds area. It was her idea but I got the blame. There was this terrible smell.'

'Claudio!' Cossima said sharply, 'Can we come back to the present please and can you be quiet, I think I hear something.'

'Ssssh' Claudio said loudly, 'there's someone in the house!' and, with a theatrical flourish, he picked up the Fijian war club that, against Cossima's wishes, always resided in the umbrella stand. He tiptoed past her, flung open the door from the entrance hall to the kitchen, yelling some strange chant as he did so.

'Imacomintogetya!' he screamed into the room, a window banged down and there was a short expletive from the figure near the window.

'Good heavens!' Cossima said squinting into the subdued light, 'Don't hit him, Claudio, it's Pedro!'

'Pedro! What are you doing in our kitchen? Why do you smell of dead monkey? Good thing old Cossima recognized you or you could be a goner. No, it's all right old man, I wouldn't have really used it.'

'Then why were you brandishing it around?' Cossima asked. She had a theory about weapons in general and that particular war club in particular and it involved intruders, certain death for Claudio and widowhood for herself.

Claudio ignored her, 'It's rather good, isn't it,' he said showing it off to Pedro who looked slightly green, Cossima thought, and certainly smelt awful. 'Bought it in Fiji when the missus and I went on holiday. The last missus, of course, not you darling.'

'I think that should be ex rather than last,' Cossima said. She had never been to Fiji but had no difficulty imagining a picture postcard beach scene with a rather good dacquiri in the foreground and a few fishing boats floating on perfect blue water.

'Oh, isn't that where you've both been?' Pedro asked.

'Not Fiji,' Cossima said a little sharply, 'we've been camping.'

'Ahh,' Pedro said, 'that explains a lot.'

'And what would explain your presence in my kitchen?' Cossima put her hand to her less than clean hair and wished she had put on some lipstick.

'Oh, that. Yes well.'

'Not to mandion the smell of dead monkey,' Claudio said, 'it's really most peculiar and it does seem to be emanating from you, Pedro.'

A sudden movement from Pedro caused Cossima to look at him more closely. His hands seemed to be involved in some kind of complex dance all of their own. Why did one appear to be holding a dead monkey's paw? She was about to ask the question out loud when she was overcome with delicious lassitude. Why did it matter? Why did anything matter? All she wanted to do suddenly was to sit down and have a cup of tea. No, not tea, something more celebratory. Something bubbly. Yes, bubbles all the way up your nose that's what she wanted.

'I say,' Claudio said as though he had read her mind, 'isn't there some champagne in the fridge? Don't you rather think we should open it, now that we're home and Pedro's dropped in to wish us his best?'

'Just what I was thinking,' Cossima said, 'you must be reading my mind and we've only been married - how long?'

'Two days and five hours,' Pedro said, rather surprisingly,'I seem to have some slightly musty olives,'he added, producing a small plastic bag apparently from the air in front of him, 'and some dubious cheese, oh and look, what have we here? Ah ha stale crackers. That's good then. Where do you keep your toasting forks, sorry, I mean glasses?'

Cossima could never quite explain why Pedro was in their kitchen but they had all drunk champagne and eaten some rather awful cheese on soft crackers. It had been lots of fun at the time although she seemed to remember worrying about a monkey at the time.

'Why was a monkey involved?' she asked Claudio, 'can you remember a monkey?'

'No darling. It was that cheap after-shave he was wearing. Poor fellow, I donĂ‚’t suppose magicians are well paid at all these days. But nice of him to drop in like that. Not his fault about the after-shave.'

'I do think there was a monkey. Or maybe not a whole monkey. Perhaps that's why I was worried. It was only part of a monkey.'

'Too much champagne, darling,' Claudio said.

But when Cossima unpacked later, stashing the camping stove and plates in the cupboard under the kitchen sink where Claudio insisted they belong Cossima thought she smelt something unpleasant and very familiar and the words, dead monkey came into her mind unexpectedly.

She took everything out and cleaned the whole cupboard with an antiseptic cleaner so strong her hands peeled in a very unattractive fashion. The smell still lingered and seemed particularly pungent around the toasting fork, which was odd, Cossima thought, because wouldn't you think the toast they had cooked would have tasted of well - dead monkey - and would't they have noticed? The smell rose and interfered with her meditative washing up - which quite frankly she did too much of these days so she couldn't afford any psychic interference. It left her resentful and sullen and feelings like that could cause one of Hoover R Jones' horsemen of the apocalypse to gallop into your marriage. She decided to deal with the problem in a sensible manner and banished the toasting fork to the storage space underneath the house, with the tents, the deflatable dinghy and the rabbit.

They heard from Pedro more more often after the champagne and crackers - but apparently only to find out what they were doing and when. He never made actual plans to see them. He phoned at all hours of the day and night and when she answered, she always thought he sounded slightly disappointed to find her in.

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