In the middle of the path stood a strange animal like a cross between a warthog and a large lizard. Its dark leathery skin was covered with large red spots. It regarded Gabriel, in his purple suede suit, with a ferocious gaze, displaying two rows of pointy teeth. ‘Must be a new addition to aunt’s collection of exotic beasts,’ he thought. The Contessa had written the day before, asking him to call as she wished for his advice ‘on certain philosophical matters.’ It was her habit to consult Gabriel, who lectured on the history of thought at the local university, on a regular basis.
While Gabriel was wondering what to do, the Contessa appeared from behind a clump of banana trees. She was wearing an elaborate cape embroidered with geometric designs and finished by a collar of squirrel fur. Her hair had the same crimson hue as the animal’s spots. ‘Bruno!’ she said sharply. The animal turned submissively towards her, its slender reptilian tail held proudly erect. ‘I’m so sorry he inconvenienced you Gabriel,’ said the Contessa. ‘And I’m grateful you have come. I’m tormented by metaphysical doubts.’ ‘It is the nature of such questions to be tormenting,’ said Gabriel smiling. ‘I mean specific questions,’ replied the Contessa. ‘Tea is about to be served on the terrace. I’ll explain myself there.’
The young man followed her along the winding path towards the house. A table had been laid under a blue-striped awning. As they approached, Gabriel noticed an unusual bird, shaped like a parrot fish, perched on a swing inside a bamboo cage suspended from a tree. ‘Pretty Polly,’ the Contessa said pressing her face up against the cage. ‘Pretty Polly,’ the bird responded, exactly mimicking the Contessa’s voice. The woman laughed. ‘They’re the only words she knows,’ she said. ‘Not true,’ said the creature, ruffling its fin-like wings. ‘I could talk until the cows come home.’ A servant stepped forward and began to pour the tea. ‘Now this is what I mean, Gabriel,’ said the Contessa, as her guest helped himself to a macaroon. ‘This kind of assertion is so provoking. She knows perfectly well we don’t have any cows.’
Copyright © Simon Collings, 2022