You’re a God-damn pain in the butt a lot of the time, frankly. / So are you, frankly.
(Sly and Dee/Confrontational.)
8. Home Again Home Again Jiggetty Jog.
They’re pulled into another innyard.
Tonight will pass quietly, everyone on his best behavior. No story there.
Well, I could talk about the bedbugs.
Nah. Let’s move on. I’m anxious to be in Hameln, aren’t you?
Next morning, the lively conversation of the day before – okay, it had been a one-way street, Dee doing most of the yakking – has declined to a word here, a word there, no real effort to be sociable, but – ha! – but for Drusilla.
She’s whispering into her kitty’s ear. Hmmm. Now he’s nuzzling hers, to my eye, conspiratorially. Whoa! Listen very closely, you can just make out – sure sounds like – Come again? Beg pardon?
John Dee’s watching the business, clearing his throat when it gets too loud. He’s got a big, big smile on his lips. Let’s listen in.
“Murrf-lllyyy. Murr-ffff-lll-yyy! Maaff-ffllly?”
Cat sounds. Nothing too unusual, right? Then, clear as a bell, “Mayfly!” And a big, big grin. “Hey, girl,” he whispers. “How ya be this fine morn?”
“I’m well, thank you. And you?” It’s a stiff reply. Drusilla has not yet come to terms with an extraordinary vocalization.
“I’d love to give you the low-down, cutes, but here is not the place. My short answer: so-so. But things are looking up, all because of you.”
“Because of me?”
“Yes, you. No one else looks out for me. You’re the one got me sprung from the hole. You’re my hero.”
“I thought you despised me. You scolded me yesterday, don’t blow in my ear.”
“That was a joke. I’m a joker, see. Hey, shortcake, when ya figure we land chez vous?”
“We can’t be far.”
She’s taking this in stride, thinks Sly. Well, she’s been softened up. Dee gets the credit. Note to self – tonight, you see bedbugs, smash them flat with that crockery. Don’t scoop them up to dump on top of him. That was a naughty thing to do. “I had another Mayfly once,” he tells her.
“You gave my special name to someone else?”
“No-no-no. I’m not Maahes. I’m back to myself, dear, your basic cat.”
Drusilla is curious – an excellent thing, it will buy him a grace period – and, as Dee remarked earlier, she’s bright as a button.
“How does a cat talk? You are without the throat structure.” The tyke has studied biology. “Even if it’s Maahes speaking . . .”
“It’s not! I’m speaking! Me-me-me!”
“. . . he’d still have to work with your vocal apparatus, that lends itself to miow, and not to the assortment of sounds I . . . I think I’m hearing.”
Sly wants to say, Maahes, you fell for that? No, critter, he tells himself, don’t rock that boat. Instead, he says, “Did not a snake talk to Eve? When a god wills it, vocal apparatus or no, it happens.”
“I believe it was the devil behind that incident.”
“You’re up on that stuff. Good. Possession is real. Your church affirms it.”
She gulps. Demonic possession is a settled fact.
“Easy there, dumpling. Easy! I’m harmless, I swear. Look, you have your vile, vicious possession, a concept beloved of confused clerics everywhere, it answers many a question for them, and you have your playful intrusion, as practiced by unseen-world entities of gentler inclination. One of them has enabled me to act independently in special circumstances, this one of them. Why? My theory is, to give you the supervision he can’t. He has devotees all over, who require his time.”
“I am, my dear, a common, everyday cat.
“Except for – you do not imagine it – I talk. If I were to yell out John Dee is the biggest liar who ever lived, this carriage would erupt. Sounds conveying specific meaning, in other words, language, will have been apprehended by ears other than yours. You’d take the heat, I’m afraid, conventional wisdom being, cats do not speak.
“I can see that you’re uneasy with the notion of . . . hell, even the term intrusion makes you blanch. We’ll get you past that. Let’s proceed on the theory that I am a manifestation of your capacity for the wonder of existence, as Jo-Jo put it. Maahes would not bother with you otherwise. You are a mayfly, most definitely. I knew one years back, fierce little thing, always up for adventure. I admired her tremendously.”
The road swerves around a wooded parcel and begins a descent. After miles of fields sparely dotted with structures, a solidly urban expanse comes into view, and a river just beyond. “Well now, correct me if I’m wrong,” says Sly, “but I believe we are approaching Hameln.”
Drusilla looks out the window, sighs, and sing-songs, quietly: “To Leiden, to Leiden, a snob and a prig. Home again, home again, joggetty-jig.”
“You write verse!”
“I do. When I must sit and listen to wind-bags, I amuse myself by making rhyme.”
“I write verse also!”
“Oh!” she cries. “May I hear it?”1
“So you shall. But I must see yours first.”
“I have notebooks full.”
“Of course you do. A poetic soul is the birthright of a mayfly. I’m sure your work is very, very special. I can’t wait to see it.”2
“Home sweet home,” sighs the Freifrau.
“Magnificent,” says Dee. They stand in the vestibule of a townhouse of majestic proportions.
“My late husband’s monument to himself, sir. I could have done with less splendor, but he had to show off. Cavernous rooms, a nightmare to heat. Requiring a huge staff to maintain. Cozy I am not. My great joy is my garden. In the summer months I live in my garden.” She turns to a butler standing at attention. “Professor _________ will have the Red Room, Ernst.”
“Very good, ma’am. It shall be aired.”
“Professor,” says the woman, “you and I will nibble on a little something while the room is readied. I have kept it shut up, it will be musty. An hour, Ernst?”
“Just so, ma’am.”
The Red Room is in the east wing of the house, an addition with its own staircase. To Heinzie’s chagrin – his quarters are situated in the same locale – the second floor door between east and west is immediately locked shut.
“Beer and wurst and whatever else cook has, in the garden room, Ernst.”
“Very good, ma’am.”
“This way, Herr Professor.”
“May I please first check on my poor cat?”
“I don’t doubt but that my daughter has that in hand, sir.” Dee steals a look at his baggage waiting to be spirited upstairs. The lid of the carrier is popped, the cat gone.
“I cannot be easy, ma’am, until I know he is safe.”
“Ernst, send Gretchen to my daughter’s room to inquire after an animal belonging to the Professor.”
“At once, ma’am.” Ernst bows and is gone.
The woman leads the way through a large reception room to a sun-lit conservatory. A pitcher of beer awaits on a table positioned to take best advantage of the view.
Annette fills two mugs and sighs. “I love this room. Here my stress evaporates.”
“You suffer stress? I am sorry to hear it.” Dee comments carefully, so as not to appear to pry.
“My life is complicated,” she replies, tersely.
Dee is a sympathetic presence. It is his stock in trade. He responds with soft hmmms and aaahs.
“Drusilla seems to like you. She seems to like you very much.”
“Excellent, dear lady. I like her.”
“A small miracle. She is not easy to like. She takes after my late husband. She mopes a good deal, as he did – and she has his dreadful temper. Now, the temper, I almost admire the temper. The last thing I want is she be timid, as I was. It took me far too long to learn to stand up for myself.”
“Temper? A touch, yes. More a moodiness, as with all children on a long coach ride. I have not perceived her to mope. She is a vibrant presence, a pure delight.”
“You have had the merest glimpse of her. She can be very difficult. She’s not social in the least. She sits by herself and reads. You’ve drawn her out of her shell as I am unable to do. I begin to hope your stay with us will be beneficial for her.
“Doctor, I believe in vibrational healing. Our attraction to certain hues signals areas in which we are needy. The right color balances energies in our bodies. My husband, who tended to depression, responded to red. The Red Room, his room, is as red as it can be. If the color – or the clutter, for that matter – is too much for you I can move you, but that space is the most luxurious I have, after my own.” And, thought she, it is far from me and next to Heinz. He can keep an eye on you.
“Clutter? Fear not on that point. I will certainly feel right at home.”
“The room is full of antiquities. A lion being central to his coat of arms, Hans collected Greek and Roman statuary, tiles, bronzes – it became an absolute obsession with him – of the wild-maned beasties. The pieces were dispersed throughout the house to remind one and all of his august bloodline – he descended from Heinrich der Löwe, Henry the Lion. All that is in the Red Room now. I don’t have to look at it any longer. I’m rid of crazed cats glowering at me every which way I turn.
“Under the paneling in the dining room is a mural, bucolic estates, ancient castles, rather charming. Upon closer inspection you notice the crest, and the motto, ferox semper. It is the von Drost-Deckenbrock family tree, major figures and events. I ate dinner while being lectured to on this or that storied triumph for years. When Hans died I wanted to paint it over but my son, who will have this house one day, objected quite violently.
“My husband’s grand passion was his heritage, not a wife, not any wife probably, and surely not a merchant’s girl, not me. Oh, he was very fond of my money. There was a considerable sum from my father when we wed, my poor Papa, God help him, so thrilled to marry me into nobility. We received another nice portion upon his demise. That run through, what remained was my dowry. And my dowry is mine, by law. He couldn’t touch it. He lived off me, first to last, but that was the bargain, after all. He felt useless, I suppose. He could have taken a role in my family’s mercantile, but this was, of course, beneath him.”
Ernst has returned. “The room awaits, Herr Professor. If you will follow me.”
“Dinner at eight,” says the Friefrau. “We dress, though I suspect you are without formal attire. We fix that tomorrow, mein Herr. My tailor arrives at ten to measure you. Do not concern over the cost, this is my gift to you. When you meet the town council, I want you to impress. With these bumpkins presentation is all-important. And I have in-laws on that board who would be glad to pick you apart. You must do as I say.”
Dee is ushered into an opulent space.
The rest of the house is smart as can be, but quietly so. This room is, in the Freifrau’s diplomatic description, ornate. The items denote a wide range of interests, but one motif repeats again and again.
“Ernst, ask Fräulein Drusilla to return my cat.”
“Very good, sir.” Ernst is away, the door snapped shut behind him.
Dee pokes around. There is a floor to ceiling shelf of figurines and plaques, lions in every attitude imaginable. The coat-of-arms woven into the curtains displays a somewhat hard-to-read lion, a lion nonetheless. The tapestry underfoot: more of the beasts. The wash-stand crockery: embellished with them. The center of the ceiling: stylized cats stalking stylized prey through stylized underbrush, an endless chase around a plaster medallion of another cat, a lion head. Dee, looking up, is transfixed.
“Yeah, this place is something, hey? I feel right at home.”
He rotates, searching for the source. Sly is stretched across the turned down bed.
“There you are, you rascal! How are you? Have you eaten?”
“Have I eaten! Like a damn king! A platter of the best beef I’ve ever had, melt-in-your-mouth tender, and a lovely big bowl of cream. I’m stuffed. Stuffed! I never got grub like that in your hellhole.”
“I’m not a moneybags like the Friefrau. I didn’t eat so fine myself, you’ll recall. Look here, critter, what have you done in terms of elimination? You better not have laid an egg in a corner of the girl’s room, as I have known you to do at Mortlake.”
“I keep telling you and telling you and you will not believe me. That wasn’t me!”
“Who was it then?”
“How the hell do I know? Your house was full of odd elements. Look, Drusilla has a balcony. I used that. She rinsed it off. You have a balcony. Problem solved.”
Dee’s peeled down to his skivvies. “Move over! You always hog the bed. I want to nap until dinner.”
“Dinner? Not for me. Can’t eat another bite.”
The man smirks. “Well! I don’t believe you’re invited.”
“You don’t have to be snippy. I’m just making small talk. Get me up a bowl of water at least. Or I’ll sneak back to my sweetheart, who thinks the world of me, by the way.”
“Ha! She doesn’t know you like I do.”
“And what does that mean?” Sly’s on his feet. His spine is beginning to hoist, he can’t help it. He upset, his back goes up.
“Means nothing, Forget it.”
“No. Say it plain for once. I’m sick of your jabs. What do you mean, doesn’t know me?”
“Listen here, I jab no more than you do.”
“I beg to differ. I have shown enormous restraint, out of respect for your remarkable scientific achievement.”
“If the way you talk to me is an example of your restraint, I’d hate to be treated to your full-flowered impertinence.”
“I have bitten my tongue,” spits the cat, “on numerous occasions. You haven’t seen me in top form.”
“Haven’t seen you in top form! What, pray tell, was that business the other night?”
“I had a panic attack! I wasn’t the one being a drunken ass.”
“You could have gotten us strung up, you and your panic attack. You’re a God-damn pain in the butt a lot of the time, frankly.”
“So are you, frankly.”
Dee slips under the coverlet and closes his eyes, but does not nod off, he’s too agitated. He rearranges repeatedly, sighing heavily. “Even so,” he mutters, “I think we work well together.”
“We do. When you don’t lie to me.”
There is silence, then a squall of sighs, then Dee gasps, “Please, cat. Please. Not now. Tomorrow, please, after I’ve had a good night’s sleep.”
- Yeah, since when does a poet not want his/her work read? Well, maybe Emily Dickinson.
- It’s hard – damn hard – to find someone willing, much less eager, to read your verse. Sly has won her heart right here.