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  • From Birdland
  • Rikki Ducornet

They set off in the early morning beneath an auspicious sky stubbled with clouds. From the start Fogginius the Saint took it into his crazed head that he would enliven the aboriginal road and astonish his companions with the knowledge he had accumulated over the years. True to himself he did not ask if they might prefer to enjoy the beauties of the day in silence or in song, in quiet talk among themselves or in dreaming (and the poet Picotazo, as he left behind the city where his beloved breathed, was delighting in acute melancholy). After much hacking Fogginius cleared his throat and spitting into a cluster of blossoming bougainvillea began:

‘Let us suppose that upon waking in the night I trod upon a nail. The nail cruelly pierces my flesh, causing me to hop about sobbing unrestrainedly in pain. Here is the cure: take up the nail and kiss it tenderly. I bind it to my foot with a piece of nicely rotted string. Should there be a moon, I lie upon the ground with the wounded foot pointing to Heaven, a turd stuck to the toe. Within three hours, if no owl passes and nothing disturbs the silence with a scream, the wound will cease to fester. Better still, should a star stumble from the sky, the foot and the body attached to it will be invigorated beyond belief

For a brief moment Fogginius was silent. The others, greatly relieved and thinking he was done, grunted with satisfaction. This flattered the Saint and he continued:

‘Now, let us suppose that I am eating a fish and I choke on a bone. At once, without thought to economy or appearances, and no matter who is in the room—be he a humbug or God Himself—the fish’s bones, sucked clean of meat, must be placed upon my head. To assure that such a misadventure not repeat itself, my toe nails must be trimmed at once and added to the pile.’

Just then Professor Tardanza and his daughter appeared riding together in the opposite direction. They had been gathering flowering branches in the woods, and the young girl, astride a horse the color of butter, was wreathed in blossoms. So tightly was the poet’s heart squeezed in the fist of love, that had it been an orange, seeds would have bulleted from his ears.

When the girl and her father rode past the poet and the Saint, Picotazo offered his most lovesick look, a look of such intensity that if Fogginius had remained silent, she might have been moved. But the scholar opened his trap:

‘The best remedy for lightning is to wear one’s turds—dried and sewn within a piece of silk—against the heart. The turd is dry, corrupt, combustible, commemorative and, at best, cumuliform—’

Professor Tardanza did not nod, nor tip his hat, but spurred his own horse on, frowning, as if to say: I do not approve the company you keep. His daughter kept her eyes upon the path, and bit her lower lip to keep herself from laughing.

‘That girl who just passed! Fogginius spluttered with ill- founded enthusiasm, ‘has offended some pagan deity and is being transformed to shrubbery before our eyes! Soon she will tumble from her steed and take root by the wayside...I would never have believed it, had I not seen it with my own eyes!’ For an instant he shut up, marvelling.

But the poet Picotazo did not hear him. He was too deep in thought. He was thinking how much he hated Fogginius and how he longed to see him dead. He wished a meteor would strike him where he sat. And although they had only just left the city of Pope Publius behind and had been journeying but twenty minutes, the poet was submerged in weariness. The day died, Fogginius the Saint silent only when catching his breath. When the party stopped and Bulto set about to roast those things he had brained for their supper, Fogginius described procedures for the procuration of corpses both fresh and moldering and methods of dissection both ancient and new—thereby destroying everyone...

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