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Obstacles
7.30.2002 by Rosemary, every Tuesday.


[Apologies to Kafka:

Dear Mr. Kafka. I am very sorry. I didn't realize what I'd done until months later. It will not happen again, I promise. I have baked you a tray of cookies. They're shortbread. Your friend and devoted fan -- Ro.]

On Tuesday morning, Alfred awoke from sweet dreams of Cecilia to find his view of the east bay window eclipsed by the sloping back of a large pink hippopotamus. He blinked his eyes and rubbed his stubbled chin absently, wondering if he ought to close his eyes and wake up at a more logical time. The bedroom door, the coherent part of his mind noted, was closed; regardless, it was much too small to admit a hippopotamus. Yet there it was, wandering about the room, batting its long eyelashes and gleefully upsetting various pieces of furniture.

After several moments of gape-mouthed confusion, Alfred decided to stop looking undignified and make the best of the situation. He began to scan the room in search of an escape route. Suddenly the telephone on the bedside table rang. He raised the receiver numbly; “Hello?”

A tremendous sigh crackled over the line; silence followed. “Yes?” said Alfred, feeling overwhelmed. His eyes returned to the hippopotamus. It had upset his hat-rack and was busy chewing on a bowler. Another sigh fuzzed in his ear, culminating in the words, “It’s Cicero.”

“Ah,” said Alfred. “How are you, dear friend?” He hoped that, against all odds, Cicero was feeling cheerful today.

“All has become gray,” Cicero replied, his voice filled with melodrama. “Magdalena... it’s Magdalena.” The sounds of weeping began.

Alfred straightened the collar of his nightshirt. It was always Magdalena. The marriage had been dissolving for a year and Cicero had yet to pinpoint a cause. “Look, Cicero,” said Alfred, “I sympathize, you know I do. But I’m afraid this isn’t the best time-”

“She’s a wonderful woman, you know she is,” interrupted Cicero tearfully. “Ye gods, what foul creature from the unspeakable abyss stole away our perfect love?” He made a choking, teary sound.

Alfred rubbed his chin. “Cicero,” he said, briefly forgetting his unfortunate houseguest, “Why don’t we meet at the tea house at ten? Then we can discuss Magdalena at length.”

At the mention of the name Cicero made another wet choking sound, but he replied, “That sounds excellent. Thank you, my friend, you are a saint.”

“Yes, yes,” said Alfred absently. “Ta.” He hung up the phone with a “click” that disturbed the hippopotamus. It dropped the bowler from its jaws and batted its long eyelashes. Alfred groaned and glanced out the west bay window. Far in the distance, past the stately fields, gleamed a bright yellow sunflower patch. He cast his eyes to the garden shears on the bedside table. Today he’d planned to pick sunflowers for his fair Cecilia. The hippopotamus, however, stood squarely before the bedroom door, quite definitively canceling all plans.

Alfred’s spirits sunk as he considered his options. Although he took daily perambulations and engaged in regular croquet matches, he hardly had the strength to push aside a fully-grown hippopotamus. He glanced briefly to the garden shears, then shivered at the barbarous thought. He wasn’t a murderer, and besides, where could he drag the corpse to?

As if mind-reading, the hippopotamus turned its blue eyes towards him. It looked rather gentle. Alfred slid out of bed and crawled slowly to the clothes-closet. He took out a charcoal gray umbrella. “Shoo,” he yelled, waving it about. Unconcerned, the beast nibbled on a new hat.

Alfred heaved a great sigh and returned to bed. An hour passed. He began to read a book. Two hours passed, and three. Eventually the sun burned scarlet in the west bay window and settled over the sunflower field like liquid fire. Stars emerged from the deepening sky.

At nine o’clock, the hippopotamus opened its toothy maw and yawned sonorously. It folded its thick legs and lay down. Minutes later it began to snore. Alfred stood up and tiptoed towards the clothes-closet. He dressed himself and donned the only unchewed bowler. Then, with great courage and solicitude, he climbed the soft bulk of the sleeping beast. Step by careful step he scaled the warm flanks; at the top he turned the door handle behind it. Once free, he scampered to his front door. Outside the cool night air dried the sweat on his forehead.

At ten o’clock Alfred approached the tea house. Candles glowed in the cozy round windows. He entered; Cicero was clearly visible, a hunched, miserable form at a table for two.

“Alfred,” said Cicero, hardly looking up. “It’s so nice to have a friend to count on during such desperate times.” He took a mournful sip of chamomile tea.

“Are matters worsening with Magdalena?” inquired Alfred, settling into a chair.

“Not really,” admitted Cicero. “Still, it’s a terrible thing. I’ve come to see more and more that something has come between us. Perhaps lost respect; perhaps simply boredom; perhaps another man.”

Cicero looked up at Alfred through the steam of his tea. “You look pale as milk,” he commented suddenly. “Are you all right?”

Alfred sighed. Briefly he related his unfortunate situation. “I am to picnic with Cecilia tomorrow,” he concluded miserably. “What shall I do if it blocks my door in the morning?”

Cicero paused and stared strangely into Alfred’s eyes. Sudden laughter shook the table and bounced off the pine walls of the tea house. “Alfred,” he beamed. “Don’t you see? You’re the luckiest fellow on the face of this fair planet!” Alfred’s eyebrows met in confusion; Cicero elaborated. “Something has come between you and Cecilia,” he said with excitement, “and you know exactly what it is.”

Alfred’s mouth gaped once more, then his eyes glowed with discovery. Cicero was right! At least his problem was obvious; rarely did life and fate provide such clear obstacles. As Cicero launched into a lengthy discussion of Magdalena’s habits, Alfred relaxed and began to daydream once again of Cecilia.




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