Table of Contents
Pop open an egg, or, actually, what should one call the delicate operation by which one removes an egg’s superior (or allegedly so) quarter, via a teaspoon’s well-placed tap? Does one behead, uncork, uncap, unhood an egg? Our three guests have no idea, dismissing the question with waves of their hands, impressive indeed from a technical standpoint, their shared gesture, economical and precise, ‘masterful’ never having found an object to which it more appropriately applied. Each compliments the other in turn while, not one to haggle, Palafox splits his shell with one fell peck. It hadn’t been his ambition to hatch, no, not yet, he merely wanted to annex the adjoining space. The day comes, though, when one can no longer grow in one’s egg. Palafox was running out of room. Around the table, by contrast, they maneuvered through more comfortable confines, each too far from the other to land a fork accidentally in an eye, bottles serving as buffers too. The war was mentioned, then the conversation turned to a looming marriage, and then to eggs when Palafox burst out and in. Nonetheless, while extending an arm, Maureen could have easily and unambiguously gouged out her father’s eye or that of her future husband for that matter, should they have happened into conversational contretemps. And Chancelade would have only needed to make the merest movement of a hand to gouge out either his future father-in-law’s eye or that of his future wife, or first that of his future father-in-law and then that of his wife or the inverse, future wife first and only then future father-in-law. Despite the blood that would have blinded him, Algernon could have then countered and, blow by blow, first gouged out his daughter’s eyes and then those of his future son-in-law, or the inverse ... but no, fortunately, nothing like that had happened. Everyone agreed on the matters that mattered. Chancelade was leaving for the front. Of course Maureen would wait for him. Algernon was now too old to fight. He envied his young friend. The marriage would take place as soon as he returned, once the enemy had been undone. Nothing fancy. Or, of course, at the very least, one could rent a chateau for the occasion. Why not do something sumptuous? Maureen wanted to have
the eldest to be called Algernon. But there would be time to worry over those details. For the time being, back to basics: did Chancelade like fresh eggs? Theirs they got fresh each morning locally, wholesale. They hadn’t even left the region. Like isn’t the word: Chancelade was literally crazy about eggs. What luck: fresh eggs!
Palafox too, who had thoroughly enjoyed his. Nothing left for him to absorb. So a shortage of supplies was another reason to make an outing. Palafox made a few first prudent pecks, one more, and stopped, trying to gauge the reaction of his unforeseeable neighbor. In any case he would not give up, he was ready for his release, there was no longer any question of his holding back. No reaction from his unforeseeable neighbor, or he was sleeping, or he was out, or he was deaf, or he was dead, or he could give two shits, or no one or no longer anyone or no one yet lived there. Hypotheses abounded. Palafox cracked the shell, and was on the table in one bound. Algernon had the presence of mind to cover the creature with his glass. Thus was Palafox discovered and speedily taken into custody. One should not put faith in the ramblings of the skipper Sadarnac, captain of the
who claims to have caught him wriggling in his net, then to have given him to Algernon. Poppycock.
His new interior was larger and brighter than his old one, where the sun, for one, never entered. In the beginning, on the whole, Palafox seemed satisfied with the change. Here, at least, he had all the spare space and time he needed to run rings around himself, for example, from right to left, or then from left to right, for another. He did sixty in a row and stopped on a dime, inspected his surroundings, continued spinning half-heartedly and stopped again. Everybody down, we’re under attack joked Chancelade, his sense of humor the first thing you loved about Chancelade. Maureen sent her glass waltzing in the direction of the piano and leaned, gently, so as not to frighten it, toward the little creature. She placed a finger on its heart, and shivered, Algernon jumped, Chancelade in full dress uniform drew his regal blade; bravado, another of Chancelade’s charms. In fact, only Palafox remained dignified, or shapeless, since the glass, as it was meant to, struck the instrument. A three-footed chandelier struck a simplistic harmony with the one-legged waltzer and silence returned, and remained. Still, one heard the protestations of the piano stool.
Maureen re-embraced her past, she bent over Palafox, put a finger lightly on its heart and prescribed three drops of water-weakened wine, fresh breadcrumbs and rest. Algernon climbed into the attic. He soon returned with the old wicker cage, or maybe it was rattan, the old rattan cradle, or perhaps wicker, that had been his daughter’s. It was a rectangular cage, rather large, with a trapeze for acrobatics. It had been jointly owned by a white mouse, a hamster and a guinea pig who all showed little inclination for acrobatics and were soon carried off by a mysterious illness, Snowball one day, Fireball the next, Sootball the day after. Zincball, the dwarf rabbit - the next one to move in - became paralyzed three days after arrival, but enjoyed Maureen’s games for at least another month. Then a squirrel christened Fireball in memory of Fireball kept her company for a few weeks, then a canary, Sootball in memory of Sootball, remained alive for a whole year, some mornings more than others, then Snowball in memory of Snowball and Zincball in memory of Zincball, two waxbills, joined them in the tomb, at the edge of the garden, beneath the tree. They persisted, bought more furballs and feathers, tried out horns and scales, in theory more durable, less silky, but more durable - all in vain. Maureen never stopped mourning. The cage went into the attic. They forgot about it. Maureen became quite a young woman. Chancelade met her at the house of President Franc-Nohain, a bosom friend of his late father’s, killed while hunting. That night, the presidential salon was illuminated in honor of the British ambassador’s retirement. But Algernon Buffoon would not return to his country, his daughter had grown up here, he owned a house in the capital and a lovely house on the Atlantic coast, La Gloriette. So you’re the son of this poor Chancelade, I was myself on the hunt, the brambles, the collapse, the gun slipped from his grip, the shot went off by itself, Franc-Nohain will have already told you, we tried everything, there was nothing we could do. Better that I introduce you to my daughter. Chancelade wore a mustache, Maureen pointed out to him he did not have it the next day when he called on the Buffoons. The roses were white, Maureen counted twenty-three, plus one in his boutonnière. They would keep for a week in a Chinese vase, more or less Chinese, in the salon, no more, then they would wilt, and need to be replaced, it was the way of things. Chancelade got into the habit of coming for lunch every Sunday.
Maureen’s childhood was no less mourningfilled by the disappearance of her four grandparents, a boy, a girl, a boy, a girl, the dream, but above all, and this is the point we wished to make, by the high and dry loss of a good twenty goldfish and sungold perch. However, Sadarnac lies, Palafox did not inherit the aquarium. Maureen had put him, dead or alive, in the rattan cage, let’s opt for the rattan, on a bed of freshly cut grasses. The first days, his condition remained alarming, then Palafox opened an eye, there was talk of a slight improvement, then he closed it. It was said he grew worse, that hope sprang eternal, that all hope was lost, that it was a true miracle, that he was officially dead, that the speedy recovery was astonishing. They celebrated too soon and unwisely invited friends to celebrate. That would be the Franc-Nohains, the Fontechevades, the Swanscombes, the old and the uncertain, all the old uncertain acquaintances of the Buffoons.
There was talk of a relapse. The party was called off. Palafox rolled over and bared his white belly. He would be buried with the others, at the edge of the garden, beneath the tree. Maureen handled everything immediately, found a box, when, all of a sudden, he dove back in and made two revolutions around his coral branch. Operations ground to a halt. He floated lifeless to the surface. In the wardrobe, Maureen found the box. Palafox opened his mouth, there was talk he was saved, and then he closed it. The box already had shoes inside. Once again the alternation of hope and despair. The second box contained letters, the third buttons, the fourth candy. Palafox shuttled between life and death, and vice versa, between death and life effortlessly. Algernon took it upon himself to delay the transfer to the coffin. However the fifth was empty, would have been entirely acceptable, seemed made for the task. A rectangular cardboard box, with a cardboard cover and silk-paper shroud.
Gumball, suggested Maureen. Palafox was chosen eventually, in memory of Palafox, duke of Saragossa, born in Saragossa, who distinguished himself in his heroic defense of Saragossa in 1809. The name was chosen unanimously, as follows. They first arrived at the number 111 by adding the ages of everyone present, Algernon, his daughter and Chancelade, upon which they opened the historical atlas to page 111. The article in question concerned the Treaty of Utrecht, 1579, without belaboring things here with the details, which brought into being the Netherlands. On page 1579, therefore, of the illustrated Dictionary were seven names composed of seven letters like Buffoon: Palacky, the Czech historian and advertising executive, Paladru, a village in the Isère, Palafox, a gentleman of Aragon, Palamas, theologian of the Greek church, Palamás, a Greek writer, Palatin, a mountain, and Palermo, an Italian port. The village, Paladru, the mountain, Palatin, and the port, Palermo, were rejected out of hand. Palamas and Palamás were rejected immediately in all fairness or fear of confusion. That left Palacky and Palafox. Chance decided, tails Palacky, heads Palafox: Chance adds spice to life. Heads. Palafox. He will be introduced to society at the opportunity provided by the reception Algernon gives each summer in la Gloriette. The Swanscombes had already RSVPed yes. The Franc-Nohains would try to make it. Which leaves us only three months to train Palafox. Why hide the fact that he disappoints. Such aggressiveness, such savagery. Two weeks ago he was dead, and now this violence. Algernon will be responsible for his education. Our friend is precisely the author, other than of a
Guide to Collecting Ancient Pottery,
the bible of collectors the world over warranting its own serious study which, alas, we will not be able to saddle up having already in the reins Palafox to whip on, of a work entitled,
Advice to my Daughter: Choosing Friends, First Steps, Hygiene and Beauty, Be an Angel, Art of Conversation, Perilous Wit.