Tales From The Night Of The Milk Sun

excerpt No, I have not forgotten about Fear-of-Darkness. I have certainly not overlooked her, as little Cantemir does with certain commas and full stops when he writes down his homework. Fear-of-Darkness sat before him, sparse and finicky, you would not have believed it. As usual, she stared him in the eye. "Welcome, said the boy. I'm glad to see you." Truth be told, this meeting was the last thing he needed. But he had never managed to avoid her. If only he had a flashlight! In the light, this old hag wasn't worth a dime. "I can tell you're glad, and so am I," she said, and pressed the wrist of his right hand. Oh dear, how cold she was, and how he felt like running away… The shrew was leaning over and pointing to something with her finger of rotten wood. "What's that black hippopotamus doing in your yard at this time of night? Can you believe the opinion she held of the water barrel next to the water pump? Don't say I didn't warn you, she always does this. She speaks calmly, like she would not be trying to convince you that her opinions are the best. She can be that fake. The water barrel was only a few steps away. "Hippopotamus? What hippopotamus? That's the barrel." How dark it was! But even without seeing it clearly, you knew there couldn't be anything else next to the water pump. That was the water barrel's usual place. "Barrel?" Ugly-face asked in surprise. "Perhaps, perhaps. Whatever you say, kiddo..." "Well, of course," the boy felt encouraged to add, "it's the barrel that Mrs. Amalia said she would…" Seeing where he was going, the unwelcome guest slowly slithered a wet hand into the boy's deposit of lies, along his spine. Whatever courage little Cantemir had had now diminished to almost nothing. "Perhaps, perhaps," Ugly-face said, "but my opinion is that it's not a barrel at all, but a hippopotamus, and the worst kind at that, the type that eats barbed wire and ship captains." The hand on the boy's back became a crooked and restless icicle. Little Cantemir felt a sudden urge to be polite. He couldn't possibly contradict her. It was impossible. She was such a lady, so kind and benevolent. Probably because of all the politeness, his voice began to tremble, or, to be more accurate, it started to flutter like a lit match in the wind. His right cheek contorted in such a way you would have said it wanted to take the place of its left twin. With emphasized respect, the boy said: "He gulps down barbed wire and ship captains! Why madam, that is extraordinary!" "That would be 'miss'," Ugly-face hissed. "You should keep that in mind…" Indeed, from beside the water pump there emerged, hardly visible through the dark, a hippopotamus in whose belly, among mountains of barbed wire, three ship captains with white caps and yellow buttons were admiring each other's gold tresses sewn on their sleeves. More and more polite, but still preserving a tinge of his daylight self, little Cantemir dared say: "But how do you know, miss, what hippopotamuses eat? Have you read that many books for children?" And, unbelievably, the hippopotamus started fading away, and as he did so, the resemblance between him and the barrel became more and more evident. Little Cantemir`s courage returned unexpectedly, and it drew its strength from the violet-blue spite that had taken hold of Fear-of-Dark's withered being. Her nose became more pointed, her eyes darted out of their orbits and the cold hand on the boy's back was melting away, the warm trickles falling down along his ribs tickling him. But her spite was short-lived, shorter than 1, 2, 3; the boy's courage was waning faster than ever. Suddenly, Fear-of-Darkness grew so thin that even Hunger's mother would have become alarmed. She was thinner than a scythe's blade, long and violet-blue, plague and cholera. Then the boy said quickly: "Oh madam, you see, I didn't mean to contradict you." "Go ahead, you can contradict me all you want," she said smiling, under control, while she pinched the side of the boy's deposit of lies. "All I said was that what you, my boy, call a barrel, I call a hungry and dangerous hippopotamus. After all, it's only my opinion, how I see it. And don't forget about the 'miss' part." Overwhelmed by her good will, little Cantemir could barely mumble a simple statement out of which he even ate half of the subject and a quarter of the predicate. (It is a well known fact that subjects and predicates have a wonderful taste, better than all the sweets in the world gathered on a single platter. That is why so many children eat them so often, sometimes forgetting to breathe in the meantime, out of too much greed.) "That's what I think," Fear-of-Darkness repeated. "I'm not saying you should believe the same." The hippopotamus drew near on his thick feet, his enormous belly swaying this way and that, his head stretched forward and inclined downwards, as if following a trail. He was absolutely repulsive, but the three sea lions he had recently eaten did not seem to be in a bad state of mind at all. The boy even thought he saw them playing dice. But he could not get a better look. He turned on one heel, made a leap, then another, feeling the cold breath of the beast behind him; but now he was on the doorstep, he jerked the door handle and entered. 1968; Gramar, 2004

by George Balăiţă (b. 1935)