Teodosie The Little

excerpt The Catdog was in a great big huff and, in order to make it more obvious to Teodosie that he was out of sorts, he kept opening and closing the drawers and doors of the cupboards with a loud bang. "What is it you are looking for in the cupboard," Teodosie demanded to know. "What I am looking for in the cupboard is my business," answered the Catdog curtly, and slammed another drawer shut, then he turned very sternly to Teodosie the Little and asked: "Where are the recipes?" "In the kitchen," replied Teodosie, but his reply seemed only to indispose the Catdog even more, who left the bedroom muttering. "Aha, I've found them," his voice sounded from the kitchen. "Here they are, please come into the kitchen." Teodosie got out of bed, put on his slippers, cast a glance outside, saw that it looked like rain, and then dressed in a thick velvet dressing gown. In the kitchen, with the recipe books neatly laid out on the table, the Catdog seemed more affable. "What do you say to a mushroom stew today?" he asked. "If, for some absurd reason, you do not agree, that would force me to cook something else especially for you." "No, a mushroom stew will do very nicely," said Teodosie, remarking the admonitory tone in the Catdog's voice. "Do we have any mushrooms?" "Granny used to tell me that mushrooms are the best antidote for strawberry poisoning." "And if you get strawberry poisoning, it is good to drink a lot of milk straight away," added Teodosie, thereby showing off his knowledge. "Then again, if you drink too much milk, you can get an upset stomach, and then it is advisable to eat a mixture of dried cheese and rice," added the Catdog. "Rice, when eaten in large quantities, causes severe constipation, especially if it has been boiled and insufficiently drained, and then the best antidote is strawberries," concluded Teodosie, bringing the discussion back to the point whence it set out. "In any case, for strawberry poisoning, the best antidote is mushrooms," repeated the Catdog, and remained pensive for a moment. "Let us not prolong the discussion. Be so kind as to get dressed, put on your boots, because it's muddy in the woods, and bring an umbrella with you, in case it rains. We're off to the woods to pick mushrooms. Are you ready?" Teodosie quickly went to his room. "Don't jumble all the things in the cupboard, because it's not you who has to tidy them up afterwards," the Catdog shouted after him. In the woods, beneath the huge trees that were rustling overhead, all the Catdog's annoyance passed. He picked mushrooms, gracefully bending down and placing them with a single movement of his right hand in the little wicker basket that rested on his left arm. Every now and then he would stop, stretch and breathe deeply, full of contentment: "Aaah." At one point, he even started to croon a ditty in a falsetto voice: Beneath the hillocks as tall as pines,Beneath elm and oak mahogany,There grow mushrooms as tall as pines,Which glint with gleams of mahoganyBrown.Ay, ay, ay! Beneath grass as round as a ball,In earth that tastes of soda water,Grow mushrooms as oval as a ball.Ay, ay! 'Mid poppies with their daffodil scent,'Mid the rhododendron stalksAy! Teodosie was astonished to recognize in what the Catdog was humming the same ditty that Kalliopi the Owl recalled having dreamt when she was planting seedlings, except that, in the Owl's song, instead of mushrooms, it was a case of strawberries. "It's started to rain," he said and opened his umbrella. "Indeed, it is raining," observed the Catdog in his turn and opened his umbrella. "Why don't you go on picking? I'm tired." Teodosie took the little basket and, seeing that he could not pick mushrooms and hold the umbrella in his right hand at the same time, he was obliged to fold up his umbrella, in the hope that the Catdog would stand close by. But there was no question of that: the Catdog pottered about hither and thither, stomping about in the rain and examining the bark of the trees. "Old, old, and quite sickly," he said. "No one has taken care of them for a long time. They ought to be cleaned and whitewashed, otherwise, in a short while, the estates will be left without any woods. And, thank God, these are most extensive estates. By the way, I don't think that we shall be able to go back until this rain holds off. Oh dear, it is raining more heavily now," concluded the Catdog, peering through half-closed eyes at the patches of sky that glinted through the crowns of the trees. We shall take shelter in those tree trunks over there," he said pointing at two hollow trees. "You inside one, and I in the other." "Isn't it dangerous?" asked Teodosie, whom, a few days ago, the Catdog had taken to see a film about two children who hid from the rain in tree hollows and were then struck by lightning, something that did not at all agree with them. "In general, it's very dangerous," answered the Catdog, and I would not advise anyone to hide in a tree hollow while it is raining or, in fact, in any kind of hollow. However, these are two hunting-lodge-hollows – most elegantly furbished by your late great-grandfather, who was a very wise man and who did not neglect to equip either of these two comfortable shelters with a lightning rod." Teodosie was able to convince himself – entering one of the hollows and descending deep beneath the ground, down a winding wooden staircase – as to the truth of what the Catdog said. Inside the dens there was enough room for a vestibule, where you could leave your shoes and wet clothes, a sitting room with a little table, two armchairs and a fireplace, with a hearty beech log fire, and two bedrooms besides, each endowed with a four-poster bed. Sensing that it was almost time for his afternoon nap, Teodosie quickly left the bedrooms and went back into the sitting room. "It's very nice in here." "What do you say to the bedroom?" hinted the Catdog. "I hope that you found the beds sufficiently comfy. We shall eat some mushrooms and then you will go to bed. I shall go and prepare the mushrooms. I am going to bake them on the hob." "A stew would be better," said Teodosie, trying his luck, knowing that stew would take longer. "I don't have any butter, herbs, or anything else. We'll eat them as they are." Teodosie sighed: over the course of time, he had come to realize that the Catdog was stubborn as a rule, sometimes highly authoritarian, and that protest was useless. He ate the mushrooms when they were ready, and went to bed without another word. While the Catdog was tucking him in and wishing him a pleasant sleep, Teodosie caught sight of Otilia behind him. She was grinning and mimicking the Catdog, and when the latter left the room, he heard Otilia saying: "How cantankerous he is." The ghost had changed her clothes and on this occasion was wearing a red jerkin with purple flowers, and a yellow cape on top. Where it covered the jerkin, from the combination of yellow and red resulted orange, and from the yellow and purple – scarlet, like autumn leaves. "Are you feeling well today?" asked Otilia. "Yes-yes-yes," said Teodosie joyfully. "I'm glad to see you so jolly. Today I should like you to come with me, as you promised, and meet Samoil the Minotaur, who is a very jolly type himself and who cannot abide grumpy creatures. That is one of the reasons why he has been at odds with Kalliopi the Owl for such a long time. In fact, that is the main reason, but I could not tell you yesterday, you must understand, because Kalliopi was there and she would have been most upset. In such cases it is best just to say the opposite of what you think. That's why I told you yesterday that Samoil the Minotaur is bitter and unlikable. In fact, he is very likable. Let's go. There's no need to take anything with you." "Not even the umbrella?" "Just in case. In fact, as it emerged from the conversation yesterday, it doesn't rain much over there. But, in the end, why not take it. It may rain." That Samoil the Minotaur was not at all prepared for wet weather was apparent from his large house, built of orange stone, like the Wall, with lots of rooms and corridors all leading into one another, but with no roof at all. In front of the house there stretched a garden which was also rather strange, and that was because, needing to traverse it in order to reach the Minotaur's dwelling, one soon realized that this was not at all simple. There were numerous narrow and twisting paths, flanked by hedges that reached as high as the waist of Otilia the Ghost and the throat of Teodosie the Little. Samoil the Minotaur was sunning himself in a deck chair on the platform in front of the house. When he glimpsed the two, he jumped up for joy and ran to greet them with open arms, crying: "Otilia, Otilia." All of a sudden enthused, or perhaps merely to please the Minotaur, Otilia also began to wave at him and cry in a reedy voice: "Samoil, what a pleasure!" Then, with open arms, they ran towards each other between the bushes. Teodosie could glimpse them now on one, now on another side of the garden, now further forward, now further back, or else separated by just two rows of hedge, then on either side of the same hedge, and a number of times he caught sight of their waving hands, accompanied by joyful cries: "Otilia!" "Samoil, what a pleasure." "Otilia!" "Samoil, you can't imagine what a pleasure." The embrace of greeting almost did not take place, because Samoil the Minotaur and Otilia the Ghost were completely out of breath after having run so far. At last, the Minotaur said: "I am glad to see you, dear Otilia." "I am glad," said Otilia, repeating the same pleasantry, "to see that someone is glad to see someone whom he last had occasion to meet but two days ago." "The gladness is all mine," said the Minotaur inclining his rather stumpy legs in reverence, "when I see that someone can visit me but two days after she visited me two days ago." Polirom, 2006 Răzvan RĂDULESCU: "Alice in Wonderland was my favorite book as a child. I first read it rather early, when I was seven. Then I re-read it almost every year until adolescence. Even now I happen to read again fragments. There are passages that still make me laugh. It would have been impossible for me to avoid the similarity of some passages in my book to Alice. On the contrary: you may construe the resemblance as a kind of tribute."

by Răzvan Rădulescu (b. 1969)