Moonsong, Part IV: The Wanderings and Regrets of a Jealous Older Brother
14 September (cont'd)
Plumtree, Going So Low
Time to begin round four. But before we do, two things.
First: you know how I joked about falling down the stairs and breaking my neck? Yeah, well, guess what almost happened.
I bumped into Sissy Catheringham for the second time today, on the stairs, and we both almost tumbled all the way down and ended our lives. Yikes. She dropped her stack of books—which she was super unhappy about—and I almost dropped my bowl of yoghurt—but didn’t—and I think that made her even more unhappy. Go figure.
I don’t know what she was doing running around with a stack of books so late at night. Going to the library maybe? What kind of loon is at the library this late?
Well, maybe a similar type of loon to the kind who blows fifty hours in one night cranking out a single diary entry….
Anyhoo, what was the second thing I wanted to talk about?
So I thought I had enough grape Cali-Calypso for an entire bowl of yoghurt, but as it turned out there were only a few drops left in the bottle. Bummer, right?
Yeah, it totally would’ve been if an unopened bottle of raspberry Cali-Calypso hadn’t just been sitting there, awaiting my itchy fingers and inquisitive mind. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d always thought raspberry to be a pretty third-tier Cali-Calypso flavor, maybe even fourth-tier, but I was desperate. So I took it, opened it, mixed it with my yoghurt and....
It was amazing. Beyond amazing. On par with mango, maybe even better than nectarine. Who would’ve thought, right?
Now that that incredibly important piece of information is out of the way, I can get back to my story. Which is about to become Bubblegum Nose’s story. Except, Marzi, his name isn’t Bubblegum Nose. It’s—
“Oliviero María Urrea,” said the man formerly known as Bubblegum Nose. He nodded at his dead companion. “His name was Gunther Marigold and… and I suppose his story is now lost to time, unless any of his relatives possesses both the ability and desire to tell it.”
“If you’re looking for sympathy,” Francisca said gruffly, “you’re not going to find it. That man tried to kill us.”
“I am not looking for sympathy,” Oliviero said plainly. “Gunther would not have sought it for himself either. He pledged himself to a Greater Good and understood the risks that such a pledge entailed. I am of the same beliefs. So regardless of how you may feel at the end of my tale, please do not feel that you must offer me any sympathy.”
“I thought you were telling this story to keep us from killing you,” said Francisca.
“I am telling you this story so you will understand that you are not operating in a vacuum,” said Oliviero. “I am telling you this story because if you should succeed with your mission, terrorist, you will drastically impact the lives of others far more deserving of sympathy.”
“Are you sure about that?” I said. I couldn’t keep myself from sounding helpful. “I don’t think I’d have a problem feeling sympathy for you.”
“Such words fall so easily from your mouth,” said Oliviero, “because you do not yet know the villain of my story sits before you.”
“Wait a minute, you’re the bad guy of your own story?” I said. “Are you even allowed to do that?”
“I don’t know why you’re so surprised,” Francisca grumbled. “The man tried to kill us, remember?”
“I tried to kill you, terrorist,” said Oliviero. “I have no qualms with this schoolgirl here.”
“I’m glad you don’t,” I said with a sigh of relief, “‘cause I think you’d be able to kill me puh-retty easily.”
“Have some confidence in yourself,” said Francisca. “Be too pessimistic and you’ll make everybody within earshot depressed.”
“I’m not being pessimistic,” I said. “Look at him. Now look at me. Do you really think it’d be a fair fight?”
“There isn’t a need to fret, little one,” said Oliviero, “for I’ve no intention of ever fighting you. In fact, were it within my power, I would hang up my weapons and never fight again.”
“It is within your power,” Francisca said impatiently. “Just quit that cult you’re a part of and go live on a farm in Brazil or something.”
“It is not that simple,” Oliviero said wearily. “For, even if I were to abandon the Greater Good, there would still be the issue of my sister.”
“Her name,” he continued, “is Catalina, and she was as brilliant as she was beautiful. She inherited her brilliance from our mother, who was a successful inventor, and her beauty from our father, who was an operatic tenor famed throughout all of Latin America. We lived in a beautiful, culturally rich town in Mexico called San Catalina de Bolonia. Mostly we were happy, living in an enormous house that overlooked rolling green hills. But despite all of my blessings, I could not help a certain darkness deep within my heart. It had everything to do with Catalina. Even though I was her senior by ten years, I could not help being jealous of her.
“You see, I wanted her inventor’s mind. To me, inventing... science... these were manly things of which I could be proud. The musical talent I had inherited from my father? I did not want it. It brought me too much misery thanks to the other boys at school. When they heard my singing voice, for example, which had moved so many of my teachers to tears, they said my parents had accidentally taken me to get neutered instead of the family dog. When they witnessed my mastery of Paganini on the violin, they said I stood like an uptight, tight-assed English schoolgirl. When they saw me blast through Rachmaninov on the piano, they said I hunched like a crazed Russian, and claimed that my farts smelled like vodka and communism. My parents wanted more than anything for me to become a world-famous musician, but I swore off music in the year two thousand, after I turned sixteen.”
“Why sixteen?” I said. “Just because?”
“No: when I was sixteen, my sister, who was eight at the time, had gotten her first taste of fame. She had invented the Lachrymodal—a music box that could generate miniature rain clouds with its music. I thought it a completely useless contraption, but Tinkerton’s Trinkets bought the patent for an ungodly sum of money and sold millions of the things. It was quite the boon for gardens, from what I understand. The fact that it was invented by an eight-year-old made people want to buy it even more.
“And so, while my baby sister was worshiped as the next important genius, I was expected to burn eight hours a day practicing dusty music written by yet more geniuses. It seemed I could either envy true genius or be a slave to it, but I refused to live that kind of life. I burned all of my instruments and swore off music forever.
“My parents, understandably, were furious. They said that if I wanted to be lazy and stubborn and stupid, and was insistent on squandering my inherited talent, then my role in the family would strictly be a biological one: it would be my job to produce as many children as possible and ensure the survival of our line. My sister could do as she pleased because her legacy was to live through her genius. But because I had rejected my potential for genius, my parents decided to punish me by tethering me to fatherhood before I had even turned seventeen.”
“Your parents sound difficult,” I said.
“Great people usually are,” Oliviero said with a little sigh.
“Parents are generally just difficult,” Francisca grumbled. “Being ‘great’ isn’t a prerequisite.”
“I am inclined to agree with you,” said Oliviero. “I am also inclined to think you’ve had your own share of parental difficulties.”
“I think you should be more inclined to minding your own damn business,” said Francisca coolly.
“You are right, of course,” Oliviero said with a slight bow of his head. “Just because I have chosen to share does not mean you must reciprocate with tales of your own.”
“Yours is a pretty good story so far,” I said helpfully. “Lemme guess what happened next: you did the opposite of what your parents asked.”
“I went so far in the opposite direction I almost went backwards in time,” Oliviero said with a small smile.
“That doesn’t make sense,” Francisca muttered, “but continue.”
“Basically, I dropped out of school, left home and began traveling the world, doing as many ‘manly’ things as humanly possible. I started off as an aeroracer on the Adriatic, flying on the team of the famed aeropilot Luigi Pinorelli.”
“Whoa whoa whoa,” I said. “Wait just a minute. You raced on Luigi Pinorelli’s team?”
“I was captain of Luigi Pinorelli’s team.”
“...Until I wiped out during the Leopardi Autumn Invitational and broke all of my fingers. I was useless as an aeroracer after that, so I quit the team and started to use my aeroplane for smuggling.”
“Smuggling what?” Francisca said smugly. “Weapons? Kidnap victims?”
“Rare fruit?” I said.
“Ruby pineapples. Milk kiwis. Turkish caramel bananas. That sort of thing. It could have been a lucrative venture, but for some reason the refrigerator on my aero kept failing mid-flight and the fruit kept going bad. I ended up on the black market version of a do-not-hire list, and thus my smuggling career was ended.
“Determined not to return to my parents a whimpering failure, I started to travel the world, bouncing from job to job, hobby to hobby. I was a champion amateur boxer at the University of Oxford, I was a cab driver in New Delhi. I worked on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, I hunted man-eating lions in Tanzania. I collected emerald tarantulas in the deepest parts of the Amazon, I served as an amanuensis to the ghosts of Greek philosophers in the ruins of the Lyceum. I conducted trains through the Black Forest, I held council with cave wolves in the Yukon. I was companion to a Shakespeare-obsessed Jupiter bear and traveled the breadth of Russia by his side. I fought in the Antarctic Glacier Wars against a faction of genocidal, human-hating Snow Trolls—one of the very few of my ventures I’m eager to forget.
“If two very important things hadn’t happened, I’d probably still be traveling the world, flitting from profession to profession. The first involves my... my ability to have children.”
“Your ability to have children?” I said. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know where the story was heading anymore.
“Yes, my ability to have children. In short, I... lost it.”
“Ho boy,” I said quietly.
“I will not go into too much detail,” Oliviero said rigidly, “chiefly because it is an experience I do not wish to relive. But be warned, my friends—”
“I’m not your friend,” Francisca said shortly.
“Nonetheless, beware: if ever you should travel to the country of Botswana, there is a small village in the swampy north that is obsessed with upstaging Pamplona in Spain. When the famous American writer Ernest Hemingway visited the village in the nineteen-thirties, he spoke about how much he loved running with the bulls in Pamplona. The village decided to do him one better and introduced the running of the hippopotami.”
“So in other words,” said Francisca, “suicide.”
“What’s so suicidal about running with hippos?” I said, stupidly. “Isn’t that, like, the polar opposite of running with bulls? They’re big’n slow and cuddly.”
“Hippopotami are not cuddly,” Oliviero said, wincing.
“But what they are, Melodia Song,” said Francisca, “is the most dangerous animal in Africa.”
“And what they are not,” Oliviero added, “is slow. Should you ever find yourself being chased down by a hippopotamus, you will find new meanings in life.”
“I don’t get what that means,” I said.
“I don’t think you want to,” said Francisca.
“The most important thing to understand,” said Oliviero, “is that if you are caught by a hippopotamus, your life will not end well. Even if you survive the encounter, your existence will thereafter be rife with suffering and regret. I am speaking from experience.”
“Bummer,” I said.
“Maybe the understatement of at least three lifetimes,” Francisca sighed.
“There I was,” Oliviero went on, “a young man of twenty-three, my ability to have children snatched away from me in an instant by a particularly spiteful hippopotamus. I lay ruined and weeping in a hospital for nearly a year. They had had to fly me all the way down to Johannesburg for proper treatment. And it was in Johannesburg, at the tail end of my recovery, that I was informed of my parents’ deaths.”
“Yeesh, bummer,” I said.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to keep saying that,” said Francisca.
“Why?” I said, stupidly. “It’s the truth, isn’t it?”
“Let the girl express herself however she wants,” said Oliviero. “I do not mind. Anyhow, I do not think even a poet has words enough to capture the pain I still feel over my parents’ deaths. Eventually becoming an orphan is, for everybody, the natural course of things. You know? The sadness is meant to subside with time, but that wasn’t the case with me. The last meeting I had with my parents was catastrophic, you see, and I’ve been haunted by it ever since.”
“How did they die?” I said. “You don’t gotta tell me if you don’t want—”
“They were killed while vacationing in Berlin,” Oliviero said flatly. “A crazed hippopotamus escaped from the zoo and trampled them both.
“Holy crap,” I said, “a hippopotamus again?”
“It should not come as a surprise that I bear no love for the beasts,” Oliviero said.
“So what’d you do next?” I said. “That must’ve been a pretty tough spot to be in, right? The one thing your parents wanted you to do was have children, but suddenly you can’t, and then your parents are gone so they can’t, like, change their minds. So what did you do?”
“I came to terms with myself, first of all. I realized that, now that my parents were gone, I wanted nothing more than to fulfill their desire for me and our family. If I could have, I would have produced a dozen children and ensured the survival of our line for generations to come. But I couldn’t, of course, produce a single heir. Still, I needed to honor my parents’ wishes.
“So I did as I believed duty required me, and approached my sister. And by doing so, I managed to ruin her life.”
Sorry, Marzi, but I need to stop here. My hand is starting to cramp up again, aaand I need more yoghurt. If I’m being honest, raspberry Cali-Calypso-infused yoghurt has been at the back of my mind ever since I polished off a bowl of the stuff about an hour ago. I hope I’m not developing an addiction. Yoghurt addiction seems very wrong for anybody under the age of seventy. Dad sometimes says I have an old soul, but I don’t think he has yoghurt on his mind when he says it.
Anyhoo, my mini-break starts now. I really hope Sissy Catheringham isn’t still wandering around. After our last almost-disaster, I can’t shake the feeling she now has it out for my yoghurt. Revenge and yoghurt make for such strange bedfellows.
* Rubs chin speculatively *