Fingers flailing wildly for effect, I say, And so, and so, and so Churchill tells them, “Now that is precisely the sort of thing up with which I will not put.”
Chimpy’s nostrils spray a clumsy spritz of Moscow mule. Five sequential spouts ejaculate from the geoduck shelter. Naomi booms loudly enough to vibraslide Chimpy’s chalice off the coffee table, which he dives for to no avail. A lightbulb pops and crumbles in another room.
But of the mess I couldn’t care less. Today I turned 21 and I am having the time of my life. For breakfast, Chimpy prepared me a Yoshoku omurice made with silkie chicken and Electra performed a flawless rendition of Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mister President.” We have indulged in Dionysian pleasures since.
Mittgrabbing my tankard, I step over Gambino and Lucchese, stumble on a pile of pointed words and phrases that haven’t yet fully evaporated, and make my way to the loo. There are four trash bags crammed taut with crumpled paper lined up against the wall. The dolphins cost me half a closet of mail.
Before the porcelain god, I relieve myself. Hence my mind returns to Antonia, my leitmotif. There are certain facts about her. She has an aura that stimulates all five senses. If intuition is a sixth sense, then all six senses; if emotion a seventh, seven. I am confident it’s probably there on all the undetectable wavelengths, too. She is desirable and charming and I am charmed by and desire her. Calm is the key of her register, which is so constant it gives me doubtspook. While I admit that Antonia’s stigmata have become an unhealthy obsession—we are watching The Passion of the Christ tonight and I have moved the flat screen so that even Beethoven can join us—I am sure she is guilty of something. I always pick up that whiff of fear hormone whenever the animals engage her. My faith is in the universe, and I suspect she might be a protected witness, if not a repeat offender, if not a notorious felon, in the court of natural law.
Last night in the dark as I stared at the ceiling waiting to turn 21, I contemplated all of the things Antonia might really be. The Frenchman’s minions had delivered my new pod of dolphins and crates of Greenland herring stuffed to the gills with roe; this excitement fresh on the mind, for some reason my thoughts hopscotched all the way to the topic of the lost kingdom of Atlantis. Plato wrote in the Critias that ‘Poseidon, receiving for his lot the island of Atlantis, begat children by a mortal woman.’ What is going on here and now with Antonia feels like the opposite—it is I who is the mortal, she the deity, this menagerie our adopted children. Maybe she is a resurrection from a dead religion of a bygone world like Atlantis, for they, too, had their gods, no doubt. But perhaps she is something else. Perhaps she is the embodiment of a natural miracle: neither the incarnation nor the product of a knowing god but an issuance of matter (not spirit) that is perfect, or in some other obscure or oblique sense divine. That is to say, a holy thing. A wordless scripture. A solid æther.
Chimpy has lined up six yabbies on the coffee table, all six balancing perfectly still on their heads, his newest parlor trick. (Toast, out like a light, he signs.) I refill my tankard from the pony keg in the kitchen. Electra is lying on her back on the floor, playing dead for laughs, tongue dangling from her beak, one rigid talon twitching like a cartoon. Eve sniffs Electra with fearful concern.
She’s just kidding, I tell Eve.
Eve looks up into my eyes. Her tail comes to life.
Let’s take a walk, girl. I let her lick my hand.
The hallway outside my flat noisechurns with the sweet stink of petrol. Eve is by my side as we enter the unhinged doorway of no. 9.
The grindblast is coming from the heavy rotating saw that Antonia is guiding along a straight path in the floor. She is spraying the blade with a water hose. Scores of floorboards lean vertically up against a wall in tidy lines. Beside them is an equally measured stack of concrete slabs.
She stops the saw, pulls up another plank, adds it to the rest. She turns to me and Eve and smiles. She takes off her protective goggles.
Dozen it look hood?
It looks fantastic, I reply.
She gestures behind her.
Half the room’s floor is gone. About a meter down into the flat below I see a liquid surface tremble and ripple. The entire second floor of the building is nearly full with water, to contain the pod of dolphins. Vents such as this one will allow them to surface, breathe, and talk.
Do you think it’s full downstairs yet? I ask.
Antonia removes her gloves. Maybe buy tonight.
Eve dips her snout down into the floor, sniffs at the waves. Her ears stiffen.
I’m sorry, what?
A sharp, throaty mist erupts from the water, followed by another and another. Waves clap on the surface.
One dolphin raises its head completely in the air, bares teeth and tongue, and sings, Tktktktk ckckckckck ananananana ayuayuayu!
Others follow suit, with varying degrees of interest and intent. Tktktktktktk. Ckckckckckckckck! Kekekekekekekekeaaaaahhnaaapei.
I respond, I’m glad you find everything comfortable. Help yourself to some herring if you haven’t already. They’re spawning. Tkatkatkatkatka.
Antonia gasps. ¡Vaya, Raymundo! That so good!
I hadn’t realized I responded in clicks. It just came out of me.
Eve spinshakes from neck to tail to dry herself. She is grinning with open mouth.
I suddenly remember our other task, what I really intended for us to do.
No. 21, “H. Blindeth” (or so it says on his mail).
My tankard is empty again. I need a refill.