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A story by Simon Barber & David Reese Dorrycott & Fredrik K T Andersson
A story of Angelica Silferlindh, a character by Freddy Andersson,
(including characters from his comic strip "Silver Angel")
& featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott
and characters from Simon Barber's Songmark Academy stories.
by Simon Barber
A story of Angelica Silferlindh, from Freddy Andersson's Silver Angel comic strip
and other characters by Freddy Andersson;
featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott
and characters from Simon's Songmark Academy stories
Oharu © Reese D’Orrycott, Angelica and Kama © Freddy Andersson,
Ilse Klensch © R. Bartrop.
“Saimmi informs me,” Oharu bowed to the young feline before her, as they sat outside a shrine on the slopes of Mount Tomboabo, South Island, “that you were at school with Miss Angelica. Please. It is a thing I am not understanding, that might be of importance. It is not a hatred from her ancestry I sense in her, like a rabbit to raw meat - it is a thing that has happened to her. Why it is that she so hates - these.” She presented a bunch of a half dozen ripe, tasty yellow bananas, none the worse for a few hours’ salt water bath the day before.
Amelia Bourne-Phipps’s ears went up in appreciation. “Golly! Thank you! I’ll take these back if I may, Maria just adores them. It’s been absolutely weeks since we had any. And I’m rather partial to them myself, actually.” She blinked, hesitating. Saimmi had told her only that someone wished to talk with her about helping Angelica with her curse; she had hoped her old school chum had managed to escape weeks before. This, she decided, was more a matter for her second book that dealt with what Saimmi was teaching, than for her encoded diary. The mouse was someone she knew by sight, but there were nearly a hundred priestesses on Spontoon and she could not recollect being formally introduced. And yet something was familiar, be it the voice or the scent; a half-forgotten fragment of memory like a fever dream nagged at the back of her mind.
The feline’s black tipped tail twitched. “Yes, Angelica went to school with me for years. Why she didn’t go to a Swedish one, was something that surprised us. We get folk from distant lands of course, but mostly from our Colonies like Jasbir’s sister. At any rate she arrived when I was in the fourth form; we were in different dorms but we got on jolly well. Same sports teams, hockey and lax and all. Swam in all the teams, everyone thought it jolly odd for a feline to like the water so much.” Her eyes misted over as she thought back to those precious years at the public school high on the wild open moors - and chided herself as she realised that very little of it would make any sort of sense to a Spontoonie, let alone one whose kimono signalled a still more exotic background.
She took a deep breath. “Angelica told me in confidence, what happened to her that makes her hate bananas so. I’ve never told it to anyone else. I promised her I wouldn’t. But Saimmi asked if I could help you, and you’re trying to help Angelica - I’ve done my best, and I can’t fix what happened to her and her aircraft. Is it still sitting there on the beach? It’s been months!”
Oharu bowed her head in assent. “There is nowhere for the village to shelter it. It is too large. No boat shed of theirs can hold it, even were they empty for its use. The sun beats hot on its back, and the rains strike cold. They will be colder now. Its Kami, its spirit, is beginning to suffer - as will her spirit, as she feels its body sicken. The village cannot spare the money for the aircraft to be moved and stored somewhere fitting all Winter.”
Amelia’s gaze instinctively flicked over towards Eastern Island, where well-appointed hangars were available at a price. “It is awfully expensive, I know. I’ve got my Sand Flea in storage till term starts next week,” she admitted. “I couldn’t afford to fly it unless I let our Tutors subsidise things. That’s much smaller than the Silver Angel, and I get Songmark discounts.” She paused. “I’m sure when we were at Saint Winifred’s, and she made me promise not to tell anyone, she didn’t mean to be in a situation like this. I mean, who would?”
“This Winifred, she is a holy teacher of your religion?” Oharu probed gently. “You studied as one of her students as you do with Saimmi?”
Amelia gave an embarrassed grin. “Oh well, actually … the schools back home just tend to be named after local saints from a thousand years ago and more. It makes them sound respectable - on paper, even the one Beryl went to.” She winced. ”A lot of them probably never really existed, not as actual saints with miracles to their credit. Some of them - they were just cover names to give an excuse to keep gathering at the old places, the old springs and stones. There’s a lot of the older churches were put on spots that have been holy five thousand years - and our Archbishop Crowley’s restoring a lot of grand old traditions. There’s a “Saint Anne’s Well” in Great Malvern that was in the news last hols with what happened there. The journalist needed special film.” She drew a deep breath. “But, about Angelica. I remember it very well, we were both in the Upper Fifth form, it had taken that long before she told me the full story ...”
Angelica Silvferlindh stormed into the Upper Fifth common-room, the feline’s fur damp from the changing room showers. It had been chilly and damp all day; outside the sash windows rattled as the March wind blew the cold rain sideways from the mist-shrouded moors and across the exposed hockey pitch. Her body and dignity were both decidedly bruised; Australian Rules hockey against Saint Herod’s Approved Reformatory School was always a stressful way to spend an afternoon. She flung the stick down into the corner, bristling with annoyance.
“I say! That was a smashing shot you put away in the last minute of injury time!” A voice made her turn. Her hackles went down as she spotted Amelia, the ginger-furred feline’s fur now visible minus the freezing mud coating it had worn for hours. “Another goal like that and we’d have drawn, no question.” She absent-mindedly rubbed her bruises; the match had lasted fifteen minutes into injury time, which was not unusual. Why, it had been an hour and a half last term with that grudge match against the infamous Saint T’s! They had only managed to draw that game due to the visiting team only bringing one set of players; the home side had been feeding the very last of the Fourth Reserve team into the line in a brutal, 1916 style attritional battle that had eventually ground the baying mob of skull-and-crossbones wearing opposition girls to a halt at seven goals apiece.
Angelica had learned much at Saint Winifred’s; one thing was to seize any chance to hop up onto the only radiator in the room and defend her position against all rivals. She grabbed her hockey stick from the corner and did so, feeling the lukewarm cast iron hard but welcoming beneath her. Comforts at Saint Winifred’s were too few and far between to be lightly shared, despite what the English girls bafflingly insisted. “So? We still lost.” She smoothed down the itchy black woollen stockings; warmth rather than style was the principle in the school outfit.
“That’s not the point. “ Amelia explained patiently for about the hundredth time. “It’s how you play the game that matters. And we did jolly well if you ask me. I’m not the only one though, Miss Lemmon said your game’s improving by leaps and bounds - we could both be in the first team, by the end of term.” She smiled, black-tipped ears perked up as she rummaged in her satchel. “I’ve got you a treat! You ran off right after showers, so I saved yours for you. Miss Lemmon was down in Pootlesham town yesterday, got one of these for everyone on the team whether we won or not. Isn’t she super? You’ll never see these on the regular school menu!” With a flourish she pulled out a large, extra-ripe yellow banana and offered it. “How about that? All the way from the Windward Islands. I’ve eaten mine already. Delicious - and it’s still an hour to teatime, bread and scrape’s all we’ll get there.” She had worked hard all that year in her Empire Geography classes, and was no longer taken in by the confident assertion pranksters made that when an anti-cyclone was over the Caribbean, the Leeward Islands and the Windward Islands swapped places.
The effect on Angelica had been electric. Her damp fur bristled, her tail bottled out and her ears dropped flat against her skull. “No! Take that thing away!” She shrank back as if the innocent fruit had been a hissing cobra, pressing back against the cold glass of the window.
Amelia blinked. She sniffed the fruit enquiringly. “It’s quite all right. A bit ripe in places, but it’s come a long way. I know I’d be upset if I’d travelled all that way and someone turned me down at the end of it all. You were complaining yesterday, we don’t get enough fresh food here.” The exiled French military chef’s special, “Corned mutton coup de main” would be long remembered even at a school whose idea of improving the cuisine was having steamed suet puddings six days a week rather than the traditional five. There were few circumstances in which a military chef could have been dismissed from their Army in the dark days of 1917, but having experienced his cooking the girls understood all too well. It was not every chef who was worth two divisions of troops - regardless of that having been two divisions to the enemy.
Angelica’s ears were still pressed right down. She shuddered. “Please. Take it away. You have it. I don’t want to see it, scent it. I thought I was safe here.” Saint Winifred’s advertised itself on the prospectus as aiming to turn out hard-working, caring, thoroughly decent young ladies (academic achievement an optional extra), and the various hardships they were put through on the way were intended to help that along - or possibly it was connected with the famously grasping board of governors who had a captive audience to practice their economies on. Doing without luxurious imported food was one of the hardships, along with hard beds and unstintingly hard work.
Amelia obligingly returned the rare fruit to her satchel, and sealed it away to enjoy tomorrow. It was the first time she had seen any bananas that term; normally they did not arrive in the English shops till Summer when everyone was home on holiday. “Oh! I remember one of the teachers saying before you first came here, your family were some sort of fruit importers. But you never talk about them.”
The Swedish feline unconsciously touched the silver locket at her throat; it had taken a special dispensation from the headmistress for her to be allowed to wear it in school and many of the other girls were frankly jealous; even earrings were generally forbidden. There was some mystery or other attached to it; the headmistress had been overheard at the time confiding to the Head Girl that if they knew the story behind the locket they would not be at all jealous; on the contrary, they would be glad they were not wearing it.
“No.” Her voice was so quiet that Amelia’s ears strained to hear. “I never do. And I’ll tell you why.”
Alfred Silvferlindh stood on the leeward side of the tramp steamer, holding on to the rail with one paw and one of the lifelines rigged across the deck with the other. The Pacific ocean was a great white-streaked blur of noise and confusion, the typhoon that had blown them off course in the dark having scarcely subsided in three days. He panted, wiping the salt spray out of his eyes and retreated, needing all his strength to pull the door open against the wind, and being almost picked up and bodily thrown back with it as it slammed to.
“It’s slackening off a bit, I think,” he addressed his wife hopefully. “I could see further - but it’s still very rough out there. How’s little Angelica?”
Anita Silvferlindh cast an eye back towards their cabin, where their four-year old kitten was well packed in with quilts to stop her rolling with the violently pitching waves. “She’s asleep. She’s tired, and scared. She’s not the only one.” Her ears went right down, as she held tight to a paw rail as the ship rolled. “Alfred, when are we going home?”
“When I’ve found us an opportunity to make us wealthy again,” Alfred explained patiently, not for the first time. “The family silver mines are played out, you know that. There’s only one seam at the lower level that’s worked at all, and that’s heading for a fault line. Our geologists say the seam will end there. When that’s gone…” he shrugged expressively. The declining mine had given him a good education, and the family had agreed to sponsor him on one last trip to try and find a replacement source of income. There were so many things in the South Seas that did not grow locally to Sweden; all he was looking for was the right product at the right price. Unfortunately, along with the crew of the steamer he had booked passage to deliberately out-of-the-way places on, so was everybody else.
“We’ve been away ten months. Don’t you think that’s enough?” Anita was a tall, blonde-furred feline whose naturally stern, haughty expression softened when her kitten was around. “You’ve tried mother-of-pearl, copra, pineapples … I don’t want to even think about those Durian things,” her muzzle twitched in disgust.
“Yes, yes, my sweet, I know,” Alfred held his paws palm out, placatingly. “But we’re heading into the Thousand Islands, as best the Captain reckons in this storm. “We’ll make that our last area. If I can’t find anything there - I promise, we’ll head home.” He sighed. “I don’t look forward to telling the family their money’s all been spent for nothing. If I have to work in a cannery the rest of my life packing Swedish Meatballs and pickled fish, I will. For you, for our daughter and -“ he gave his still slim wife a tender squeeze around her tummy “and for our other kittens to come. But I wanted so much to be able to keep you as you deserve.”
For a second Anita looked as if she was going to turn her nose up - but then she smiled and pressed her muzzle to her husband’s, rubbing her cheek glands with his. “Thank you, dear. Let’s see if little Angelica needs anything. She’s only just dropped off, she was up all night with the noise of the storm.” With that they quietly entered the cabin, where a small kitten was lying secure in a bunk, her tail twitching as she dreamed happily of somewhere that probably was lacking in howling typhoon winds, driving spray and white capped ten metre waves.
Just then there was the harsh clanging of the ship’s bell, the metal protesting loudly as a vigorous fur laid into it with desperate strength. Alfred’s ears went up in alarm. Kissing his wife worriedly, he left the cabin and hurried out into the corridor, almost falling across the open space as the ship rolled and lurched sickeningly.
“What’s happening?” He shouted, as three of the crew ran past. But just then there was a noise louder and more sinister than any bell - a grinding, crumpling noise, mixed with the agonised scream of buckling plating. The ship’s list suddenly increased, and did not right itself when the next wave washed past. Alfred’s tail bottled out in panic as the realisation struck him of what the ship itself had struck, blown far off course into uncharted waters. “We’ve hit a reef!”
The ship’s motion was suddenly less, though the waves pounded by just as rapidly. “We’ve run aground!” He looked into the wide-eyed face of his wife, who was standing at the cabin door. “Tramp steamers aren’t passenger liners - we’ve got to make for the lifeboats ourselves. Take only what you can carry.”
“Mama?” A small kitten awoke, her parent’s urgent voices waking her. She looked up, blue eyes blinking.
“Angelica! You’re going have to be very good - and very brave, now,” her mother stroked the kitten’s head-fur. “We might have to go outside for a little bit. Put your nice oilskins on, the ones you got for your birthday.” While Angelica sleepily dressed, Anita threw warm clothes, a few tins of food and full waterbottles into a valise, blessing the fact that months of travelling light had reduced their baggage to the most essential supplies.
Just then there was a renewed crash, and the ship shuddered. “She’s going down!” A panicked voice shouted out in the corridor, and the sound of running boots hammered past. Alfred grabbed three cork life-preservers from their rack by the door, and with trembling fingers helped his wife and child into them. The full-sized straps would not fit Angelica’s kitten figure properly, and it took another precious minute before she was secured in the cork jacket.
While her husband finished fastening the straps, Anita looked down into her kitten’s anxious face, stroking the soft fur. “Angelica. I want you to look after this for me. It’s been in the family a very long time. They say it’s lucky.” She hesitated a second, then reached up and unclasped the silver amulet from her own neck, before fastening it on her daughter. “You’re to always keep it with you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mama,” a serious little kitten nodded. “Always.” She felt herself picked up, remembering her mother’s arms, and then the ship gave another lurch. The lights went out.
Out on deck, the storm was showing no signs of abating. One glance showed the situation; there was a line of foam in the waters where the waves broke over a submerged coral reef that the ship had been driven helplessly onto by the wind and waves. No land was in sight, just the roaring waters where the Pacific broke endlessly over a reef that probably was uncharted even had the navigator known exactly where they were.
“Lifeboat’s gone,” one of the crew gasped, looking out aghast into the darkness as Alfred and his family struggled up onto the deck. “Port lifeboat, went onto the rocks. Starboard one -“ he pointed wordlessly to a smashed collection of timbers in the water. “Couldn’t even launch her.” The deck was slick with rain and spray, and even as he spoke it lurched a few more degrees.
Just at that moment, a wave to overshadow all others raced across the stormy chaos. The ship’s bows were held tight in the coral like a wrestler gripping his opponent - when the wave attempted to pick up the stern end. Weakened already by the collision, something had to give. With a scream of tearing steel plates gave way - and there was a shuddering snap as the ship’s back broke. The shock hurled everyone into the water, and an icy blackness surrounded them.
“Anita!” Alfred felt as if he had bounced off the ocean floor, the shock of hitting the water from the deck having knocked the breath out of him for a few seconds. He was alone in the darkness, the only light coming through the ragged edge of storm clouds lit by the moon. Suddenly the moon shone through for a few seconds clearly, and with a surge of horror he recognised his daughter floating still nearby, not moving. A few strokes brought him over to her - and his heart skipped a beat until she began moving, evidently half stunned as well by the fall into the water. He grabbed hold of a floating spar, lashing his jacket’s spare straps and his daughter’s to it.
Just then he heard two things. Or rather he noticed one thing increasing rapidly; the roar of breaking waves was like an oncoming train as wind and waves pushed them on towards the reef. And he heard his wife calling. Straining his eyes, he saw a figure some fifty metres away raise an arm in signal - and then the crest of a wave separated them. Black curtains of rain lashed down across the waters.
“Anita.” Alfred held tight to their daughter; while he held Angelica he could do nothing but tread water, keeping them both afloat. Just then another huge wave swept over the reef, fortunately lifting them clear of the jagged corals that would have torn them open or fatally entangled them in their branches. He saw the figure in the life jacket, further off now, and moaned helplessly. Then the cloud shrouded the moon once again, and Alfred was alone with his daughter in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
A small kitten looked out into the darkness. She had seen everything.
Dawn saw two figures lying on a beach. This was not the warm white sandy beach of a tropical island postcard; it was a small cove of shingle with black basaltic rocks glowering over them and forming a low cliff inland. The skies were grey; racing flat clouds slid grimly across towards the horizon to where the typhoon was heading away across the ocean.
“Papa?” A small kitten patted the cheek up the larger figure. “Please wake up, Papa.” Angelica looked around herself in the grey light of dawn. The island had appeared out of the moonlight, the setting moon behind it in the small hours indicating a long, low piece of land a few kilometres across. Inland from the cliff she could see woods, but no signs of civilisation. There had been no lights on the island.
With a groan, Alfred stirred into consciousness. He was freezing cold, exhausted and battered from where the waves had cast him over the rocks, holding Angelica in his arms as he tried to shield her. More so, his heart burned with a terrible sick loss as he looked around the deserted beach. They had been in the water more than three hours and must be far from the reef the ship had hit after midnight; the chances of anyone else having hit this small island were poor. “Oh, Anita.”
“Papa, I’m hungry. Thirsty too.” The small voice beside him stirred him into action. Trying to hide how his bruises pained him, Alfred struggled to his feet and hugged his daughter tightly, tears merging with the ocean’s salt water on their fur. And with a look around at the hard, empty beach and the empty, cruel sea, he took her by the paw and looked for a way into the interior.
It was some weeks later, to judge by the notches cut in a pole at the edge of the camp in the clearing. They had been lucky enough to find this place so soon on the first morning, though in truth the island was scarcely half a day’s walk across. There was a pool of clear water, some rotting timbers that might have been part of a hut - and the wild, overgrown garden patch and orchard that someone had once planted and tended.
“Banana!” Angelica sat in the sunshine, happy for the moment as she peeled one of the ripe fruits. “Lots of bananas!”
“That’s right, my sweet,” Alfred rested by the pool, having carried a large bunch in from the far side of the glade. “That’s one thing we’ve got plenty of. There’s coconuts, but they won’t be ripe for months. There’s other things that I think are cashews, but I know they’re poisonous raw unless you know how to treat them. Same with the roots.” He frowned. Having dug under the big, broad-leaved plants he had unearthed tubers that could be manioc or cassava. Neither were plants he was very familiar with, though he had seen similar roots piled up in markets across the Pacific. It could well be they would make the best eating of all the abandoned garden - but he had never studied exactly how to prepare it, and could not risk poisoning himself or his daughter. It needed more than plain boiling to remove the poisons, he was certain. Bananas were safe, he told himself. Bananas were good.
“Papa.” Angelica looked at him seriously. “Are we going to live here forever?”
He fuzzled the kitten’s head fur. “I don’t think so. I’ve made bonfires, all ready to light if we see a ship come close. People did live here once, they planted the trees and everything. So I expect they come here sometimes.”
The small kitten nodded. “Are we going to wait here till Mama comes back?”
His ears went right down, as he turned away. Angelica had her mother’s fur colouring, and reminded him so much of his Anita. He turned away, hiding his tears. “I know what,” he told her, keeping his voice level “Let’s make the garden pretty. Plant lots more trees for her. It’ll keep us busy - until people find us.”
It was the same scene later on, with some developments. There was a kitten who had grown a few inches, standing in the shade of a freshly planted row of bushes her own height. Although seedless, the banana plants had proved easy to grow from cuttings and were flourishing.
“It’ll be a fine crop next year!” Alfred rubbed his paws together in glee. He had lost weight, but looked healthy. Only there was something around his eyes, a fanatical look and a slight twitch of the muzzle as he diligently tended his rapidly expanding plantation. “I’ll call this Anita’s Grove.” He absent-mindedly handed his daughter one of the ripe fruits.
Angelica’s muzzle wrinkled, as she took it. “Papa. Can’t we find some fish? I’m sick of banana all the time.”
“Now now, dear.” Alfred stroked the kitten’s head fur. “We tried fishing most of last week, remember? We only caught two. It’d be different if we had anything to make nets or hooks out of.” Robinson Crusoe, he reflected, had a whole ship to salvage for equipment. He had seen ancient bone and antler fish spears in museums - but on this island there were no bones or antlers available, except for fish-bones which had proved spectacular failures at the job. “It’s a better way to spend our time on the vegetables. Business sense. Yes, that’s what it is.” He stared hard at the productive groves of newly planted trees. “Now, you run along and play.”
Her tail drooping, the five-year old Angelica walked out to the highest point on the island, from where there was a clear view out over the empty sea. Just then, her ears and tail perked up as she saw something new. “A sail, a sail! Papa, light the bonfires!”
Angelica had stopped, her fingers stroking the silver locket around her neck as she sat on the vaguely warm radiator. A few of the other girls had drifted in and were busy with their homework. “Well, we were rescued, we got home to Sweden. To Gothenburg where Father used what money he had to set up a fruit importing business. He leased the island we were cast ashore, and a few more in the years after, and started things on a grand scale. Vitamines were the big new craze at the time, and there’s not much fresh fruit in a Scandinavian winter. Oh yes, he’s a good businessman. He made best use of all his assets. We were famous in Sweden that year - he had a local artist draw me in a jungle, eating bananas. Used it on the posters.” She shivered. “That was the start of it. I spent all the time I was a kitten being dressed up in bright yellow dresses, while University professors lectured about the value of tropical fruits in the diet. We’d go on lecture tours, Father used me as living proof on how you can thrive on almost nothing else. I wish it’d been fish instead. Even the salt cod we get here.”
“Is that where you learned to swim like that?” Amelia had been surprised at how eagerly Angelica had threw herself into all the swimming and diving events; felines tended to dislike them. She had assumed it was some Scandinavian thing, certainly the sea pools the school used were jolly cold and a long way from any reviving hot showers.
Angelica had nodded. “If I wanted anything to eat except bananas I had to go and catch it myself. And I did!” She flexed her claws. “And I remembered Mother. I was too small to have done anything, I know that now … but I kept telling myself if I’d been a good enough swimmer I could have helped save her.” Her whiskers had drooped. “And this is all I have to remind me of her.” A paw pressed protectively to her silver locket. “In the end, I couldn’t stand to see, touch or smell another banana ever again. It took me three years of persuading Father to send me here. He wanted me to go to a Swedish school, he was going to sponsor me and send complementary supplies! There would have been a lorry load of the yellow things arriving every month! Some of the schools were very keen on the idea, too.”
“I can imagine.” Amelia’s stomach grumbled; the prospect of a regular delivery of fresh fruit would have been good. If Angelica was allergic to the sight of her family product, she was sure a local greengrocer would be happy to trade it for apples and pears. She could have wished Angelica had accepted that deal for Saint Winifred’s. “So you came here for the food?”
Angelica smiled. “It took some getting used to, suet puddings twice a meal. But it could be worse.” The day before, the main meal had been steak and kidney pudding and a traditional fruit-studded suet Spotted Dick for dessert, with thick lumpy yellow custard that at least was not banana flavoured. She had looked out of the window behind her, to where the rain lashed the darkening playing fields. “Some people dream of tropical islands and exotic foods - but for me, this will do fine…”
Looking around at the feline, Oharu nodded. “I thank you. This explains much. And after school, Angelica did not want to return to the family company?”
“Oh. Well.” Amelia’s tail perked up. “I left to come here in something of a hurry; she was still there when I left for Songmark. It was quite a shock running into her again, here of all places! But she told me last month, she persuaded her Father to let her travel with a company aircraft. It was going to be painted banana yellow, and fly a big advertising banner over populated areas.” She shivered. “Even I wouldn’t like that. She left Sweden with a pilot, mechanic and such that he’d arranged - but managed to leave them behind, she didn’t say how. Still, she didn’t get out of advertising completely free. She did pose for some posters, you know?”
“I have seen such.” Oharu drew on her training to keep a straight face. “She has found fame, of a sort.”
“Jolly embarrassing for her, I’d have thought.” Amelia commented. “And she’s still on Main Island? I only got back today myself, from the Albanian South Indies, they had all sorts of nuts there but no bananas. A bit ironic, really.”
Oharu bowed, rising to say farewell to her visitor. “You return in good time for the festival, then. I wish you well of it.”
“Thank you!” Amelia gratefully accepted the proffered bunch of the yellow fruit that had such bad associations for her friend. “If I’d known, I’d have invited Angelica over here; I’m going with the Hoele’toemi family to the Haio Beach bonfire tonight. Prudence and a lot of her pals said they’d be coming too. I hope Angelica has a good party, up on Main Island!”
Angelica woke an hour or so after noon, to judge by her empty stomach and the angle of the autumn sun in the longhouse. September the twentieth, she told herself, making a mental note like a prisoner scratching days passed on a prison cell wall.
The Swedish feline lay for a minute, her head still under the sheets. There was a thick brown towel that she had wrapped around her eyes to block out the light before falling asleep at dawn, staggering in from the night’s hard work on the fishing boats. The first week she had woken too early at ten or eleven in the morning, and been unable to get back to sleep again despite her tiredness. She had been little use on the boats the following nights, and had promised herself that she would not let the villagers down again.
“After all,” she told herself with a grim certainty “I’m here for the duration now.” Even if some late-season traveller took pity on her and offered to pay her fare to Hawaii or the French Sandwich Islands, she would have to refuse the offer unless her beloved Silver Angel came along. When the curse was lifted, she could fly it home - but that assumed it was still in healthy flying condition by the time that happened. She shuddered. Only the day before, she had noticed with panic a spot of rust on the engine manifold. A minute’s frantic work with borrowed wire wool and a rag soaked in coconut oil had restored the offending part to its proper glory, but it was a bitter foretaste of what was likely to happen that Winter to an aircraft left unprotected. It had been sitting out on the beach too long already, despite all her work cleaning and oiling.
“Play?” A familiar kitten voice intruded on her dark thoughts. Angelica sat upright, the covers falling off her. Something licked at her nose affectionately. She screamed.
“Get it off me!” For a second she was nose to … whatever the front end of a Holothurian was called, the pentagonal mouthpiece surrounded by banana-sized green tentacles that dripped and waved cheerfully. The metre-long thing arched its body and frisked like a naturally legless sausage dog, while Kama sprinkled it with cool sea water from a bucket.
Kama looked down at the Euro girl disgustedly rubbing her slimed muzzle with a towel, and reached down to pat her multi-coloured pelagic playmate as it cocked a front end questioningly. She smiled, pulling out from her bark belt pouch a small fish she had caught in a rock-pool that morning. “Up!” She held it at shoulder-height, and the fivefold-symmetrical creature obligingly reared on its ventral end in a passable parody of a primitive canine or trained seal begging. Rows of tube-feet wriggled excitedly on its underside.
Angelica’s ears dipped, as Kama tossed the fish in the air and the marine thing bounded upright, its complex jaw closing on the fish. “Kama,” Angelica said slowly “that isn’t possible. I asked one of the tourists who was collecting shells last week about sea cucumbers. They haven’t got eyes. They haven’t got brains. It’s totally impossible to teach them tricks.”
The kitten shrugged, picking up a thick kelp stem like a rubbery stick. She hefted it, and hurled it out towards the beach. The sea cucumber did not have a tail to wag or a tongue to slobber and was not remotely equipped to bark happily - but it gave the mental impression of doing all those things as it flipped its way up the wet sand towards the tide-line like a cartoon sausage. She waved and raced after it; as Angelica dressed the two could be seen joyously playing in the surf, a child of the Spontoonie woods and an unclassified spawn of the Abyssal plain.
Angelica’s nose wrinkled, but not at the scent of Kama’s friend; there was nothing wrong with the aroma of fish. In the back of the longhouse were two crates of ripe bananas though, picked green in the Fillypines but getting riper and more odorous by the day. The Popoluma kittens seemed to be attempting a world record of how many a fur could eat in a day, but there were still weeks’ worth left. “I have to get out of here,” she told herself.
Just then she heard the cheerful hail of Mama Popoluma, the Spontoonie matriarch returning from market with her kittens in tow or clinging to her fur. “Is good morning to you! Is good afternoon to others.” She winked, putting down her basket. “Have bought us Plantain for your breakfast, is our lunchtime.”
Angelica relaxed slightly, her stomach growling. “Thank you!” Mama P was a very good cook in her own tradition, she had to admit. “I’m due out tonight again.”
“Ho no!” The native cat winked, her tail swishing. She sat by the fire-pit, a contented expression on her face as her youngest kitten began to feed. “Tonight is big festival, is Hoopy Jaloopy! No boats go out tonight - have all season to do that.” She winked. “Other islands have Autumn festivals for farm harvest. Tonight give thanks for season’s Tourist harvest.”
Angelica cursed under her breath; she had been told about the festival often enough but quite forgotten it was today. Working all night and sleeping most of the day was not doing her head any good, she told herself. She looked down, and for a second something warm stirred at the sight of Mama P nursing her kitten, and the expression on her landlady’s face. Then she shook her head angrily. This was not the time or place to have those thoughts. “Shall I unpack your baskets while you’re … busy?” she asked, glad to find something useful to do.
“Yes! Missy Angelica, breadfruit go in bowl, plantain peeled for cooking pot.” Mama Popoluma gave a dreamy wave at the big, covered basket. “Is small lunch, but ho yes, great feast tonight.”
Angelica nodded, picking up the heavy baskets. She untied the cloth protecting its contents - and froze in horror. She was holding about twelve kilograms of extremely large, green bananas, each as thick as her tail would be if it had not bottled out in shock. “Bananas!”
“Ho no. We see you don’t like those. Is plantain, like you eat every day here. Plantain tree on Spontoons she bear all Summer.” Mama P closed her eyes. “Is your favourite dish, good as Puso ng Saging. And that is banana blossom, mostly.”
Angelica almost dropped the basket, though her fast reflexes recovered it mid-air. “Plantain. I’ve been eating plantain every day.” It had tasted nothing much like banana, being starchy rather than sweet, and usually Mama P fried it with coconut oil and fish. She had thought it delicious, and often asked for second helpings. “And … Puso ng Saging. That’s bananas too.” She suddenly felt ill. True, she heard a small voice inside reminding her, she never had volunteered to help with the cooking. If she had been helping to cook rather than just voraciously eating Mama P’s meals, she would have found out earlier. Although she remembered the small wide-leaved weeds in the lawn at St. Winifred’s certainly had been called Plantains, it had been lurking somewhere in the back of her mind that there was another quite different plant of that name that neither English or Swedish cuisine made use of.
Her landlady looked up at her, and winked. “Is good, healthy! Make fire in a fur. Traditional dish village girls eat before they Tailfast or married. Plenty fine, healthy kittens, ho yes, they come soon after.”
Angelica felt her ears blushing with embarrassment. The old saying “you are what you eat” surfaced in her mind and resisted all her attempts to push it back down out of sight. Excusing herself, she ran out of the longhouse towards her beloved Silver Angel, to frantically clean and polish it in what she dreaded would one day become a losing battle.
Although she would have been horrified to know the fact, Angelica had been the subject of discussion that very lunchtime over on South Island, in a small eating-house behind the Topotabo Hotel.
“There.” Ada Cronstein adjusted the poster on the wall, her tail wagging. “That’s much better. Now the tourists have gone, we can put that version on the wall, without some blue-muzzle from the hotel objecting.” The canine stepped back, admiring the new poster of Angelica. There had been a similar one the month before, with the Swedish feline posing to advertise her family company while wearing only a fringed belt of ripe bananas as a skirt - but then had come a second edition of the poster, much the same but more appealing. Ada had another copy on her own wall, next to the one of Ilse Klensch.
“Eeeh, lass, gi’ owwer,” Prudence Akroyd’s long ear flapped idly, as she sat at the table with the remains of a Popatohi luncheon. “Happen, we’ll not see t’ lass agin. She’ll have left, wi’ rest of tourists. Any road, we’re back in Songmark next week.”
Ada sighed. “She’s lovely. Just my type. I wish that priestess had drawn me that commission I wanted.” Oharu had sketched and painted numerous portraits of the South Island Formation Swimming Team girls; the biggest and best showed the entire team and currently resided on the wall behind the bar of the Double Lotus. She had also drawn Angelica; one sketch in particular, of the Swedish feline turning up her muzzle disdainfully at a Native hut, had sent Ada’s tail straight sideways as she looked at that haughty expression. “I offered her a pawfull of shells - but she wouldn’t sell me a picture of someone else without their permission. I know what she means, but still…”
Prudence chuckled. Her friend Ada’s fascination with aloof, severe women was legendary - and the fact that most of them would have nothing to do with her, never discouraged her. “Aye, she’s principled, is yon Priestess. Comes wi’ the territory, happen. Tha’d like a pic wi’ Miss Angelica same as she did for Belle and Miss Cooper, reckon.” Unlike Angelica’s poster that had been a perfectly dressed portrait, of the two in Native costumes winding flower leis around each other.
The rabbit in question perked up her ears. “Well, at least Angelica isn’t shy. Look at that poster! And the first version was nice enough. Miss Cooper, I wanted her to take the one Priestess Oharu did of us back with her. She didn’t dare risk anyone in her home town finding it though. If there’s one thing worse than having to work back home in the Bible Belt, it’s being a single “school ma’m.” Respectability buttoned tight up to here.” She raised a paw to her ear-tips. “I’m never going back. If I fail my Songmark exams next year and have to be a beach-comber on Gull Island, fair enough.”
Ada’s tail twitched. “What are you going to do when she comes here next year? She still thinks you’re a Native girl. You’ll have to tell her sometime.”
Just then, the door opened and a genuine native rabbit girl walked in. Tobonule smiled, her chisel teeth glinting as she greeted her friends, and glanced up at the poster. “Day greetings! Are you coming to Main Island, for Hoopy Jaloopy?”
“We’d not thought on’t,” Prudence shrugged. “Happen, the party just down t’ road here, it’ll be just as good. Grand Tourist statue they’ve built, down by Haio Beach.”
Tobonule turned, her long head-fur sweeping as she spotted Ada’s adoring gaze locked on the poster. “Missy Angelica, she still on Main Island, she one of our villagers now. “ She laughed at Ada’s reaction. “She Native girl, in laws. Maybe Tailfast, she can do that if she wants now. Like Tahni and Miss Prudence.”
The restaurant emptied rapidly, the Swimming Team heading towards the water taxis for Main Island and pausing only for brief telephone calls from the dock to tell friends of their change of plan. Tonight was Hoopy Jaloopy, and the first full moon of Autumn would soon be rising in the skies.
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are ©2011 Simon Barber, ©2011 David Reese Dorrycott,
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