When I had left my sacred garden in search of strange places, Freddie's Pond of Fanciness was a lovely bastion of majesty that I often thought of as the secret place in the heart of my sacred garden. But that heart of a heart also had a heart of it's own: a mysterious island in the center of the pond. That mysterious island has a secret name, the Island of Summer. When Andrew dwelt in my sacred garden, he often used to disappear to that secret island, getting there by hopping upon magical lily pads that made Nintendo sounds with each hop. It was a very small island with just a couple of bushes, and a chaise lounge lawn chair that Andrew had placed there, many times sleeping off the pleasures of a long night at the Sacred Pub.
Just once, long ago, I followed Andrew over to the Island of Summer, tracing his hops perfectly upon each magical lily pad. What I had discovered upon arriving, I have kept a secret to myself--until the writing of this chapter. I was going to surprise Andrew in his slumber, and lifted the blanket quickly, laughing his name loudly. Andrew was not there, however. He had shaped some pillows beneath the blanket to make it look as if he were there sleeping. Wondering of course where he might have gone, I started looking around the Island for clues. Finally, I moved the chaise lounge lawn chair and found a secret portal hidden beneath it--not a hole in the ground, but a glowing and swirling vortex. So that was Andrew's little secret! I was able to gather shortly thereafter that this was a portal to Olympus, for I knew well that was his true home and that he often went there, even while living with us in the Xanadu Forest. I dared not enter the portal without permission or an Olympian escort, so I hopped back across the lily pads and to the dock where Freddie the Frog was waiting. He winked at me, but we exchanged no words.
That was then, and this was now. Now there were no magical lily pads visible at all; just scum and muck and filth. I started clearing away disgusting overgrowth from the dock as sort of a homage to Freddie the Frog, and thought again how Edwin the Bee had told me to learn to love myself as a spouse rather than a mistress. Not long after that, Cousin Eddie the Raven appeared and said, "Such a shame. This was such a beautiful pond."
I agreed, "Yes, and we're going to have to do something about it. My heart cannot stand it staying this way." Even as I was speaking those words to Cousin Eddie, my heart knew that this was too big of a job even for the de-disgustinator and truckloads of elbow grease. I wasn't sure how we were going to restore the pond to its former majesty, but I had resolved myself not to despair. Surely we'd find a way somehow.
Cousin Eddie must have read my mind, because he gazed thoughtfully across the scum-filled pond and said, "I do believe Otterman's Restoration Service is still active. Perhaps we should pay Mr. Otterman a visit."
I was delighted with the thought, and said as much, and even more. "That's Sophie & Grace's uncle, isn't it? They spoke of an uncle, but I never met him." [Sophie and Grace were twin sister river otters that used to run a small gossip publication in the Xanadu Forest, but were now long gone, like most of the other residents. They wore matching dresses, identical in every way--except that one dress was black with white polka dots, and the other dress was white with black polka dots on it]
Cousin Eddie seemed pleased that I remembered that and spoke so openly of it with no hesitation. "Yes, yes, that's him! It's a good journey from here, so we ought to be going now, if you'd like to."
It seemed almost immediately after that, Cousin Eddie and I were off through the garden gate, waving and blowing kisses at our lovely gatekeeper Raven and Edwin the Bee--grumbling upon His little lotus flower--and were off into the Xanadu Forest on an adventure together. I wondered whether Cousin Eddie had read my thoughts again, for today was not the sort of day I would have wanted to go on an adventure alone. Seasons, you know, just like the universe that surrounds us. Ravens are such clever and loving creatures.
We could have left off on our adventure from the eastern edge (the back) of my sacred garden and followed my sister the River's bank north all the way to Otterman's Restoration Services, but Cousin Eddie said it seemed good that we crossed through the heart of the Xanadu Forest instead, so that I could see some things I hadn't seen since my return. I agreed, albeit, hesitantly. See, going this route through the forest would cause me to confront more memories that had been lost, and I wasn't sure I was ready for it on that particular day. I had been updated on most everything in the forest by now, so it wasn't that I'd be learning about lost memories for the first time...just that actually looking at the decay of lost memories is a whole different matter. Perhaps it's why people are so drawn to cemeteries, and like to leave flowers behind when they leave.
Cousin Eddie and I journeyed slowly, taking it all in. I won't go into all the details of the things we saw and discussed along the way, but there were certainly some things that stung my heart and brought me close to tears. Cousin Eddie was such a tremendous companion the whole way, and he kept finding ways to make me smile and fend off the melancholy that was trying very hard to consume me. His presence made me feel strong, secure, and unafraid...and I was so grateful for that. I didn't tell him so, for I was aware Cousin Eddie was going out of his way not to discuss anything deep, and to keep the journey light and entertaining. And indeed it was. One of the very fun activities we had was trying to keep count of how many Gale's Dude Ranch CD's we found littered among the bushes all along the way. We lost count, of course, as there simply were too many. So many memories here, so fondly remembered.
When we finally reached "Otterman's Restoration Services" next to my sister the River's bank, we were greeted even before entering the shack by one Samuel Otterman II, and his father, Benjamin Otterman II. They were both very warm and friendly and invited us inside their shack. They were so kind, in fact, that before even asking us what we were doing there or what service we might be in need of, Samuel had suggested Cousin Eddie and I looked very hungry, and seated us at a clean but humble oaken table. Samuel II proceeded to bring us both steaming bowls of dandelion soup, and a small loaf of sourdough bread, broken, and served with plate of the creamiest butter I have ever tasted. It was so comforting and delicious!
Once Cousin and Eddie and I were well into our unexpected but most welcome meals, Samuel II, pulled out an oaken chair for himself and sat down across from us. I decided to ask Samuel II if Sophie & Grace were his nieces, and added that we used to enjoy their publication in my sacred garden. This seemed to please him. He confirmed my statement, and told me that Sophie and Grace were now attending some sort of "fancy" university in Morganshire, and that they were both doing very well. Samuel II ended our small talk by saying, "I don't understand what all this fascination is with Morganshire these days, but such is the age we live in, I suppose. And I suppose not ever otter lady is destined to be a seamstress. Anyhoo, Mr. KeV, and Mr. Eddie, I don't suppose you came here to discuss the changing times...what can I do for you?"
"Changing times indeed," I thought to myself, but said nothing about that to the others. As I began to explain the pond that was mostly only scum now, Benjamin Otterman II returned and took a seat next to his son. I went on explaining how there were magical lily pads hidden beneath the scum that were very important to our sacred garden, and that it was critical they not get damaged in the restoration process.
I was pleased to hear that the Ottermans were most confident they could accomplish this task. Cousin Eddie was able to provide the Ottermans with very detailed dimensions of Freddie's Pond of Fanciness, so we received in return, an accurate estimate of cost. It came as no surprise to Cousin Eddie and I that the price quote was given to us in pumpernickel, since that fat squirrel Reginald III had converted our Xanaduvian currency. 400 pumpernickel, we were told it would cost, give or take, to complete the pond restoration. We were being gouged, we both knew, but we also both knew we had no choice--and of course we considered the other kindnesses the Ottermans' had shown us upon arrival.
I half wondered whether Benjamin Otterman II gave us that figure expecting us to admit we couldn't afford that amount, and would simply go away. My half-wondering was confirmed when the Ottermans' eyes got large as soup bowls after Cousin Eddie exclaimed without hesitation, "A very generous offer, indeed, and one we will gladly pay. When can you start?" I have to admit I was a bit rattled myself when Cousin Eddie spoke so boldly, but I did my best to not let on. You see, almost no critters in the Xanadu Forest had more than a few pumpernickel at their disposal at a given time, so 400 pumpernickel was a nearly unimaginable amount.
A tremendous advantage we had in my sacred garden over all the other critters of the Xanadu Forest was that we had the knowledge pumpernickel could simply be made--by anyone with a recipe and an oven. Other critters never thought of such a thing; they had knowledge only of things that grow. If something did not come from a tree, bush, flower, or water, then it had to be imported. That was the extent of almost all Xanaduvians' knowledge of economics and industry. This is precisely how that fat squirrel from Walnut St, Reginald III, effectively took control over all of Xanadu while I was away for so long. If you have read previous chapters, you will recall that Cousin Eddie had constructed us a perfectly functional oven out of beer cans. We would soon have a recipe for pumpernickel in our hands as well, courtesy of our lovely gatekeeper's mother, Grandma Raven.
So as I thought about these things more, we would be quite fine, and I was at ease with Cousin Eddie's bold statement. The Ottermans' and we agreed for them to perform the work on the arrival of the two suns--which would be in about three days' from that moment, Earth time. That was perfect for us, as we needed some time to bake the pumpernickel. Just as I was wondering how an otter and his father were going to complete such a monumental task in such a short time, in walked another otter, then two more, and a half dozen more. Cousin Eddie and I were introduced to Daniel Otterman II, David Otterman II, Duncan Otterman II, Damon Otterman II, Dustin Otterman II, Dallas Otterman II, Dexter Otterman II, Duke Otterman II, and finally Dirk Otterman II. They were all very gracious and pleasant. And there were very many more of them--dozens of them, even--but I lost track after than and couldn't remember any of their names. They were all sons, grandsons, cousins, nephews, and perhaps a brother or three (I still can't tell the age of an otter by looking at it!)
I mentioned to Samuel Otterman II how I found it odd that there were no female otters in his fantastic empire. Samuel II explained to me that the otter lady-folk were seamstresses by nature, and gathered in a separate shack not far away from his own. His wife, Molly, performed a role very similar to his own in the Otterman Seamstress Services shack, he added. Cousin Eddie and I were most graciously seen off by Samuel II's Otterman Empire, and we both genuinely looked forward to seeing them all soon, clearing away the scum and muck from Freddie's Pond of Fanciness.
Cousin Eddie and I's journey back to my sacred garden seemed much shorter than it was on the way to the Ottermans', despite us following nearly the exact same path. The entire way home, our conversation was light and playful, and I thought not at all of the decay of lost memories. I continued to think, as I walked, just how grateful I was for Cousin Eddie's companionship. I did tell him that much, and he seemed pleased.
Upon our arrival to my sacred garden's gate, our lovely gatekeeper Raven, and even Edwin the generally grumbling Bee, met us with enthusiasm as if bursting with joy. And indeed they both were, for the two of them had conspired to make a lovely surprise for us. It turns out that while Cousin Eddie and I were away, Mitzy the arctic fox had stopped by the garden gate and delivered a Capacitance Electronic Disc System card reader that plugged directly into the USB port of Raven's laptop. Though that sounds complicated, it simply means we could finally watch movies in my sacred garden again. Only in my sacred garden would we choose a video format that is larger than a record album, and only in my sacred garden would we find a means of playing that format. I was filled with joy.
Cousin Eddie had retrieved a large white sheet from somewhere inside his garage made of empty beer cans, and I helped him suspend it from the trees along the northern edge of the Persian rug. Our lovely gatekeeper Raven was behind us, on the Persian rug, setting up her laptop projector, while Edwin buzzed in to join us, proudly carrying two large sacks. The sacks contained, Edwin was pleased to announce to us, more than adequate amounts of the very finest of popcorn that Lemmington has to offer--both buttered, and carmel--in case any of us might have a sweet tooth. Yes, it was movie night upon the Persian rug! So wonderful and comforting.
The sun dimmed itself for us, and watched from below the horizon. My cousins, the moon and stars came out to watch with us from high above. I fluffed a cozy pillow, and rest my head upon it as the opening credits began on the white sheet before me. Cousin Eddie lie down next to me, sipping on a beer, and resting his lovely wing upon my shoulder. Edwin the Bee hovered perfectly silent just above us, and Raven manned her laptop projector just a few feet away, ever watchful. It was such a wonderful, peaceful moment that Edwin suggested we make it a double-feature. And so we did.
Should the reader wonder, we watched Forbidden Planet first, followed by Raiders of the Lost Ark. I may have nodded off a time or two during the movies, but it was due to peaceful comfort, not emotional fatigue. This was a most wonderful feeling, and one I'll not soon forget. A memory without decay--just what I needed. To have a family such as this, who could ever despair? Indeed, I was a lucky man.
Thank you, all lovely of lovelies.
Life is good. Blessed. Grateful.