I sat up, rubbed my eyes a little, yawned, and exchanged pleasantries with Cousin Eddie. We discussed mostly the small amount of progress I had made in my sacred garden with the contraption he had made for me out of beer cans--and I thanked him again for it. Since the device had no name, I suggested we call it a "de-disgustinator" from here on out. Cousin Eddie agreed that the name suited it well. And so it came to be known.
Having slept so sweetly sound and nightmare-free, I found myself feeling younger and more spry than I had in some time. Motivation came with hardly a nudge, and almost before I realized it, Cousin Eddie and I were working away at a good pace, clearing away foot after foot of disgusting overgrowth. I hadn't asked or suggested at all Cousin Eddie help me; he just sort of jumped in very naturally, and we both agreed this didn't much feel like work at all. We began at the eastern edge of the Persian rug with the intention of clearing a pleasant path to the bank of our blessed river, Zoe. We took breaks here and there to slug beer out of the cans Cousin Eddie had brought with him (how Cousin Eddie never runs out of beer is something I'll explain at the appropriate time--it involves forest critters most readers wouldn't be familiar with, and I'm trying hard not to digress too much). All in all, though, we worked very efficiently and made what I thought was tremendous progress. We'd cleared a path I'd say was 4-5 feet wide, and probably a quarter the distance to Zoe's bank, when we decided to break off for the day.
We likely would have kept working much longer, but I remembered I still hadn't checked in with my old boss, Eddie the Peacock, county clerk of the Xanadu Forest. Which is to say, I realized a little music would be very nice as we worked on de-disgustinating my sacred garden...and the key to the Record Emporium would be in the county clerk's office. I had noticed on my way back to the sacred garden that the Record Emporium was closed down and locked up. I had figured T-Yay (T-Yay is a black Labrador who we put in charge of the Record Emporium before I had left the forest) was out on one of his record hunting missions. Inside the Record Emporium, of course, were not only record albums, but also a lovely assortment of vintage audio gear.
The former tenants of the Record Emporium (they were boot-makers) had long ago been evicted and banished from the Xanadu Forest, as they had brought snakes into the forest, and the snakes were multiplying and slithering into the sacred garden. And snakes, may it be known, have always been and will always be forbidden in my sacred garden. Since I was Eddie the Peacock's assistant in the county clerk's office, he was kind enough to place the Record Emporium under my care. T-Yay, the black Labrador, came along with the tenants that were evicted--and he was banished too! But as the tenants were packing and leaving, T-Yay came to me with his puppy dog eyes and begged me to stay. He assured me he had no more allegiance to his owners, and that he never had anything to do with snakes coming into the forest--his owners had done it against his will, he explained. I couldn't say "No" to him, and we placed him in charge of the Record Emporium--on one condition: that he be known henceforth as "T-Yay." You see, T-Yay was not his name before then, and his original name is never again to be spoken in the Xanadu Forest. T-Yay upheld his commitment to us always, and he was the best record album finder I have ever known. And never again, under his watch, were snakes found in the Xanadu Forest. And here I am digressing again!
So I had told Cousin Eddie my intention to go to the county clerk's office; he bid me farewell, and raced off in Casey the Cardinal's remote control patrol jeep. I made my way to the garden gate and exchanged pleasantries with my lovely gatekeeper Raven, and Edwin the Bee. They seemed to be happy not only that Cousin Eddie and I were making real progress in de-disgustifying my sacred garden, but also that Cousin Eddie and I were working together and bonding in a way we never really had before. It was true, I suddenly realized: we had always got along well enough, but we were both always so busy with other things that we never really hung out together. It felt like we were finally truly becoming friends, and that was a most comforting feeling to me.
After a bit more conversation, I told my lovely gatekeeper that I was off to the county clerk's office for a bit, and she told me to be sure and say "Hi" to Madeleine for her. That struck me as odd, since I had never heard of a Madeleine in the forest. So I asked Raven who Madeleine was and she just shrugged her wings and gave me her patented blank stare (yes, I believe Raven actually DOES have a patent on it, and it's likely trademarked by now--but I don't believe she'd sue me).
Off I went to the county clerk's office, very much looking forward to seeing my old friend and boss, Eddie the Peacock. Oh, the times we had there! As I approached the door, I thought it might be fun if I scared him a bit...he'd be very surprised to see me after all this time, you know! I crept into the foray silent as a lemming from Lemmington, and eased my hand onto the doorknob to his office. I turned it ever so gently...then flung the door open hard as I could and shouted "EDDIE!--YOU GORGEOUS SON OF A--ohhh...I'm sorry. Hello. I was expecting to see--"
"My uncle Eddie, it's safe to presume?" asked the albino peacock, more chippy than I thought necessary. Then again, I had just scared this unwitting creature, so I guess I deserved the harsh tone. "You must be KeV," the albino peacock added. Then she adjusted her glasses and went back to sifting through a stack of documents on the desk, as though I wasn't present.
I edged closer. "Umm...yes...that's me. But you have me at a disadvantage, since I have no idea who YOU are. Wait! Raven told me to say "Hi" to Madeleine when I left for the county clerk's office...so you must be Madeleine!"
Madeleine slid her glasses up onto the top of her head, signalling that I had her full attention now, and said, "You're smarter than I thought you'd be. I think."
A bit cockily, I spun a chair around backwards in front of her desk, sat down, and smiled at her. "Thank you. I'll remember you said that! So you wanna explain why you're sitting here instead of my boss, Eddie the Peacock?" I do believe I flipped my hair a few times and checked my posture.
Madeleine took the glasses off her head and dropped them on the desk, and sighed, "Eddie is my uncle. He brought me in to help with things after you left. Long story short, I'm your boss now. I hope that you'll remember that too!"
I decided to call her tough bluff (as I suspected it was), and scooted my chair closer to her desk. "I've got time for the long story...if you don't mind," I said, with just the slightest edge. I tried to use Raven's blank stare on her as I waited for her reply, but I could feel it wasn't having the proper effect. I began to fidget a bit.
Madeleine checked her posture and gathered the documents on her desk into a very neat stack. "Well I don't. Eddie has gone to Morganshire...'on a fabulous comedy tour' he told me (yes, Madeleine used the finger quotes...ugh). He left me in charge and gave me no indication as to when he might return...so I am your boss--possibly forever.
Not intending to, I laughed, and jumped out of my chair and perused the office. I said to myself, though loud enough for Madeleine to hear, "Well, that gorgeous son of a bastard--he finally did it!" Then I suddenly realized I was vocalizing my thoughts, and turned to face Madeleine, "I'm so happy for him; he will do so well there for sure. He used to practice his routines on me all the time. I even helped him write some of the material he hoped to use someday, you know," I proudly added, and paced the room.
Madeleine didn't seem impressed in the least. "Yes," she sneered, "He told me the stories. Lots of stories. You are both imbeciles, that's my only rational conclusion." Then Madeleine got up out of her seat and pulled a binder off the shelf behind her, and put her glasses back on and sat down again. She opened the binder and spoke again, "So when do you suppose you'll be--"
Madeleine interrupted her question with a more urgent one when she saw me digging through one of the file cabinets: "Just what do you think you're doing?!"
I kept digging, and didn't turn to face her. And responded to her question with my own more urgent one: "These file cabinets are filled with documents...what happened to our supplies?!" I opened another drawer and it was the same...more documents.
Madeleine got up out of her seat and met me at the file cabinets. "You mean the makeup, brushes, and other miscellaneous absurdities? Yes, I know what you're looking for. They're not there. This is an office--the county clerk's office--not a dressing room. And certainly not a play room!"
I shut the drawer, intentionally turning my back on Madeleine, and hustled over to our wardrobe closet and flung the door open. Madeleine raced to follow me over. "What the hell is this?!!! Where are our costumes?" I turned to face her, with my hands in the air in frustration.
Madeleine didn't blink. She was smug as she replied, "That is no longer a wardrobe closet, it is our server closet. Lovely, isn't it?"
I don't like to ever describe myself as angry, but in all honesty, I probably was that moment--not at Madeleine or her smugness, but at the fact that another part of my life that had brought me so much joy and comfort was gone. It felt like too much, just that moment. I found the chair I had been sitting in, turned it around properly, and sunk down into it. I dropped my head and wept a little. I didn't mean to, it just happened.
Madeleine walked up behind me and placed her wing upon my shoulder. "Look," she said, "I know this is hard for you. So much has changed since you went away." She patted my shoulder tenderly, and continued, "So much has happened while you were gone, and we're all going to need you to be strong." Then she brought her chair around from behind her desk, placed it next to mine, sat down next to me, and placed her wing lovingly upon my thigh (hehe, forgive the pun--I swear it was an accident). Madeleine went on, "I love my uncle as much as you do, and I know you two had a special relationship. I know you don't know me yet, but you'll just have to trust that I'm on your side. I don't want to go into it all right now--I'm not sure you're ready to handle it, to be honest--but times are different now in the Xanadu Forest, and I've had to learn to be strong. And I became strong. You will too." Madeleine patted my thigh in a most comforting way, and smiled softly into my eyes, "Do you believe me?"
I did my best to gather myself, which is to say I sniffled and wiped tears from my cheeks, and did my very best to look up. "Yes, Madeleine, I trust you. I don't know why, but I do." And I stroked the beautiful feathers on her wing, as a child might play with its grandmother's hair.
Madeleine got up quickly from her chair, and spoke as she went around to the desk and opened a small drawer in her desk, "I have something I think will make you very happy." She pulled a small envelope out of the drawer and sat down next to me again, "Uncle Eddie left this for you. He said you would need this when you returned. He made me promise I wouldn't open it--that it was only for you." She handed it to me, and patted my thigh once more.
I wondered for a moment whether I should open it here and now, thinking perhaps Eddie the Peacock intended for me to open it when I was alone. But Madeleine had shown me great kindness and empathy--and she was his niece--so I wiped away another tear or two and tore open the envelope ever so gently. Inside it was the key to the Record Emporium, and a folded note. I smiled the largest smile ever as I removed the key from the envelope, but decided I would read the note later. I looked into Madeleine's eyes and said, "I needed this key very much. Thank you, Madeleine." And I stood up and looked out the window toward my sacred garden.
Madeleine stood up too, and slid her chair back into its proper place behind her desk. "Go and enjoy your day, KeV--all of them. I will need you here again, as soon as you are ready--and I hope it's very soon. We have a lot of work to do. Xanadu suffers. I'll leave you with that thought."
I approached the door to the office, still looking out the window, then turned to face Madeleine again, and said, "But I'm the one leaving."
Madeleine adjusted her glasses and edged her tone as she sat back down, "Don't be a smartass. I AM your boss now, and don't forget that."
I smiled at her in all sincerity and asked, "I don't suppose you'll tell me where my lip gloss is that used to be in the file cabinet?"
She replied tersely, "Nope. It's best you just consider it lost. Good day, KeV." With that, Madeleine opened the binder on her desk and started perusing the pages, as if I had already left the office.
So I left, and went back to my sacred garden with much to consider.
Thank you for all your help, Cousin Eddie, and especially for the amazing de-disgustinator.
Thank you Eddie the Peacock, my fabulous boss, for understanding me like no one else does.
Thank you, Madeleine the Peacock for your honesty, compassion, and empathy. And strength.
Thank you, O loveliest of lovely gatekeepers for telling me the garden is mine.
Thank you, Edwin the Bee, for always sustaining and providing for me.
I love you all. Goodnight, my most precious ones.