An Alistair and Alexis Short
“Darling!” yelped my adored little Alexis, causing me to nearly jump to the ceiling and cling to the rosette.
I had not heard her enter on little cat’s feet, much like the fog in the poem by the chap whose name eludes me at the moment. I could not be bothered conjuring up poets’ names when setting a personal best for the standing high jump. I might have even beaten the house record, but the weight of the cognac bottle in my hand, and an empty snifter in the other, added considerably to my drag coefficient and kept me out of the record books for now.
“Yes, my delightful Dahlia?” I asked, trying to get my heartbeat out of the high 120s and back down to a more comfortable rate in the mid-60s.
“What on earth are you doing?”
I stood looking at her warily. I was quite sure this was a trick question, but I could not get a bead on her angle. Plus, I was distracted somewhat by her Saturday morning attire. She wore jeans and a snug half-sleeved sweater of a soft pink hue. She had her hair in a swishy pony tail. On her feet were a pair of slip-on tennis shoes.
I had mixed feelings about the whole ensemble (as the French are fond of calling it). On the one hand, she was as cute as the proverbial bug in a just as proverbial (or perhaps Persian) rug. On the other hand, this was her spring cleaning outfit. It was an outfit that strikes terror in the denizens of chez Callington, for there are no safe places to hide to avoid the toiling donkeywork she levied on one and all, from our frail little Evangeline, all the way up to and including myself. Her calling it “spring cleaning” made it sounds seasonal and fun, but it was anything but. She would be transforming into Field Marshal Alexis right before our very eyes.
To her inquiry as to what I was doing, I knew I would have to think fast. There are only so many possibilities as to what one might be up to with a jug of cognac in one hand and a snifter in the other.
The obvious answer would be, “Pouring myself a snootful of cognac.” However, that answer would leave her wanting more, resulting in even more questions. She would most definitely NOT be pleased if I went on to elaborate by saying, “And then I was going to set the ol’ meerschaum pipe ablaze with a little shag cut.”
So, I said what any man in my position would say. Brevity, as they say, is the soul of self-preservation.
She eyed the bottle of Pierre Ferrand Reserve (XO) in my hand. “Nothing? That doesn’t look like nothing,” she said, indicating the bottle with a little nod of her adorable head and an accusatory swish of her ponytail.
“What? Oh! This? I was just … um … dusting it.”
“With a snifter?”
“It was dusty, too.”
“Well, you can dust them later. I need you to get the ladder out of the shed and dust off the chandelier in the entryway. There are cobwebs on it.”
“Don’t we pay a company to come periodically de-cobweb the joint?” I asked, setting the decanter and snifter sadly back into their places in the bar.
“Yes, but the Blighton-Smythe’s will be here in an hour and I don’t have time to get our regular cleaning company out here.”
I started visibly. I might perhaps need that cognac after all.
“The Blighton-Smythe’s?” I gasped. “What on earth are they coming here for? It is April. Shouldn’t they be terrorizing the citizens of small picturesque Scandanavian villages or berating the help in 5-star hotels in the south of France?”
“No, they are postponing their vacation this year. Anyway, they are stopping by to pick up Evangeline. She is having a sleepover with Aurora Arabella tonight.”
“Must they use both of the poor girl’s names at all times?,” I said, still piqued at my cognacus interruptus. “I always feel it should be accompanied by trumpet blasts and footmen.”
My delightful little lotus blossom stepped up closer to me, slid her arms around my waist and gazed up into my eyes.
“You know,” she said, her eyes glittering, her voice coquettish. “With Evangeline sleeping over at the Blighton-Smythe’s tonight, and with Edrington away on his scouting expedition, we will have the house to ourselves tonight.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed my cheek.
So that is why, a mere 30 minutes later, I was high atop a breathtakingly tall ladder holding a duster with one hand and maintaining a death grip on the ladder in the other. Up here amid the rarified air, the jingling ice crystals of our stratospheric chandelier, one was afforded a magnificent panoramic view of the entryway, or, as it looked from up here, the grande vallée de Callington. I’m not sure how spiders even found their way up here to festoon the arabeques and guilded foliates. I didn’t even like to dwell on the possibilities.
“Do be careful up there,” came the distant, echoing voice of my concerned and doting bride from the foothills of Mount St. Ladder.
“I shall exercise every caution,” came my quavering reply, thus denting and taking a good deal of the value out of my reputation as the man of the house.
As I tentatively and cautiously dabbed the duster around the ornate arabesques, I heard voices below. I glanced downwards and saw my second-born, the delightful Evangeline. Among the words that floated upwards into the heavens were a query as to why Daddy was way up on the ladder.
This was followed by the excited woofing of our easily exciteable golden retriever who came tearing into the foyer and, skidding on the well-polished tiles, came skittering towards the base of the ladder.
I have often heard it said that one’s life flashes before one’s eyes in one’s final moments. I did not have time for this feature, nor the cartoon or the coming attractions that preceded it. I only had time to reach out and make a desperate grab for the chandelier. This was followed by the calamitous crash of a ladder falling earthwards.
I heard the tolling of a bell and I assumed it was the one that summons St. Peter to the gates to admit the latest applicant. But then again, it is hard to think clearly when one is making a gentle arc back and forth across the foyer. If Focault were in attendance, he could have explained to my precocious Evangeline how Daddy was marking off the rotation of the earth.
But the bonging turned out to be the announcement of the arrival of the Blighton-Smythe’s who were admitted by the lady of the house.
I managed to get my eyes to flicker open to observe the round and monocled Stanley Blighton of Blighton-Smythe fame. His simpering bride, the Smythe portion of the aforementioned act, had her hand to her mouth in horror as she gazed upwards.
“What on earth are you doing up there?” harrumphed and blustered Stanley Blighton-Smythe.
“Oh, you know,” I said casually. “Just hanging about.”
Story Copyright ©2018 by Biff Sock Pow All characters contained herein are also Copyright ©2018 by Biff Sock Pow