‘Gilbert Nene Is Terminal’

A very short and very peculiar story, published online by Litro in November, 2013.

Did I ever tell you about the time I spent as an echidna? Oh, no, that’s right, of course, I didn’t – I never told anyone. People never want to know about the time I spent as an echidna in New Guinea.

Never mind. Never mind about echidnas, or even platypusses (they tell me it’s platypii, you know. I wrote platypusses and there was such a scene, you’d think I had murdered someone [of which more later]. But I wouldn’t change it. Even when they threatened me I wouldn’t. I was resolute). How can you think about monotremes when there are such dreadful things going on in the world? It makes my belly ache to imagine it. Poverty and penury. That kind of thing.

It makes me glad to be in a residents’ home. You may ask (I asked until my tongue hurt but they wouldn’t tell me) what other kinds of home are there? A home which has no residents isn’t any kind of home, it is simply a house. Never mind. I was telling you about New Guinea, wasn’t I? My echidna period.

As an echidna – which is a spiny anteater – I lived according to my nature by eating desert insects, scooped up with my long, whip-like tongue. My sharp spines protected me from predators and I was also able to dig myself into the ground to foil my foes. I spent three years as an echidna and remember them with fondness.

Never mind about me. What I was meaning to tell you about was – yes, that’s right, it was the occasion that I (no, no, I was not an echidna at that time) killed young Gilbert Nene, which brings me back to my earlier point about it being almost as if I had murdered someone. I had, naturally.

 I didn’t care particularly for Gilbert Nene. I didn’t bother to attend his funeral, but then I think he would have preferred me not to in any case (and of course I was not invited). They told me as they meted out their swift justice that Gilbert Nene left behind him three children, as if it were my fault (or as if I should be interested – as I said, I didn’t especially care for the man).

To state the matter bluntly: the very presence of Gilbert Nene gave me wind. There is no escaping the fact (indeed, it seemed there was no escaping the wind) and so, yes, I killed him. I killed him with the jagged edge of a tea-cup. How stereotypical of me! An old chap, armed with a broken tea-cup, stabbing at a young chap – almost like something from Laurel and Hardy.

Murdering Gilbert Nene was, as you may imagine, the moral apogee of my life. Perhaps it was my most evil act. But what are morals to an echidna (I strive to avoid existentialism, but sometimes it seems to creep up)? The killing of young Gilbert came some time after my echidna years, but I still had a degree of echidna in me – and so what cares the echidna for Gilbert Nene (what cares young Gilbert, indeed, for the echidna?)?

 Why, though, you may ask – as they did in court (there were surely precious few things they did not ask!) – did young Gilbert provoke my intestinal strain in the first place? And alas, there you have me. I could never quite divine the particular facet of young Gilbert that inspired such gaseous expansions in my gut regions. Doctors told me that there was no cure – no cure for Gilbert Nene. I thus deduced (quite reasonably) my own conclusion: Gilbert Nene is terminal.

Never mind. Just see, at least, that there was after all some good sense invested in the business. Gilbert Nene lies cold beneath the stone, and I suffer no longer. I will be dead soon (for I am old) and then everybody will be happy. Mrs Nene and her troika of Nenelings will romp on my grave and justice will be done.

I will have buried myself deep in the earth, as I used to long ago. Did I ever tell you – yes, of course. You know of the echidna and me. My last secret – gone! What cares the echidna? Gilbert Nene – gone! The echidna is sanguine.

So there are no secrets, no Gilbert, and no wind. A consummation devoutly to be wished! And so to bed. I still have dreams to dream (although the echidna does not dream [I miss those days]) and now the story is told I will enjoy them. I am not sentimental – I will not pray for Gilbert Nene. As I believe I have said, I did not particularly care for the man.



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