A Winter’s Fantasy
by Rudi Dornemann
As we expected, the hard part was getting the ice skates on the alligator.
On our first few attempts, no one lost any fingers, although Edmund and I each gained a few bandages. We were getting the hang of things by the end of the morning, and would have persevered in the afternoon with, I am sure, eventual success, had our lunchtime discovery not made further beast-wrangling moot. There, in the winter garden, behind a clutch of potted cycads brought back by one of professor Ogdred’s expeditions, was an alligator. Stuffed. A settee, in fact, with green velvet cushions and a carved ebony back. There was line of buttons down the middle of the cushions in place of the original ridges.
“Perfect,” said Edmund.
“Exactly what she wants,” I said.
We were careful to carry it out the east door, since the alligator – the live one – was already in a sulk after the morning’s exertions; trooping past the herpetarium window with the taxidermied remains of one of its cousins seemed unwise.
We made our way through the frozen gardens. The veiled statues of weeping ladies were jeweled with tears of ice. The giant stone hand was gloved in snow. The wind hissing through the bare branches of the trees might have been the snickering of ghosts.
We lashed the skates to the alligator’s feet. Edmund sucked his finger where he’d scraped it on one of the claws. We pushed the settee out from the shore of the frozen pond, skidded around getting into our seats, and then built up speed by polling gondolier style with sharpened sticks.
When we glided by the gazebo, the fur- and scarf-wrapped card players looked up. The countess was looking at us as she extracted the envelope from her folds of her sleeve and slid it across the table to her sister, with whom the count had forbidden her to have any private contact. She winked, and we knew that she’d keep us in hot cocoa and smuggled trinkets through the spring, as long as we kept up the distractions.