The long, dark grass plains of the Grand Basin stretched away in the vast nature of an ancient sea. Mt Thirsty’s prominence over the landscape was challenged only by its own permanency – looming in the distance in every brute and critter’s nervous scan over territory for immediate danger like it wasn’t there. Mt Thirsty’s serpent tongue protruded with a regular dark jet of poisonous red bile and spit and fumes. And it was forever covered in thick stubborn cloud, concealing the fiery open jaw of a volcano.
Mt Thirsty hisses into the atmosphere day and night. Occasionally its radiant breath will change hue to a mustard-rainbow or orange-silver and gas-blue then back again. And sometimes the quiet growl of Mt Thirsty’s stomach, deep in the bowels of the earth ripples along underneath the flat plains of the Grand Basin.
It is said long before memories the wet season was angered. By who and what for is lost to the ages. The ancient sea usurped an echo of its former glory. The Grand Basin flooded to where Mt Thirsty’s steep jungle canopy came crashing to a halt on the open graduated slopes that ran seamlessly into the lowlands.
It’s late in the dry season and the thick green grass is now reduced to brittle clumps of golden white spines. And the ribbed network of waterways and lake has contracted to a few stagnant swamps, quagmires and the Bedlam Marshes.
The Tedious Giraffe’s loneliness is deep and quiet, like soft rain that lasts so long it stops registering a sound. It exists nonetheless. By midday the heat rouses most swamp toads and newts with thumping heads from a late night that already seems distant and irrelevant in waking moments. The Tedious Giraffe rises at dawn and spends her day avoiding the heat under the shade of Crab Claw trees – away from Bedlam Marshes and other animals.
The toads and newts spend the afternoon sunbathing on dirty, mud-baked rocks, or floating prone, star-shaped and motionless in boggy pools of water. By early evening they’re drunk and riotous again on swamp fumes, burbing and croaking loudly into the night. The Tedious Giraffe dreads this time of day most. The Longtongues and Koocaws homeward screeches overhead signal the end of day and she’s forced to the marshlands to drink.
The Tedious Giraffe never escapes the toads and newts cruel intent and malicious desire to disrepute her – their throaty taunts and jeers and righteous tones loudly blurble lurid and hurtful suggestions and insidious asides. And the cackling chorus of Ladylegs and Shovelbeaks, and trill of yellow Fox-eyed Flamingos and other water birds out in the shallow darkness of the marshes only compound her rejection.
None of them hated the Tedious Giraffe in their hearts. It was her gauche and weighted presence – it made their stomachs sink when she approached. She was so boring. Her monotonous stream of gruff critical bleating and slurps twisted their guts and coiled their blood into a state of acute reproach they couldn’t control. Her long, dowdy fringe grew level over her sight, casting her eyes in sullen shadows. She farted loudly and made no excuses, sang in the rain and only sung songs she knew perfectly.
Sometimes in the evening lecherous toads and randy newts with heads spinning on swamp gas become overwhelmed by a peculiar merriment. They pester the Tedious Giraffe and ingratiate her with compliments to solicit turns riding atop her crowned head. They knew between her pointed, furry ears rested a privileged view of the Grand Basin, born to the sole giraffe inhabiting the plains.
We all need to feel like we belong. It was not because of weakness that the Tedious Giraffe acquiesced one night and permitted the more raucous and wasted toads and newts to share her omnipotent view. They woke late the next day as usual with throbbing heads and gravel in their throats. When the Tedious Giraffe approached carrying a smile mercilessly affable and desperately convinced about her new acceptance, she was not prepared for the swamp dweller’s sudden reversal of affection. Their disdain was obvious and affronting like the thick, rancid stench of Bedlam Marshes at the end of the dry season. Woops and wallops rained – full of indecent accusations and bawdy insults. They called her a ‘sniferbug’ and ‘desert mole’. The toads and newts who took a ride on the Tedious Giraffe the night before were the most caustic and abusive. And they turned her away in tears.
She was the weird kid in class everyone loathed because an intangible awkward knot no one could place twisted horribly in the gut whenever she was around. So they teased and punished the Tedious Giraffe.
The greatest participants in these circled attacks were the young, gawky, weak amphibians. The worst was Gamy, a small, fat newt. He was always regenerating a foot, or an arm, or part of tail severed in attacks by stronger, older males, who in turn teased him about the fact. And it is relief and thanks and fear that fuels bullied bullies.
Mother Heron is the only one who doesn’t participate. She stands clear of the other flocks, proud and sophisticated, on the muddy banks. Her elegant, long beak holds perpendicular to the sky. And her white and grey plumage, dulled by the hot summer, still remains pristine in the dry and dusty winds. What some disregard as arrogance is a deep worldliness carried in such light deportment. She is a migratory bird. Her life-mate has never been spotted. And no one has ever heard Mother Heron mention him. Her soft, penetrating eyes often gaze out beyond the Grand Basin, to the horizon as if she is waiting for something lost to turn up.
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