The thing was, he loved Penguins, or, more properly, the order Sphenisciformes, of the family Spheniscidae. He liked the way they moved. He enjoyed their stalwart manner, their resolute spirit and their comical personalities. He had never seen a live penguin, but was an authority on 14 of the 17 known species. His hope was to someday incorporate the knowledge needed to become expert on all 17 species. He had never been to a zoo or even a farm; animals scared the piss out of him.
From the age of ten he had collected butterflies, he had no fear of them. But his collection of Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus Fabricius, had mysteriously disappeared eleven years ago, about a year after he married. For a while he studied Astronomy, but lost interest after the scientific community went gaga over Black Matter, a concept he didn’t understand and believed was flawed.
He became a fervent devotee of penguins ten years ago while watching a National Geographic Special about Antarctic penguins, or more properly, Aptenodytes forsteri. He admired their parental instincts. The mother, he learned, will walk the frozen tundra over forty miles to lay her egg. She will stand there with the egg between her legs for several weeks. The father, after feeding in the open ocean, will walk the same forty miles, find his mate concealed in a mass of thousands of other penguins, and regurgitate the food in his stomach to feed her. She will transfer the egg to his legs and walk back to the open ocean. The father will incubate the egg until born and when it’s strong enough, help the infant to the ocean. This loving parental behavior fascinated him.
His wife, Patricia (never Pat or Patty) did not understand her husbands’ fondness for penguins. She had hoped that after the butterflies had been taken care of he would turn his attention to her, but penguins somehow got in the way. In fact, over the years she had learned to cringe at the word penguin. But he made a good living as an actuary for Prudential Insurance and Patty lived well. She enjoyed white wine and dancing.
He didn’t dance.
On Saturday nights he would be at his computer discussing the feeding habits of Cape of South Africa Penguins or, more properly, Spheniscus demersus. Pat, (who was a very tall and an attractive blonde with large breasts) would say she was going to visit her sister, but she would always end up at Harridan’s Pub. She seldom got home before five in the morning, but he didn’t mind, it gave him more time to associate with his friends around the world, discussing the 32 species of penguins that have vanished from the face of the earth.
They had one child, Norman, he was nine, and the kids at school called him Norman Nerd. Like his father he wore wire-rim glasses and his head always tilted down. His mother loved him; he minimized her. His father seldom noticed he existed; he loved his father. Norman had just started the study of Procellariiformes, (the albatrosses, shearwaters, and petrels). Birds, birds, birds.
“Why can’t you pay a little attention to me?” She asked one Saturday night. “What’s so damned interesting about penguins anyway! It’s always something with you- butterflies, or quasars, or stupid-ass Spendiscus.”
“That’s Speniscus.” He corrected.
“Christ sakes, you should have married one of the slimy basterds!”
Her remark did not strike him as odd or mean spirited. It was however a situation he had never contemplated before. For an instant he pictured himself facing a brisk north wind, hanging onto a piece of floating ice, struggling in the middle of the great white, protecting his essence. He held Norman between his large feet and then … Remembering where he was, he meekly said, “Oh, they’re not slimy. On the contrary they dry very quickly and their interior feathers almost never get wet.”
“I should have you put away, you’re not in your right mind in the bed.”
“You mean in the head.”
“Both places you dimwit! You-you-you, prickly little man.” She swatted a fly.
“You should probably go visit your sister,” he said wearily.
It was the 14th of June, a temporal Saturday, mating season for Pygoscelis antarctica, and molting season for Petrels. He heard the door slam behind her. He walked into the den and turned on the computer.
He had several e-mails; Doctor Jockus needed information on incubation figures for Spheniscidae. But in the middle of thirty-six e-mails, she wrote, “I am going to be in Columbus June 21st, would like to meet you? Call me at 672-555-1222. Peggy.”
Peggy sent him a fuzzy picture of herself a month ago; he had been communicating with her for several months. Her doctorate was in Botany, and her focal interest was the seldom seen Queen Penguin, or Adélie Pygoscelis Adeliae, she also enjoyed playing the Saxophone.
He phoned right away. She was happy he called, but in a very nervous tone she said she had to explain about her unique appearance. She did not want to meet him for the first time only to have him become appalled at the sight of her. She explained in a trembling voice that she was of very small stature.
“I am only four feet, two inches tall,” she said, as she held her breath.
“Then,” he paused, “then you are a dwarf. Did you know,” he offered after another pause, “that King penguins or Aptenodytes patagonicus, can grow to be over four feet as well? I’m just over six feet myself.”
“But I’m afraid there is more,” she sighed. “You see, I also have a deficiency in pigmentation”.
“You mean you are albino?”
“Yes,” she said quietly.
“Then you would be a white-dwarf,” he said, his astronomy coming back to him in form.
“I will meet you at Harridan’s Pub around nine, if that’s okay. We can beat the ten o’clock rush.” His pulse raced, other than Rockhopper, Eudyptes chrysocome; he seldom had been so excited. His mind whirled. What would she be like? Anyone who is interested in Rockhopper must be very intelligent. Was she married? So many questions. He would find the answers after lavishing her with a bouquet of yellow roses, like the yellow feathers of Eudyptes schlegeli.
He arrived at 8:50; she was already there.
She had dyed her hair black, and wore a white turtleneck sweater. The black suite she was wearing fit tightly around her oval frame. Her stubby arms rested inside each jacket pocket, giving the appearance that the suit encased her complete torso. Her face was round and she wore black glasses. He noticed as she stood up from the booth that she was a bit duck-footed. Not that it mattered. He was infatuated with her beauty; she looked like something from a dream come true, but a dream for only him.
They embraced, her breast touched his groin, and the DJ played ‘Unchained Melodies’. There is a syncopated moment in all lives that is truly prodigal; such was the moment for these two. They held each other for three minutes and sixteen seconds, until the Righteous Brothers finished their bravo.
He said simply, “I love you.” They held hands in the back booth, and talked about life, about love, about penguins.
She entered, brash and bold. The regulars sang the chorus, ‘Patricia’! And all eyes held her majesty. All eyes except the love nest in the back booth. They only dreamed into each other’s eyes.
Patricia moved from table to table, taking the occasional pinch that went with the territory. She moved to the dance floor after a couple of drinks and tried to contort her old body into new rhythms. It you were under 30, it was a sad sight. If you were over 35, you waited for the next dance with her. After several more drinks she moved her edgy body into a slower, rounding motion. She bent over exposing her rather large ass (defined by sealskin pants) to her dancing partner, who readily and on queue moved his masculinity toward her ample crouch; Flirtatious,Hormysextatinous. The effect was a sex show that always grew a crowd. The louder the music the more exacting the movement. Patricia, Pat, or Patty felt the human juices flow.
He felt the coolness in Peggy’s touch. It was like a shower of mint. Peggy felt the urges of womanhood, and closed her eyes not believing that after all these years it was finally happening.
Pat slow danced to the ilk of James Taylor, her partner moved his hips and groin toward her in a steady gait. He whispered in a jovial tone, “Have you seen the midget up there in the back?”
“A midget!” She exclaimed, “oh let me see the precious little person.”
Her sight was grainy and in poor focus, but she could see the stature of the little darling with the jet-black hair, through the reflections of the strobe lights. “Come dance with me, come dance, all you little people,” she shouted. They did not move, but only held hands against the angry music.
She approached, on wobbled legs. Looking only at Peggy she said, “Dance with us honey, we are all the same, you and me, let’s dance, let’s dance, let’s dance before the bastard penguins get us all.”
“Good evening Patricia.” His tone was even and measured.
“You! What in the Christ Hell are you doing here?” She attempted to balance on the other unbalanced foot.
“May I introduce Dr. Peggy Fishammer.”
“You must certainly may.” The reality that was the dream, then became the dream that was reality. She wobbled backwards.
“Peggy, this is my wife Patricia. May God save the Queen.”
“Listen,” she said, as her heart broke slowly with James Taylor playing in the background. “I’m a one woman man, you little home wrecker. I will kick your ass clean across the parking lot, if you mess with him, you crumpled sack of potatoes.”
Peggy rose in defiance; her small frame shifted for battle, she pointed two angry fingers toward the Mrs. “Then I’ll freeze you like a whitefish.”
And with that Patricia, Patty, Pat, turned into a sheet of blue ice.
The lovers walked out of Harridans without so much a word.
Like in all of my stories there is a moral somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. Perhaps it’s a biblical lesson, ‘He who would trouble his own house, shall inherit the wind’. Or perhaps the truth of Milton, or the simplicity of the 70’s mantra, ‘Love the one you’re with’.
© 2003 Mike InglesMike Ingles is a freelance writer living in Ohio. He has a degree in American Literature from Franklin University, Columbus, Ohio.