Field Notes, Installment VI
The breakfast purloined from a nearby orchard was nearly gone. Another day ran before the girl on the road by which she sat with her legs stretched out before her. After a moment’s consideration, the girl decided that the sky seemed a satisfactory sort of blue and that it was going to be a good day.
After a second apple had gone the way of its predecessor (and, indeed, the way of all good apples), the girl started to reach for her thermos only to have a glint of silver pull her eye back to the lid laying in the grass. There, sloppily lapping up every bit of tea it could find, was a peculiar snail-ish creature: ‘ish’ because snails do not–in general–wear spiked caps on their head, nor do they have paddy, little toes like frogs. When every little, last drop of tea on the lid had been finished, the creature fixed the girl with a condescending expression that reminded her (most unpleasantly) of the headmistress whose school she had fled some months prior.
After pouring more tea for the creature, the girl took out her sketch pad and set to work.
She did not at first glance realize that the “bib” down its front was from the snail’s drooling. As she refilled the lid again and again, however, she soon realized that a good portion of her morning’s tea was going down the creature’s front.
“I prefer,” said the creature in a frail but persnickety voice which only strengthened the likeness to the old headmistress, “I prefer – I say, are you listening, child?!”
“Yes! Yes!” returned the girl, surprised that a creature no bigger than her thumb could make her feel small.
“I was saying, I prefer Russian Caravan to this Lapsang Souchong stuff. More subtle, you know. This has no subtlety at all. Not in the slightest. You really don’t have any sugar?”
With a shake of her head, the girl inquired, “You drink a lot of tea?”
The creature gave the girl a withering look that made her feel like she was about to get a thousand lines.
“Dunsnægls live on tea, child. That’s spelled d-u-n-s-n-a-e-g-l. You’ll want to get that right at least,” offered the little pedant with a withering glance at its portrait.
As nothing about the creature seemed to equip it for brewing tea, the girl attributed the claim to hyperbole. Still, the longer she looked at the brown stripes down the creature’s front, the more she wondered if its claim to living on tea might not be true. It certainly looked like it lived on–or rather, in–tea. In fact, it made her want to grab a rag and some baking soda and give the little snail a good scrubbing.
After its twelfth lid of tea, the dunsnægl lost interest in the girl and slulled* its way off. The girl threw her sketchbook and thermos into her satchel with a sigh. She looked up to the sky to let the sight of wide blue lift her heart. Still, she couldn’t help but with that she’d been able to work up the nerve to ask the creature why it chose to wear that cap of chainmail. That mystery was going to niggle.
*slull – v. to slide forward by a motion composed equally of slipping and pulling. A motion peculiar to dunsnægls which use both the contractions of their snail foot muscle and the forward pulling of their froggy feet.