Olive Oil from an Olive Tree
"Everyone knows that Vel Partunu is the voice behind that quack oracle," Ooma was explaining factually. "He has the oracle make occasional seditious remarks to lend it an air of authenticity. In many ways, he is worse than the hierophant, my uncle."
"Was he also sometimes Larth?" inquired Polly quietly.
As usual Ooma ignored the presence of the, for her, overgreen youth — no Echo she to his Narcissus — and went on to lay bare as many mysteries of the hated priesthood as she could recall from her rather conventional childhood. She had, it seems, been raised as a sacrificial virgin and was thus from an early age inured to having every fancy gratified instantly. When she was eleven, a priestess, in drunken œstrus, with attachments, had raped her with routine ruthlessness. "Truth to tell," concluded Apollodonis to himself, "it is ever the pure who are fondled to the vexing point!" Thus adding yet another proverb to his bourgeoning file. However, Ooma's passions, now awakened, had driven her to such activity among the boys in the chorus, that her reputation soon made any public claim to virtue improbable. Thereafter, she was left to her own education.
... your horse will have a number painted on his rump.
"But who or what was your mother?" wondered Dr. Poxus, uselessly pondering the erotic nature of orphans.
"Oh, mother was in the enemy camp," defined Ooma, "She truly believed that a good intention is a respectable effort & this contemptible bourgeois notion allowed her to yield to every temptation from so- called conscientious objection to female circumcision all the way down to blatant frigidity."
"If she was so wicked, why did she want you to become a sacrificial virgin?" asked Dr. Belchior, distractedly examining the dreary novelty of his heat rash.
"One day mother, still a raw bride, was worshiping at the family hearth when she saw an apparition of a gigantic phallos. This lucky sign induced her to vow that her first daughter would be given to the temple. Consequently, there was no hesitation about my arrival or departure."
"That seems redeeming of her," nodded Polly.
"On the contrary! She had neither social sense nor morals. She was nothing but a selfish twit, so when I came to power I had her hair and fingernails removed."
"And quite righteously, too," interrupted Polly in a rasping, peevish tone, "Oh, this heat! I simply must rest & pray. Down Mahomet!" And the caravan readily followed suit, although the last signpost had told them they were miles from the next oasis.
Dr. Belchior, with canny foresight, had brought along a large beach umbrella, an innovation which at that time had not yet quite caught on in the Near East. This umbrella was gaily striped in the mystical hues of the seven planets: buff, puce, dun, ecru, beige, taupe and olive drab. Under this opportune shelter the party huddled for an eager water break. Even the camels were thirsty.
But lo! In their hasty departure, each had assumed that one of the others would surely have attended to the more obvious necessities. Ooma, by sheer fluke, had packed a couple bottles of the clotted, saccharine date wine, but a few drops of that turgid sludge left them all the more miserable.
"Dr. Belchior," suggested Ooma, "Afer all, you are a magus. Why don't you perform a miracle?"
"God bless a miracle," intoned Polly, thoroughly parched.
With cornucopious ledgerdemain and abracadabran flourish, Dr. Belchior tried the only miracle he knew, but was unprosperously dehydrated. He tried for several minutes, but the fact that everyone was watching inhibited him from even getting started. If only he could run a little water from a nearby faucet! After a lethal interval, during which everyone tried glumly to quench his thirst on dry tea-leaves cum saliva, he gave up & rebuttoned his tunic.
It is a rather unusually warm summer," observed Dr. oxus oddly.
"Summer? You prehistoric coprolith!" snapped Belchior. There were times when Dr. Poxus' senility drove him to open fantasies of euthanasy.
"No, grandfather," laughed Ooma, petting his antic claws, "This is the desert. It's always hot here. We are going to have to drink camel's urine like the Bedouins. Won't that be different?"
"Dessert? Dessert?" babbled the heat-addled lunatic, "Camel's urine? Is that the name of a new ice?"
"There, there, dear," she blotted out the beads of perspiration from his brow with nursely kisses.
Retching in disgust, Apollodonis returned to his ruminations.
Then they all listened for a while to "The Voice of Experience":
Hipp: Dost know the three ideals, the Good, the Beautiful, and the True?
Phos: Forms preexist as ideals.
Hipp: Brilliant, Phosphorus, but irony apart, what do you think made them?
Phos: Oh, who knoweth? Some god or other, I suppose.
Hipp: Or other? What imagination! Next I suppose you will be into making predictions such as that in future times men will shave their heads as we now do our legs and that women will keep the Sabbath?
Phos: Bah! Those are as nothing. In those days, every man's house will tower hundreds of stories higher than Olympus. Unicorns be as common as carrion. Women will walk about in public wearing no clothing whatever. Hourglasses will turn themselves over and men will gain riches as easily as lightning now impregnates a barren cow!
Hipp: By the Egg of Creation, what vistas! Anyway, the Good was invented by Vulcan, the True by Priapus and the Beautiful by Dionysus. I saw this in a dream.
Phos: Wait! A thought of my own struggles to be born like Europa from the brow of Xerxes — (Europa being the fattest goddess I know).
Hipp: Shall I play midwife & apart the halves of your head?
Phos: Now I have it. What thinkest thou of morality?
Hipp: Is this your Europa?
Phos: No. I was not thinking of what the Great Bull did with her.
Hipp: I should think not. That isn't morality. Morality is refraining from adding lead to the discus-thrower's discus. Or being sure to say a kind word to your grandmother when you put her out in the wilderness. And remembering to come back next spring for her bracelets — they call that the virtue of prudence.
Phos: Solitude during pestilence & fasting during famine are also good. And of course obeisance to the aristocracy is a necessary virtue. But I seem now to have lost the point .
Hipp: Was it a question in Euclid? A difficult verb in the aorist mood? An confrontation in Dianetics? The search for the perfect purge?
Phos: EUREKA! — by the way, Hippomenes my dilatory pupil, every philosopher should get in the habit of saying "eureka" at least once a day — it was about Logic itself! They are saying, these young sophists, that logic is impossible unless we define our terms. They speak also of the meaning of meaning.
Hipp: Very wise. Thou art enlightened, Phosphorus.
Phos: Rubbish! To mean is to mean. Ragweed is ragweed is ragweed.
Hipp: Then what to do you propose to do? Thou knowest that if required to define thy terms, pretense will be unveiled and thou wilt be like unto a dead duck. We had best examine our words carefully.
Phos: Pooh! Next you'll be saying we should think in numerals like that ass, Pythagoras!
Hipp: Fantastic fellow!
Phos: Fantastic? The Island of Samos should be H-bombed (a word I picked up in a recent vision. I have no idea what it means, but it sounds killing!). Curse the day it ever broke off from Atlantis! Then he would not have been born. For soon everything will be numbers. Your house will have a number, your horse will have a number painted on his rump. Who knows where it will end?
Hipp: Still, they say Pythagoras was devout and pious.
Phos: Too pious to my mind. Bad enough being a vegetarian, but he must make even beans holy — because, no doubt they are the unmuted voice of the Plebeans.
Hipp: It would be interesting to know what the numbers all mean. But I can barely do sums even with the help of an abacus and as for for long division — I could not even begin to divide CCMXV by MXIII. Hast had any good visions lately?
Phos: Let me see. Oh, yes, that Judaic sky god we were talking about. It seems there is more to the story. He got himself stuck in a tree or something like that, and by the time they had got him down and pulled out the thorns from his head, poor Pluto had been saddled with his spirit!
Hipp: Rather mortal for a god, what?
Phos: Yes, so I thought. But it seems he revived and escaped somehow from the Underworld. Within a day or two he was back up in the sky flying around faster than ever. Montgolfier will be less gifted.
Hipp: And then?
Phos: Why then he flew quite away. Not to return before one million years have elapsed.
Hipp: Thanks be to Olympus! At least we shan't be bothered with him any longer.
Phos: Not quite. They are building temples in his name — in the shape of trees, or is it "tees?"
Hipp: Do they still say, "Christ flies?"
Phos: No. They've shortened it now to "X flies."
Hipp: How algebraic. Any other visions?
* * * * * *
All of this seemed today, drier than ever. Eventually, it was decided that to postpone terminal desiccation, they would resort to the natural well of conversation, which among the educated and cultivated ever springs moist and refreshing to the lips. First Princess Ooma regaled them with the story of the original chestnut, which was received with minimal amusement. Then Dr. Belchior told them of a dinner he had once attended at the austere and chaste Empress Xanthippe Clytemnestra's villa where he chanced to notice two peppercorns roll off the Empress Dowager's knife and slide down into the cleft of her breasts. This droll event caused him to burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter and when the Empress insisted that she must know what had driven him to such abandon he was at a loss to explain it. Finally, in heroic recklessness he made up the excuse that he had just seen something amusing in the garden. When the company turned solemnly to gaze out the window, what should their amazement behold but an elephant from the Empress's menagerie buggering a musk ox.
"But how do you know he was buggering her?" asked Polly, "I mean maybe..."
"Because the musk ox was bawling indecently," frowned Belchior. "But still, but purity is fashionable yet, as a ...as a..."
"As a pork pie in the Hall of Pigs!" Ooma finised for him. "Anyway, I've heard that tale a thousand times and the animals in the tableau are more enormous each time. At first it was simply two small dogs..."
In this way they passed several diverting hours out of the worst of the sun & Dr. Belchior had just concluded saying that after they had found Icarus and delivered their message, they should all set out for some clammier climate, a land where summer was winter, a happier shore of snow and sleet. Suddenly they were aware of a buzzing sound, or actually something more like a roar, that grew progressively louder and louder.
"Look!" cried Apollodonis, gazing at the duned horizon. In the distance there could be seen a creeping shadow, undulating and writhing as if alive. "What a peculiar phenomenon. Can it be one of those mirages I've read about? Or perhaps an army of ants?" Princess Ooma squinted into the far reaches.
"It's a cloud of locusts!" she announced with grim authority. "Down on your knees, everyone, and REPENT!" cried Polly, throwing himself heroically amidst the camels, "It's the end of the world!"
But as the sound drew nearer it could be seen that the bodies composing the cloud were much too large for locusts. It was a crowd of people! As they came close enough to be seen more distinctly, the multitudes proved curiously feminine and strident. The horde was made up entirely of housewives, shoppers, transvestites, secretaries, and other ladies in their prime.
"I'll protect you," murmured Ooma to Dr. Poxus, bravely shielding him behind her and raising her chin chivalrously.
"At least we shall not die of thirst, after all," Belchior observed, as a number of gaily waving figures drew nigh. "Some of those wet-nurses seem amply provided with drink for all of us."
"Hail, sainted women!" cried Apollodonis as the multitudes descended,
"Whither are you bound?"
"Most of us are making a pilgrimage to the Sphinx to hear a lecture on the Oedipus Complex," announced a tall amazon who would appear to be the leader of the distaff army, "It is entitled somewhat esoterically «Olive from an Olive Tree»."
"A head-wizard once me," Dr. Poxus informed them without being asked, "That olive oil from an olive tree is a euphemism for incest. What times we live in!"
"Has anyone by chance something cool to drink?" pleaded Dr. Belchoir, rising to his feet. "See how even my poor camel is foaming at the mouth!"
At this a tempest of laughter spread over the women, as those nearby repeated to the women beyond earshot what the mage had said. Several of the ladies, however, did remember to offer a canteen to the thirsty. One ample goodwife even owned a samovar of potato-god nectar which she shared cozily with one and all.
"I don't see what's so funny about our dying of watermelancholy!" complained Ooma furiously at last. She destested the thought of these women seeing her ordinarily gorgeous lips all parched & swollen & unlipsticked. But when the ladies heard her words they fell once again into paraxysms of glee.
"I didn't catch the punch-line," smiled Dr. Poxus good-naturedly.
Finally the woman with the samovar took pity on them. "Don't you realize you are but a few yards away from the next oasis El Waw Tershed? It lies just over that dune behind you," she revealed, directing them to the hillock upon which they had been lounging under their beach umbrella.
Then the refugees apprised them that the gynecide had been worsening, after all. The tyrant, furious that his soldiers were slacking, had gone so far as to impose a quota on them, which had to be met under pain of castration. Vicarius' days were numbered.
Polly, because of his extreme beauty, became the natural cynosure and honeycomb among the emigrant women. They swarmed over him erotically and hysterically as if he were some celebrated athlete or gigolo — very nearly disrobing him in their quest for souvenirs. Ooma, to be sure, found all that display revolting and did her best to keep old Poxus, at least, out of sight. In this she succeeded more easily than she had expected.
NEXT: Chapter VI - Under the Shadow of the Iron Bird