My perch in the tree-house creaked. I sat heavily on my feeble rump, feeling in every breath the pangs of a bereaved man.

“Old Hag knows the cause of your melancholy,” said Old Hag, who, turning around I noticed, was seated legs folded, roughly two feet off the floor in thin ether. “But let me hear it from the ass’s mouth.”

Downing the last remnant of the second quart of lager for the evening, I groaned, “Well, I’m feeling the pangs of a bereaved man, who’s just heard of the demise of the prettiest cat he knew.”

“Why, then, are you binging?” she asked.

“For it is my sole balm in the hour of pain,” I replied.

“Balderdash!” she thundered, and with this unequivocal pronouncement, stretched forth her arm and muttering something under her breath, at once produced a palmtop from nothingness. Presently, this impressive act of wizardry got better when she went on to bring up the visual exhibited above and held it to my face.

Reeling under the effects of my stupor, I saw about a tiger and a half with its eyes conspicuous by their absence. Then the intoxication of roughly half the consumed alcohol evaporated as the picture of the genial tiger cub radiated like the sun in that pitch void of light and I recognised it as one I had taken more than a year before.

“What about this?” queried I.

“How do you read the expression?” asked Old Hag.

“Why, as a grimace!” said I.

“Try again, this time using some imagination,” she replied peremptorily.

“Urm, let’s see…’Hee hee hee, hier comz mine next victim. Ai kan haz zis zing for lunch!’” I contrived.

Old Hag waited on me, expecting me to say something more.

“Ha ha ha, that’s a nice one, innit?” I ventured.

Raising her eyebrows infinitesimally, she beamed a knowing smile, as though saying, “There!”

There was silence for a few moments.

“Mirth is the best medicine, eh?” I asked finally, the sound of my speech cutting through the dry night like a raindrop.

“Don’t know about that,” she said. “But it sure is the best way to preclude the need for a balm.”


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