By Vita Forest
In which Christabel is alerted to a passing school of Parmesan cheese.
Christabel opened her eyes, suddenly alert. If she was not so suddenly distracted, she may have pondered that it was indeed strange that it was her eyes that reacted to the stimulus, when it was her sense of smell that had been awakened. Her nostrils prickled. Yes, there could be no doubt. The People Below were eating cheese. The sharp, tangy aroma drifted up to the galleon on the eddies from the deep, spiralling up past the domain of the whales, leaping up from the very surface of the water and through the open window of Christabel’s cabin.
She leapt from her slumber (an afternoon siesta – these late spring days could be so draining) and spun around in order to locate her Cheese Hunting Equipment. An operation of this sort demanded nerves of steel, the right tools (kept near at hand and in good working order) and a skill honed over years.
Luckily Christabel possessed all three. For though she verged on the jittery, there was nothing like the promise of Parmesan to sharpen her resolve. As luck would have it, Christabel had, that very morning, found a delicate length of black cotton floating by the good ship Possession. She had fished it out of the water with her butterfly net, attached it with a sturdy knot to her existing fishing line, and added a sharp hook made from a silver pin to its end. All this before the heat and humidity sent her scurrying below deck with a wet hankerchief draped over her face.
Now she tiptoed up the stairs carrying her periscope and fishing line. She peered down into the depths of The Tabletop. They were still eating, The Three. When there was three, there was more chance of mess, more chance of pebbles of Parmesan to fly from the pasta, from a travelling fork, from a moist morsel of bolognaise sauce. The conditions were perfect, she just had to bide her time and hope that the table was not cleared too quickly (or too thoroughly).
The meal progressed slowly, with the garbled sounds of speech rising upward, causing the ship to rock slightly and spin on its anchor in the ceiling. Christabel was forced to move from the port to the starboard side, but she quickly set up her watch again. She was not flustered, she would remain calm and patient. It would not do to fish too early or too late. Timing was everything.
As the minutes passed, she tuned her ears to the slightest flick!the slightest pat! which signalled a wayward crumb of cheese on The Tablecloth. She located three. Would there be time to get them all? Was it better to concentrate on one? Different scenarios and options scurried about her mind – but patience, patience! she reminded herself.
At last the opportunity came, one of the people left for The Kitchen carrying her plate, one left for The Bathroom and the other one left to answer a phone. There were two plates left abandoned, simply wallowing in cheese! Christabel swung the fishing line over the edge of the ship and watched the line unravel, watched the silver hook, spin lower and lower, until…
It hit the plate with a tiny Ping!
She stopped. Would the whales be alerted? She had to work quickly. She worked the hook around and around, drawing circles over and over again and catching up a bounty of cheese as she did so.
There were footsteps – she must hurry!
With all her might, Christabel heaved and heaved her catch up off the plate, up off the ocean floor, up through The Deep, through the currents, through the shallows, until it burst out into the air and over the side of the ship.
She sat on the deck of the boat for a moment to catch her breath.
There would be feasting tonight…