I’ve been wanting to post this for a while, but the illustrated and bound version was a present for the Best Beloved, and so it had to wait. It is called “The Neither-Here-Nor-Theres, or, Why Flamingos Are Pink,” written most ‘specially for L. S., by Geoffrey Cubbage, with illustrations by T. N. Dl., and apologies to Mr. Kipling. It was silly and fun, and the illustrations really make it, but I unfortunately don’t have a scanner. Perhaps some day.
Long ago, in the most high and Biblical times, when the Man of the Garden had charge of naming Things, there were some which he did very well indeed on, and others which he did not:
“Parrot,” he would say (for example), “I shall henceforth call you Parrot.”
And the Parrot replied “Parrot! Parrot!” And so that was all right, or,
“Whale,” he might suggest, “I believe I shall call you Whale.” And the Whale said nothing at all, which in those days passed for agreement, and so that was all right, O Best Beloved.
But, “Water-Pig,” said the Man one day, “Your name shall now be Water-Pig, and your friend there on the rock may be Mud-Lizard, and the fellow sunning himself is Land-Duck, and I think that’s more than enough work for one day.” And he wandered off, leaving three most highly-discontented creatures in their Edenic pond (which the other animals left to them, since they were odd, Neither-Here-Nor-There sorts of Things that lounged about the Garden in an in-betweening kind of way, and no one wanted it to rub off on them).
“Wos that ‘im, then?” asked the Thing that the Man had called Land-Duck, snapping his bill most snapsomely, clak-clak-clak. “Tall fellow, doesn’t know a Platypus when he sees one?”
“And you put your best flippers on today too,” said the Salamander (which the Man had called Mud-Lizard), in terms of deepest aggravation. “Hasn’t he already got a Mud-Lizard or four?” And she slapped her tail in the mud, slip-slip-slip.
“I expect he shall change them soon, if he has,” said the Capybara with unruffled calm. (Capybara always spoke with unruffled calm.) “He doesn’t seem terribly consistent.”
“Consistent enough for us,” aggrieved the Salamander, slip-slip-slip. “We shall all be Water-This and Land-That soon enough, and hasn’t he already got a Ground-Pig and a Guinea-Pig and a Pot-Bellied-Pig and all other manner without going and saddling you with ‘Water-Pig’ besides?” (Salamander was very polite, and always thought of her friends before herself.)
“Something ought to be done,” agreed the Platypus, clak-clak-clak. “Take his mind off all us so’s we can get back to in-betweening like we knows best.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said the Capybara with unruffled calm, “And yet it had better not be one of us that does it, or the High-and-Mighty might just sit up and take notice of those little Neither-Here-Nor-There improvements which we are all so terribly fond of.” And by this he meant the sorts of in-betweening things that they all did so well, and which the other animals did not want to get mixed up in, being of a more fixed and unchanging nature themselves. “I dare say, just for example, that there’s more venom in those charming spines of yours, O Platypus, than an Investigatory Angel might deem appropriate for Garden life, and I know those nictitating membranes weren’t in the original plans, O Amphibious Amigo of mine.”
And they both looked suspiciously at Capybara and wondered exactly what he had changed in his in-betweening way, but the Capybara remained inscrutable and unruffled. “There is a new bird in Paradise,” he said instead, “in which I am becoming increasingly interested, and which I think might be of use to us in this matter, if you will let me show her to you.” And so they made their in-betweening sort of way through the rivers and lakes of Paradise with very little trouble at all, because no one wanted to be seen with the Neither-Here-Nor-There sorts.
In the reeds in the mud in a bay in the thickest, deepest, most mangrovey swamp in the Garden, Capybara stopped and pointed to a wading bird that the Man had not yet thought to name Wading-Bird.
“That bird there,” said Capybara with unruffled calm, “with the very odd neck and the habit of changing herself all manner of colors besides white (which I don’t believe was in the design at all) is called the Flamingo, and I think she must be a Neither-Here-Nor-There sort of Thing like us, because the other animals all leave her alone.”
“Is she supposed to walk like that?” asked the Salamander, not unkindly, and the Platypus said,
“I think her feet weren’t made quite right,” (which was something, coming from a Platypus).
But the feet did not seem to bother the Flamingo, who was busy changing the colors of her feathers in an abstract sort of way, and investigating the mangrovey plants with an interest that the Salamander (who hid in them) and the Platypus (who swam under them) and even the Capybara (who ate them) found intense. She had a most twistsome, blissome way of moving her neck about, and a very pretty covering of feathers indeed that never stopped changing every color but white, and Capybara looked very pleased with his find.
“Now if you will remember,” he said with unruffled calm, “there is a tree of sorts in the middle of the Garden with a most peculiar fruit, which could become all manner of distraction for the Man if someone were to point his attention that way. And I happen to know that yonder bird will wax most ‘specially eloquent on the subject of plants and things, and I also know that the High-and-Mighty has made a Woman for the Man, and I also know that the Woman is already sick of the Man, and would be glad of someone else to talk to, if you see where all these knowings are leading us.” This is how Capybara loved to talk.
“A trap of temptation,” the Salamander agreed eagerly,
“but the bird’ll take the fall,” chuckled the Platypus, to which the Capybara responded with unruffled calm:
“O – we shall blame it on the Snake, who so closely resembles yonder bird’s twistsome, blissome neck. She seems so awfully Neither-Here-Nor-There that it would be a shame to abandon her to the High-and-Mighty in His displeasure.”
And that is just exactly how they presented things to the Flamingo, who had no particular desire to be known as “Funny-Neck Wading-Bird” for the rest of her life, and who was extremely interested in the tree and the fruit and all manner of questions of pollen and flowers and heat days, which the Neither-Here-Nor-Theres knew nothing of, but thought that the Woman might like to hear about. And the Capybara even managed to suggest that the Flamingo keep the better part of her color-changing body hidden, and perhaps make the parts that did show a pleasant, soothing, leafy green, all without once saying the word “Snake,” which impressed the others most especially.
And a little time after that, there was a great deal of thunder and to-do, and word got ’round of a Special Investigatory Committee being formed, to which the Platypus responded that he’d perhaps let the trick of venom-spines slip to a few too many of his friends, and that he’d better hightail it to Australia and lay low for a while, and the Salamander slipped away to parts unknown herself, being a bit too shy of public speaking to deal with any sort of Committee at all, and the Capybara (being the only one of the Neither-Here-Nor-Theres left) invited the Flamingo with unruffled calm to join him in a bit of a snack before they, too, examined the possibilities beyond the Garden.
They were not very many bites into the Capybara’s snack at all when the Flamingo, who had been most demurely white for the benefit of any Investigatory Angels that happened to pass by, began to crane her twistsome, blissome neck in a most nervous manner, and to blush a most shocking pink at the roots of her feathers.
“Flamingo,” said the Capybara with unruffled calm, “you are looking a little flushed.”
“Cappy,” said the Flamingo (who had a great fondness for nicknames), “we’re naked.”
“That is an inevitable consequence of life, at one point or another,” said the Capybara (who had a habit of putting everything in his mouth, and who had eaten the Fruit of the Tree of the Garden nearly as soon as there was a Tree of the Garden). “I find that if you don’t let on, most everyone around you will simply go about their business and perhaps feel a little overdressed. Fussing about it hasn’t seemed to do them any good” (and by that he meant the Woman and the Man).
“I do not think this snack agrees with me at all,” said the Flamingo with dignity, and she nudged the fallen Fruit away with her long, black beak, but of course it was too late. And from that day to this (in which Salamanders peer out from under rocks with strangely-covered eyes, and in which nearly everything in Australia has poisonous spines, which we may ‘spect the Platypus taught them), Flamingos have always known that they are naked, and they blush a bright pink beneath their white feathers any time you might look at them (O Best Beloved), which the Capybara with his unruffled calm finds very becoming indeed.