Her Perplexed Words
Ryan Everett Felton
After a long day at the library, sweet old Ms. Goodson was somewhat dismayed to find her front door obstructed by a stray sphinx, curled up and napping on her welcome mat.
“Oh, wonderful,” she said. Hitching her purse up her shoulder, she lifted a dainty foot and prodded at the creature’s feline torso. “Go on, now,” she said. “Shoo, shoo!”
The sleeping beast purred and rolled over, using one feathered wing to cover its humanoid face. With a wide padded paw it batted at Ms. Goodson’s loafer half-heartedly.
“Go on, get,” said the librarian. There was a bottle of wine and a Frasier DVD box set waiting for her inside.
The sphinx gave a low, wimpy growl and pushed itself up, arching its back and stretching its wings. Its scaly green tail swished and swayed like a hypnotist’s pendulum. Ms. Goodson folded her arms and frowned, reaching for a broom propped up beneath the mail slot affixed to the wall.
She swatted at the sphinx with it. “Shoo!” she said. “Dat, dat, dat!”
The creature yawned and swiped at the broom with its massive claw, slicing it in half. It clattered to the porch concrete and smiled up at her.
“Hello,” it said. “You’re Bonnie Goodson, aren’t you?”
Ms. Goodson sniffed. “I don’t see how that’s any business of yours,” she said. “Now out of my way. I don’t have any food for you.”
“Mmm,” said the sphinx, batting its lady-like lashes, licking its lips. “I’m afraid that’s not how this works, you dear mortal lady. I’ll step aside, let you in. Naturally. But first you must answer a riddle.”
The woman sighed. “A riddle.”
“Yes.” The creature nodded, its sinewy muscles rippling beneath the fair hair on its neck. “Just a little riddle. Get it right and I grant you passage.”
Ms. Goodson’s left arm gave an involuntary jerk. “What if I get it wrong?” she asked.
“Then I eat you, of course,” said the sphinx. “Are you ready?”
She sighed. Forefinger and thumb fiddling with her pearl necklace, she said, “I suppose.” She dropped her house key back into her purse, where it clattered with her makeup compact and a packet of Freedent. “Well? Out with it.”
The thing straightened its posture and puffed out its ample bosom. After a fashion it contorted its face in a way that reminded Ms. Goodson of the way her niece looked just before singing a solo in the church choir. Then it purred again and locked eyes with her. It bared pointed teeth and said:
“You weren’t mine, but you are now;
“Though not for long! You made a vow.
“I’ll use you to achieve my end,
“But never take you from a friend.
“What are you?”
Ms. Goodson, she was no dullard. One does not work forty years in the stacks without reading through a book or two thousand. Already in her head the gears were turning, making connections and analyzing syntax. She sat on the bench where she drank her morning coffee on nicer mornings and thought.
The sphinx bathed itself, licking at its paws and running them through its long flowing locks.
“I think I know,” Ms. Goodson said at last. “I’ll take a stab, but gosh, I hope you don’t eat me.”
The sphinx shrugged. “The deal is the deal, ma’am.”
“I wasn’t yours, but I am now,” Ms. Goodson said, sucking on her bottom lip between words. “You’ll use me to achieve your end but never take me from a friend.” Her painted fingernails tapped at her chin. She breathed in, closed her eyes.
“I’m a loan,” she said.
She looked at the sphinx. It smiled at her, white fangs glistening.
“I’m alone,” Ms. Goodson said.
“Yes,” the sphinx said, “that’s exactly right.” With a singular graceful movement it coiled its legs and back and leapt over all four steps to Ms. Goodson’s porch. Without a word it began to slink away toward the bushes that separated the librarian’s yard from her awful neighbors’.
“Wait,” Ms. Goodson said. “Where are you going?”
“Well,” said the sphinx, looking over its winged shoulder. The serpentine tail furled and unfurled like a question mark being written. “You’ve fulfilled the prophecy. Nothing left to do but kill myself, I shouldn’t wonder. Perhaps I’ll throw myself from a precipice. That seems appropriate.”
Ms. Goodson’s toe nudged at the severed brush head that had once belonged to her broom. It scraped against the crackled concrete. “You,” she said, “you wouldn’t like a saucer of milk before you go?” She tugged on an ear lobe. “Or a rack of lamb? I’ve just been to the butcher’s.”
“No,” the sphinx said. “If it’s all the same I’d better get down to it.” It disappeared into the bushes and did not come out the other side – not that Ms. Goodson could tell.
She stayed on the bench for an hour. Once the sun was more or less down, she figured nothing else was going to keep her from going inside. From her television and stale popcorn.
In she went. In the little basket she kept under the mail drop, there was no evidence of any post having been delivered. Not even a coupon booklet.
“Well,” she said aloud, “that figures.”