I “beg your pardon, sir. You realy must move along now.”
Zak, startled by the voice, jerked his head up, rudely awakened after a long and peaceful sleep, at least after his nightmare.
But there, standing by the opening into the great log just next to him, was a most dignified-appearing gentlemale, seemingly en-dowed with the full raiment of possum aristocracy, including its burdensome airs.
“Hello,” said Zak. “You are a possum.”
“Please, sir, you must be going now. This is not a shelter for vagrants.”
“Who is it, Grumley?” came a raucous voice from far inside the log.
“Uh, what is your name, sir?” asked the imperious possum.
“A Mr. Zak to see you, sir,” said Grumley, glancing down at Zak with a leveling look and muttering, “Another sad prototype of the di-minutive Southern stratum, by my estimation.”
“What? Who?” barked the voice from the log again.
“A Mr. Zak to see you, sir.”
“I did not come to see anyone,” said Zak.
“Send him in! Send him in!”
“You shall see someone now, sir. Please enter.”
“Come in! Come in, my boy!” said the voice.
Zak was led through the dark interior of the log and into a chamber with a hole in the roof that allowed some of the early morning 68
light to enter. There sat a plump elderly possum with his likewise chubby wife and pretty young daughter to whom Zak felt an immediate strong, and strange, attraction.
“I dreamed it, my boy!” said the portly elder male of the house-hold. “And now you have come! There is something mysteriously wonderful about dreams, isn’t there, my boy? Indeed it is! And look at you. You will make a fine son-in-law. Won’t he, Mother dear?” He glanced over at his silent wife whose face bore no particular expression. “Sure you wil ,” he said. “Now tell us all about yourself. My, what a fine specimen you are. Now, what is your name again? What’s his name again, Grumley?”
“A Mr. Zak, sir.”
“And what a fine specimen he is! Very good, Grumley; yes, that’s it. Look, Mother! Now real y, dear boy, you must tell us about yourself. Where are you from?”
“All I can say,” said Zak, “is that I am a poet, and from what I have heard, I must be from the South.”
“For your capital sins, I am certain,” mumbled Grumley to himself while staring frigidly out beyond the end of his pink snout.
“What was that, Grumley? Thank you, Grumley, that will be all for now,” said the elder male.
“From the South!” shouted the elder. “I knew it! I knew it! It was in my dream! Of course, I dream of my daughter’s suitors coming from other regions, too, but never mind that. It all fits! It all fits quite wel , doesn’t it, Mother? Of course it does! Now tell me about yourself, about your family. You look like you come from a family of very high standing in the community. Look, Mother, what a fine specimen he is! I know of some didelphic clans in the South; now, which order are you from? Come, my boy, I am patiently waiting.”
“Didelphic clans? I don’t think I understand, sir,” said Zak.
“Real y now, dear boy,” said the elder, “we must get on with the business of your heritage if you are to be married to our Prissy. You must tel us about your family. Your parents! Your parents! Do carry on.”
“My parents are gray squirrels, I think, but since my dietary requirements are different from theirs, I’m afraid I have little contact with them.”
“Grumley! He says he’s a squirrel!” exclaimed the startled elder.
“Wel , my dear boy, you so look like a possum! Doesn’t he, Mother?
Prissy? Doesn’t he so look like a possum? Grumley! And what a fine specimen at that! Wel , dear boy, I know you are a busy one, whatever you are. Have important things to do, don’t you? So you real y must be going now, mustn’t you? Grumley! What a shame you can’t stay longer. Grumley! Where are you? Please lead Mr. … what’s his name, Grumley?
“A Mr. Zak, sir.”
“Uh—to the door! What a shame, eh, Mother? What a shame he can’t visit longer, but he says he’s got important matters to attend; a rare thing these days, eh, Prissy? Indeed it is; now snap it up, Grumley. Do snap it up a bit. Don’t keep Mr. … what’s his name again, Grumley?”
“A Mr. Zak, sir.”
“Uh—waiting! Snap! Snap! Grumley!”
When Grumley led Zak down the hollow log back to the entrance, Zak pulled him to the side.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Grumley.
“Mr. Grumley, your master used a term that I seem to be most intimate with in some fashion, but I don’t exactly recall its meaning.”
“Real y, sir?” said the haughty Grumley.
“‘Didelphic.’ What does it mean, Grumley?’
“Dear sir, have you bumped your head? Pray, what kind of bullish question is that?”
“Please, Grumley, just answer me,” said Zak.
“Didelphis is your genus. Good day, sir.”
“Genus? Genus for what?” asked Zak.
“Real y, sir.”
“For what, Grumley?”
“Look at your feet, sir.”
Zak sat back and held them up in the air.
“Look at them, sir. As you can see, you have no claw on the big toe of either foot.”
Zak looked at his feet again. “What does it mean, Grumley?”
“It means you are didelphid, sir. A possum!” said Grumley as he disappeared into the log, shaking his head in disgust, his notions regarding Southern possums summarily reaffirmed.
Zak strolled out away from the log and into the sunshine, relieved to be away from the quarters and questions of the log’s interior. He again continued his meandering northerly course, but before he was out of hearing range of the log, he heard, “A Mr. Bump to see you, sir.”
“Bump! The answer to my dreams, Grumley! Send him in! Send him in!”
In some ways, of course, Zak had always known he was a possum, but the notion had never before taken enough form to real y sprout and establish that part of his identity. But now—now he was a possum. He had been told. It had been explained, even if, ironical y, by that rather contemptuous example of didelphic flatulence, Grumley.
But Grumley had done it—had done what no one else before had done—he had, even if quite by accident, helped Zak across the barrier. He had even shown Zak. And should it ever slip his mind in the future, all Zak had to do was look at his feet, for a natural y clawless big toe is proof positive possum in all marsupial circles—the ultimate possum passport. All he had ever real y needed was to be simply briefed in the matter. Now, final y, he knew what he was. Amazing.
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