j a c o b  a p p e l

 

LA TRISTESSE DES HéRISSONS

 “You’ve got to be kidding me.” She yanked the book from my hands.  "Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland."

 

“What’s wrong?” I asked, sincerely puzzled. “What’s wrong?" 

 

What’s wrong?” demanded Adeline. “I could hear you from the kitchen . . . Do you really think this is appropriate reading material for him?”

 

I’d been narrating the episode in Alice where the Queen of Hearts plays croquet, using flamingos as mallets and hedgehogs for balls. Before I’d owned a hedgehog, the full humor of that match hadn’t been apparent to me.  Of course, the large snifter of Chivas Regal that I’d polished off might also have played a role in my amusement.

 

“Who cares what I read?” I shot back. “Jesus, Addy. He’s only a hedgehog. He can’t understand a word I’m saying.”

 

“He can understand the tone. He can sense whether you’re showing him affection or mocking him.” Adeline swaddled one of the bath towels around the animal and cradled him against her chest like an infant. “It’s going to be okay, darling,” she cooed. “You’re a loved hedgehog, aren’t you?”

 

“I wasn’t mocking him,” I said. “I was trying to be culturally relevant.” “Okay, let’s not fight,” said Adeline. “I’m sorry I jumped on you like that. Anyway, I think it’s past hedgehog bedtime . . . Why don’t you run down to the pharmacy before it gets too late?

 

 I didn’t argue. I was actually rather inebriated and glad to escape the torrid apartment for a few minutes, so I took the opportunity to stroll past the bistro, curious to see whether our Monday night happy hour was drawing an early crowd. It wasn’t. Then I walked another three blocks to a chain drugstore that I’d never before visited, not wanting our local CVS to get the wrong idea about the Prozac. I knew I’d drunk too much, because my ulcer was flaring up.

 

The pharmacist was an elderly, flat-faced man with an Eastern European accent and the bedside manner of a Stasi agent. I handed the script across the counter.

 

He grinned knowingly. “You got insurance?”

“It’s not for me,” I said, struggling not to slur my words. “It’s for a hedgehog.”  

“That’s a good one,” said the pharmacist.

“It’s true,” I insisted. “Could I really make that up?”

“And let me guess. The hedgehog is uninsured.”

“I’m afraid so,” I conceded. The pharmacist disappeared behind a partition.

 

Moments later, I heard laughter from the interior of the shop. Fifteen minutes elapsed before the old man returned with a small paper bag.

 

“That will be $148.52,” he said. “You’d better hope that hedgehog of yours lays golden eggs.” I held my tongue and forked over my credit card.

 

“Do me a favor, buddy,” he said. “Tell the hedgehog that he may experience insomnia, nausea, and headache.”

“Will do.”

“And fluoxetine can kill his sex life,” added the pharmacist.

The old man didn’t realize how off the mark he was. In reality, I’d be sleeping in the living room until the Prozac worked its magic.

“Not this hedgehog, buddy. This hedgehog’s got a pecker the size of a Louisville slugger,” I announced, yanking the bag of pills from the pharmacist’s grasp.

“Do me a favor. Tell your pill-pushing buddies behind the wall that the last guy who laughed at this hedgehog ended up short a set of kneecaps.”

I staggered onto the sidewalk, aglow with delight and liquor: if I couldn’t mock my own hedgehog, I told myself, nobody could.

 

Our regimen of bedtime stories and antidepressants drove the hedgehog’s depression into rapid remission over the course of the next week—or, at least, that was the shared perception of Adeline and Dr. Waller. All I noticed was that the creature consumed fewer moth larvae. Otherwise, he remained his stolid and inscrutable self, curling and uncurling to his own internal whims, although after six days of medication, he did display a renewed interest in his exercise wheel. And while I couldn’t detect Orion’s psychiatric progress directly, I witnessed his recovery reflected in Adeline’s mood, which improved steadily with every vicarious Prozac. By June, she was once again the vibrant, laugh-prone beauty I’d fallen in love with three years earlier in the St. Vincent’s Hospital emergency room, where I’d accompanied her—mostly for fear of litigation— after she’d tripped over a poorly placed dessert cart and fractured her ankle. Instead of suing, she’d invited me to a picnic in Union Square.

 

I no longer saw the point of reading to the hedgehog. On the tenth evening of my literary therapy, I dared to suggest as much to Adeline. We were ensconced on the sofa in the living room, her legs swung over my lap so that I could massage her feet through her stockings. Across the room, the hedgehog galloped like a mechanical toy on his exercise wheel, generating a reassuring metallic whir.

 

“It’s amazing what half a bottle of Prozac can do,” I mused. “Listen to him go. What a shame we can’t harness all that energy, use it to power the lights.” I traced my fingers along Adeline’s toes, yearning to kick-start our sex life. “Do you think they have marathons for hedgehogs?”

 

Adeline slid her foot from my grip.

“I’m worried,” she said.

“What is there to worry about?”

“All that running isn’t healthy,” Adeline replied. “Hedgehogs aren’t supposed to run marathons.”

 

She climbed down onto the carpet and attempted to distract Orion from his workout, but the animal maintained the focus of a trained athlete. Even pounding on the glass didn’t sidetrack him. Rather than balling up when she reached into his cage, he hissed at her and held his ground.

 

“Something’s terribly wrong,” said Adeline. “Frankly, I think he’s gone manic.”

“You’re joking.”

“Do I sound like I’m joking, Josh? There’s a warning about risk of mania on the package insert for the Prozac. If it can happen to people, why shouldn’t it happen to hedgehogs?”

 

I didn’t have an answer—but I sensed this wasn’t going to be the last time Adeline raised precisely that question. I could already picture my girlfriend driving a station wagon with a bumper sticker that read: Hedgehogs are people, too.  

 

Adeline was still on the rug, scrutinizing Orion. Every few moments, she tried to caress him with her mitted hand, withdrawing her fingers only after he dug his tiny teeth into the Kevlar.

 

“Promise me he’s going to be okay,” she pleaded. “Please, Josh.” “I promise we’ll do everything we can,” I agreed.

 

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