Hedgehogs normally make a noise something akin to a grumble, but being cute creatures (ignoring the pointy stabby exterior), it was a cute grumble. The grumble of someone you love.
The Hawthorn Bush
“Quack,” she masqueraded.
Last time Barnie had seen his hedgehog, she’d been purple, and blurry. But that was a week ago. Seven long days, long enough apparently for a hedgehog with purple spines to dye them fluorescent orange, get numerous facial piercings, and become unblurred. They were two distinct looks that should have belonged to two distinctly different, but with equally outlandish taste, hedgehogs.
“You’re orange?” he spluttered, and was shocked at how normal the question seemed to him. Why shouldn’t a hedgehog be orange?
“You’re sober.” It was good to establish obvious facts about the other verbally before anything could actually begin.
“I got your note.”
“The note on my door.”
“I didn’t put a note on your door.”
“It was nailed to the door by a purple spin.”
“I’m orange. You must be looking for a purple hedgehog.”
“You used to be purple.”
“I would have remembered if I used to be purple.”
“You used to be purple!” More assurity that time. Convince her first.
“Oh yeah, so I did.”
Barnie stared at her. He had no idea what was happening there and then. He was having a conversation with an awkward, sharp-edged traffic cone. And the cone was winning.
“Did you bring the drill?”
“I asked you to bring a drill.”
“So the note didn’t mention a drill?”
“Must have been the other mole I dragged home after he collapsed. Did I mention any kind of pneumatic work equipment?”
“I always forget about the pneumatics. Which means...” She paused for a long time, like she was waiting for someone to hell her what it was that it meant. “...that we’ll have to find something else to do.”
The glint in her eye both scared and excited Barnabas. There was just something about her that tickled him behind the aorta. She tiptoed through his mind like an elephant wearing a tutu.
“How about a walk?” bet Barnie, choosing to stand on twelve.
“A walk? Quaint.”
They walked for nearly an hour, round and round like a merry-go-round at the beach. Barnie became a child again; giggling helplessly at her essence as flowing rhetorics of incomprehensible partnerships spewed from her lips like ants from a nest. She talked about tap-dancing skylarks, and tattooed toads, and heavy metal voles, and a secret army of brainwashed squirrels that believed in a God that shaved the grass with silver teeth, and never did anything seem the least bit peculiar. It would be safe to say that within seconds of bathing in her personality, Barnie was entrapped. His mystery date, on the other hand, was much more of a conundrum. While she listened carefully to Barnie’s monotonous monologues, and even seemed to enjoy hearing about his job at the soil shop, it was light trying to light a fire without the flint. A spark was missing.
At night, the whole above the ground was the diamond reflection of the world below. Fireflies busied themselves around bushes that were homes to caterpillars and ladybirds, swinging Chinese lanterns around the chlorophyll stems. Pigeons and blackbirds and sparrows and blue-tits swam through a sky of midnight, occasionally touching the purest moonbeams of summer. The world tasted of fresh rain and smelled of life and love.
“I don’t think I’m being very fair on you,” she said, after a long while of silence. “Here you are, eyes puppy-dogged up, and I’m just... Bleh!”
“I don’t mind.”
“But I do,” she cried. Her voice was growing louder, but failing in strength. Her arms pirouetted desperate gestures, leaving echoes of movement behind like sparkles in the firework fog.
“Don’t.” Barnie didn’t know what else to say. He wanted to lunge at her heart, wrap his fur around her and tell her that everything was going to be alright. Hell, he didn’t even know that anything was wrong.
“Look,” Barnie was growing in confidence now. He didn’t really have any choice. “I’ve had a wonderful time, and I want nothing more than to see you again. Honestly, this has been the highlight of my adult life. Just getting to talk to you. You’re amazing. So how about we have another go? I know a little place,” Don’t’ do it! Don’t do it! his conscious screamed, “it’s a bit of a secret really. But I think you’d love it.”
She threw her arms around him. Lost in the moment, she forgot about spines and spikes and their ability to stab other animals and dived into the embrace like a rabid animal. Barnie just stood there, trapped between agony and bewitchment.
“But it has to be done secretly, this meeting,” he said slowly. “Come here tomorrow, at noon. There’ll be a map, hidden in the soil, right where we stand. As soon as you get it, follow the map. And I’ll be there, waiting for you at the end.”
She feigned to speak, but Barnie just touched her lips, shushing them.
“We’ll pick this up tomorrow. Until then...” And he leaned in, slowly, silently, and gently kissed her cheek, accidentally on purpose grazing her lip with his.
As he walked away, he refused to turn around. He screamed at his neck not to bend and his spine not to swerve, to betray his desperate desire to look back, just once, and see the girl that he’d most certainly fallen in love with. But he kept his head down until he was back underground and out of sight.
All composure flooded from his body then. He fell to the floor, gasping. In the days and weeks to come, he would struggle to believe what had happened. He had been... normal? More than that, he’d been wonderful.
On shaky legs, he staggered home drunk with delight, rehearsing the map he would draw to the place he’d sworn he would never tell another soul about.