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On the morning of March 5th, 1911, Marsha Quinn, of the New Canaan Quinns, awoke with a fright to find herself lying in a pool of cold sweat. The sweat was not her own, but had been carefully placed there by her maid, as was her custom, for Marsha Quinn herself lacked entirely the ability to perspire, due to an unfortunate childhood accident involving a wooden tetherball. Consequently, Martha Quinn required a constant phalanx of maids and other help to provide her each day with a bedful of human perspiration. She also employed two gentlemen to urinate into a basket.
Marsha Quinn had two great loves in her life: dancing, especially exotic dances such as the rhumba and the tango, and bananas. Indeed, her greatest pleasures came when she found herself surrounded on all sides by bananas, bananas of all sizes, shapes, and degrees of ripeness, while engaged in a dizzying foxtrot or salacious mazurka, and would sometimes faint dead away from the excitement of the rhythms and the odor of the ripening fruit. As she lay shivering under her coverlet, her lithe body glistening with Maria's fresh sweat, she struggled to recall last night's banana dance to her mind.
Try as she might, she could remember only Eduardo, the half-caste Polynesian Inca whose high cheekbones and odd tattoo of an ironing board upon his forehead had caught her attention from the outset. He had introduced himself as a daredevil aviator and, to prove it, had produced a single-engine Sopwith Pup from his weskit, bowing deeply and offering her a ride. The rest of the evening had passed in a whirl of bananas and waltzes, but Eduardo had disappeared from the cotillion without her even noticing, leaving only a note saying that he had gone to get fresh underwear.
Now, with the cold light of the coming Connecticut dawn leaking in through the two buffalo-sized holes in her bedroom, Marsha Quinn felt a strange sort of disquiet, an unease that she had experienced only once before, when she had been nine years old and a particularly malevolent uncle had insisted on shooting her friends. Marsha had been a quiet and sensitive girl who preferred the company of stoats. Now she felt a dire foreboding, as though someone were about to burst through the French windows and cauterize her. "Oh, but I am simply being silly," she thought to herself.
Clambering out of bed with some haste, she hurried to the window. She could see below the long Snake River Valley, with its beautiful stands of elm and canterberry trees. The canterberry trees were not actual trees at all, but mixtures of dung and crockery constructed by her father, the Reverend Quinn. In the distance, she could make out a lone figure approaching the house on a fine steed. She recognized the horse and rider. But she could not remember the horse's name, and began to hit herself violently on the side of the head with a bar of soap.
As the rider passed through a thin cloud of mist and dung, Martha recognized him: Lord Salisbury, heir to the Castle MacTannach and the handsomest man in his shire, and a man so generous of spirit that he would donate whole tubs of oxygen to needy families at Boxing Day. Lord Salisbury had come to Connecticut from his native Leeds in search of a cure for a crippling disease, Crupman's Folly, which left its victims without ear hair. He had heard that the crisp Connecticut air could work wonders, as well as a crisp Connecticut slap to the Connecticut head.
Pulling his trusty steed, Minefield, up to the entrance of the Quinn estate, Lord Salisbury dismounted and knocked thrice upon the large, wooden door, using the heavy iron doorknocker in the shape of Henry Thoreau's head. From up in her room, Marsha Quinn heard the knock all three times, and the sound produced in her a wave of excitement and carnal terror that she had not experienced since she had discovered, at age twelve, her father out in the old family barn, making violent love to an owl. Quickly she stumbled to her feet and donned a suit of armor.
"A suit of armorÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€well, that will not do," thought Marsha Quinn, and immediately took off the armor and replaced it with a shimmering blue dress made from hemp stains. She threw back her bedroom door and stepped cautiously into the hallway outside, and leaned over a balustrade to view the room below her, which was covered in suet from a ball earlier that evening. Slowly, she descended the marble staircase and approached the front door. At last, placing a wooden hand upon its thick plankingÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€or, rather, a thick hand upon its wooden plankingÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€she pulled it gently to her breast.
There before her, silhouetted by the morning light, stood Manfred, Lord Salisbury, heir to the largest diamond mine in all of Leeds, and a goat, which happened to be passing by. "OhÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€it is a goat," cried Marsha, in a voice that seemed to come from somewhere in upstate New York. "No," replied Manfred, "I am no goat. It is I, Marsha, Manfred, come to take you back to England with me, as soon as I've completed my business here in the States, which is to buy some fire insurance and to look at a boat that is for sale."
"Yes, MarshaÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€it is I, Manfred," repeated Manfred, running his limbs over his moustache. "Or have you forgotten that you were once my betrothed, and I your betrothee?" Marsha's hand shot to her mouth, wounding her slightly. She gasped. "Oh, WilburÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€" "Manfred," he corrected her. "Manfred," she said. "No, I have never forgotten, although for short periods I become confused. Last year, from June until October, I believed that we had never been promised to each other, but that you were actually a large steam locomotive and I a simple tuft of grass. But I am better now, Manfred, I swear."
"Why, MarshaÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€why? Why did you leave me, just as the wounds from my baking accident were beginning to heal?" Lord Salisbury asked, with a piteous look. "Oh, Manfred," Marsha replied. "Oh, Manfred Manfred Manfred." "That's not really much of an answer," he pointed out. "No, I suppose it is not," she said, bursting into tears. "There, thereÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€don't cry," he said, striking her. "It's all right now. Everything's going to be all right." "Oh, I'm so ashamed," she stammered. "Darling Manfred, you must know that I have always loved you, except during last May, and that I always shall love you."
"Come with me, Marsha," Manfred, Lord of Salisbury, said. "Come back to me to the wheat-ripened glens of Leeds, where you shall be, figuratively, my queen, and I shall be, in a non-legally binding sense, your king." "Gracious," Marsha replied, "there is nothing I should like ever so much, unless it is to be very, very tall and powerful." "Then do let us return," Manfred smiled, "for it is threshing time back home, and the little field mice are covered with glistening drops of egret vomit." "They are NOT," Marsha frowned, "and that is disgusting." "Please, Marsha, come back."
Marsha Quinn turned away from her suitor. "Though I love thee with the breadth and depth and length of my soul, with its circumference and with its area, with the cosine of the tangent of its slope as its x axis approaches infinity, I cannot go with you back to Leeds," she told him. "For I harbor within this breast"Ãƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€and here she touched her breast so that he would know exactly which breast she meantÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€"a secret so dark, so awfully terrible and frightening that I can never reveal it to anyone, ever. Oh, all right. I am actually a stork."
"You are a stork," repeated Manfred, Lord of Salisbury. "I am to understand that Marsha Quinn, the vibrant, shimmering, slightly oval woman whose hair is like tungsten spread out upon a plastic tarpaulin and whose very voice is like chloroform in a golden goblet, the woman I love so deeply that I have actually herniated, theÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€" "Yes," Marsha replied, impatiently, "that Marsha Quinn." "Ãƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€that that Marsha Quinn is, in fact, a stork." "And a rather large one," added Marsha in a small voice. "I'm much larger than most storks." "WellÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€" began Manfred. "And most storks don't have nipples," she added.
"This is all so confusing," Manfred stammered. "I've come all this way to make you my wife, and now I find out that you are actually a stork." "It is a bit unusual," conceded Marsha, "but it is not as though I am an egret or a weasel or a flugelhorn." "No, that is true," Manfred replied. "You are not an egret or a weasel or a flugelhorn. You are a stork." He looked at her with pity, then glanced at his watch. "You must explain this all to meÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€and hurry, for I'm going to a boat show at 9:00."
"It happened many years ago," Marsha began. "One day I was walking in the forest near my bathroom when I was approached by a strange old crone who carried with her a magic lamp. She was a horrible, wrinkled thing, bent nearly to the ground, whose craggy face was covered with warts and moles. She walked with the aid of a gnarled wooden stick and cackled when she spoke. Oddly enough, she also carried a number of inflammatory socialist political tracts on reforming the tax system. She asked me if I would like to be a stork. I said yes."
"Let me get this straight," replied an astounded Manfred. "Some old witch approaches you in the forest and asks you if you'd like to be a stork, and you say yes, just like that." Marsha frowned slightly. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," she said. "Did you get anything out of it?" he pressed. "Immortality? A horse? Some ferns?" "No, nothing at all," she answered. "Oh, I am such a fool." "It was a pretty stupid thing to do," he admitted. "Now what shall we do?" she asked him. Manfred bit his forearm and began to think.
"First, we must transform you back into a human being," Manfred told her. "And then let's get pancakes. I love pancakes." "But howÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€?" "I know someone," he said. "His name is Eduardo. He knows all sorts of magical incantations, and he is also a terrific dancer." Marsha gasped, for she recalled that she had danced only that night before with an Eduardo, and that he had told her that he knew a spell that could transform a man into a pig, or a golf club, she couldn't exactly recall which. She had fallen deeply in love with Eduardo's musky scent.
"Yes, we shall get Eduardo to change you from the stork-woman you are," said Manfred, sweeping Marsha up in his arms and onto Minefield, his fine Arabian steed. "I know where to find him. He lives nearby, in an abandoned wooden nodule." "ButÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€butÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€" Marsha protested, but to no avail. Soon they were racing on Minefield through the copses and bogs of New Canaan, Connecticut, the wind flowing through their hair and onto the trees behind them, where it bounced off harmlessly. At length they came to a large, brown lump sticking out of the side of a carousel.
"What ho, Eduardo!" cried Manfred, tipping his horse over so that he and Marsha could dismount. "Come out! I have need of your services!" But no answer came from within. "Try screaming," Marsha advised him, and he didÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€but, again, to no avail. Manfred was about to attempt to urinate as loudly as possible when a shadowed figure began to emerge from within the lump before them. Presently they could see that it was EduardoÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€and Marsha's heart leaped into her mouth, for he was even more handsome than he had been at the ball, and seemed to have acquired extra fingers.
"Why, Manfred, exclaimed Eduardo, putting down the woodland beaver he had been carrying, "what brings you toÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€?" But before he could finish, he spied Marsha, so radiant that she had begun to resemble a highly exothermic chemical reaction. "ButÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€it isÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€howÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€" he began, but Manfred, ignorant of all that had transpired, stopped him with a raised hand. "Eduardo, I present to you milady Marsha, whom I am to marry as soon as I reach Leeds again, but who presently is a stork." "A STORK?" cried Eduardo. "More or less," replied Manfred. Marsha, who had been standing alone nearby, began flossing.
"Manfred, old bean," began Eduardo, with a trace of Argentinean accent flickering about his lips, "We haven't seen each other since '99, when you and I fell down a well together. Do you remember that? We were in there for six months. Then you noticed that the well was only three feet deep, and we managed to clamber out with the aid of an old man who was passing by and who had winches for hands. Good times, Manfred. But now you say that you're marrying a storkÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€" And here he paused, for he recognized Marsha for the first time.
"But this cannot be," Eduardo exclaimed. "That you are marrying the selfsame woman to whom I gave my heart only last night!" Marsha finished flossing her upper teeth and turned away. "My God," Eduardo continued. "Have you seen the rump on that woman?" "She is mine now," Manfred continued, "and she has always been mine, and I am here to ask you to change her from a stork to a woman so we can be properly married in England, where I have my leech farm. She can no more be yours than a postal worker can be made of basalt."
"Then it is a duel to the death!" Eduardo cried, pulling a peanut from his scabbard. He quickly replaced the peanut with a sword from his other scabbard. "And he who wins shall have Marsha Quinn!" Manfred likewise drew his weapon, a 24-inch howitzer, from his belt, and the two erstwhile companions stood in the forest clearing, which was covered with old food, glaring at each other, hands on their weapons, ready to do the other death. "Stop!" cried Marsha, weeping just slightly from her right eye and nostril. "I love you both! You must not do this! Okay?"
But it was too late. With a howl, Manfred charged at his adversary, bringing an acacia tree down upon Eduardo's head. Stunned, Eduardo reeled, but collected himself enough to shoot Manfred twice in the forearm with his broadsword, which was a very special broadsword that could shoot bullets. Manfred fell back upon some bears and rested for a moment, stanching the bloodflow by stuffing walnuts into his wounds. Eduardo lay upon the ground with most of the acacia tree embedded in him. Presently they recovered enough to renew battle; Manfred bit Eduardo's pancreas while Eduardo punched Manfred in the elbow.
"If you don't stop, I shall marry neither of you," exclaimed Marsha, who had never looked so beautiful, in part because she had put on someone else's head. "I cannot bear to be the wife of a murderer. A forger, perhaps, but not a murderer." Both men looked at her. "But we've always done it this way," Manfred said, sheepishly. "Yes," Eduardo agreed. "Men fight over women, and the victor then marries her." "That is entirely stupid," Marsha frowned. "Well," Manfred pointed out, "it makes more sense than having the loser marry you." "True," Marsha said, "but it's still stupid."
"I have another idea," Marsha Quinn said, her chin glinting softly in the sunlight. "You shall not fight. Rather, you shall play cribbage. And the winner shall have my hand in marriage." "Just your hand?" asked Manfred. "That's a figure of speech," Marsha huffed. "It's called 'metonymy', where an object is substituted for a larger concept, like when you say 'White House' to mean the executive branch of the United States government." By this time, the two men had fallen asleep, and she had to wake them by pressing hard upon their genitals. "So you shall play cribbage for me."
"All right, then," agreed Eduardo, adroitly pulling an aged cribbage board from yet another scabbard. "We play." Both men sat down and began their deadly contest. But within minutes it became apparent that neither of them had the first idea of how the game worked, so quickly they leaped to their feet and again began hacking, sawing, and winnowing each other's limbs. Fingers flew like little winged sausages, eyes sped through the air as though shot from cannon, and arms and legs spun into the cerulean sky with the force of a canister of almonds flung heavenward by angry simians.
Soon both men lay exhausted on the ground, their bodies mere patties of human hamburger. Manfred had been stapled to the forest floor by a large, penguin-shaped piece of wood through the head, while Eduardo had been rent asunder from chin to navel and was missing his skin. "Oh, we are done for," he cried. "In our madness we have killed each other, and so neither of us will wed the fair Marsha." Marsha herself began to cry. "Now I shall have no one, and will live out my life alone, possibly as an accountant." "O dearest Marsha," added Manfred.
"But I am still a stork," Marsha Quinn said, "and I shall remain a stork forever unless you help me before you die." "I--I shall help thee, Marsha," Eduardo replied, "but Manfred must assist me, for I am too weak and constipated to do it myself." With that he tossed a bag of herbs to his old comrade. "Take these," he said, "and sprinkle them on her, and say 'Marsha, do not be a stork', and she will be transformed." "Crikey," cried Manfred. "This is easy." And he did as he was told, and cured Marsha, whereupon both men died.
And so Marsha Quinn, of the New Canaan Quinns, was restored to her human self, and, after burying her suitors, rode out of the forest and to a new life. Each year she returned to the site of the battle, to honor her friends, except after two years she had an appointment with a roofer, and the following year she forgot, and afterwards she moved to Arizona. Eventually, she married an insurance salesman named Harold White and had a successful career selling handmade jewelry to local stores. In 1989 her granddaughter Melissa became an anchorwoman for WCET in Baltimore, Maryland.
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