By Joseph Corry
Mr. Benson had always been a good tenant, in fact, the best. He was quiet, kept to himself for the most part and consistently paid his rent on time. He was well into his seventies but remained a lively old chap and none could match his skill at carving despite his frail hands. He had been Depraux’s tenant for the past seven months as Depraux had grown lonely and wished for company. Now on the first of May, Depraux opened the door of his elegant copper mail box and reached for the rent check sure to be inside. He felt around the dark interior of the box when suddenly his hand brushed against something horribly cold and slimy.
“Good God!” He sprang away from the box, holding his contaminated hand well in front of him as to prevent even the smallest amount of the awful substance coating his hand to stain his cherry silk waist coat. As he stood, mouth agape, with the look upon his face of one who has been suddenly and unceremoniously violated, a small, green spring peeper leaped from the dark confines of the box and alighted deftly on the lapel of Depraux’s cherry silk waistcoat. Although a wealthy and well respected man of his community, Depraux was not known for his stern complexion.
“Oh God!” he cried. Depraux was a calm, collected, refined individual at the worst of times but one could be assured this was not the description Mr. Benson would have given when he happened upon the scene as he was returning from his morning walk through the countryside. The hammered copper mail-box stood door ajar and beside it, Depraux was prancing about in the tulip bed in his fine leather spats, belaboring an invisible malice which had firmly affixed itself to the lapel of his cherry silk waistcoat with both the clean and the unclean hand all the while shouting, “Oh bloody Christ! Get it off!” As Mr. Benson hurried toward the scene as fast as he was able, Depraux, in his sporadic prancing, happened to alight directly upon a large tin watering can which had been forgotten in the tulip bed by the carless gardener. Confronted now with the ultimatum of frog or mud, Depraux chose what he believed to be the lesser of the two evils and rather than catching himself, flung the peeper from his lapel and fell quite neatly into the freshly watered mud of the tulip bed. He lay there, half sunken into the dampened loam, while his heaving chest rose and fell rhythmically. This, Depraux fumed, was far removed from what he had bargained for when he purchased the Applegate Cottage. So stunned was he that he failed to respond to the impetuous shaking of his shoulder and Mr. Benson asking if he had been harmed.
“Sir, sir, are you quite alright sir?” Mr. Benson was bending over him, precariously leaning on his polished walking staff which bore the visage of a Dwarf cut into its crown. Depraux offered no response, save for a self-pitying moan which escaped his lips at the memory that he was dressed in his cherry silk waistcoat, the one sewn with golden thread and fastened about his paunch with large, polished, ebony buttons. As Depraux lay quite unresponsive, Mr. Benson shakily got down on his knees and proceeded to try and drag the entrenched Depraux from the mud of the tulip bed. It was, as Mr. Benson recalled some time later, as impossible as pulling a dead cow from a pasture ditch by one self. As Mr. Benson struggled to his feet with the aid of his staff, he realized he would have to resort to other methods of rousting the unresponsive Depraux from the flower bed. He began prodding Depraux in the side with the butt of his staff and quite by accident caught him in the ribs with a rather hard jab.
“Bloody hell!” Depraux clutched his damaged rib with the unclean hand and shot a murderous look at Mr. Benson through dark little eyes that gleamed from his round face like two currants. “Good God man, what possessed you to assault me so?”
“Sir, I meant no harm. I only sought to inquire about your health.”
“A fine method of inquiry indeed.” Depraux rolled onto his enormous stomach and spat into the mud, the spittle running down his plump chin. “Now have I not only a soiled garment and reputation but a cracked rib to match.” Still spitting, Depraux struggled to his feet and swayed uncertainly like a drunken lout after a night of merriment. His arms flailed as the treacherous mud threatened to cast him back into the tulip bed and it was purely by chance that he seized the hand Mr. Benson offered him.
“Thank you, man, for that timely assistance. Now, if you will excuse me, I believe a bath is in order. After that I am going to get so utterly pissed that I will forget this dreadful incident in its entirety.” Mr. Benson leaned on his staff before the cottage as Depraux stumbled up the stairs in his quite ruined cherry silk waistcoat, kicked off his shoes at the door and reeled across the threshold into the cottage.
Mr. Benson stood a while longer and listened as Depraux stumble about inside undressing and cursing until the water began to run into the tub. While Depraux lay soaking in the tub, with only the upper half of his fat balding head and enormous stomach protruding from the scented water, seething about the wrongs committed against him and the infernal debauchery of the swindler who had sold him this house of horrors, Mr. Benson placed the month’s rent check into the hammered copper mail box and closed the flap. He then began poking about in the tulip bed with his staff until he routed out a small, green spring peeper. Gingerly, he lifted the little frog and made his way to the open bath house window beyond which an infuriated Depraux was soaking. Through the open window, Mr. Benson could see an oversized clawed porcelain bath and within it, an equally large Depraux lying with the fat of his neck bunched against the rim of the tub and his gargantuan stomach causing small tidal waves with every inhale. Mr. Benson carefully transferred the peeper to the wooden sill and gave him a slight nudge in the direction of Depraux.
Obligingly, the little peeper sprang through the open window with all the force its little legs could muster. As Mr. Benson retreated from the window, a faint sploosh was heard as the peeper’s flight came to an end directly in front of Depraux’s beady eyes. There was no inhale of breath, Mr. Benson remarked, merely a great exhale like the bellowing of a large bull when it has been swiftly castrated. The bellows gave way to high pitched shrieks of terror and the sound of the scented bath water being dashed against the walls. Depraux spewed forth streams of profanity as he lunged from the bath and for the open bath room door without pausing to cover himself. In his haste, however, Depraux had neglected to remember his soiled waistcoat lying in wait directly through the door. As he hurled himself through the door, the waistcoat wrapped around his feet and the garment which he had so adored became his undoing. The sound of Depraux falling prostrate upon the floor was not far removed from the thunderous crash with which a large red oak, brittle with age, comes crashing down to rest on the forest floor. And it was there Mr. Benson came to him, a mischievous light in his eye. Depraux was lying in the middle of the hall, naked as the day he was born–although a great deal fatter–with the muddied, cherry silk waistcoat about his feet and a ferocious gleam of sheer hatred in his eyes.