Traveller M. in the Land of the Cynocephali

‘Traveller M. in the Land of the Cynocephali’ was first published in Otherwise Engaged: A Literature and Arts Journal 6:2 (Winter 2020), and now appears in Pugnacious Little Trolls.

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A child slips down from its mother’s lap, and toddles between the empty tables to the table where I am sitting. I feel myself stiffen at her approach, looking down at the grey-check tablecloth and my tea until she clambers onto the seat opposite mine at the bark of her mother’s warning. I glance up. She is wearing a tee-shirt showing the characters from some Hollywood children’s film, with a dolly-bead necklace round her neck, and as my eyes meet hers, the jaw drops open, showing pointed teeth, and the long tongue flicks at the end of the nose. I keep very still, hardly daring to breathe. Again there is a bark from her mother, and a waitress passing in front of my table stops and offers her hand to the child with a grunt of invitation. She glances over her shoulder at me as she does so, her other hand with its wedding ring scratching at the point where her fur lightens over the muzzle, and leads the child away down the aisle towards her mother. For a moment we have been the centre of attention. A robed man a few tables down yaps a few remarks to his wife, and laps from his drinking bowl. The atmosphere in the breakfast room returns to normal: the growl of Cynocephalic voices, the smell of tobacco and of cooking fat from the heater, the steam cooling on the windows, the cold…

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