She had hardly smelled her morning coffee yet, much less tasted it. Compound that with the edginess that accompanies trying to quit smoking and her response to my “Good morning,” in retrospect, was not entirely surprising.
“Do you know what a chimera is?” she asked.
“Know?” I replied, “Let me enlighten you of the word’s etymology. Prepare to be schooled.” Her enduring stare and seeming lack of breathing implied not so much a breathless anticipation of new knowledge as much as quiet preparation for a strike, akin to a lioness extending her claws as she lies in wait for her prey.
“The Greeks of antiquity told frightening tales of a fire breathing beast, with the head of a lion, body of a goat, and a serpent-like tail. Eventually somebody caught on and revealed the obvious flaw—a fearsome creature with the body of a goat? C’mon! Who’s gonna believe that?”
I noticed her posture hadn’t relaxed, not one atom appeared to have shifted. I was pretty sure her nails were longer, too, but I forged ahead anyway.
“The provenance of the monster came to light one night in an open-air cantina over a bota bag made, ironically, from a goat’s bladder, filled with cheap wine from Persia. After the customary bad-mouthing of King Darius and his freakish son Xerxes talk turned to more domestic matters. Speaking of which” I pointed out, “while Persian royalty was universally despised it was equally agreed that the Persians made a fine rug.”
I sensed she was coiled like a spring, but she remained stock still.
“As it would happen, a merchant a farmer, and a philosopher swapped alcohol-induced stories of early morning life with their respective wives and mistresses. Oral hygiene had yet to catch on in a big way so morning halitosis had an eyebrow-scorching effect when the women arose early to bitch at their consorts about their laziness or lack of sexual acumen.”
“Unsurprising” she said. I noticed her eyes were turning cat-like and decided it would be best not to pursue the underlying reason for her response, instead acknowledging it with a nod before pressing ahead.
“The three men shared a rousing chorus of slurred “You too’s?!” and went on gesticulating wildly as they described — in liquored Greek, of course — what we call “bed head”, but back in the day they would have thought it resembled a lion’s mane. No archeological evidence appears to provide any support for the serpent tail, although the implied venemous early morning attacks may suggest an attempt at such.”
Her look was only slightly less rigid when she asked cooly “Are you finished?”
Delighted with the opportunity to further my shinola-from-sh** skills I lustily barked “Almost, dragon princess!”, mistakenly thinking that using “princess” might curry some affectionate favor. I was impressively wrong.
“See, men of all stripes feared this mythical chimera based on its complete lack of compassion and blood lust. Many generations handed down yarns of the beast biting a man’s head off before consuming the rest of his body. This, too, the drunken trio understood to be merely a manifestation of a cranky wife or unsatisfied lover. Mother Nature, always ready to implement a good idea when she saw one, immediately applied the concept of male beheadment and comsumption when she created the first female praying mantis, cruelly giving the insect the moniker ‘praying’ to mislead potential mates into thinking she was a good Catholic girl.”
She cocked her head a bit. “So you’re saying religion, mythology, and nature come together in history in a sort of Darwinian Constantinism?”
“Yeah, but before their time.” I was thinking fast. No time for finessing her heady logic.
“The fire breathing aspect seems to have been a big part of the chimera’s reputation,” I continued. “Romans would later take up the centuries-earlier explanation of morning breath but couldn’t come up with a pithy way to properly describe it . They tried “Your breath smells like you’ve been gargling public bath water” but it proved linguistically unwieldy, especially in Latin: Vestri spiritus nidor amo vos publicus balineum unda. Eventually one of Pompey’s soldiers came up with “Your breath smells like ass” and the chimera all but faded from thought from that point forward. Tic Tacs wouldn’t arrive untile centuries later, but “Dude . . . tic tac!” lacks the punch of the mighty Roman rectal breath description.”
“All that from a scary mythological creature?” she asked indifferently.
“Wanna hear about satyrs?”