ONE HUNDRED ONE
“You’re welcome,” I said out loud in a voice I hoped wasn’t shaking. Chipmunks, I was thinking. Squirrels. Rats. Skunks. Skunks were one of the reasons I had always known I didn’t want to live in the country. My Adirondack-cabin-owning friend told stories about the spring her parents had gone up to get the winter shutters off and do whatever else it is you do when you have a summer cabin and discovered a family of skunks in the cellar. It was a wild and thrilling tale. I’d rather the current situation involved Murac than skunks. Almost rather. No, Murac wouldn’t drink milk. He’d definitely hold out for whisky. I didn’t know what skunks preferred.
I took the empty bowl the two steps back to the kitchen and Sid met me at the door again. I held the bowl out toward her and she gave it a polite sniff . . . and then came sharply to attention like a cougar scenting rabbit (or possibly a rabbit scenting cougar) and sniffed it very carefully. I decided to feel comforted that her tail start to wag, and firmly ignored my mother’s voice in my mind saying, tail wagging means excitement or interest, it doesn’t necessarily tell you what kind of excitement or interest. . . .
I put the bowl in the sink and stared at it. The milk had disappeared really fast. It was only a few minutes since I’d put it out, and the bowl was dead empty, not so much as a shiny spot in the bottom. I tried to remember what I used to know about hobs—my area of expertise, after all, and I wasn’t fussy about cultural origins, Celtic, Arabic, Punjabi, Shinto, I was an equal-opportunity scrounger of intriguing supernatural features—maybe he was hungry? Some cool, detached part of my mind observed that I seemed to have decided that there was a hob. Was I sure it was a he?
What did hobs do when no one lived in their houses?
I added two more eggs to the egg bowl. I didn’t need another mouth to feed but I didn’t like the idea of anything local going hungry. Local and friendly. I owed the hob for the water coming out of the tap. A bowl of milk and two eggs was a lot cheaper than a plumber. The butter in the pan was turning brown—perfect. And the water was boiling—oh hurrah, it was boiling! I hadn’t really believed in this wood-stove hustle. Scrambled eggs are pretty forgiving, but if you want to steam your broccoli you need boiling water. I was nearly singing when I put the broccoli on. How pathetic is that? Boiling water and suddenly I’m chirpy and jubilant. “Caedmon, you splendid creature,” I said. “My knight in shining armor.” Did the hob need a name? Wait. Wasn’t there some kind of deal about naming a hob? I’d google it later.
How much did a hungry hob eat? My landlord would pay for a plumber. I doubted I could convince Homeric Homes to invoice him for feeding a hob.
There was, however, a trick to toast, and I didn’t have it. I produced two slabs of hot, slightly charred bread, but the eggs were exquisite and the broccoli was crunchy and reassuring. Broccoli is one of my basic food groups, with chocolate and tea and popcorn and champagne. I know. Shoot me. If it weren’t for my broccoli addiction I might be writing great literature instead of Flowerhair the Foolhardy. I gave Sid her eggs on kibble, with a glob of canned Delish-o-Lamb on top.
The hob got the second slab of hot bread and a two-egg dollop spooned over. I put the reloaded bowl back on the corner of the window seat, and did the rest of the dishes, making a lot of splashing noises and singing folk songs. I’d used to sing a lot but after a year or two of Gelasio’s money making a subscription at the Metropolitan Opera possible I’d developed a complex about the fact I would never grow up to be Violetta or Rosina and mostly stopped. It was kind of nice to be singing again. . . .
I’d found my old tea kettle too, and started heating water for tea. I had a few good pieces of kitchen gear, including the copper pot and the tea kettle, compliments of my father, who was a terrific cook and thought I only needed inspiring to follow in his culinary footsteps. Now that I was living outside the magic pizza-delivery circle maybe I’d try harder. It was surprisingly cheering having just a few of my things scattered around this strange, too-large (and too shadowy) kitchen. Once I’d liberated a few boxes I was going to pack up all the grim thrift-shop rejects and put them in the cellar. Maybe Yog-Sothoth could use them to serve tea and crumpets—or blood wine and pickled heads—on the next poker evening.
I barely flinched when I checked the hob’s bowl and it was again empty.
Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.