The Alligator-Wombat: a Dream-Vision

(being the true relation of an epiphanic nocturnal visitation in the year of our Lord, nineteen-hundred and ninety-five)

"Curiouser and curiouser," she thought in sleep, as she stretched out her legs and re-arranged the billows of her skirt along the windowsill. "I seem to be in Cabell Hall. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again, but tonight I find myself in this most prosaic of places."

The rippled glass of the windowpanes cast wavering wobbles through her vista of the courtyard below. She regarded the neatly-tended grass (not The Lawn, but a lawn) and admired the way the curved stone keep of Old Cabell Hall almost (but not quite) relaxed into the squared-brick embrace of the newer addition in which she made her window-seat.

There was a butterfly in the courtyard. There were squeaking shoes on waxed-tile floors in the hallway behind her. There was a rhododendron in the courtyard. There were frat-boys in the hall.

She turned her full attention to the green below.

Because this was a dream -- because she was dressed rather like Alice -- and because she had decided to allow herself to be as much a simple spectator as a dreamer -- it had to happen. "Curiouser and curiouser," she thought, as an alligator hurried its way, close to the ground, along the curve of Old Cabell Hall and disappeared into a small, unremarkable door. Because this was a dream and she was dressed not unlike Alice, she followed.

The courtyard door still rocked gently on its hinges as she pushed it open and stepped inside. It was cool and dim, and the dusty air within tasted faintly of brass and wood and echoes, for Old Cabell was the concert-hall. She found herself standing at the edge of the stage and scanning the crowd that filled the circling opera-house seats for a familiar face. Someone waved at her and she made her way to him. "I've saved you a seat," said Mr. McG--n, a former professor. "I didn't think you'd want to miss this."

She thanked him politely and fixed her eyes on the proscenium. The alligator had drawn himself up on his hind legs to expose a rather fashionably-speckled underbelly. He rested back upon his scaly tail as a human speaker might, when at ease, lean against a podium. His grandiloquent gesturing at Raphael's "The School of Athens," the painting that formed a backdrop to the stage, elicited frequent murmurs of interest and approval from the audience.

She was transfixed. Never had she heard such eloquence, from man nor beast. The alligator's sentences were encrusted with audible semicolons; their adverbs piled quite easily and naturally on other adverbs; each parenthetical remark (like a fine gemstone in a tiara) was perfectly placed and fitted; and the audience breathed nothing but the air of his airy words. There was a collective gasping from the gallery.

"Who," she asked, turning in wide-eyed amazement to her companion, "is this alligator?"

"Hush," he replied. "I'm trying to listen. He's just about to get to the good part."

Chastised, the dreamer turned back to the stage and made a brave attempt at sorting out the threads of discourse which spun about the hall. They seemed sticky. She considered thinking of them as spider-webs, but had just decided to avoid any unnecessary mixing of metaphors when McG--n leaned over and curtly whispered, "Sorry to have been curt. The alligator is, of course, Professor T----r of the English Department.

"Oh!" she cried, earning a glare of disapprobation from, as it seemed, each and every member of the audience. She blushed and whispered, "Mr. T----r, is it? I never took his course. Is it true that he wore a bright yellow suit the day he lectured on Oscar Wilde?"

"Hush," said McG--n. "The good part."

And, indeed, she realized that the good part was just beginning. The alligator had concluded his remarks on the centrality of "The School of Athens" in Victorian light verse, and had begun to address the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

There was an excited hum in the concert-hall. Apparently the other members of the audience were also aware that this was to be the good part.

The alligator began to quote one of Rossetti's finer works:

O how the family affections combat
Within this heart, and each hour flings a bomb at
My burning soul! Neither from owl nor from bat
Can peace be gained until I clasp my wombat.

With the final word, he took a deep bow and looked up to smile an alligator smile at the politely-applauding audience. His bow deepened. The applause became more fevered. He doubled over and, strangely, grew less green. Whistles and cheers filled the hall. Our dreamer found herself joining in the frenzy without quite knowing why. Was she applauding the charm with which the alligator had delivered his lecture? Or was it the genius of Rossetti's doggerel that she most admired? She had just begun to forget the stinging of her clapping hands in the contemplation of the "a bomb at / my wombat" rhyme when something extraordinary happened. The alligator rose to his full six feet in height, gazed majestically at his adoring crowd, and, with a visible effort and a peculiar popping sound, transformed himself into an enormous wombat.

The audience went wild.

The large, beautiful, and enchanting enchanted wombat, amid cheers and cat-calls and the tears and trembling of star-struck co-eds in the front row, bowed again and left the stage.

And as for our heroine? The young visionary awoke convulsed by sleepy giggles which, to this day, she insists is the third finest way to wake up. "Curiouser and curiouser," she laughed.

(Author's note: Dreamers often lie -- in bed asleep where they do dream things true.)