Mr. and Mrs. Tyrannis sank the country they were in with an angry kick of the heel (someone had cooked Mrs. Tyrannis’ soft-boiled egg a second too long), and while the surface of the waters were still bubbling over the tips of the mountains, they took off gaily to live on a desert island some nine hours away. (Of course they could fly.) They brought with them one hundred and eight slaves to take care of their daily needs—nine cooks, thirty gardeners, thirty maids, ten fishermen, nine secretaries, and twenty waiters.
The island had turquoise water and white sand. Every morning Mrs. Tyrannis would wake up and mutter, looking at the color of the water beneath her window, “Is the green blue enough, is the blue green enough?” For there was no pleasing her and pleasing her displeased her most of all. And if she found it was too green or too blue, she would have a slave add a bucket of the other hue to rectify the error. When he had finished, the water was usually now too green if it had been too blue, or too blue if it had been too green. Off he would be sent for a flogging with palm leaves.
Furious winds battered the island and all day, and all night slaves raked the beaches in neat ridges that were ruffled as soon as they were made. Mrs. Tyrannis loved to see the staff busy. They wore orange bloomers and, on their heads, pink umbrellas so that she might see them from miles away, raking, raking, raking the sands in fan-shaped ridges. And if ever any pink umbrella seemed to have stopped its movement over the cookie-colored expanse of the beach, a tremendous roar would proceed from Mrs. Tyrannis’ throat: “Flog, flog, flog him,” or “Flog, flog, flog her.”
With that, satisfied by the day’s doings, Mrs. Tyrannis would go to take a nap. That was when Mr. Tyrannis would slink out of his cave where he had spent the better part of the morning reading old comics, filing his nails, combing his locks and rolling lead balls he liked to aim at lazy slaves or at good slaves who just happened to make timely targets. Fresh out of the cave, he would stretch and yawn and mutter dreamily, looking at the water lapping at the cliff, “Is the blue green enough? Is the green blue enough?” And if it was just right, he ordered blue added or green added knowing Mrs. Tyrannis liked getting into a temper the instant she rose from her nap.
Another favorite game was called “lighting the garden”: all one hundred and eight slaves had to gather in the park on a moonless night holding flashlights. Then Mrs. Tyrannis would place each by a numbered shrub or flower bed, by a treasured datura (with purple flowers shaped like trumpets) or a paradise tree, and she would yell, “You at 33, run to 354...” Her greatest fun was to send the short-legged scrambling at full speed across fields and forests. Of course, if they never reached their destination it displeased her so much it pleased her immensely, and if they did it displeased her even more.
Meals had been thought up so that everyone could get as angry as possible in just a short hour, starting right away, as soon as they sat down at the table. No one left without having yelled at a slave or two, according to the golden principle of the kitchen that nothing should ever be cooked long enough or little enough. For instance, when the steak came, one said, “This is too cooked” or “This is not cooked enough,” depending on the level of displeasure one chose. “Not cooked enough” was for moderate displeasure, as the steak could be cooked some more; “too cooked” was for extreme displeasure, as there was no uncooking one that had already been cooked.
Last of all, “Disgusting! Take it away!” was the supreme pleasure of displeasure reserved for Mrs. Tyrannis alone who could then have a terrible shaking fit.
“I hate you,” Mrs. Tyrannis would whisper to Mr. Tyrannis at the end of the day. “I hate you, too,” he would reply and spit out the window. After a few minutes she would resume, “I hate you more,” and he would snarl obligingly, “No, I hate you more.” But it was hard to convince her since Mr. Tyrannis really loved Mrs. Tyrannis dearly and she loved him back. This displeased her so greatly that it made her day. She would turn over on her side scowling and fall crossly asleep.
At customs, the form visitors had to fill in asked, “Do you hate everything and does everything hate you?” and questions of that sort. Then they would be given a brief course to learn to repeat the magic formula of the Island of Angriness: “Yuk, yuk, yuk.”
One day, the winds rose and howled and the waves rose as high as the rolling hill and the foam was so dense and so furious that Mrs. Tyrannis hadn’t even finished her morning exercise in displeasure (beginning with “Is the green blue enough? Is the blue green enough?”) when a terrible wave lashed across her face and for a moment she bubbled and sputtered as she tried to recover her breath. Then she sank and the island and its inhabitants with her. The heavens had heard the single prayer that rose up in a chorus from the Island of Angriness: “Let me be displeased at every moment, no matter what, no matter why. Let me hate everything in sight and let everything hate me. Yuk, yuk, yuk.”
And even now if you say, “Yuk, yuk, yuk,” at times when things are going your way, you’ll see those very same things start running in the opposite direction, you’ll find a scowl begin to form on your face and others glowering at you, you’ll see the sky turning black and animals dispersing (except for mosquitoes, gnats, and snakes who’ll stick close to your ribs).
Gini Alhadeff is the author of The Sun at Midday, Tales of a Mediterranean Family, and Diary of a Djinn.
Photo © Sam Finn
The passageway was desolate and draughty; the weather of the twelfth month was upon them: long nights, the chill of the north wind that cuts through the flesh and splits the bones. You could freeze to death in just one night.
"Animism is second nature to me, and it has something to do with language itself: in words, all objects are as much alive as animals. They have a soul, stones or iron as much as birds."