Hieronymous Hedgehog was extremely picky, it was true, but he never could see the point in settling for second best. Bothering to get out of bed each morning was his tacit agreement that he’d engage with the world, but that didn’t mean he had to take its rubbish as well. Crooked spines? Short legs? Sparse whiskers? No freaking way! His future wife would be the epitome of style and echination, and that’s all there was to it.
And so it happened one beautiful morning that Hieronymous Hedgehog awoke early and couldn’t get back to sleep. He’d tossed and turned incessantly, only to eventually give up, sit up, and get up. He stretched, scratched his big round belly, and wended his way downstairs to the kitchen on his short bandy legs. Okay, it was time to get this show on the road.
Hieronymous Hedgehog slammed the pantry door. It was empty again! No bugs, no worms, nor any rotten apple or nuts. He needed to end this barren reality that was his bachelorhood, and quickly, but he’d have to swing by the drycleaner first. He needed to pick up his pinhole suit with the natty pinstripes, then he needed a coffee while the shoeshine beetle got to work on his Testonis. He had a lot to accomplish today. He had to buy a newspaper to tut over the state of the world. He had to dominate his neighbour at chess. Oh, and he had to choose a wife.
Forgoing breakfast, Hieronymous Hedgehog combed his whiskers, then polished his spines with a big woolly caterpillar. He perfumed his armpits with amber musk, took an umbrella cane from the hatstand near the door, and plucked a big red hibiscus from the outside garden to garnish his suit lapel later on. He looked at his reflection in a random car mirror and snorted with satisfaction. Ruggedly handsome as always!
The dating agency was called ‘The Romance Factory’ and had a very good reputation. Its hostess, Miss Musquash, had been married about twenty times, and every one of those marriages had been very happy and successful. That’s why Miss Musquash could be trusted with the romantic business of everyone else in existence. She was clearly a true professional with years of relationship experience.
A short while later, the bell gave a little tinkle as Hieronymous Hedgehog burst through the front door. His stride bespoke purpose. Well, it was more of an amble actually, but at least it was a confident one. The office was very small and cosy, full of flowers and spider webs, and there was a drowsy secretary in the corner. Hieronymous Hedgehog could almost see the zees floating off her head—that’s how out of it she was. However, he would not be swayed; he approached the secretary and knocked on her shell.
“Sirrah!” he announced. “Is anybody in there? I need a wife, and urgently!”
The secretary jumped with a cute hiccup, and when she’d composed herself, peered at him over her equally cute glasses. Her beaked face then broke into a knowing smile. “Would you like a coffee?” she asked in a slow, nasal drawl. “A tea? Cocoa with worms? An orange?” But Hieronymous Hedgehog didn’t have time for silly chit chat or noticing others’ genders. He wanted a…
Without further ado, the secretary pressed a button on her intercom. “Miss Musquash? Your three o’clock is here.” She looked up at him briefly. “A Mr Hieronymous Hedgehog.” The speaker crackled, then there was an audible intake of breath.
“Let him in.”
Miss Musquash was sitting on a sofa, chain smoking like lung cancer hadn’t been invented and there was no tomorrow. Around her were tossed folders full of the photos and profiles of potential fiancées. She gave a helpless shrug.
“Dear Hieronymous Hedgehog, you have gone through all of our applicants!” Miss Musquash indicated the folders. “Lucia was too short, and Maria was too tall. Helga was too fat, and Geraldine was too skinny.” She wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Too hairy, too squeaky, too lascivious! I don’t know if there is anyone alive that could meet all of your requirements! It’s not possible!”
Miss Musquash picked up a sheet of paper and shook it in Hieronymous Hedgehog’s face. It contained a long list of criteria that his potential future wife must fulfil. He ignored it, and began filing his nails instead. She sighed. It was clear that he wasn’t going to budge. In fact, Hieronymous Hedgehog even went so far as to sit himself down and plonk his short bandy legs on her desk. He then ever so ‘politely’ remind her that he was a respectable client and a chairman of the Forest Retirement Fund to boot. She shook her head and let out another sigh.
“Look, why don’t you come back tomorrow? I promise I’ll have something for you then.”
And so it came to pass that Hieronymous Hedgehog grudgingly left and the light stayed on in Miss Musquash’s office the whole night through. By four in the morning, the ashtray was full of stubs and a decision had been found, and it was the best of an impossible bunch.
A week later, all of the forest’s inhabitants were invited to a wedding. Yes, that’s right… Hieronymous Hedgehog’s wedding! He was the happiest groom. His future wife was the epitome of perfection—height, weight, prickliness. And, the most important thing of all, she was never going to argue with him.
This time, Miss Musquash sighed with relief. She closed Hieronymous Hedgehog’s case file, and called the secretary into her room. She asked her to empty the ashtray and order a new cactus for the lobby. And then business would carry on as normal at ‘The Romance Factory’.
by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
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