The Curmudgeon


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Common Marligan

The origins of the common marligan, like much else about these elusive creatures, remain shrouded in mystery. What is certain is that, by the time it reaches its natural habitat in the domestic cistern, the common marligan is fully versed in every possible register of voice; from the bass cluncherings of its territorial call, through the baritone quabargles and the tenor gackling with which it whiles away the night, up to the high-pitched whifficking which signals the urge to mate and causes insomniac householders to run amok with kitchen utensils. It is thought that some species of marligan are also capable of ultrasonic emissions; but this has never been satisfactorily proved.

A prominent source of confusion when studying the marligan is the volume and variety of noises it can make. Even most experts, when deprived of special equipment, are unable to tell the difference between the whifficks and quabargles of the nightly song cycle, and the subtly different strains of a distracted marligan simply banging itself against the inside of the cistern. The call of a marligan travelling south for bathtime is often similarly confused with the wheezing and whining of an airlock in the pipes, although the two sets of sounds are easily distinguishable to the experienced ear.

On the subject of ears, it is almost certainly untrue that infant marligans can cause tinnitus by escaping into the bath water and insinuating themselves into bathers' aural canals. In the first place, marligans are neither ethereal nor insubstantial; and although nobody has ever seen one, even the smallest juvenile would be easily detectable if it got into a bath. In the second place, marligans have a marked aversion towards physical contact with human beings. The best possible proof of this is the fact that no single zoologist who has looked in a cistern for marligans has ever come away with more than a wet head.

Concerning the origins of the marligan, still stranger myths abound. Some say the creatures are formed from the last breaths of opera singers, drowned in decaying sewers by their maddened, cloaked Svengalis. Tenor and baritone, alto and soprano, the bubbles formed by their last submarine screams are borne along beneath the rushing water as it is cleaned, recycled and sent through the pipes anew. Forced into ever narrower spaces, crushed together by pressure and speed, the bubbles merge at last into a single sphere of air, which vibrates with inarticulate noise: tenor and baritone, alto and soprano; the egg of the marligan. But this is, of course, a poetic legend merely; a romantic fairy-tale of dreamy plumbers.


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