The favourite foods of the common house hippo include chips, raisins, and crumbs from peanut butter toast. They do seem to be quite fond of saltiness, but it is not advised that one entice a house hippo by sprinkling salt near a trap, as that can dehydrate the tiny creatures.” - S. Byrne-Salamander’s “Every House A Hippo, Or, A Nonbeliever’s Guide To The Common House Hippo”, pg. 6-7, Guelph: Quibbler Press Canada.
Petra likes potato chips and crumbs from peanut butter toast just as much as the next house hippo. (Especially sour cream and onion chips, which remind her of her tiny hippo babyhood, snuggled up with Mama and her sisters and brothers). But what she really, really, really loves is those red-and-white, sharp-and-sweet licks that arrive every year with the appearance of the Green Mountain.
If she runs and runs, and jumps at just the right time, flying though the air to thump against the base of the Green Mountain, she can make the licks fall like fluff from the laundry basket onto the ground. She’s learned, however, to tear off the clear wrapping with her teeth after she drags a lick back to her nest. (The first year she ate the wrapping as well, and had a most terrible stomach-ache).
The next best part about the Green Mountain licks is the fact that their disappearance always gets blamed on That Cat Jake. Petra’s not that fond of the ridiculously furry monster, and knowing that the Giants are scolding the beast adds an extra sweetness to the lick in her mouth.
“House hippos, like their larger brethren, require water to bathe, as well as to drink.” - S. Byrne-Salamander, pg. 9.
Petra adores swimming. She was the best paddler of all her sisters and brothers, and swam across a humungous outdoors bowl on her trek to her very own house, dodging rocks and sticks and other strange creatures.
She has swum in the Giant vases, diving between roses and daisies, dodging thorns and stray leaves. Wet tiles floors are good places for sliding, and Petra has found that there are often deeper spots hidden in the cracks of the slippery surface. She even likes to wade in the cold, soggy puddle in the mud room, as long as she can dry off on top of the vent after her dip.
But the best place to swim, Petra thinks, is in That Cat Jake’s water bowl. It’s wide and deep, but much more relaxing than the outdoors bowl. It’s always clear and fresh, and if it’s empty, she usually doesn’t have to wait long for it to fill up again. Petra is very anti-Jake, but she must admit that she would miss the water bowl if the hairy beast were to disappear one day.
“These wee beasts build their nests in closets using lost mittens, dryer lint and bits of string. Great emphasis is placed on softness, and lost socks often find their way to the lair of the house hippo.” - S. Byrne-Salamander, pg. 37-38.
Petra does not believe there is anything better in the whole wide world than laundry fluff. She makes great migrations to the depths every month, jumping down the Stepping Stones in leaps and bounds to reach the rumbling fluff mines. Carefully, she picks out the softest and the warmest out of the piles. (She can only carry a little bit, so it is very, very, very important that she finds the best stuff of the fluff).
But during Green Mountain time, Petra forgoes her usual journeying in favour of watchful waiting for Boxes Day. On Boxes Day, there are plentiful piles of pretty paper scattered everywhere at the bottom of the Green Mountain, and Petra always feels dizzy as she takes in all of the colours and all of the textures: gold and green, shiny and silky, red and rough, white and wonderful. Boxes Day paper isn’t as soft as the nicest fluff, but it is very pretty. She likes to look at her favourite bits right after she yawns, so that her dreams will be as sweet as the paper is shiny.
“House hippos, found in Canada and the upper United States, can be very territorial. Family pets and small infants will soon learn to respect the power of those tiny great jaws.” - S. Byrne-Salamander, pg. 72.
Mostly the Bugs stay away from Petra and her teeth. They know better than to mess with a house hippo. Petra is very proud of this fact.
As for That Cat Jake, well. She only had to bite him once, and she was spitting out orange hairs for weeks afterwards.
“They are the most independent of creatures, and will live alone for years before mating, or indeed, even striking up a friendship.” - S. Byrne-Salamander, pg. 99
Petra knows that there were other small beings living in her house. She’s seen evidence of their presence in pins and thimbles that disappear between one night and the next, crumbs that are swept away before Vacuum Day, and the occasional tiny hairs on the clean linoleum, not long enough for Giants‘ or coarse enough for Jake’s.
But Petra is a solitary creature by nature and habit (she left her babyhood house before any of her brothers and sisters were even venturing into the next room), and she is content to ignore the others as they seem to ignore her.
A small brown face is staring down at her. It’s connected to a tiny body that hangs upside down on the grate just before her nest. “Hi! I’m Shaher. What’s your name?” The...boy? (it did sound male) frowns a bit. “Do you talk?”
For one wild moment, Petra considers charging him like one of the Bugs. But Bugs can’t talk, and she’s never lonely, but she is awfully curious.
“My name’s Petra”, she says, “I’m a house hippo, of course I can talk.”
Shaher flips off the grating and lands feet first in front of Petra. “That’s absolutely fantastic!” he exclaims, beaming. "I'm a Borrower, and I'm sick of just talking to my uncles."
"A Borrower?" Petra tries to sound bored. "I've heard of your kind. You're supposed to be a timid lot."
Shaher shrugs. "Timid?" he says, "Not I!" Then Shaher flies through the air again in one complicated movement, as fast as a fly. (Later, he will tell her that this is called a cartwheel). "In fact, I bet if we team up, we could Borrow something fabulous," he continues, flashing her a broad grin.
Petra can’t help but to grin back, charmed in spite of herself. Even though a hippo’s smile looks more like a grimace to Bugs and Giants alike, Shaher doesn’t seem scared at all. And in the days that follow, as Shaher convinces Petra to let him ride on her back, and as Petra introduces Shaher to the red-and-white licks, Petra privately concedes that she might have been just a little bit lonely after all.