Keith

For a long time I coveted my neighbour’s ox. I knew this was wrong, deeply wrong, but I just couldn’t help myself. It was a tremendous ox, with a splendid pair of horns, a tail that shouted “soup!”, and great bulky lumbering solidity. Its name was Keith. I watched it, through my greasy window pane, as it mooched in its oxy way around my neighbour’s paddock, and I coveted it.

I think it important to point out that I did not covet my neighbour’s house, which was in any case an unseemly hovel compared with my chalet. Nor did I covet his wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ass, for the simple reason that he did not possess any of these. He was a lonely and lowly fellow, crushed by penury, and it was something of a miracle that he had managed to get his hands on an ox.

And what an ox! The first time I slapped eyes on Keith I was transfixed. I rubbed at the window pane with a rag the better to view the magnificent beast. After a while I pulled up a chair so I could sit while peering through the pane, for I felt my spindly legs giving way due to nervous tension. I used the rag to mop my brow, and gazed, covetously, oh covetously, all the livelong day. Every now and then, Keith would snort, and I could hear him clearly, for his snorting was loud and sonorous, and I felt frissons of pleasure.

Full many a day sat I watching this majestic ox, coveting him, wanting him for my own. As I watched, I hatched plot after plot. I would beat my neighbour to death with a spade, and with the same spade bury him in the earth, and so claim Keith as mine. Or, I would run away with the ox, hauling him along by a halter, heading for the distant hills. Or, I would forge documents proving to the unsuspecting eye that I was the ox’s rightful owner, pursuing my neighbour through the highest courts in the land. Or, I would find, somewhere, a lesser ox, an inferior one, and when my neighbour’s back was turned would substitute it for Keith, and keep Keith with me always.

It was this latter plot that gave me pause. I realised I had not the first idea how to care for an ox. Upon what did one feed them? What oxy appurtenances did they require to live in comfort? Would I risk being gored by those horns were I inadvertently to vex my coveted Keith?

Then I began to wonder if my covetousness was all it seemed. Was it the ox I coveted, in and of itself, or was it the act of coveting something – anything – that rightly belonged to my neighbour? Could it be that what I really desired, over and above everything, was to sit peering through my greasy window pane, consumed with feelings of envy for the lonely lowly penurious wretch next door? And, had it not been his ox, would I have coveted whatever beast he kept in his paddock, be it a duck or an ant?

I was able to give further thought to these matters when the season of mists descended upon the land, and nothing was visible from my window, nothing at all save a milky grey blur of blankness. The air was so thick and dense that sound did not carry, and I could hear no snorts from Keith. I moved my chair away from the window, and pulled down the shutters, and I gazed instead at my ceiling, upon which, like Dennis Wheatley, I had painted the stars in their heavens.

Could I covet a star? I could. I picked one, fat and sprightly and sparkling, oh sparkling in a way no ox, not even Keith, could sparkle. And while I sat and waited out the long long months of mist, I hatched plot after plot to yank that star from the sky and drag it down to earth, to hold it beside me, burning bright, all mine, my coveted star.

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