Sometimes a ringing cellphone is a welcome distraction.
It’s Sunday morning. I’m standing in the mini-market a hundred yards from my house, trying to ignore the scent cocktail of sweat and cheap cleaning fluid. Outside, there’s a light mist; the weather seems to be cooling down after an unseasonably warm summer.
I’m trying to choose between four pints of full-fat or two pints of half-fat milk when my cellphone rings.
As I fumble in my pocket, the guy serving behind the counter gives me a withering look, despite the fact that he is also on the phone. As I ignore his disdain, I reflect that he’s always on the phone, even when he’s serving customers.
The handset emerges from my pocket, but my early morning brain doesn’t recognise the caller display number. I answer it anyway.
Yuh, hello? I yawn.
Ah, Mr. Roth! I don’t recognise the bold male voice. It sounds laboured, overweight, but not breathless enough to be an obscene call. I wonder what he’ll try to sell me.
Speaking. Who’s calling, please?
There’s a faint chuckle at the other end of the line.
This is Robert Leech, Mr. Roth. Leech? It rings a bell, but... Your landlord.
Ah yes, Bloodsucking Bob. The largest landlord in Cambridge, owner of some two hundred houses. Hmmm, this isn’t likely to be good news.
Hello Mr. Leech, how are you? I ask politely, hoping he’s not about to put my rent up.
Excellent, thank you! he leers fatly. I just wanted to let you know that I’m in the area, and I’m going to drop by to inspect the house.
Twenty minutes ago, I crawl out of bed to the sound of magnificent singing. It’s close by, but thankfully not this side of my door. I sit upright, my eyes objecting to the pale light at the edge of the curtains. My mouth tastes of stale garlic, and my bedclothes don’t seem to have fared much better. Ah yes, dinner last night was an enormous pizza; it must have been a day with a ‘Y’ in it.
The growling tenor voice continues his aria, belting out something from Il Travatore as I shuffle to the bathroom. I step absently over a half-eaten zebra on the landing, and try the door; it’s locked. King, the house’s resident lion, is showering. But judging by the stripy carcass staining my carpet, he’s clearly not tidying.
Starting down the stairs, I make a mental note to have a word with him later.
As I reach the hallway, I can hear the TV. Good grief, is someone else up early? I poke my nose round the door to the dim lounge, and find a half-dozen badgers dozing in a tangled pile on the sofa. Meanwhile Yavin, the Chief Engineer of their clan, puffs his pipe in the armchair. He turns and gives me a cheery wave through the smoky haze before returning to his movie.
As I retreat to the hall, I realise he was watching The Seventh Seal, the final movie in an all-night black-and-white Ingmar Bergman marathon.
Badgers love Bergman, and don’t need the subtitles.
The dim, dog-legged kitchen-diner lacks any debris from the night before; the washing up is done, the surfaces wiped, the carpeted floor immaculate. And the fridge is missing. Interesting. I guess I won’t have any milk for my tea?
My thoughts turn to the local mini-market. I scoop my keys from the kitchen table, along with my phone. As I turn to the hall to looks for my shoes and grab my jacket, a deafening crash spins me round. I find glass shattered across the floor, and a still-rolling baseball escaping the empty frame of the kitchen window.
I pick the heavily stitched ball up and wander over to the window. Thirty yards up the garden, their clothes damp with the dew of the unmown lawn, three young badgers gaze my way. Hoth stands on a small mound of freshly-dug earth, perhaps wishing it wasn’t obvious he was the pitcher. Sollust wears a catcher’s mitt on his paw ten yards further back, and is slowly edging behind the shed.
Between them, in a pretty pink dress, and attempting to hide a bat that’s taller than she is behind her back, is Dantoo. The boys slowly raise their paws to point at her helpfully. She smiles innocently.
I’m about to take them to task when I notice a figure up by the tree at the very back of the garden. It’s standing on a large white box - hey, that's my fridge! - and peering up into the evergreen branches. Mist hides his identity from all certainty, but I guess correctly that it’s my best friend, the arch-genius iDifficult. He must have been up all night too; he’s not a morning person, and would hibernate given the option. This is far too early, whatever time it is.
As if sensing my thoughts, ‘Difficult turns and waves. I see he has a clipboard and a long wooden boat hook in his hands. The fridge wobbles beneath him.
Waitaminute. Isn’t that the tree that the squiddrel is nesting in?
A tentacle descends from the tree and there’s a flash of red fur as ‘Difficult vanishes with a muffled squawk up into the canopy.
Scientific curiosity, you just can’t beat it.
Without a word, the young badgers turn and charge up the garden, welcoming the distraction. Dantoo waves the bat valiantly and jostles her older cousins out of the way, quickly overtaking them. They’re going to assist ‘Difficult with the squiddrel; I don’t fancy its chances, that kid has a hell of a hit on her.
We’ll probably have calamari for dinner tonight.
I sigh. This is all too much.
I head out through the front door, and stop in surprise as a figure comes around the hedge and strides purposefully towards me. It’s my neighbour, the ever-smiling Abbey. The girl-next-door still has no shoes on; she never does. I’ve often meant to ask her why, but now’s not the time; I need tea, therefore I need milk.
Morning, neighbour! she grins, deflating my world-weary mood instantly. Her shoulder-length hair looks freshly blonde above her white t-shirt and dark jeans.
Hey. I offer a smile in return, and hope I don’t look too rumpled.
I wanted to borrow a couple of things, may I...?
I wave her towards the house as I set off.
Help yourself to whatever you need. I’m off to get milk. Need anything?
No thanks! she shouts as I reach the road. Do you have your phone?
Yeah, call me if you change your mind!
There's a cold edge to the wind on the main road, and...
Back in the now, the voice of my Landlord slaps me from my reverie.
Mr. Roth? Damn, what was he saying?
Sorry Mr. Leech, someone was talking to me.
So, I’ll be with you in five minutes.
Five minutes?! I can feel a sweat rising.
Exactly, be seeing you! And the line goes dead.
Zebras, lions, badgers, indoor smoking, broken windows, more badgers, and a hybrid colossal squid-squirrel trying to eat my best buddy. Wow.
Panicking, I set off for the house at a run.
Fifteen minutes later, I stand with Bloodsucking Bob and Abbey on the driveway. My rotund landlord is grinning and chatting to my neighbour, and largely ignoring me. Gazing at his shiny-elbowed jacket, I wonder why this rich fella doesn’t own a better suit?
I have to say, Abbey, he enthuses, you’ve done wonderful things for your brother’s housekeeping during your visit! He mops his brow, and adjust his glasses. Oh my yes, there’s some marvellous feminine touches! He waves a finger at me in a playful fashion. I hope you’re appreciative of all your sister’s efforts, Indigo! he chides.
Oh, Mr. Leech, I shrug, you have no idea.
Don’t worry, Robert, I’ll be keeping an eye on him. She touches his arm in a reassuring manner. Thanks for dropping by. You take care now.
He blushes and giggles foolishly as he bustles away.
We wave him off, arm in arm.
So, tell me again - why were you my sister? She pats me on the arm in an equally reassuring manner and gives me a huge distracting smile.
Well, if he thought I was your girlfriend, he’d have put your rent up.
She turns to the house before I can think of a smart reply, and wrestles my house numbers from her front door.
Here, you’ll need to swap these back.
Thanks. You’re a life-saver. You know, showing him round your place rather than mine was some quick thinking. Though now I come to think, she’d already swapped the house numbers over before I made it back from the shop.
I let it go. Always a mystery, is Abbey.
Now, did you get that milk? she enquires, folding her arms in an appraising manner. I frown.
Um, no, I was in a hurry to get back. Abbey raises an eyebrow. There’s an essay in the look she gives me, and I suspect I received a bad grade for it. But then she cracks another smile.
Well, if you go get some, Bro, I’ll make us some tea.
This blog entry is protected by copyright © Indigo Roth, 2011/2012