Death and the maiden's pet
My school-leavers' reunion party takes place on Thursday, and it looks as if we should have a good turn-out. Jeffrey Archer, our former head boy, has been in touch to say that all arrangements are in place for a slap-up celebration in town, and that I'd be well-advised to book myself a taxi home. I'm certainly looking forward to the evening: it should be very interesting to see where some of my former classmates have ended up along life's long highway.
Dawn Sherratt, a pupil from Gail's primary school, arrived at our door this morning with the class guinea-pig.
"This is Kweek-Kweek," a tearful little girl thrust a rodent cage across the threshold as I stood in my pyjamas at 9.30am. "Mrs Simpson's expecting him, 'cos we're going on holiday to Florida today."
"Oh, is it? And are you?" I must have sounded as confused as I looked, but Gail soon arrived at my shoulder to welcome our new lodger. "Good morning, Dawn!" she enthused. "Lovely to see you. And here's Kweek-Kweek," she observed needlessly, taking our highly odiferous visitor from the young girl. "Mr Simpson and I are so looking forward to having him with us."
"Are we?" I pinched my nose in distaste.
"Yes we are, Morris," Gail pursed her lips. "Dawn was highly honoured to be chosen as Kweek-Kweek's holiday keeper, and she wasn't keen to entrust him to anyone else in the class while she was on holiday. So I said she could bring him to us instead. It'll be a nice wee change for Margaret. Especially, " she hissed sharply, "as we're not going on holiday ourselves."
I sighed at the barb. Alas, a disappointing teachers' pay award this summer combined with the lack of a previous savings policy in the Simpson household, has left us a little stretched in financial terms. Thus it was that I announced a summer veto on any long-distance holiday ventures this year. Gail has yet to forgive me.
Still, perhaps she had a point about the extra entertainment afforded our infant daughter, soon to attain her second birthday. And it was with such altruistic thoughts that I decided to offer the hand - or paw, rather - of friendship to the latest member of the Simpson household, be his stay ever so temporary.
"Come on then, Kweek-Kweek," I put a tentative finger through his cage rails in order to stroke his nose. Sadly, he viewed it as a supplement to breakfast and sank two very sharp teeth into my forefinger.
"Ouch!" I sprang back in pain. "Little bugger!" "Please mind your language, Morris," Gail spoke frostily and nodded toward's Dawn's shocked presence on the doorstep.
"Oh. Sorry. Right," I muttered, before adding quietly to myself. "Bloody stupid name for a guinea-pig, anyway."
Alas, I wasn't quiet enough, because young Miss Sherratt burst into tears and ran down the path. Apparently, she had chosen the ruddy beast's name in the first place.
Gail drew in a very long breath and raised her shoulders towards me. "Could you think of a better name, Mr Smartypants?" Now I come to think of it, I couldn't. So I went to have my morning shower instead.
Margaret has really taken to having a guinea-pig in the house, and giggles excitedly whenever Kweek-Kweek snuffles around his cage. Even more fun, as far as she is concerned, are the occasions when Gail gives him the freedom of our kitchen and dining- room floors.
Clearly, this is only done under adult supervision, but it can be terrifically rewarding to witness Margaret's exuberance as she totters around the floor in the animal's wake.
Actually, I began to take a minor liking to the creature myself, and spent a happy 30 minutes today playing Doctor Dolittle with my giggling daughter and our temporary pet. Unfortunately, I chose to remark to Gail that, in my opinion, all of the fun and laughter engendered by the experience was considerably better value than blowing 1,500 quid on a continental holiday in a soulless hotel.
Alas, my observation did not go down very well, and the spell of happiness was swiftly broken by my dear wife's tasteless oath of response. I must say, I'll be glad to get out of the house tomorrow night: it's all becoming very claustrophobic, what with Gail's unreasonable moodiness.
Our school reunion proved a major disappointment, at least with regard to my hopes for re-establishing old friendships.
To begin with, there were very few people in attendance that I could actually recognise. Most of them seemed in the preliminary stages of middle-age, I thought to myself, before acknowledging that such a description could also be fairly accurately accorded to myself. Fortunately, our former head boy had thought to provide natty little badges with "Class of '78", and our respective names inscribed thereon, so it was with an increasing degree of confidence that I began to make my way around the room, seeking a familiar appellation or two.
Much to my dismay, there were very few people in attendance who remembered who I was.
"Hullo, there Gordon!" I smiled, for example, in familiar welcome at the boy I recalled sharing a locker with in fourth year. "How's it going, then?" "Oh, fine, fine . . . uh ..." he peered closely at my lapel-badge. "Morris Simpson?" he enquired uncertainly. "Were you in our class, then?" "Course I was!" I laughed indignantly. "Don't you remember the stale cheese sandwich with the mould growing out of it?" "Sorry?" he shook his head.
"I said, don't you - oh, never mind." I gave up on him, and dashed across the room to meet my very first girlfriend, Elizabeth Davies. But, once again, the response was in the negative.
"Morris who?" she peered at my chest. "Sorry," she shrugged her shoulders. "I don't remember you terribly well, but it's nice of you to come. What are you doing now?" "Actually, I'm a teacher," I revealed with modest pride, before returning the question. Clearly, she reckoned my revelation deserving of all the modest pride I could muster; barely stifling a yawn, she hastened to explain that she herself had moved into accountancy and now headed a large firm of management account specialists whose every waking hour seemed devoted to billing their clients for enormous sums of money in order to finance her profligate lifestyle.
It was much the same story all evening. Lawyers, bank executives, estate agents, company directors; each and every one of my former classmates seemed to be accruing enormous sums of money and living in extravagantly luxurious houses; and each and every one of them spent most of the evening trying to surreptitiously outdo each other in narrating their respective achievements.
And whenever one of them had the minor decency to make enquiry of my good self, "And what do you do now, Morris?" I would make reply: "Well, I'm a teacher, actually . . ."
"Oh yes," they would raise their eyebrows with patronising charm. "That must be interesting. Enjoying your holidays then, are you?" The only person whose response rated higher than three on the interest scale was old Limpy Lannigan, our former English teacher. News of my chosen profession certainly made an impression on him.
"You?" he exclaimed in utter disbelief. "You, Simpson? You've become a teacher? And an English teacher at that? I can't believe it! Whatever happened to the bloody admission standards?" he cursed rudely.
In short, you can appreciate that it was a night I'd rather forget than remember. And it was with this in mind that I took the (retrospectively unwise) decision to drink as much as I could, and as quickly as I could. I think I got home at about 3am. But Gail still refuses to talk to me, so I can't guarantee it.
Gail's refusal to countenance any communication stems from more than the unwholesome stupor in which I arrived home last night, it even stems from more than her accumulated bitterness over our lack of holidays this summer.
Because the tragic conclusion to this most dismal of holiday weeks has been the fact that I killed the Primary 6 guinea-pig this morning. I still maintain that I could hardly be blamed for the fact that Kweek-Kweek's stay has proved more temporary than planned, but Gail was having none of it. To explain, I confess that my levels of sanguinity were not what they might have been at 10.30 this morning when I staggered downstairs from bed for a rehydrating pint of water.
My response to the furious matronly glances that greeted my arrival at the living room door was to march firmly and purposefully towards the kitchen sink, jaw firmly clenched and looking neither to right nor to left.
Sadly, I failed to look beneath me as well, because it was just at this moment that Kweek-Kweek chose to make a cross-kitchen dash for the sanctuary of the table. My determined progress sinkwards was thus unexpectedly halted by my right slipper coming into contact with the scurrying animal, with the unfortunate consequence that Kweek-Kweek was propelled forcefully across the room and landed with a solid "thwack" against the freezer door. After which, he slid down to the floor in a heap, very obviously dead.
Gail's hand shot to her mouth, Margaret looked quizzical, and I felt sick to the depths of my being.
"What are we going to tell Dawn Sherratt?" screeched Gail.
I shrugged my shoulders, sighed, and went back to bed. In the circumstances, it seemed the only appropriate response.
Next month: Kweek-Kweek's funeral; plus a new session of academic endeavour at Greenfield Academy, with revelatory news from Mr Pickup.