Hamstergate (Part 3)
School starts in T -3
Three words I love:
- Effusive. It sounds supernatural.
- Ouroborus. This, I discovered from Aunt Amandine’s Mini Book of Mythical Creatures (which, oddly, she keeps in the same box as cotton buds) is a serpent that eats its own head. Sounds like my head on bad days.
- Rhinefield. I can’t explain this one. All I can say is that if I could choose my surname (which obviously I can’t) it’d probably be Rhinefield.
Three words I hate:
- Man on. Technically two words. As in when a player shouts “Man on” to another player in football. Just writing it now fills me with fear.
- Ointment. I used to think it was spelt ‘oink-ment’ like the noise a pig makes. I resent words that try to make a fool out of me.
- Profundity. I don’t like how the second ‘o’ of ‘profound’ turns to a ‘u’ in the in the plural form. This is somehow unnatural.
This morning, the gracious martyr Biscuit was laid to rest. Beth MSN’d me a grainy photo of his fluffy form laid out supine in a Fortnum & Mason hamper. Tilda was wearing all black. For her own part, Aunt Amandine has been up since 7.15am frantically whipping up an extra ambitious French Pavlova for the Revlingtons because as she feels that the whole debacle of hamstergate was – and I quote – ‘entirely my fault’. I tried to say that she was being utterly ridiculous and that, at most, she was only half to blame for hamstergate – she donated the hamster ball that was probably dodgy. Her role was merely one of negligence. She didn’t take much heart from this. Either way, panic-producing Pavlovas was of no good to anyone. Biscuit is dead, and that’s that. No one is entirely to blame (unless you include Archibald the cat, and he doesn’t seem to mind, so why beat yourself up?)
This afternoon Beth turns up. She is wearing jogging bottoms and her eyes are bloodshot.
“Paddy, I’m in crisis. We need to talk. Terrible things are afoot.”
She enters unlacing her shoes frantically like a toddler desperate to dive into a ball pit.
“Why can I smell burning sugar?”
“My Aunt is having one of her turns. She’s guilt-cooking.”
Beth follow me through to the back room. Towser is snoozing on the sofa, and I lift him off, unpicking each claw one by one from the IKEA throw which he remains stubbornly hooked to. From the kitchen comes the sound of a thick expletive. I shut the door.
“So… you know me and the dentist?” Beth leans back into the sofa. It is deep, and the cushions are further away than she thinks, so she’s now kind of horizontal. Seeing her like that somehow dilutes the gravitas of her mood.
“You have a phobia of them?”
Beth stares at the ceiling for a moment silently massaging her brow.
“I’ve got an appointment at 4.45. I just can’t do it this time. Not after that last experience when I was in pain the whole time and the dentist did nothing. I don’t even think my teeth need straightening, look…”
She opens her mouth. I peer into the gloom; a vague scent of something Sherbet Lemony wafts out to greet me. Pivoting her chin gently towards the light like a true professional, I examine her doggedly misaligned molars that stagger along the roof of her mouth like a drunk’s footsteps.
“Yeah, I mean, you can’t really see those ones, can you. Why bother?”
“Exactly! But dad’s all like “your smile is everything. It’ll determine your job, your career. You will get this procedure.”
“Hmm”, I murmur, judiciously sitting on the edge of the sofa like an Emeritus Professor. “Have you tried ink-erasing the date off the wall calendar?”
“Yes, they’re up to that. I tried that one for the orthodontist appointment and Mum clocked the yellowy ghost of the ink.”
“Run the car battery flat. It always works; leave the lights on for a fe…”
“You always say this, Paddy. We have two cars, both are Audis. Their batteries snigger at our childish attempts at sabotage.”
“Hmmm… then we’re in trouble” I say, shifting my bum further back into the sofa’s hinterland. A little pouf of Towser’s hairs lift up on the air jet and twist in the late Summer light streaming in from the window. Beth’s pupils pinprick as she stares out the window silently, the light blanching her skin. She sniffs as she folds the metal container of a used tealight over and over until it resembles a little silver teardrop. It is like a little metaphor-sculpture for her mood.
From the hallway comes the sound of heavy feet clunking down the stairs. Amandine bursts in on us, shock-haired. Her eyes have that hunted look of a cornered criminal.
“Patrick, have you seen my… oh, hi Beth, so sorry about Biscuit. Look, Beth you must believe me, that ball was purchased from a highly renowned…”
“Amandine, it’s fine. It was the cat’s fault.” My Aunt’s head swings back to me.
“Paddy, I need your help. Could you help me find a cookbook, it’s called Delia Smith’s Complete Illustrated Cookery Course. It’s kind of dirty with a brown …” She broke off with a sidelong furtive stare at Beth to read her response. “well it’s not dirty, but it kind of has flour on it. Brown spine, hard back. Know the one? Quickly, boy, help your poor auntie.”
“Sorry, Auntieface, me and Beth were about to head to town, we’re meeting friends for lunch.”
“Oh, jog on then” Amandine sign, pulling a wad of tightly packed hardback books from the Billy bookcase.”
Beth and I shot each other a glance and edge towards the front door. A lucky escape. Amandine in cook-mode is like a telesales caller: engage in all but the briefest conversation, or you’ll be in too deep. She’d have had us both donning pinnies within five minutes.
Outside the front door, a little porch gives way to three terracotta-coloured steps that run into a small front garden. Along the road, houses stand proudly behind neat little drives or daisy-flecked lawns. Elm trees grow out from the pavement at intervals along with wooden telegraph poles. I like telegraph poles. There’s something honest about them. Why hide the wonder that is modern telephony? I like to think that were Earth to be suddenly inhabited by house-eating giants then telegraph poles would provide a great way to pluck multiple houses up from the ground in one go. The giants could simply un-stake a telegraph pole, give it a yank, and uproot as many as five or six houses in one fell swoop which they could then fling over their shoulder for later, kind of like how you see multiple salamis dangling from a string in butchers’ windows sometimes. One of the down sides of Amandine’s street is the yellow fire hydrant sign that has two number 13’s written on it. It attached to the wall right outside our house. I sometime think that this is a bad omen on our house. In theory, it is on the border between our house and Clive’s next door. But then again, there are two number thirteens. Maybe there’s destined to be, quite literally a plague on both our houses à la Romeo & Juliet. Crickey, I do hope not. Damn you, superstition, you are exhausting. Cross oneself.
On the other side of the road is a field. A great wide, open field. Its golden barley crop sways this time of year, lone and level right over to a woodland about half a mile away. Beyond that, hidden by the thick trees, is the high street of Halesworth.
Beth and I climb over a style opposite the house and jumped down onto the craggy dry earth. A cloud of fruit flies evaporates off a fetid rabbit carcass, and the choruses of grasshoppers falls mute for a second.
“Where are we even going?” Beth asks, lagging behind slightly.
“Your dentists the one up by Back Lane, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Sublime Smiles. What a name. I mean, would you trust a dentist called ‘Sublime Smiles?”
“Indeed. Probably not.”
We do-si-do around sharp stalks of barley towards a long trail gouged out by a tractor tyre.
“Do you have a plan, or are we just going on a walk to dodge the Aunt?”
“Kind of both. We could actually head into town for a wander, and thereby un-lie?”
“That’s not a plan, Paddy. My mum will kill me if I don’t go. If I just don’t rock up, we’ll get struck off the dentist register, and a good NHS dentist is hard to find. Especially in Suffolk.”
“You raise a good point”, I say flatly. “Give me a mo, I’ll think of something. Why not text your mum meantime, and say you’re with me and we’re making our own way there?”
“Yeah, good idea.”
We walk between the great patches of crop which sway by our wastes, the soft bwahb-bwahb’s of Beth’s Nokia interrupting the noise of grasshoppers. I start sniffing at the pollen from the anthriscus sylvestris (cow parsley). Their speckled little heads dance in the warm breeze like mocking cheerleader pompoms. I hear Beth lock her phone, and she trots up beside me. There is a moment’s silence.
“Yeah?” I respond, throat rasping.
“What will we do when we’re at different schools. Will we still hang out?”
“Of course we will, silly.” I say, not quite thinking through the implicates of my rapid response. My mind works quickly. “We’re hanging out now, aren’t we?”
“Yeah, but at Cope Muir High we’ve been totally seeing each other all the time. Everyday. When you’re going to this new place, you’ll be over there, and I’ll be here. We’ll both be in second year of A-Levels, so we’ll be dead busy. Maybe we’ll slowly drift apart like two tankers anchored next to one another…”
“You’ve got that wrong; two tankers anchors alongside drift closer together. It’s due to their gravitational pull…”
“Stop it, you know what I mean.”
I consider for a minute. The thought flashes across my grey matter that this probably could be the case… that in a matter of weeks, my school will be miles away from Beth’s. We won’t be borrowing each other’s homework notes or helping one another do the fine shading on our art projects… or liaising how best to conquer the evil broomstick thing on the new Harry Potter PS2 game. Thinking fast, I try to buoy the atmosphere as I feel it sinking heavily into the gloopy quicksand sentimentality.
“We will” I say, assertively.
The field eventually gives way to the edge of the forest, which looks ink-black even in the bright sunlight. We plonk down on a sidelong bough of a felled tree. The air is fresh and warm on our skin. I lean back against a wooden electricity mast watching its three cables extend overhead along the fields, aligning neatly in parallel with the tractor trails we’ve just walked through. A bluebird chirps in a nearby hedgerow, where a plastic bag rustles frantically on a bit of bramble.
“Any ideas on the dentist-bunk front? It’s now 4.02pm You have precisely 43 minutes.”
“Mmmm. Nah. You could just fess up… say to the dentist you hate needles? Or get drunk?”
“Is that the best you’ve got? Those suggestions insult your intelligence. Remember what happened when Tiffany Maynard from F5 went to the dentist drunk?”
“No. But I assume by your tone that it didn’t work out?”
“No, it bloody didn’t.”
“Did they smell it on her?”
“No, worse, they found it on her. The dentist saw a hipflask in her jeans pocket and reported her mother to the authorities.”
“Right, yeah, fair enough. Bad idea”
Idly, I try to break a branch off the tree bough we’re sitting on. It refuses, instead bowing into a crescent under the force of my hand. Clearly it has not received the vital news from the rest of the tree that it is in fact dead, and its little green shoots and soft bark are still pumped full of supple collagen. I twist it callously from its fixing and lob it in the air. I see it spinning up past the blue sky until I can no longer see it against the powerful flair of the sun.
“39 minutes, Paddy…”
Suddenly I’m aware of something strange. I didn’t hear the stick land.
Getting up from the log, a look amongst the barley for the half-bent stick but find nothing. Moments later I am aware of a curious squeaking fizz like ice beginning to crack underneath a skater on a lake, or a kettle in the very early stages of boiling. I look to Beth, brows furrowed.
“What’s that noise. Do you hear it? Like a squeak?”
“I can hear the traffic over on the high street…”
“No, not that… it’s like a sort of squeaky fizzing sound.”
I smell electrical burning and look up. Unbelievably, right there, I can see the stick delicately straddling two powerlines.
“Look.” I point upwards.
“That’s crazy, did you try to do that?”
“No, I just absently threw the thing.”
“You couldn’t have done that if you’d tried, like 30 bazillion times.”
[Con't in Part 2]