March 30, 2012

A Peter Story


Peter found this in a drawer a few days ago.  He wrote it yonks and yonks ago*, for a magazine, and neither of us (!) can remember (!!) seeing it in any less ephemeral form, so he said yes, I could have it for the blog, since he hasn’t written me a guest blog in, like, years.  Even if you’ve read it before, you probably haven’t read it in yonks either, and I like it, and it’s my blog.

            And I badly need a night off, so tonight’s the night (as they say).  I’ll tell you tomorrow about ringing at my old tower.** 

The Third Dormouse

 Anna lived on a farm with her father and mother and three brothers.  One day soldiers came.  They said they were soldiers, but really they were just robbers.  They drove all the farm animals away while Anna and her family hid in the desert beyond the fields.

            When they had gone Anna’s family went back to the farm and worked in the fields, which were full of melons and corn.

            “At least you can’t drive melons and corn away,” said Anna’s father.

            The melons grew and the corn grew and they harvested them and brought their crops into the barns for the winter.  While they were harvesting the corn Anna found a dormouse with a hurt leg.

            “Can I keep it until its leg’s well?” she asked.

            “Perhaps,” said her mother, not thinking.

            “Will it go to sleep for the winter?” said Anna.

            “Perhaps,” said her mother, not thinking.

            “Is it a boy or a girl?” said Anna.

            “Perhaps,” said her mother, still not thinking.

            So Anna took it home and called it Perhaps.  When it started to get sleepy she made it a nest in a pocket of her knapsack, which her mother had told her to keep packed with anything she wanted in case the soldiers came again.

            They did.  They were different ones, but still just robbers.  This time they took all the stores they could carry and burnt the rest.  They burnt the barns and the house too.  Hiding in the desert Anna and her family watched the flames.

            That night they slept in a cave.  In the middle of the night Anna had an odd sort of dream.  It was just a voice saying in her head “Go to your Grandad’s.”

            When they woke up next morning Anna’s mother said “I heard a voice in the night, telling us to go to Grandad’s.”

            “So did I,” said all the others.

            “It must be Him up There telling us,” said her mother.

            “It will be a dangerous journey,” said her father, “because of the soldiers.”

            But Him up There had told them, so they set out, carrying their knapsacks.  The soldiers were everywhere, fighting each other and burning and stealing and murdering, but they didn’t seem to notice Anna’s family trudging quietly along.  It was very strange.

            At last they came to the valley where Grandad lived.  The soldiers didn’t seem to have noticed him either.  He was busy building a big boat.

            “Ah, you’ve come,” mumbled Grandad with his mouth full of nails.  “High time too.  The others will be here any moment.”

            “What’s going on?” said Anna’s father.

            Grandad took the nails out of his mouth.

            “It’s Him up There,” he said.  “He’s sick of all this murdering and robbery and stuff, so he wants to wash the whole lot out and start over.  But we’ve never gone in for any of that in our family, so he’s letting us stay on and help him.  That’s what the boat’s for.  The grown-ups can give me a hand with that, and the kids will have to look after the animals.  Grandma will tell you what to do, kids.”

            “Can I look after the dormice?” said Anna.

            “It’ll be more than just dormice,” said Grandma.

            Next day Anna’s two uncles and her two aunts and her nine cousins arrived, and the day after that the animals started streaming in.  Tigers and bats and mongeese and lizards and wombats and rattle-snakes and tree-frogs and sheep and moles and porcupines and warthogs and . . .

            Anyway there was a list, and Grandma checked them off as they came.  Two of everything. 

            Yes, two dormice.  They were very yawny and cross because they’d been woken out of their winter sleep.

            “What would happen if there were three of something?” said Anna.  “I mean, if you took an extra warthog aboard because you were sorry for it?”

            “Him up There wouldn’t like it,” said Grandma.  “He was very definite.  Two of everything he said.  One male, one female.  No more, no less.”

            “But what would he do?” said Anna.

            “Strike us with lightning, I shouldn’t wonder,” said Grandma.  “Or plague.  Or send a sea-beast to gobble us up.  You can’t tell with Him up There.  Mysterious ways are what he moves in, and no mistake.  Anyway, you’re doing the rodentia, so you’ll be too busy to ask any more questions.”

            And that was true.  The rodentia were the agoutis and the bamboo rats and the bandicoot rats and the beavers and the birch mice and the cane rats and the capybaras and the cavies and the chinchillas and the chipmunks . . . all the way through to the viscachas and the voles and the white-footed mice and the wood rats.

            And, yes, the dormice.  They weren’t any trouble.  They curled up in opposite corners of their cage and went straight back to sleep.  Anna couldn’t tell which was the male and which was the female, so she called them Possibly and Maybe.  She didn’t tell anyone about Perhaps, in case they made her leave it behind.  It was still asleep in the pocket of her knapsack, so she just hoped it didn’t count.

            The sky darkened, thunder rolled round the hills, Grandpa banged the last nail in and everyone went aboard.  Grandma stood by the gangplank and checked the animals off as they passed.  The only one she missed was Perhaps, asleep in Anna’s knapsack. 


* * *

* On a typewriter.  Remember typescript?  Which is bumpy under your fingers, and the ‘d’ or the ‘a’ or something is a slightly crooked, and the quote marks are straight up and down and there’s only caps and underlining, no bold and no italic?   And you make corrections by painting over them, or by cutting and pasting pieces of actual paperNostalgia.  

** Nobody died.

***I know.  Famous last words.  But this story exists.


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