March 31, 2012

Peter Story, continued


I’ve got the ratbagging lurgy again.  Arrrrgh.  Although I admit it’s a bit of a relief that there was more going on on Thursday than sorrow, loss and existential dread—it seemed to me I was overreacting a bit even for me.  But if there were germs involved. . . .

            So what possible better excuse than to give you the rest of Peter’s story? 

The Third Dormouse, part two 

The boat didn’t look nearly big enough from the outside, but inside there seemed to be room for everyone, and what’s more in one place it was cool enough for the polar bears and in another place it was hot enough for the salamanders.  Strange. 

            Then the rain began.  Rain like no one had ever seen before.  Rain like buckets being emptied, like baths being emptied, like swimming-pools being emptied, like ponds and lakes and seas being emptied out of the sky.  Soon Grandad’s boat was floating.  Soon the water was over the tree-tops, soon it was over the fields and over the hills, soon there was nothing but water as far as Anna could see.  The waves bellowed and the wind howled and the thunder roared and the lighting flashed and flashed again.

            Anna was scared by the lightning, and wondered if she hadn’t better throw Perhaps over the side after all, but it didn’t seem fair, and besides the lightning kept missing Grandad’s boat, and she felt quite well and she couldn’t see any sea-beasts, so she went off to look after the rodentia instead.

            The animals didn’t seem to mind about the storm.  They ate and slept and dirtied their cages as if they’d lived on Grandad’s boat all their lives.  It was a lot of work feeding them and cleaning the cages.

            That was the great thing about Possibly and Maybe (and Perhaps).  They didn’t need any feeding or cleaning.  They just slept.

            Then the rain stopped and the clouds blew away and the sun came out and the wind died and the sea stopped surging around and everything was calm and still, as if winter was over, and at that point the animals started getting interested in each other.

            The elks got very interested in each other and the mandrills got very interested in each other and the sloths got slightly interested in each other and the hedgehogs got very interested in each other and the giraffes got very interested in each other. . . .

            “Don’t look,” said Grandma, on her way round checking the cages.  “I must say Him up There isn’t wasting much time about starting over. . . .”

            “The dormice aren’t,” said Anna.  “They’ve woken up, but they’re just sitting in their corners yickering at each other.”

            “Waiting for a bit of privacy, I expect,” said Grandma.

            “You don’t think they’re both boys?” said Anna.  “Or both girls?”

            “Nonsense,” said Grandma.  “Him up There wouldn’t get a thing like that wrong.  It’s probably just something dormice do before they get started.”

            She checked the rest of the rodentia and hurried on to the artiodactyla.

            When she went back to her cabin Anna heard a scratching and squeaking coming from her knapsack.  She realised that Perhaps must have woken up, but she wasn’t qick enough when she opened the pocket.  Out popped Perhaps, dropped to the floor and scuttled out of the door.  Dormice aren’t sleepy when they’re awake.  This one was really nippy.  Anna tried to catch it, but there was a lot of clutter in the corridor and it kept slipping behind things and darting away.  Anna chased it all along the corridor and down a flight of stairs and into the animal quarters.  At least its hurt leg looked to be all right now.

            It seemed to know just where it was going, and scuttled and darted among the cages until it reached the rodentia, where it climbed up the bars of the red squirrel’s cage and started yickering at Possibly and Maybe.  They got wildly excited, so Anna grabbed Perhaps, opened the door and popped it in.

            The first thing that happened was that Possibly and Maybe started fighting each other.  They really went at it.  Perhaps just sat and watched, but Anna was afraid one of the others might get hurt, so she grabbed the nearest one—she didn’t know which it was, maybe Possibly, possibly Maybe, but it wasn’t at all happy about it—and shut it in an empty box which had pine nuts in it for the squirrels.

            By the time she got back to the cage, Perhaps and the other one were very interested in each other.  Perhaps was the female, it turned out.  That’s nice, thought Anna.  I shan’t have to call her “it” any more.

            She went on to clean a few more cages, but the next time she came past she heard an amazing racket coming from the pine-nut box.

            It didn’t seem at all fair, so Anna just swapped the males over.  Perhaps didn’t seem to mind, nor did the one in the cage with her.  They were still very interested in each other.  But the one in the box set up a terrible scratching and squeaking.

            Grandma will be sure to notice, thought Anna.  I’ve got to get it to go to sleep somehow.  So she took it along to the polar bears’ cage and hid it in the coldest place she could find.  The dormouse in the box decided it must be winter again and went to sleep.  Anna asked her cousin Josh, who looked after the ursidae, not to touch it, but she didn’t tell him what was in the box.

            So the voyage went on.  From time to time, trying to be fair, Anna swapped the males over.  Perhaps was perfectly happy with either of them, and there were always just two dormice in the cage when Grandma checked them.  Soon it was easy to tell which was the female, because Perhaps started getting fatter.

            “Told you so,” said Grandma.

            Then there was a lot of business with Grandpa sending ravens out to look for land, and them not finding any.  And then it was a dove, and it came back with a bit of twig in its beak so they knew there had to be land somewhere, and then they came to an island and the humans all landed.  And the water went down and down, and they saw that the island had to be just the top of a mountain, and Grandad said it was time to let the animals go.

            So he and his sons lowered the gangplank and Anna and her cousins went through the boat opening the cages one by one so that there wasn’t a mad scrum.  When they did the polar bears Anna took the box with the dormouse in it and put him back in the cage.  Perhaps was really pregnant by now, so the other two weren’t interested in her any more and didn’t start fighting.  Anna left them to the end before she let them go.

            When she got to the entrance Grandma was busy checking the animals, but everybody else was staring at the sky.  Anna looked, and saw a wonderful rainbow arching right across from one horizon to the other.

            “Look, Grandma!” said Anna.

            Grandma looked up, and the three dormice went scuttling out.

            “What does it mean?” said Anna.

            “It’s Him up There,” said Grandad.  “I’ve just heard him say that’s it.  He’s not going to try this washing out and starting over stuff again.”

            “I heard him too,” said Anna’s cousin Sara.

            “Me too,” said everyone, except Grandma and Anna.

            Grandma was looking at her lists.

            “I seem to have missed the dormice,” she said.  “Did anyone see the dormice go?”

            “I did,” said Anna.

            “How many were there?” said Grandma.  “Just the two?”

            “Probably,” said Anna’s mother, not thinking.

            Now Anna thought she heard something.  It might have been distant thunder, or it might have been somebody laughing at a private joke.

            She watched Perhaps, very fat and pregnant, with Possibly and Maybe yickering beside her, scuttle down the slope and disappear into the clean new world.


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