Sammy dragged one soggy, mud-laden gumboot from her foot and hopped, wobbling, to the doorframe to put her relatively clean sock-covered foot down on the towel just inside the doorway. Balancing on the towel, she tugged on the second boot, which came off suddenly, causing her to sit down hard on the tiles of the big back laundry. Everything was wet. There was wet washing in the sink, waiting to be hung out to dry, except it wouldn’t dry. It would probably fall in the mud in one of the horrid gusty winds that came in overnight.
The farm cat, Grouch, came up to her and made one of his strange, harsh-sounding meows that had earned him his name. He was an odd, solid-looking ginger mog with a sort of squashed-looking nose and exceptionally long whiskers. Sammy scratched his ears.
‘Yes Grouch, it’s nasty and soggy, isn’t it?’ She looked wistfully out at the sodden field beyond the doorway. ‘We’re all soggy sorts at the moment, Grouch. Moping about because nothing’s growing, thinking about times past instead of the now. How about you and I get a fire going before Charlie and Olive finish ploughing. They’ll need to get dry.’ She got up and Grouch followed her through the big solid door at the other end of the room into the main part of the house.
When the flames had begun to crackle and flare and she was sure the fire wouldn’t go out, Sammy went and got Grouch some food and herself some tea. She stared into the teacup’s milky reflection and saw herself, damp-haired, a bit of mud on her nose. It was not an unfamiliar sight to her. She had often looked this way, ever since her market days. Back then though, she mused, the sight of the dirt had never failed to make her smile. Now it meant the fields had been soaked, seeds and mulch sometimes washed away, and Charlie and Olive stressed out.
‘I wonder if there’s any paper about this week Grouch.’ She said, wiping the mud off with a kitchen sponge. ‘I should write and find out how things are at the market. I hope Cody hasn’t stopped growing the tulips. Everyone loved the tulips.’ Grouch looked up at her, licked his lips, and gave another of his yowls. ‘Yes I know, I never write anymore. It isn’t my fault… and he never writes back.’ Grouch had cocked his head on the side and was looking quizzical and hopeful of more food. Sammy pulled a face and reached down to pat the cat’s forehead. ‘You’re right. I could write tonight, since the rain will keep us all inside.’
Sammy rifled through the box she kept under her bed, searching for spare paper or postcards and pens that hadn’t long since run out of ink. Old post office receipts fell out, dated almost a year ago, and some silverfish had got in and chewed some of her envelopes. Sammy grimaced. How did you start a letter that was the first message in ten or eleven months? With facts, she supposed. She tried three pens and then settled for a pencil and pages from a little notepad she once used to record market sales.
“Dear Cody, everything here is sodden in such a wet Winter. How are the gardens holding up to it? I don’t think we ever had this much rain in town, so hopefully the plants are still coping and you still have things to take to market….”
She rambled on for several pages detailing the peculiarities of the farm and its inhabitants, and finished by describing Grouch. “He told me I should write again. Funny cat. You’d like him.” Cody did like cats. Sammy remembered one that used to hang around the gardens, which he always fed bits he kept from his school lunch and talked to. Maybe he’d write back this time.
Cody was surprised to see the letter when he returned from the Tuesday market. He never got much mail that wasn’t bills. He laid it out on the table beside him and read it while he scrubbed potatoes. The farm didn’t sound as nice as it had in the Summer. He smiled at the description of Grouch though. There was something to say for a place that had a good cat resident. He looked about the kitchen, and seeing nothing suitable for letter-writing, turned Sammy’s paper over and wrote on the back. It surprised him that he had things to tell. But mostly he asked about Grouch. Maybe if he earned enough next month, he could travel to the farm and meet the cat.
Rodger Saves the Day
Hooter was not on his head, Rodger realised. He wasn’t sure when the bird had left, but he definitely wasn’t there now. He knew this because he was upside down leaning out of a window, trying to reach the bag that Sally had tried to toss down to her lover Tom, but which had caught on a peg in the outer wall designed to help secure a ladder when the roof needed fixing. If Hooter had been where he normally was at this moment, he either would have flown away, or his claws would right now be pulling very hard on Rodger’s hair. Sally was anxiously trying to see around Rodger, which was not helping him reach the bag, but he didn’t have the heart to complain. Sally and Tom’s romance was a secret from both of their families. Sally’s father and Tom’s mother were arch enemies for a reason Rodger could not remember, which meant it wasn’t very important. Sally and Tom liked to pass messages and small gifts through the window in Sally’s bag. The bag stopped casual viewers seeing the notes, which arranged their meetings. It would be better to do something about the quarrel between the parents, if one was to resolve it all, but right now the bag was going to need to get back into the hands of either Sally or Tom regardless.
‘’Ooter! Where are you you blasted bird?’ Rodger tried to look around, but it was very difficult from his current position. There was a hoot from somewhere which was quiet enough to indicate that Hooter was not in the immediate vicinity. ‘Well come out an ‘elp me for a moment and I’ll get some bacon for you instead!’ There was an immediate gust of air as Hooter came zooming around the corner of the house. ‘Steady on! I’m balancing ‘ere!’ Hooter grabbed the bag and took of up into the air right past Rodger’s nose. He pulled himself back through the window and stuck his head out to look up. ‘Bring it here! It’s no good on the roof is it then?’
When the bag was safely back in Sally’s clutches, Rodger gave Hooter a pat.
‘Now then, Sally. Isn’t it time we tried to talk your ol’ Dad round to this ‘ole thing with Tom?’ Sally was attempting to leave the room in an inconspicuous way, which was extremely conspicuous because she was the only other person in it. ‘I mean come on, what’s the worst that can ‘appen? He might get a bit cross, but he probably can’t stop ya, I mean, he’s pretty old, like my ol’ Mum, if you don’t mind my saying.’ Sally had disappeared behind the door frame to the next room and her voice came out in a squeal.
‘He’s a darn sorcerer Rodger! He can do anything he wants about it!’
‘Oh, he is, is he. Well we’ll see about that. I can do some interestin’ things meself when I need to.’
The door burst open at that moment and revealed Sally’s father, who was trying to puff up his small frame.
‘Folks in the street are saying you were hanging out of my daughter’s window!’ He spat.
‘Oh yes, I was doing that in fact.’ Rodger replied. ‘But only to ‘elp her and ol’ Tom, what she’s dating.’
‘WHAT?’ Yelped Sally’s father, going frowny and red. Rodger grabbed Sally by the elbow, dashed for the window, and yelled at the wall, which sprouted a thick, twisted vine like a fireman’s pole which he and Sally slid down, just as the living room exploded in flames.
‘Me ol’ Mum has a temper like that too.’ Rodger explained matter-of-factly as the vine shrank back into the ground. ‘They usually cool off when they cool off, if ya get my drift.’ He reached for his hair. ‘Is there still a bird on me ‘ead?’ Sally, dumbstruck, just nodded.
Brewers Bond 12/04/16
The Bumbling Bloodhound had been the haunt of James and his friends since they were teenagers. It wasn’t like other pubs, in that it had a number of resident animals, mismatched floral op-shop armchairs round the fire, and various board games and books in a shelf in the corner. You could get spiced mulled wine and mead in the Winter, which old Arnie made in a big pot which sat on top of the fire. The beer was of all varieties great and little-known, and Arnie made a special malted barley non-alcoholic drink he called ‘oat ale’ for the underage, brewed up in an industrial kitchen shed he had out the back on the hill. During their teenage and young adult years, James, Jason and Tai would curl up in the floral armchairs until long after the Bumbling Bloodhound should have closed, big tankards of whatever drink Arnie offered on the old upside down half-barrel that provided a convenient surface beside them, talking about life, or playing some kind of game they usually invented themselves. Arnie would gently kick them out when he needed to go to bed, and they would grumble their way out into the cold and off down the hill to their respective houses.
When the three friends were in their early thirties, old Arnie passed away. He must have been ancient, they all agreed; he’d looked old to them their whole lives; he’d had a good innings. But what of their favourite place? Arnie didn’t have any family living in the area, so James put it to the others that they should take over the place. Jason and Tai weren’t sure; they had all embarked on their various careers, and it seemed risky to give them up. But everyone wanted the Bumbling Bloodhound to stay the way it was, and not be taken over by some larger company or group who would take away the floral armchairs and say the open fire was unsafe. So they came to a compromise. They wouldn’t try to all take care of the Bumbling Bloodhound all the time. Each of them would take it turns, so they only needed to give up a day or so each.
James tried to learn to make oat ale, but Arnie hadn’t written down a recipe, so James made something rather different, although it still tasted nice. He called it ‘wheat soda’ and wondered why neither he nor old Arnie had ever used ‘barley’ in the name despite that being what was in it. Jason made mulled cider instead of mead because he couldn’t work out where Arnie had been sourcing the mead from. Perhaps he’d made it. Jason put whole cinnamon sticks in his mulled cider because that was fashionable, and he brought in some stools he’d made as part of his carpentry apprenticeship, which he didn’t like in his unit. Tai brought some newer games to go in the shelf, which he thought the local youth would like, plus his old screen and game controllers. By the time they were settled in, the Bumbling Bloodhound looked quite a different place.
One Saturday night they were all there together, leaning on the bar and looking around the room.
‘Did we change it too much?’ Said Jason, looking at the others. James and Tai looked over at the armchairs. A group of four youths were slouching there, drinking the wheat soda and arguing over who had to sit on one of Jason’s stools while they played something one of them had brought to put on the screen. Tai laughed.
‘Nah mate. We made the version of this place we’d want if we were their age now.’ He said, nodding at the teenagers. As he said this, the cat, Wiggles, who had outlived old Arnie, pushed through the cat flap in the back entrance and went and got on the armchair with one of the four teens, and James and his friends exchanged a smirk as the creature proceeded to behave in the way for which he’d been named.