It was Sunday afternoon and Martin had taken a girl called Lena on a picnic to a place in the countryside. It was a very nice spot on a hillside which he knew from his childhood, with a very good view of town and a little tiny forest behind them. He’d brought mini cheesecakes that he’d made and a selection of fruit and cheeses and dips, and now he was playing to Lena on a ukulele he had impulse-bought at the market earlier that day. Lena was friends with Jo, who Martin and his housemate Ross knew from high school. Ross had managed to get a second date with Jo that night, despite Martin causing problems by supervising her pancake-cooking last time she was over. Martin was under instruction to stay out of the house tonight until at least ten o’clock, so after the picnic he planned to take Lena to a movie and dinner elsewhere. Lena didn’t seem to mind going out together for the whole day, which Martin took to mean he was doing a good job of dating. While Martin was playing the ukulele Lena was quietly having the occasional flick through newsfeeds on her phone, picking at the cheese and laying back on the picnic rug, looking relaxed. When Martin finished his tune she clapped and giggled, and then sat up and said
‘Guess what? Jo said Ross is going to make pasta carbonara.’ She leaned towards Martin, who was already looking concerned, and lowered her voice conspiratorially. ‘What he doesn’t know, is Jo is THE best pasta carbonara cook I’ve ever known in my LIFE. He’s gonna have to do a good job!’ Martin looked alarmed.
‘Oh no! Ross can’t cook without me! I thought he’d just order pizza or something! I have to text him and tell him not to make something so hard! Pasta carbonara is so easy to screw up!’ Lena cackled with laughter and flopped back down on her back.
‘Oh! This is going to be hilarious!’ She said. Martin was a bit annoyed by this.
‘No it isn’t! Ross is going to stuff up this date, and then he’ll blame me for not being there to help him, even though he’s the one who said I couldn’t help.’ He scrabbled around in the backpack he’d carried the picnic in for his tablet, and pulled it out from under his jumper. He unlocked the screen.
‘WHAT THE?? What is it doing?’ He turned the tablet this way and that and glowered at it. ‘It’s crashed! I’ll have to get Ross to look at it.’ He turned to Lena. ‘Can I borrow your phone?’ Lena smirked and rolled her eyes.
‘Ye-es. Gotta save Ross from bad cooking.’ She handed the phone over.
Half an hour later, Martin, Lena and Ross were in Martin and Ross’s kitchen, trying to save Ross’s meal before Jo turned up. Lena was actually quite knowledgeable about fixes for failed carbonara sauce, and Martin was suitably impressed. When Ross was armed with an acceptable sauce, Martin and Lena looked at each other. They were too late for the movie. Lena gave Martin a shove and smiled.
‘You owe me a movie. I’ll be back next week.’ She said, and with that, disappeared out the door just before Jo appeared. When Jo saw Martin, she looked unimpressed, so Martin went and hid in his room.
The next morning, Ross ambled out to make his breakfast bleary-eyed, and thanked Martin for the cooking help.
‘That’s alright.’ Said Martin. ‘I think I broke my tablet.’ Ross’s colourful exclamations could be heard from next door, where the neighbours looked at one another and said
‘Martin broke technology.’
Wopper the Rabbit 14/04/16
Heather was lying on her stomach on the grass, leaning on her elbows while she worked on her tiny insect house, which she was building from sticks and leaves and gumnuts. Wopper the New Zealand giant rabbit lay beside her, absentmindedly snuffling his nose and occasionally chewing on a bit of grass. Heather was five, and Wopper was nearly as big as she was. Heather held up a twig with several gumnuts on top.
‘This should be something. What should this be, Wopper?’ She asked. Wopper didn’t look very interested. The gumnuts smelt like poisonous eucalyptus. He didn’t want to eat them, so what were they for? He snuffled his nose a bit faster for a moment and then laid back down. Heather frowned.
‘You’re not very helpful, Wopper.’ Just as she said this, she noticed something moving in the hedge in front of them. She looked at Wopper, whose nose snuffled faster again. ‘What’s in there?’ She sat up, pointing. ‘Shall we see?’ Wopper rolled over slowly and sat in a crouch, not sure he wanted to encounter whatever was in the bushes, but Heather was already walking over there, so he loped along behind.
Crouching down, Heather poked her head through a gap between the leaves. She couldn’t see anything inside the hedge, but she could still hear rustling noises from somewhere a little deeper in, so she immediately began clambering between the branches. Wopper had no choice but to follow her, squeezing along at ground level. Up ahead they could see a bright, white light of some kind. Tunnelling through the shrubs, it seemed as though someone came this way often, because there weren’t too many branches to push out of the way, and the ground was worn smooth, like when Heather swept the ground under her favourite tree with her leaf-broom.
Wiggling along a bit further, Heather and Wopper emerged into a sort of clearing under the hedge. Here they found that there was music from a tiny harp, and a dance was in progress. Involved in this dance were a much smaller white rabbit, who kept grunting and grumbling about keeping up with the others, a tiny person in a blue flat cap, a huge butterfly with bright, peacock wings, and a mouse with an apron on. Heather’s eyes got big and bright with excitement and she made as if to rush in and join the dance. Wopper moved uncharacteristically fast to hop in her way, because Heather was too big, he knew. She would squash these small people, dancing in this tiny space. Heather landed on top of Wopper with a thump that made him huff suddenly out and then continue snuffling very fast. But it was comfortable on top of Wopper, and Heather suddenly felt very tired indeed. She smiled, watching the strange little dancers hop and skip about together, and lay contentedly still, while Wopper also lay still, feeling a bit squashed.
After a short time, Heather went to sleep. Wopper wiggled carefully out from under her and went to sniff the other little rabbit, who by then had been allowed to stop dancing, but the other rabbit was not very friendly, and grunted and complained just as much at Wopper as they had at their dance partner. The tiny flat-capped man and the butterfly came to help Wopper move the sleeping Heather out of the hedge, seeming to know that she needed to go back into the garden. It must have been a strange sight, the butterfly holding the back of Heather’s jumper, Wopper shuffling along underneath, supporting her, and the little man holding onto her to keep it all balanced. But no one saw them. They laid Heather back on the grass, and Wopper touched noses with everyone and lay back down next to her. There, he went back to sleep himself, and dreamed of the tune of the harp in the hedge, not really knowing what it meant, but enjoying it all the same.
Hooter was perched on the fence of a chicken coop. He wasn’t very comfortable. The fence was too thin for his feet to grasp properly, and there was some movement in it, which made it difficult to sit still and look like a tree branch. What a tree branch would be doing stuck on a fence was a bit unclear in any case, but Hooter still looked like one to the five men trying to dig chicken poop into the trench on the other side of the fence, where the struggling, bare, pear trees grew. They were having trouble with the hard clay soil, fired by the hot sun to be solid like crockery.
Hooter was watching the chickens. What strange birds they were. Too solid to fly well, even if their wings had been intact. Having such a happy time because someone had dropped some lettuce. Lettuce. Not even worms. Hooter shuffled around on the fence to look the other way. His eyes settled on the workers, hacking that the hard soil with picks and shovels, making slow progress. The men looked tired and listless. Hooter could feel Rodger getting upset about this inside his head. He personally wasn’t sure why the humans would want to dig in the first place, and was more interested in whether they had turned up any worms.
The door to the building behind the chicken coop opened and a wiry, pale man came out and surveyed the scene.
‘Come on ya slackers! No one will have any fruit this year if ya don’t get the manure back into the soil!’ The men seemed like they were trying to ignore him, but one of them stopped and looked up, sweaty-faced.
‘This soil is ruined, Mr Max, Sir, it’s too hard to dig. We should move your orchard somewhere else.’ The wiry pale-faced man made a growly noise in his throat.
‘Weakling! Chicken! Come over here!’ He pointed to the chicken coop in front of him. The man who had spoken dropped his shovel on the ground and slouched over. ‘Come inside.’ The pale man continued. The worker did. ‘Now sit down, with the other chickens, in the mud.’ Spat Mr Max.
As he spoke, however, strange, dark, wiry vines grew out of the dusty ground in the chicken coop and wrapped themselves thornily around Mr Max until he was wound up like a sausage roll, with just his head poking out. Mr Max went ‘Whaaaaaaaa?’ And looked about wildly. Rodger ambled out from behind the building.
‘’Scuse me, “Mr Max”, but it would seem to me that you are being a bully. My ol’ Mum says, if someone’s a bully, kick em’ in the fork. I’m sure one of these overworked folks will oblige.’ He turned to the field. ‘Prob’ly you’re all wanting to grow things though, I s’pose.’ He tossed out a billy full of cold tea and tea leaves over the baked clay, and similar-looking vines began springing up all along the trench. The four workers still in the field jumped warily out of the way, but these vines grew leaves and then grapes. ‘These’ll take better to the warm climate ‘ere.’ Said Rodger. ‘They’ll need some water, and pickin’. Mr Max ‘ere can stay outside while you chaps do some o’ that. ‘Bout time he spent a day outdoors from what I can see.’ Then he opened the gate and let the chickens out. ‘Chook, chook chook!’ He called to them, and the chickens went up to him on their way to freedom and let him scratch them on the tops of their heads. Turning to what the men had thought was a piece of a branch caught in the fence, he said ‘Come on, ‘ooter. Dinner’s waiting.’ And the stick opened its wings and flew up to sit on his head. Before anyone had time to wonder where he’d come from, Rodger had disappeared entirely into the nearby scrub, and the men were left standing amongst happily scratching chickens and flourishing grapevines, Mr Max still entangled in his vine cocoon.
‘I wonder when those vine things will come off?’ Said one of them. They all shrugged.
Then the one in the chicken coop stood up and gave Mr Max a tentative kick. And then they put him in the shade and gave him a drink, because they weren’t bad chaps, even to a bully.