Tuffin

Kenneth

After the incident with the steam roller Kenneth the ginger and white cat was reincarnated as a red post box. It appeared overnight at the bottom of the Rise, his favoured haunt from his previous life.

No humans commented on its sudden appearance assuming that the post office had at last delivered on their promise to provide one for the convenience of the many commuters who used the railway station. The cats on the other-hand were incensed that a symbol of respectable utility should be derived from the soul of such a vagabond. They formed a protest group to campaign for its replacement with one sprung from the soul of a solid sort of cat but it didn’t fly.

Kenneth’s  mouth that had hitherto been used for biting and eating was now a gaping invitation for anyone to insert their pennings. Had they been aware of the post boxes provenance that may have thought twice before so committing. You see Kenneth’s physical form may have changed but his personality hadn’t.

Kenneth had led the life of an adventurer. His adventures were largely of the amorous variety but he took in some skirmishing, vandalism, and petty larceny as well. Accordingly he received the offerings thrust between his red open lips as opportunities to exercise his previous passions and extract some payback. A letter to a lover he would lick until the ink ran purple, the stamps fell off and it smelt of stale lamb gravy. A letter to the bank, perhaps enclosing a cheque or even cash he would shred with his claws in an effort to extract the good capital and find away to spend it on fish. A letter complaining to the parish council about stray cats digging up the freshly raked soil in somebody’s allotment would be drowned in the most noxious acidic spray he could muster until it was reduced back to the pulp that formed it and thus made a perfect a spring mulch for the aforesaid allotment should the complainer be so inclined as to be granted it back thorough solicitous negotiation with the postman whose job it was to disembowel Kenneth at 4:15 on weekdays and 10:15 on Saturdays.

So the post box soon acquired a reputation as a malevolent force intent on ruining the orderly rhythm of the neighbourhood and providing little value in terms of its intent as somewhere to send letters from. The commuters avoided it for anything but the most thoughtless birthday card or ill intended thank you letter . The residents of the rise crossed the road rather than pass too close to avoid the noise and smell. Even those intent in debasing themselves by utilising its inviting orifice did so with exceptional care.   Life had come full circle but Kenneth had evolved from cat to container, thus he was content.

Shrewdini

Shrewdini

Most common shrews are shaped like a thumb, but today Shrewdini polished off a snail, a slug and a worm in one go, and consequently became spherical. Satisfied that he could absorb no more goodies, and passing a somewhat liquid trail in his wake, he threaded his way beneath the kitchen table, skirting Tuffin’s feet (who was absorbed in eating his cornflakes), toward the convenient gap under the back door leading to the garden.

When Rita the ginger and white cat spotted something rolling across the lawn, at first she thought that a ball of wool (like those designed to, but typically failing to, tempt her into performances of playfulness) was on the loose, but then moments later the smell of a meat-sweating shrew entered her nostrils and she contemplated the convenience of addressing the obligations of ‘playtime’ and the pleasures of ‘lunchtime’ in one go.

Despite having sprung him to safety on numerous occasions – only yesterday from a steam roller engaged in rolling new tarmac on one side of the road between the station and the semidetached house, number 11, that was home to Rita, and its dense front garden, that was home to Shrewdini – today, the shrew’s reflexes (undermined by the excessive consumption of grub) let him down.

Rita had no need to pounce as reaching was sufficient. She trapped Shrewdini under the weight of her paw, her claws snagging his tail like the coil of a snake in a miniature croquet hoop.

Tuffin, the owner of number 11 and Rita, had grown aware of Shrewdini from the tell-tale rodent ‘calling cards’ that had started to appear each morning in his cornflakes (delivered bi-weekly via Mr Munn’s grocery van). However, he was not aware that at night, from time to time, after the shrew had finished dining and shitting, Shrewdini and he would have a doze in front of the Parkway stove, or listen to the Archers together, or share flakes of pastry from a vanilla slice that fell onto Shrewdini’s velvet fur like edible snowflakes. Despite having no great fondness for people in general, Shrewdini had only good thoughts for Tuffin and his vanilla slices.

Had Tuffin been aware of Shrewdini’s good thoughts, he might have intervened in the perilous situation now faced by the shrew awaiting his fate under Rita’s paw, who, in common with all cats, was prolonging the agony for her intended victim by pausing to reflect.

Rita’s life with Tuffin was one of neglect punctuated by savagery. She belonged to Tuffin only in the way a stray primrose belonged to Tuffin’s garden: it got there somehow and then stayed. This trait was shared, to varying degrees, by all the cats distributed the length of the street (known as the Rise), from number one (nearest the station), a black cat with a slightly disfiguring white stain on her face known as the ‘Station Cat’, although she wasn’t; to number fifty-eight, another one of the ubiquitous ginger and white variety, described by the owner of the last and most prestigious house at the highest point of the Rise (where the road ends abruptly, crowned with a dense wood peopled by nothing but squirrels) as ‘strawberry blond.’ All the Rise cats endured fortnightly calls from a strikingly scarred but angelically white bastard called Kenneth who would deliver a shag or a punch topped off with a snack on whatever tidbits his victim had to hand. This meant that Rita relied on rodents like Shrewdini to supplement the meagre fare provided sporadically by Tuffin (and stolen by Kenneth) that most recently consisted of little but shit-stained cornflakes (a fact she took a little pleasure in contemplating as she observed Kenneth’s enthusiastic post coital feasting on said). The larder robberies that elicited Rita’s modest pleasures and partial starvation provoked in Tuffin an urgent interest in shrews and how best to trap them.

He researched what things shrews like to eat using his almost complete edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (purchased from Mr Kirby who toured the streets in his Ford Anglia signing up those citizens obliged to seek knowledge in instalments). Mr Kirby’s terms were sufficient to encourage Tuffin to fill his bookshelf with a lifetime’s worth of scholarly reading – including the details of the dietary habits of the common shrew, to be found in volume 10.

Thus, over the ensuing weeks Tuffin deployed the shrew tidbits recommended, in volume 10, one by one, as bait for a mouse trap.  First snail, then slug and finally worm were prepared, one for each sitting, taking care to attach the live bait to the trap using an assortment of electrical tape, pins, glues and staples. For three weeks Tuffin checked the efficacy of the slug, snail, or worm, and each week he noted that the trap had been triggered without leaving a decapitated or paralysed shrew to slowly desiccate, and that the bait had been removed, the staples pulled out, electrical tape peeled off and pins unpinned. Shrewdini had clearly struck, and thus, driven by financial imperatives and revulsion, Tuffin felt obliged to strike back and to load the trap with snail, slug, and worm in a seductive sandwich formation, making sure to attach the bait with his complete arsenal of adhesives, staples, and pins, hoping to overwhelm the shrew’s rational thought and allow his unbridled greed to cause him to ‘lose his head’ when faced with such a supersized feast.

However, the entry on the evolutionary advantage of intelligence, sufficient that the more gifted in the shrew community could recognise a mouse trap for what it was (namely, a blunt force guillotine) and acquire the engineering skills and dexterity of paw, claw, and tooth to disable said device safely while not rendering the bait irrecoverable, was in the supplementary volume of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica yet to be supplied by Mr Kirby, so, upon encountering Tuffin’s triple-decker, Shrewdini used his skills in engineering to counter Tuffin’s knowledge of shrews to yet again disable the trap, this time repurposing the mechanism to lever off the heavy load (so securely stapled and glued) and eat all three baits in one glorious blow out. Thus inflated by an excess of gastropoda and invertebrates, and with the commensurate impairment to his reflexes previously referred to, Shrewdini ended up held captive under Rita’s paw.

And so he found himself looking into the jaws of death as Rita prepared to swallow him head first, this being the custom for the consumption of shrews by cats.  The shrew’s volume, Rita estimated from previous experience of the species, was that of a canapé. True, he looked somewhat rotund in comparison to the examples she had savoured in the past, but a velvet glaze, a soft bone shell, and a liquid centre was her expectation, and, confident in her appraisal, she forked him into her mouth with her teeth, taking care not to puncture the delicate skin and let any of the juice go to waste.

Rita attempted to swallow, but the spherical Shrewdini stuck fast. Rita tried to swallow again, but her airway was blocked as effectively as an acorn can block a squirrel’s arse, a rare phenomenon she had encountered during her safaris into the dense wood at the top of the hill that as you may recall was peopled only by squirrels. Rita tried to breathe, but, if a ginger and white cat could turn blue, she was in the process of doing so. The only recourse was to cough, and, being a cat, she had a cough specifically designed to dislodge furry objects. Accordingly she lay flat, extended her neck like a sword swallower, pulled her projectile vomit face, and after several painful attempts Shrewdini was ejected at considerable force, sweeping past the aforementioned stray primrose in Tuffin’s garden, into the road, right between the legs of Kenneth, who was approaching with the intent of biting Rita’s neck and then shagging her.

So surprised by t­­he unexpected projectile that passed under him and them skittered forth, Kenneth redirected his violent passions aroused by Rita toward food and fun, and accordingly turned and gave chase to the ball of wool that smelt like shrew and cat sick. With monstrous aplomb, he sucked Shrewdini down in one go, unaware of the rumble of iron on stone and the shadow of a steam roller (employed to roll the new tar on the other side of the road) that bore down on him so swiftly that, in just a second, it had embossed a perfect white cat-shaped puddle into the perfect black tarmac and triggered a noise of such specificity (that of squashed white cat in consort with squashed, partially-digested, and suffocated shrew) that Tuffin, who coincidentally was busy reading the history of human cannonballs in volume 4 of his encyclopaedia, was drawn into the street just in time to witness the grisly scene.

Rita purred and caressed Tuffin’s shins with her tail as the steam roller passed by and the traffic was allowed to flow one more, bearing Mr Kirby’s Ford Anglia. In his front seat was the final supplementary volume of the Complete Encyclopaedia Britannica bound for Tuffin’s creaking bookshelf. Moments later came Mr Munn’s grocery van to number 11 carrying cornflakes and a vanilla slice for Tuffin, who, after meticulously restocking his larder, sat in front of the Parkray stove, dropping flakes of pastry onto the floor and perusing the entry on the recently discovered evolutionary enhancements that enabled the most gifted common shrews to escape from even the most advanced traps, earning them the nomenclature of the Houdini Variant Common Shrew, or ‘Shrewdini’.

Goat pie

Tuffin is going out for a walk. He will take his usual walk for Tuesday, the one to the goat. He brings a rucksack with some treats. He knows she will eat anything but hotpot is good goat food. He also brings a new book. It is by J. Galsworthy and has been in Tuffin’s parlour bookcase since he can remember. It is from The Reprint Society. He has lots of books from Reprint Society all with the same leatherette covers. They are famous books but he hasn’t read any of them preferring to give them to the goat.

Tuffin wears his camel coloured Macintosh and carries his collapsible umbrella. He wears his rucksack on both shoulders with the waist strap fixed around his waist, so he doesn’t need a belt for his mac, he takes the belt off, roles it up and leaves it on the hall table. ‘Wait there’ he says. He wears his second-best black lace-ups. They are very shiny.

His route takes him down the hill, past the station at the bottom and then left. At the station a dustbin has tipped over, ‘Must be the wind’ thinks Tuffin. A large crab lies flat as an ashtray, pink against the metal grey sky. ‘Join us’ says Tuffin.

The road is wet with new tarmac. Tuffins shoes stick on the tarmac. ‘Good call’ thinks Tuffin looking at his shoes. The smell of tar is his favourite smell and he stops to sniff. The sniffing makes him sneeze so he takes a pressed white handkerchief from the pocket of his mac and blows. The sticking, sniffing and blowing disturbs the cheeping crickets who perch on the long grass either side of the road. They raise their legs and holler. ‘Come along’ says Tuffin.

Tuffin walks past the burnt-out barn where the wind rattles the rusting, corrugated bits of roof. Past the crumbling brick buildings where an old tractor, empty of its engine, nudges its pink nose out like a rat.  ‘Don’t miss out’ says Tuffin.

A little further on, a row of abandoned workers cottages overgrown with ivy, announces the field with the goat.

At the goat Tuffin stops.

The goat stands in a field behind fences arranged in a rough square. Either side are two identical fields. Both are empty. The ground is muddy and pitted by the goats hooves. The goat is very muddy. The mud cakes her sides, her back, her tail and her tummy. The mud and the sky are sticky, her feet and Tuffins shoes are sticky and black. ‘Toffee’ says Tuffin.

Tuffin removes the goat’s treat from his rucksack. The hotpot is wrapped in silver foil in a tin. Tuffin lays the foil on the grass and unwraps it. It is in a jumble but it’s still warm. Tuffin arranges the meat and potato on the foil and adds gravy from a thermos. He pushes the dish closer toward the goat. The goat breathes steam and waits. Tuffin slides away the foil and the gravy soaks away into the mud. ‘Gravy’ says Tuffin.

The goat remains still and silent as the wind winds up. Tuffin removes the J. Galsworthy from his rucksack and cracks the spine. The pages fan in the wind as he lays the book, page down, onto the treat making a crust. ‘A pie.’ Tuffin whispers to the goat. The layers of mud, grass, gravy, meat, potatoes and Galsworthy smoke before the goat. ‘A J. Galsworthy Pie’ says Tuffin.

Now the wind whips up and it starts to rain very, very hard. ‘It’s a flood’ thinks Tuffin ‘l knew it’. Tuffin opens his umbrella shielding the pie from the downpour. He raises the collar on his mac as the rains drenches the goat’s sides, back, tail and tummy. Her horns are washed into short spears and her beard turns as white as Tuffins hanky. She lowers her head and looks at Tuffin’s tin and rucksack. She looks at his second-best shoes now thick with mud. She looks at the Reprint Society edition of the Forsyth’s Saga. She looks at the pages soaked in gravy and the meat and potato piled underneath. The rain flattens the wool around her neck like eagle feathers, her eyes fill with rain and her mouth gapes. Tuffin, the crickets, the rat and the crab watch the goat eat the pie in two bites.

The rain stops.

Tuffin puts the tin back into his rucksack and brushes the mud off his knees. ‘Good job’ he says to the goat. The goat gleams and smokes as the sun shines.

The sticky road is wetter now. Puddles of oily water illuminate Tuffin’s route home like stepping stones. Tuffin paddles in the nearest puddle until his shoes shine again. ‘Till next Tuesday’ Tuffin says to everyone, ‘It’s Hemmingway.’

Tank

Tuffin glues his face to the glass.

Tuffin’s tank is empty of fish but there is a castle and shells and coral and a mermaid sitting on a rock and pebbles with numbers on.

Today he has a new addition. A pebble from Deal with a number 11 on.

It joins pebbles from Folkstone and Hastings and Sandwich and Herne Bay and Camber Sands and Dymchurch and Beachy Head. They all have numbers on.

“Each rock marks the spot.” He thinks.

Now Deal is in his tank –

  • and the shells
  • and the coral
  • and the castle
  • and the mermaid

    and all the faces glued to the glass.

Television

  1. Tuffin’s sitting room is in his house behind a window and a tall dense green garden.
  2. Tuffin’s television set is in an alcove behind a pair of red velvet curtains.

He turns the television on to warm it up and then turns the light off.

The sitting room is very dark even in the day.

Now it smells of warm dust.

He sits down and opens the velvet curtains, with a pulley and a long string.

“Ta da.”

When the red velvet curtains open the room goes blue except for the red carpet and the velvet curtains that go black.

Through the window the tall dense green garden goes blue too.

He watches the people and listens to them.

After an hour he closes the red velvet curtains and turns the light on.

He stands in the hall and drinks orange squash and eats chocolate raisins and he goes to the toilet.

He is looking forward to the next bit.

After fifteen minutes he has finished his orange and raisins and goes out of the hall into the sitting room.

He turns the light out and sits down and opens the red velvet curtains with the pulley and the string.

“Ta da.”

He watches the people and listens to them.

Behind him, through the window, the light from the tall dense blue garden.

After forty minutes Tuffin turns off the set and closes the red velvet curtains

and exits.

Blind

Here is Tuffin occupying the best seat in the station waiting room, near the gas fire on Sunday so no trains are expected so no one is here. He puffs on his pipe and makes smoke like a train.

A blind man and a dog come in. The blind man sits opposite and the dog sits with Tuffin and leans his head on Tuffin’s lap but Tuffin likes dogs and this one is a fine one. Tuffin is not sure if the blind man knows he is here so he stays very quiet so as not to startle him. The blind man farts so Tuffin puffs on his pipe a bit more. The dog drools on Tuffin’s lap.

Tuffin dare not move despite the fart and the drool. As it is Sunday no one else is likely to want to wait.

  1. The blind man takes out a book. He doesn’t look at the book at all but he turns the pages one at a time and reads out loud.
    Tuffin wishes he had bought a book too.
  2. The blind man takes out a plastic bag and eats the sandwiches and biscuits.
    Tuffin wishes he had a biscuit.
  3. The blind man removes his shoes and stretches across several seats.
    Tuffin wishes he could remove his shoes and put on his slippers like he would later.

The dog scratches.
The blind man scratches and makes a pillow with his bag and falls asleep and snores.
So does the dog.

…Now Tuffin goes to the door and leaves the waiting room.
…But he waits at the platform puffing on his pipe and making smoke like a train.

A train stops and the blind man gets on without the dog, with the book and with the bag but it’s Sunday.

Tuffin goes back to the waiting room and the dog is occupying the best seat by the gas fire and he is awake.

Garden

 

Tuffin’s garden was a square like everyone else’s. He planted only green and leafy and bushy and tall things, no coloured flowers at all. He put a path around all four sides just wide enough for him to walk round, and used a ladder and a plank and a spirit level to clip everything very straight and flat and to keep them from growing too tall and annoying anyone.

The garden grew into a giant and dense and green cube.

Tuffin knew how to squeeze into his garden without disturbing a single thing. Inside everything was clipped to perfection making a square room with leaf green walls and a leaf green ceiling and a grass green floor. The floor was painted green as the room was dark and real grass did not thrive.

In his garden Tuffin would do all the usual garden things. He would hoe and water and weed and take tea at a table and as he worked he would hum and whistle along to the wireless. He set up a tiny badminton court to pop pop on and set the mower blades high enough that he could mow the grass in stripes and make the clickety clickety noise quietly.

Tuffin’s garden was the same in the day and the night. Birds did not nest in the trees and local cats did not litter. Butterflies passed by and bees and wasps did not bother. Neither the sun nor the moon ever shone and rain never fell. It annoyed no one.

Floor

Tuffin’s house was new, when he was new, and now both of them were 60 years old.

At 11:15pm on Thursday he sat in his chair in the sitting room.

He knew that beneath his feet was a red rug, a brown carpet, grey linoleum and wooden floorboards.

He went to the tool shed. He selected a jemmy and a claw hammer.

He moved his chair, lifted the rug, rolled up the carpet and peeled back the Lino.

With the jemmy and the claw hammer he removed a small area of floorboard.

He exposed the joists and the brickwork but it was dark.

Tuffin went to the tool shed again and collected a torch.

With the torch he was able to see down beneath the joists.

Beneath the red rug, the brown carpet, the grey linoleum and the wooden floorboards a thick layer of grey dust covered a concrete floor.

Embedded in the dust were several fresh footprints as finely wrought as the finest filigree.

Rings

Tuffin waited for ten rings. No answer.

He dialed another number. “Tell me a story.” He said. “I am sorry?” He heard. “Tell me a story.” He said. …Silence.

Tuffin tried another number. “Tell me a story.” He said. “Hello who is this?” He heard. “Tell me a story.” Tuffin replaced the receiver.

  • Three calls each sitting.
  • Four digits per call.
  • Never repeat the same four.

He was alone so it was easy to remember.

Then one day, after hundreds of digits.

“Tell me a story.” He said. “Very well” said the woman.

So she began.

When she had finished Tuffin replaced the receiver. He looked at the telephone on the table in front of him and the photograph beside it.

He knew it was her.

Bus

Here is Tuffin taking a red bus on a foggy Saturday at 5:00pm in December.

At 5:25 pm, at the railway station everyone gets off leaving the top deck empty. All the windows are steamed up and most are smeared by hands and cuffs and gloves and handkerchiefs but the wide window at the front is untouched. Tuffin moves to the front. He can just about see his misty face reflected in the glass.

•He has 20 minutes.

He removes a pencil from his top jacket pocket. The sharp end is no good but the rubber end is perfect. He traces his face through the mist onto the glass. He draws his mouth and nose and ears and hat. With his nails he forms lashes and with his fingers he makes eye-holes so that the dark outside looks in.

•He sits back.

In places water drips, making the picture weep. This amuses him, but his face floats in an expanse of nothing – and that doesn’t, so he draws the background as fast as he can.

•He is wet and steamy and hot.

He draws a jungle and monkeys and toucans and tall trees and everything. Fresh mist from his breath feeds the grasses that grow taller and stronger and creatures swing and climb and crawl and fly about. From his face a lion with a straggly mane springs. It peers back through the drips at the bus. He works until every bit of the canvas is filled with his touch.

•At 5.45 pm he stands and rings the bell.

Here is his stop. Here are the village shops lit with Christmas. Here is the lion glowing green, the toucans glowing gold, the grasses glowing blue, the monkeys glowing red and here is Tuffin’s face, pink and wet and glowing and stepping off the bus and walking home.