The woman approached the counter, carrier bag dangling from her emaciated wrist on one side and a small child dangling from the other. The child’s feet were barely touching the floor, which might have had something to do with the fact it was upside-down, for the woman fairly carried that kid the way one might carry a refuse sack or drunken midget. The child knew better than to complain, though, even when its upside-down face clonked against a leg of the proprietor’s workbench.
Ted Barker stopped what he was doing--The Sun’s prize-winning Su-Doku—and gave the woman his full attention. He immediately wished he hadn’t, for she looked like something which had passed through the interior workings of a hungry lion. Her eyes were too far apart, for one, giving her the appearance of a reptile, and her aquiline nose extended down almost to her chin. In other words, Ted didn’t fancy her at all. “Can I help you?” He leaned across the counter and glanced down at the child dangling from the woman’s left hand. He sighed. “You do realise,” he said, “that this is a taxidermist’s, and not an orphanage?”
The woman cursed—and a terrible curse word it was, too—and flipped the child over so that it was the right way up.
Ted recoiled in horror; there was no mistaking the child belonged to the woman. It had the same eyes, the same nose, poor little bastard.
“You’ll have to excuse Marnie,” said the woman, motioning to the unfortunate pile of limbs and flesh comprising her daughter. “She’s got this thing, you see, where her features are all jumbled up. Looks a right bloody mess, don’t it?” She poked at Marnie’s face. Marnie simply went on drooling.
“Er, yes,” Ted said, for what else could he say? “I wonder where she gets it from?” Apparently he could say that. Turning his attention to the woman—lest the sight of Marnie get the better of his gag-reflex—Ted nodded at the carrier bag. “I take it you have an animal for me. Was it a pet? Are you selling a cadaver? Is it something you and your daughter just jumped out on, thusly terrifying it to death in an instant?”
The woman shook her head. “Cat,” she said, slamming it down on the counter. “Misty, female tortoiseshell. Don’t want her back, just selling her on, you know.”
“And am I right in understanding that this cat, Misty, was a friend of your daughter’s?” He looked sadly upon the little girl across the counter, heaved twice, and said, “No, I tried, but is there any chance you could ask Marnie to wait outside. I had a lovely mushroom omelette for breakfast, and it would be a terrible shame to see it perform an encore.”
“Marnie, go and wait outside,” said the woman, waving the girl away dismissively. Once she was gone—and the little fucker kicked Gerry the baby giraffe in the shins as she went—the woman began to peel the plastic bag from the dead animal. “She’s a lovely specimen, if I do say so myself.”
“And you do, do you?”
“I do what?”
“Say so yourself?”
“That I do, my friend,” said the woman. “You ain’t ever seen a dead cat like this one, I can guarantee it.”
Ted was intrigued, which was strange, really, since dead cats seldom intrigued him. They were ten-a-penny, thanks to the ring road. Now, bring him a dead chimp and he would be impressed, and not just because chimps are usually very good at crossing duel carriageways. Exotic animals were his favourites. Cats were not exotic; you could dress a tabby in a Hawaiian tee-shirt and drape a lei around its neck and it would still look shit. No, Ted had a whole box of dead cats in the freezer out back. He didn’t know whether he would ever get around to stuffing them, or if he’d end up selling them, as he had done on one or two occasions before, to Ho Chi Minh’s Dragon Lounge Buffet and Bar—eat as much as you like, but don’t take the piss.
“Mom, there’s a man out here offering me sweets if I get in the car with him,” Marnie said as she reappeared in the doorway.
“Ask him what kind of sweets,” said the woman as she continued to fiddle with the carrier bag.
Ted was shocked, and appalled, and shocked yet again as the ugly little sprout proceeded to ask the man idling at the kerb the nature of his suck. After a few seconds she shouted—and dribbled a little—into the shop. “Says he’s got blackjacks.”
The woman shook her head. “You don’t like blackjacks, Marnie. They make your mouth all dark, remember.”
“Oh, yeah,” Marnie said. She called outside. “I don’t like blackjacks. They make my mouth all dark.” Then came the sound of a car making off at speed, and Marnie returned to the outside world, where she would be fortunate to ever receive such a generous offer again.
“Is this going to take long,” Ted said, watching the woman working away at a double-knot. “I’ve got a parrot to do for a client this afternoon, and it’s a tricky one.” Parrots were not usually tricky, but the customer—a little old dear by the name of Martha Tickle—wanted Derrick (not all parrots are called Polly, you know) to be part of a nice scene, with deckchairs, and beach huts, and sandcastles. And Ted had never attempted to stuff a sandcastle before, so he wasn’t particularly looking forward to it.
“Hang on,” said the woman. “There, got it!” She upended the carrier bag and out onto the counter fell a dead cat. “See!” she said. “Told you you ain’t never seen a dead cat like our Misty.”
Ted nodded. “You are correct, madam,” he said, “because that cat is very much alive.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” gasped the woman. “That is the deadest cat I have ever seen in my life!”
Meow, said Misty.
“It just said ‘Meow’,” Ted said. “Dead cats don’t meow.”
“Yes they bloody well do!” The woman was exasperated, and also completely mental. “I saw a programme once which said that a gassy build-up can manifest after death by way of the vocal cords—”
“I am fully aware of what is possible following death,” Ted said, “but your cat is now urinating all over my Su-Doku.”
“I know. Sad, isn’t it? Poor Misty, taken too soon.”
“Are you on medication, lady?” Ted was fairly losing his rag now, and not just because his chance of winning £100 cash plus free entry into a Bognor Regis camping holiday prize-pot had gone for a Burton. “I can’t take your cat on account that it is not dead. It still breathes. It’s very much alive and well, apart from possible brain-damage from being double-knotted into a plastic carrier-bag.”
“Well, if you won’t take it,” the woman said, scooping Misty up into her skeletal and liveried arms, “then I’ll have no other choice but to sell it to Ho Chi Minh’s Dragon Lounge Buffet and Bar.”
“There is a cattery not three miles from this very building,” Ted said.
“Ho’s is closer,” replied the woman, and with that she turned and marched for the door, leaving her shit- and piss-filled carrier bag on the counter. She yanked the door open and yelled, “Marnie… what have I told you about playing in the road? Look out! Ah, fuck it! Marnie? Marnie, bloody hell, you’re all squashed!” She turned to Ted, who was trying to dry his puzzle out by rubbing the pages upon his person. “I don’t suppose you buy the cadavers of flattened children, do you?”
“I suggest you call an ambulance,” Ted said.
“Just what is the point of your shop?” said the woman, seemingly disgusted, and then she was gone, screaming at the top of her voice—No, she’s not a Chupacabra, you cheeky bastard, she’s my daughter! Stop taking pictures! --and the door slammed shut.
It would be an hour before Ted heard sirens out in the street, which just goes to show that the uglier your child, the less fuss the emergency services make about getting to them in a good and reasonable time.
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