An orchestra of whiskers frisson in anticipation as dusk washes across the hushed meadow. A distant church tower intones the hour; the ballet begins. The cohort whisper through embroidered curtains and take their place centre stage. With a hop, a skip and a clutch of cowslip they entertain until a glimmer of snowy tail and a twitch of white stocking thigh are all that remain in the dark. In deep sleep a little down the lane, the memory of rabbit haunts the charcoal nose of a beagle and with a mere wriggle of toes she too is dancing with them.
Sent as an email to a Beagle living on the other side of the world. A bedtime tail.
Her bile writhes between false teeth and tongue, a feral response to the union of her son to a shop floor harlot who caught him in her web of false lashes and uncouth urban charms. Uncontained disgust lurks like penny lemon drops, acidic in the sheen on her bone china top lip as her fingers whiten their grip on the starched antimacassar that Nana insisted adorn every chair. A well-mannered woman who spared her words and not the cane. Edith practices her rictus grin as she waits for the centre of her world to usher the bride to be in.
I can pinpoint the moment things changed between me and Linus. Judy joined the firm right after old Mr Schneider vacated my apartment block in the back of an ambulance. As I watched them roll the trolley down the too narrow stairwell, I recoiled, nauseated at the sight of his swollen blue face. He had lain, unmissed, in his bath for days before Mary Jackson called the paramedics when he missed their regular Thursday luncheon. I regaled Judy with precise details of his wrinkled skin and protruding tongue in an over-keen attempt to get her to join me for dinner. We were engaged six months later in a whirlwind of scarcely disguised astonishment that I had managed to both hook and land such a beauty.
Linus was the only one that seemed uncomfortable. He’d been with me since, well forever. Some kids have a comforter. I had Linus Ryder. Mum and Dad used to roll their eyes as I would recount the latest instalments of our night-time adventures. I didn’t dare tell them that I never outgrew my invisible partner in crime. After all, that’s years of therapy couch fodder. Right? When he realised that Judy was more than just a regular date, a sarcastic tone crept into our cheerful banter and then he began to disappear, sometimes for nights on end. When I asked him what he was up to, he threw me a shifty glare and lowered his horn-rimmed eyes so that I was left gazing down on the dimple of his sun-bleached Stetson.
After I broke the news about the upcoming nuptials, our friendship slid even further. I woke most nights drenched, insomniac and aching. I don’t know if I’m more jittery from my constant state of terror or the steady stream of espresso that I’ve been knocking back to keep me awake. When Judy didn’t turn up at Carlucci’s earlier tonight and wouldn’t answer her mobile, I knew instantly that it must have something to do with my favourite cowboy.
So now I’m lying on her bed, tied up next to my darling and I desperately wish I’d told her about him. About how jealous he’s been. That he’s not only the cutest gunslinger in town, he’s mighty fine with a needle and thread too. His Daddy was a boot maker and his Granddaddy before him. He likes to keep the tradition alive. He’s leant over her squirming body as he uses those skills to sew her eyelids shut when he realises that I’ve joined them in this dreamscape.
“Hey dude. I’ve been getting to know your girlfriend these last few months. Glad you could join us, I figured it would only be a matter of time. She sure is one hell of a honey. Which is why I’ve come up with a way that we can all be together instead of me feeling like the third spoke of the wheel. You hang on in there, partner, it’ll be your turn next.”