The Rhinoceros Next Door

I mean really, what are they thinking? Their garden is tiny. I’m all for animal rights and rehoming strays, but a rhinoceros in suburban Oxford; that’s just not on!

Sometimes I think I’m going mad. I say this because no one else on my street seems to pay the slightest attention to the giant beast in their vicinity.  When the sun shines, my neighbours mill about on the road exchanging pleasantries, jars of plum jam, gossip etc, just as they always have. But no one ever mentions the rhinoceros. I’ve brought it up a few times but they just stare at me blankly as though I’ve spoken another language or were speaking out of turn. It makes me feel very uncomfortable so I’ve given up asking. There remains, of course, something unspoken in the air!

Bob and Joan, in whose garden the beast dwells, say hello to me every morning over the garden fence. And every morning there it is, right behind them. I wonder, do they not see my wild eyes flickering with confusion as the beast sways on its giant legs and snorts as it munches breakfast? How can they ignore its heavy breathing and occasional flatulence, passing off the whiff as just an unlucky farmyard breeze? And what about the truck loads of fodder arriving each day?

I mean, it would be fine if the rhinoceros had something to say: a point of view or a joke, even. God knows, I’ve tried to strike up conversation countless times. But it behaves as if it were from the jungle or the plain. Mostly it completely ignores my presence, even when I’ve been so kind as to offer it a mid morning coffee or an early evening beer (quite rude really). However, this morning there was something worse than being ignored.

I popped out to put the washing on the line and saw the rhinoceros rubbing its flank against my neighbours garage. I called out a hello and its ears twitched. I thought it might grace me with a chat. However, it did not. Instead it positioned its rump in my direction, lifted its tail, muttered something under its breath and then farted the fart of a two ton ruminator, which if you’ve not had the pleasure, is like the worst, moist hairdryer with a bowl of yesterdays sodden muesli thrown in to the mix. I would say that I was aghast but actually I was thickly coated. I felt like a fish-finger dipped in chocolate and showered in nuts. Only my two frightened eyes blinked naked of the foul and outrageous ejector. And so peppered, I felt an urge for sweet cleanliness that only a man thus dipped can know. I slid and dripped my sorry way to the bathroom, a shameful trail upon the kitchen floor.

Later on, when I’d cleaned up (in body if not in mind), I retaliated with a volley of insults thrown over the fence. But the beast is thick skinned indeed and swished me away, dismissing me with its tail.

I’m going to call the council. I really am. I mean, I’ve heard and used the elephant in the room metaphor many times, but a rhinoceros in the back garden is quite another thing.

© Ben Truesdale and distilledvoice, 2015

Dr Paradox

Dr Paradox lives at number 13. I don’t know what he does all day but it appears he doesn’t work. I have coffee with him every Tuesday at eleven, sharp. He is a stickler for timeliness but remarkably relaxed when I’m late.

It’s hard to tell his age: somewhere between 1 and 89. That sounds ridiculous, I know. But you’ve not seen him. He sometimes wears a white moustache and sometimes a bib. He has one enormous bushy eyebrow while the other is trimmed. His skin looks soft as a babies and wrinkled with age. Often he wears a white robe in his house though when I’ve seen him in town he wears jeans and t-shirt. I think the robe may be for my benefit. Everyone else on the street just knows him as John, but he insists I refer to him as Dr Paradox.

I usually go over accompanied by my cat. He invites me in and we sit in his lounge. He’s had an enormous bath fitted in one corner and sometimes we sit in that – but bizarrely without any water and fully clothed. He often remarks on the beautiful buoyancy of air: how warm it is, how clean it makes you feel etc. He says that he only fully appreciates it when understood through the context of an empty bath. Generally, that cats don’t join us in the bath. I forgot to mention, he has a cat too. It’s named Inverse and he’s a ginger tom. I’m not sure if our cats get on or not. They seem to spend an awful lot of time attempting to out-squint each other or they play the strange mind game that cats enjoy, where they try to make each other invisible. And it appears that sometimes it works.

Generally on my arrival, Dr Paradox will ask if I’d like a coffee. To which my answer is invariably: yes. His stock response is: yes, but do you? My answer is: yes, I’d like a coffee. He then answers: yes, but do you really want a coffee? This interplay usually results (eventually) in a coffee, though not always. To be honest, I’ve not got the slightest clue what he’s up to and while it’s unfailingly annoying, some part of me enjoys it very much. Sometimes, even though I’ve asked for coffee he brings me tea instead, which I drink without complaint lest I have to go through the whole process again.

The weird thing is: I always feel refreshed after my visits. The coffee (when I get one) is great but somehow there is more to it than that. It’s as if the air really is buoyant and cleansing and contains a warmth, just as he says it does.

© Ben Truesdale and distilledvoice, 2015

Diary Of Cats And Novels

The idea for a novel arrived this morning. I was quite surprised. But I was more surprised when it burrowed through my mind and then crawled out of my ear, perching on the arm of the sofa, as natural as a young novel can be. It blinked at me and then, much quicker than I thought novels could move, scurried in to the next room. I tried to catch it but my fingers were quite stiff from not typing and my body co-joined to the sofa. When eventually I managed to pry myself off the couch I went to look for the little bugger. To my annoyance I found that it had completly disappeared.

I spent an hour looking around the skirting boards on my hands and knees, shouting out abuse for the sheer joy of being in a bad mood. I once lost a short story in the same way, only to find it cohabiting with a house spider under the sofa. I never managed to get it back and it lives there to this day, taunting me with perfectly formed quips and insults wrapped in spider webs. I try to ignore its outbursts but they are just so – to the point – and without the verbiage of self indulgence. Anyway, digression will earn me a sticky web on my lips if I speak a word of this out loud.

Eventually I found the little blighter (the novel) hunkered in a mouse hole, crying softly. Curiously it had taken the form of a squat lobster and had a pair of tiny but perilously sharp pincers for a voice. I have the lacerations to prove I am not deaf and my fingers smart: salt and cold sting hot. Of course, I tried to reason with it. And when that failed I whispered a lullaby and calm words, to tell it that I loved it just the way it was. But alas, the lobster was having a crisis. And no words of mine could bring it from its hiding place.

I’m going to leave it over night and hopefully the fresh new day will give it wings and the metamorphosis from skeptical, armoured idea to the plump, soft juvenile that it might just be. I really hope that the cat doesn’t get it in the night. So many fledgling thoughts have succumbed to that fate: gobbled up whole or left as lifeless gifts on my back door step, trouble no more but unfulfilled in their infancy, their potential dashed.

I might just feed the cat an extra helping of ice cream and trash tv so he is fat and happy and far too lazy to hunt a young novel on its first day. Lethargy makes a cuddly pussycat out of a killer, I find. And a full belly makes his claws retract so his hands are but soft pads and gentle mittens, and a flannel to wash his beautiful face.

© Ben Truesdale and distilledvoice, 2015