I sat holding my head in my hands as my wife stood regarding me from the doorway.
“Are you alright, Badders?” she asked with concern.
I sighed heavily and stood up, pacing across to the French windows. I had to get that Tupperware box back. Perhaps if I explained to Smith. He seems halfway reasonable for a home-edder. He could even pass for normal given the right lighting. My mind made up, I strode out of the lounge and headed for the front door.
After I had rung Smith’s bell, I calmed myself with a quiet mantra. “I am an expert. I have done nothing wrong. I am admired for what I know. School Education is good.” I was quite pleased. I especially liked the last two lines. Perhaps there were the beginnings of a speech there for when I am made a peer. I tried again a little louder. “I am admired for what I know. School education is good.”
Unfortunately Smith chose to answer the front door when I was half way through.
“….know. School education is good!”
“Eh? ‘No school education is good’? What’s this, a change of heart, Mr Badman?”
“…I was just…rehearsing…for something….look there’s something I need to discuss with you. Don’t try and confuse me with your home-ed nonsense. Could I come in?”
“We’ve been through this already. I’m not prepared to let you in. The children are safe, well cared for and receiving tuition as detailed in the educational philosophy we provided to the local authority.”
“But I need to come in!”
“No – you do not.”
“I demand to be allowed in.”
“Will you please lower your voice? The children are still in the process of de-stressing from the overbearing intimidation meted out by the state education process. They have a deep mistrust of authority, especially where it is enforced by belligerence and shouting.”
“I don’t want to see the children! I want to see….your… um… sandwich boxes…”
“My what? My God, my wife was only saying the other day that you lot will want to examine the contents of our fridges next in case there are grounds for dietary abuse.”
“No….its….ah…it’s not the contents…. So much as the utensils they come in… Plastic boxes. I’d like to see your… um… your… plastic container collection….”
Smith’s eyebrows knitted over severely narrowed eyes.
“My plastic container collection?”
“I….like….plastic….containers.” My voice seemed to be deteriorating into a whispering squeak. I was appalled to hear myself say; “I…collect them. I wondered if you had any…to spare…. They don’t have to be empty… I ….like… cleaning….them….”
“Are you feeling unwell?”
“Mmmmm….. headache….lie down….”
“Yes – I think you better had!”
“Could I… come in there and….lie down?”
“Among the plastic containers?”
We were both distracted by the arrival of a police car pulling up to the kerb. Two officers climbed out and began walking up the garden path. I don’t know why I did it, but I put my hand over my face and ran past them, back to the safety of my own property.
I rushed into the back garden. I now had only moments to try and redeem the situation once and for all. Grabbing my folding ladder from the shed I put it up next to the fence as close as I could to Smith’s property. Racing up the steps I peered into their garden. Thankfully it was empty and I had a clear view of the conservatory. Peering at a wicker coffee table inside, my heart missed a beat. I wasn’t certain, but it looked like the Tupperware box on top.
I quickly ran back into the house, retrieved my expert-standard binoculars and was back at the top of the ladder in less than two minutes. Fumbling with the focus, I nearly fell twice and had to grip the ladder hard to steady myself. What on earth was the matter with the blasted things? Perhaps I needed to focus on something further away and then bring them back to bear on the coffee table.
I tried looking at the chimney pot. That was better, but still blurred. I tried the next house over. Now it was much clearer and I lowered the angle of the binoculars a little.
Greatly puzzled, I seemed to be looking at something resembling rice pudding, but more yellow. It was moving, which was even more confusing. As I stared, a pudgy hand came into view and began squeezing lumps of the ugly mess. Greatly intrigued, I spun the wheel to pull the magnification back a bit…
I found myself staring at Old Mrs Mort through an upstairs window. She had removed the top half of her frock, her upper torso bulging against formidable looking undergarments. She was massaging some sort of medicinal cream into the thick folds of her upper arms, but had frozen to the spot now that she had seen me at the top of my ladder watching her through expert-standard binoculars!
With mounting horror I dropped the binoculars and began waving wildly.
“I’m not spying on you, Mrs Mort, I wouldn’t do anything as disgusting as that! Not….not that I’m saying you’re disgusting…no, no no! I mean you’re very…um… you know! I mean if I was twenty years older….no, no, no…that’s not what I mean…”
Her mouth was opening – she was going to scream!
I waved my hands frantically. I suspect I may have looked like a large bald headed bird with a small distinguished beard.
“Look, you silly woman. I’m not interested in you!” I waved the binoculars at Smith’s conservatory. “I’m trying to get a better look at Smith’s lunchbox!”
She threw back her head and screamed. Several times!
In panic, I overbalanced on the ladder and tumbled headfirst into Smith’s garden. Fortunately, I was unobserved (I found out later it was because the entire Smith family plus the two police officers had rushed to Old Mrs Mort’s aid). Something seemed to take over my body and I found myself opening the door to their conservatory – grabbing the Tupperware box from the table and rushing back to the garden.
With no ladder on this side I was forced to improvise. The Smiths have a circular trampoline and I began bouncing vigorously. I sincerely hope this does not constitute the full extent of their provision for physical education.
Sadly, the sight of me bouncing up and down clutching a Tupperware container of dead guinea pig did nothing to settle Old Mrs Mort who was now screaming loud enough to set off several dogs in the neighbourhood. I must say she has impressive lung capacity for someone in whalebone stays!
Finally achieving the correct velocity and trajectory (something I imagine the Smith children would struggle to calculate); I leapt back over the fence. Unfortunately one foot came down in the fish pond, but at least the Tupperware box and I were intact.
Old Mrs Mort had lapsed into silence (I learned later that she had apparently entered a catatonic state of shock and hasn’t uttered a sound since).
I quickly hid the ladder and rushed back into the sanctuary of my house.
My wife was observing the commotion in the Avenue through the net curtains as two burly police offices broke down Old Mrs Mort’s front door. I shoved the box under a cushion and made out I was nonchalantly reading the paper.
Autonomous Ed sat at my feet and the stupid creature began licking my wet shoe. Perhaps it was an attempt to say sorry.
“I don’t know what on earth is going on out there!” my wife said.
“Hmmm?” I asked, feigning bored disinterest.
“I said….Good heavens, what is that cat doing?” she asked, turning her eyes back into the lounge.
Autonomous Ed had finally succeeded in retrieving a goldfish from my sock and was glaring at me in triumph.
After all I’ve done for that animal!