Shirley Golden - The Mad Schemes of Morris
Morris posed the question a month after he’d retired from the Post Office. ‘If you could transform into to any sort of animal, which would you choose?’
Karen was at the sink, Marigolds submerged in dishwater. She gave him a sidelong look, eyebrows raised, but no, she hadn’t imagined his question; he waited in earnest for her answer. She glanced out of the window and saw Felix, grooming himself with feline precision on the patio.
‘Oh, a cat, definitely.’ She often daydreamed about spending her days strolling around the lawn, sniffing the Geraniums, and snoozing whenever she felt the urge.
Karen stacked the last plate on the draining board and pulled free the plug. Retirement seemed to be having a funny effect on him. ‘Okay, why don’t you tell me?’ She rolled off her gloves and set them aside.
He observed her from over the top of his newspaper and cleared his throat before announcing: ‘A hamster. I’d like to be a hamster in a cage. And this rag,’ he shook the paper, ‘could serve as my shredded bed.’
She shuddered. ‘Oh, I’m not keen on rodents,’ she said.
A couple of weeks later, Karen heard hammering and other DIY thuds coming from the spare room. Morris never did much of anything these days, so the flurry of activity made her squint at the window uneasily as she watered her roses. She hoped he was not embarking on another scheme that involved dragging her onto windblown heathland in makeshift tents.
When he was on a mission, it was best to leave him be; she decided to pop round to Marg’s. Marg was recently divorced and thinking about setting up coffee mornings to get to know the neighbours better. Morris had absorbed that information with his usual snort, and said it would attract a flock of clucking hens. Karen suspected Marg planned on roping in some single gentlemen. But she didn’t tell Morris that.
When Karen returned, all was quiet. She fed Felix, who brushed around her legs, and then she went to face whatever Morris might have in store. The spare room door was closed and she knocked as she pushed it open.
‘Morris,’ she said.
A quarter of the room was sectioned off by vertical, wooden slats. She wondered if he was considering buying a pet. She didn’t want any more fuss over the impossibility of keeping a dog. She stepped further into the room. Morris was curled up in the corner, naked, on a huge bundle of shredded newspaper.
‘Morris?’ She thought he must have collapsed.
He raised his head. ‘I’m hungry.’
He looked fine, at least, not physically ill.
‘I’m sorry I’m later home than I thought…’ She brought a hand up to cover her mouth and tried to stop laughter from bubbling out. ‘I’ll get started on some tea,’ she managed to say. ‘Perhaps you should get dressed and come downstairs.’
‘I’d rather eat in here,’ he said.
She stared at him and thought it must be a joke; except Morris wasn’t one for jokes.
He raised his hands to either side of his face and began to lick, smearing saliva from hands to chin.
‘Would you like spaghetti bolognaise, or do I need to buy hamster food?’
‘Bolognaise is fine,’ he muttered into his palms.
‘Funny diet for a rodent,’ she said.
She returned to the kitchen as if in a dream. She wondered if she should call the doctor. She busied herself heating up the sauce and opened the back door. It was nice to do so, Morris would never usually allow it; he said the cooking smells would attract flies. She hummed and smiled to herself. Felix settled on the threshold, and looked out into the garden. When she fed him morsels, he meowed in disbelief and pleasure.
Karen took charge of the key to the cage door because Morris said he felt safer that way. She fed him twice-a-day. He liked to eat cereal in the morning and pie with two veg at night. She ensured fresh veg was always available as a side dish and he’d cram his cheeks with raw carrots.
He said he was sick of clothes but agreed to the golden-furred onesie she sewed together and referred to as his “coat”. She bought a treadmill, set up a circular wire frame around it and said he should exercise. She drew the line at cleaning up his mess, and insisted he used the chemical toilet and emptied it when she instructed him. She poked the tube of a sports bottle through the bars for him to sip water. No, she wouldn’t fill it with whiskey, not even at the weekend; perhaps at Christmas.
Once they’d established a routine, he said he’d rather not speak anymore because of the difficulties with the carrot and cheek situation, and that suited her just fine. Sometimes she’d sit and watch him running on his treadmill, and she found it oddly stimulating.
The coffee mornings proved to be a success, she made many new and interesting friends. When it was her turn to host, she didn’t have to worry about Morris causing a disturbance as he’d become nocturnal. Without him frowning when she spoke her true opinions, she felt unfettered. She spent less and less time tied to the house. Her afternoons were peaceful; she’d stretch out on her new sofa, watching recorded episodes of “QI” or “Autumnwatch” without his objections. Sometimes she’d curl up beside the hearth with Felix, splaying her fingers and filing her nails to a point.
Now that Morris’s conversion was complete, she felt composed and more inclined to nap without guilt. When awake, she felt totally alive, more determined than ever to pursue her desires. And able, at last, to pounce if required.