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The Tail

Mark Daniels

Dennis was meowing loudly in his cat box as George turned the Morris Traveller into the drive of their new home.

This was the final load from the old house to the bungalow.  It seemed to have taken a lot of journeys to complete the move over the weekend, but at least this had saved the cost of employing a removals company and, since the retirement bungalow required a lot of downsizing, there had been many hard decisions to reduce a lifetime’s collection of non-essentials.

George carried the cat box into the kitchen and let Dennis out, who tentatively investigated his new home, before standing by the back door waggling his stump (for Dennis had lost his tail in an earlier motoring accident), and wanting to be let out into the garden.

‘I’m afraid it’ll have to be your litter tray for a few weeks my little furry friend, or you’ll be trying to get back to the old place again’.

George went back to the Morris to retrieve Dennis’s box of essentials, but the familiar rattle of the munchy box turned the cat’s attention to food instead.  Dennis was always hungry, and stared firmly at George with his big green eyes and waggled his stump.  George knew that look well enough and sprinkled a handful of munchies into Dennis’s bowl.

Leaving the cat contentedly crunching through his snack, George went out to empty the last load from the back of the car, fumbling in his pocket for the fob of keys, picking out the one for the up-and-over door to the garage that adjoined the bungalow.

Unloading the boxes of spare parts exposed the decrepit old Elswick E5 Cyclemaster that he’d had since his youth.  It was probably 40 years since the bike last ran, but so many fond memories of halcyon days had made him hang onto it all this time, and despite the best intentions, had never seemed to have found the time to get round to fixing it up again.

The bike looked a sorry state.  The tyres were flat, the lights, saddle, pedal crank arms and chain were off, and the engine was missing parts, carburettor and exhaust, though all the pieces should be somewhere among the boxes of spares.

Perhaps he might finally find time to fix the bike up once he’d got the bungalow sorted … he sighed, and forlornly dragged the Cyclemaster into the garage, to lean it against an old wardrobe that had been left behind by the bungalow’s last occupant.

He looked around at all the other pieces of old furniture that had also been left behind by the previous owner.  George hadn’t time to clear it out now since the move came through so quickly, so he’d just had to pile all his stuff up in front.  The garage was now completely full of junk … another job to do … George sighed again, then jangled back through the fob to find the key for the adjoining door to the kitchen, switched on the garage light, and closed the up-and-over door so Dennis wouldn’t get out.

Unlocking the kitchen door, it seemed as if he heard a rustling noise from somewhere in the back corner behind the heaps of old furniture.

‘Oh great’ he muttered, ‘Sounds like I’ve got mice as well!’

The next day George went down to the local hardware store and came back with a couple of cat-flaps, one for the back door to the garden for later, but one for now which he fitted into the adjoining door into the garage, where he put the kitty-litter tray … and perhaps Dennis might even find the mice …

A few weeks went by, and George had been busy settling into the bungalow.  The second cat-flap had now been fitted into the back door, so Dennis could come and go into the garden as he wished now, but still spent most nights curled up at the bottom of the bed.

On nice days George was also trying to make inroads at tidying up the overgrown garden, and there was a lot of it, but at least Dennis was keen to help, and followed him around like a little furry shadow.

Following one particularly hot day’s gardening, George decided to reward himself with a bottle of beer in the early evening after supper, and relaxed into his armchair listening to the radio.

Dennis stood looking at George with his big green eyes, and waggling his stump.  George knew what that meant well enough, because Dennis liked any opportunity to curl up on an available lap, but Dennis was a big heavy puss, so George folded his gardening coat across his knees, and with an encouraging pat, the cat jumped aboard.

The big tabby sat on his lap and bumped his head up to George’s face, nose-to-nose, and staring hypnotically at him with his big green eyes while George stroked his back—Dennis was a strange cat, but George was completely in his power …

Dennis settled down and curled up on his lap, contentedly kneading his claws into the coat as George continued stroking him, supped his glass of beer, and listened to the radio in the warmth of the evening as the sun slowly sank on the horizon.

George woke with a start!

A noise from somewhere in the house!

It was dark, and much cooler.  He must have nodded off.

Dennis had gone, but creaking to a stand he heard a cat flap rattle from the kitchen, and Dennis appeared around the open door as he switched on the light.

The cat had something in his mouth.

‘What have you got there’, George asked?

Dennis didn’t reply, but looked at him with his big green eyes, waggled his stump, then obligingly dropped the dark brown shape, looked back up at George, and meowed quietly.

‘What is it?’  George enquired, but couldn’t make it out.  The object didn’t move … probably a dead mouse, so he raised his spectacles from the sideboard to examine the catch.

George peered at the prize; it wasn’t a mouse, or any other creature … he bent down and picked it up.  It was a small leather hat, weathered and used, as if it had been worn a lot.  George examined the detail, with all its pieces skilfully sewn together by a fine leather thong.  It almost appeared to be a doll’s hat, but in a man’s style … very odd!

The little hat was certainly nothing that George recognised, so he presumed it might have been something left behind by the previous owners, from among the junk left in the garage.

The cat’s unblinking eyes gave no answers, but his waggling stump said he was ready to settle down for the night.  Sleeping was what Dennis did best of all.

George put the little leather hat into the top drawer of the sideboard, and went to bed.

A few days later the garden clearing was steadily progressing, and George decided to dig out a few of the old flower borders, so opened the up-and-over garage door to let a bit of light in so he might find his gardening tools.

Rummaging around among the boxes he found a spade and pitchfork, and then glanced across at his Cyclemaster leaning against the old wardrobe.

That was strange?  It looked better than he remembered it?  He didn’t recall fitting those new tyres and pumping them up?  The wheel rims were all polished and the spokes were shining!

George peered into the parts box, and there were the old tyres, cracked and worn, and the perished old inner tubes neatly folded back into the boxes that the new tubes had come from … then catching a movement from the corner of his eye he noticed his tabby cat exploring around a stack of old furniture.

‘Come on Dennis, we’ve work to do in the garden.’

By the following week the front garden was progressing quite well.  George had a hard day digging out a dead tree root, and after supper, settled into his armchair to listen to the radio with a cool glass of beer in the warmth of the evening.  He put his jacket across his knees and Dennis jumped up for another cuddling session on the lap, kneading his claws into the jacket as he settled down …

George woke with a start!

It was night and much cooler; he must have nodded off!

Dennis was yowling somewhere in the darkness, and there were noises from elsewhere in the house.

George creaked to a stand and heard a cat flap rattle from the kitchen.

As he switched on the light, Dennis appeared around the open door with something in his mouth.

‘What have you got this time?’  George enquired.  But Dennis stood growling and holding onto his prize.

They had played this game before, but George always had a trump card to play using a time-proven technique: one rattle of the munchy box so Dennis was instantly distracted and dropped his catch.  As the cat started crunching his way through the reward, George peered down at the object, which looked like something with a brown body and a long tail, but he couldn’t make it out without his glasses.

Raising his spectacles from the sideboard, he wasn’t so sure it looked like a rodent now, but still cautiously lifted it up by the tail.  Oh!  The tail was a leather strap, and the body proved to be a little leather bag in the style of an old school satchel, but so small, like a toy for a doll.

His curiosity aroused, George fumbled to undo the tiny buckles, to find the bag contained a miniature set of tools, screwdrivers, pliers, spanners, even a little hammer, though all properly fashioned from real metal, but seemingly used and worn.  These were clearly not toys, but real working tools, just in miniature!

All very strange, but it was time to sleep, so George left his glasses on top of the sideboard with the little leather tool bag, and retired to his room, shortly to be joined by Dennis, who curled up at the bottom of the bed.

Awakened by the rattle of the letterbox next morning, George collected the newspaper, and was followed into the kitchen for breakfast by a hungry looking Dennis.

Settling down to read the daily paper with coffee and toast, George scooped his glasses off the sideboard, and remembered the little leather tool bag, but where had that gone?  While Dennis finished at his bowl, George looked around the sideboard, on the floor, but couldn’t see it anywhere … then glanced up to see Dennis curiously watching the search with his big green eyes.

‘Do you know where it’s gone?’  George asked the tabby, but Dennis just waggled his stump and kept his secrets.

George planned to resume the gardening after breakfast, and raised the up-and-over garage door to collect some tools.  Leaning back against the wardrobe, his old Cyclemaster looked amazing!  The paintwork was freshly black and glossy, the engine was all back together with exhaust and carburettor fitted, the pedals were back on with the chain tensioned, lights, saddle, and even the number plates.  The bike was all assembled and finished, even with a smart new leather pannier bag hung from the offside carrier!


George was stunned.  He looked the cycle over in complete disbelief, but this really was his old Elswick E5 Cyclemaster all seemingly magically and mysteriously restored!  He tried the throttle lever and clutch, which both appeared to work correctly, the light switch clicked neatly off and on, and to all purposes it actually seemed ready to go!  Almost in a daze, George couldn’t understand how this had happened, but thought he really ought to try it out, so rummaged around to find a can of petrol from the lawnmower, to mix it up with some oil, and pour the fuel into the tank.

Switching on the tap, he watched the fuel run through the clear pipe, try a little choke, pedal down the drive, drop the clutch, then following a couple of faltering coughs, the motor burst into life with a big cloud of smoke.

George pulled the clutch lever onto latch, then dismounted and ran the motor a little to clear the choke.  After all these years the engine sounded just as fine as he remembered.  As if almost in a dream, George pulled his helmet and gloves from the bottom of the now empty parts box, and decided he would just have to go for a little test ride along the private track down to the river bank.  It was only a short path of ¼-mile or so, but enough to refresh George’s happy memories of cyclemotoring days and to convince him he would certainly be getting his Elswick back into use right away.

Returning to the garage, he stood the bike back against the wardrobe to admire it once again while removing his helmet and gloves, which as he went to put them back into the old parts box, noticed a large piece of leather hide bundled into the bottom.  Lifting the sheet, George saw there were shapes cut out of the hide, which would have formed pieces of the new leather pannier bag, and several small shapes from one corner that looked oddly familiar from somewhere.

Some papers sat in the bottom of the box, which he picked up and took with him into the house to find his spectacles.  George opened the top drawer of the sideboard to take out his glasses, and noticed the small leather dolls hat next to them.  Examining the hat again, he realised the small shapes cut from the leather hide might be the pieces to make up a new hat in the same style.

Reading the papers from the bottom of the box, there was a flyer for membership to the East Anglian Cyclemotor Club, another flyer for a subscription to IceniCAM Magazine, and an old business card "Parts supplied compliments of Mopedland".

George glanced across the table to see Dennis sitting on the chair arm opposite, and looking at him with his big green eyes.  Offering the little leather hat back to the cat, George said ‘I think you ought to take this back to its owner tonight, and be nice to them from now on, because I think they’re our friend’.  Dennis stood up and waggled his stumpy tail.

That night as George slept, and dreamt of new cyclemotoring adventures, Dennis slid quietly through the cat flap into the garage with the little leather hat in his mouth, and dropped it on the floor beside the Cyclemaster.

The tabby cat’s green eyes got bigger as the flap of the leather pannier lifted, and then he waggled his stump as some munchies sprinkled out on the floor.

In the darkness a little voice whispered ‘There’s a good pussy cat’, and Dennis purred quietly.  He liked his ears being tickled …

First published in Iceni CAM Magazine, July 2015

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