The Cap, the Mouse and the Flying Swede (1,075 words)
When Caroline came back from her bedtime bath, she discovered her husband, George, propped up in bed reading a book with his faded, cotton cap on. It was the final straw and two days later she found herself opposite a pinched-face solicitor in a brown tie.
“So, to sum up, Mr Shruggs,” she said, realizing her free 30 minutes were almost up, “I want to know if I can sue George for divorce on the grounds of the irretrievable breakdown of our marriage, due to his unreasonable behaviour in refusing to remove his cap in the house or even in the bedroom, as I have told you.”
“Yeeeez,” Mr Shruggs said on a prolonged outbreath; “unfortunately, as the law stands, you see, aesthetic abuse,” he smiled thinly, “is not a recognized basis for such a proceeding.”
Later the same day, Caroline was having tea with her friend, Molly. Molly, a patient, middle-aged woman, was cutting out bright red patches of material for the quilt she was making.
“What do you think?” she said, holding scarlet floral against turquoise abstract.
“The man’s a fool!” Caroline said. “I told him about the boiler suit, as well, and he barely raised an eyebrow.”
“You’re right,” Molly nodded, setting down her pinking shears and the scarlet patch, “maybe it is a bit garish.”
Caroline brushed a biscuit crumb from her lap. “I’ve told you before, haven’t I? He won’t take the boiler suit off when he comes in, because of that bloody mouse!”
“Mouse?” Molly said. “I did a nursery quilt once with three blind mice. Couldn’t find a farmer’s wife or a knife, but used a milkman and chip pan instead.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” Caroline demanded.
Molly beamed at her and started chanting: “They all ran after the milkman, who fried their tails in a chip pan.”
“Oh, for goodness sake, Molly,” Caroline broke in, “this is serious!”
Molly shrugged her becardinganed shoulders and went back to her snipping.
“The point is,” Caroline continued, “George takes the anaemic, little beast to work in his top pocket and won’t take off the wretched garment when he comes home, because…and it defies belief, it really does…he doesn’t want to disturb ‘dear Pinky’!”
“Pink and white are a bit wishy washy, don’t you think?” Molly said, sifting through some remnants and drawing one out to illustrate her point.
“Pinky, I ask you!” The teaspoon jumped in Caroline’s saucer, as she thumped her cup down. “Just because of its horrid little eyes. Disturb it, huh! I’ll disturb it all right. Farmer’s wife had the right idea. I’m telling you he thinks more of that mouse than he does of me. Well, I’ve had enough, I’m leaving him. And it’s no use trying to talk me out of it, Molly; my mind’s made up.”
Molly extricated a roll of material from under the sofa and unfurled a length of it across the carpet. “What would you think of a whole quilt in dove grey with cucumber green fronds?”
When Caroline got home, she packed up the mid-grey, baker boy cap she had ordered in herringbone, which George had refused. “Makes me look like a Peaky Blinders’ gunman,” he’d told her. Well, her mother had warned her all those years ago. “N.O.C.D.” she’d said, with a knowing smile. “Not our class, dear.”
Caroline stuck the return label on the package and took it to the post office.
Coming along the path on her way home again, she saw her neighbour polishing his ancient car in his trilby.
“Afternoon, Leonard,” she said, drawing level. “Outdoors is the proper place for a hat, if I may say so.”
“So’s a bald ‘ead,” he grinned.
She went to move on, but he put up his hand. “Hang on a minute, I’ve got something for ‘ee.” And leaving his cloth on the bonnet, he disappeared into his house.
“Dug ’er up this mornin’,” he said, coming back and holding out a mud-spattered, purple and orange swede. “Go well in a stew for George, I reckon.”
“We’re having chicken casserole,” she said, taking a plastic carrier from her bag. She shook it and held it open; and, as he dropped the vegetable in, her arms sagged with the weight of it.
“Some people confuse swedes with turnips,” she went on; “I did once!” She closed the handles and held the carrier by her side. “But swedes have proper substance, Leonard, and they don’t wear caps in bed!”
As she walked off, Leonard pushed back his hat and scratched his head.
It was almost six o’clock when George came through the back door into the kitchen.
“Smells good,” he said, putting his sandwich box on the side by the sink.
He moved forward to greet her with a peck on the cheek, as usual; but she stepped back from the chopping board, knife still in hand.
“Right,” she said, “let’s get this straight once and for all. You take that cap off and you go upstairs and change out of that boiler suit. I’m not going to put up with you being dressed in the house like that any longer.”
As she spoke, pink eyes and a twitching, whiskered nose appeared over the rim of his top pocket.
“And I won’t have that…that rodent in the house anymore either. I mean it.”
“Oh, come on, love, let it be,” George sighed, turning for the door to the hall. “It’s been a long day.”
“Don’t you turn your back on me, George Dodd!” She tossed the knife onto the table.”I want an answer and I want it now, or else we go our separate ways.”
George turned round again to face her. “You’re not serious, are you, love?” he said. “I mean, I don’t ‘ave to dress up in me own ‘ome, do I?”
Caroline lifted her chin. “I’ve been to see a solicitor. Aesthetic abuse, he called it.”
George shook his head. “I don’t even know what that means,” he muttered, glancing down at the mouse. Then, looking up at her again, he added: “I know you’re ashamed of me sometimes and that you don’t feel I’m good enough for you; but I am doing my best and I do lov…”
The swede caught him high up on the side of his head, near the temple; and, as he went down, his head bounced on the tiled floor, his cap fell off, the mouse ran away, and Caroline knew it was the end.
Copyright: Charles Becker, 2019.