Bike 451–500

Wuthering Dormice

(aka Easy As Falling Off A Bike)

Parts 451–500

by Angharad

If you wish to make a comment please go to the original part by part posting on BigCloset TopShelf.


Bike 451

I looked at the picture again. It was, without doubt, a garden dormouse. Did the person actually see it in this country or abroad? Where was the photo taken? Was it an escape from a collection – this was how we got edible dormice at Tring, when Lord Rothschild lost some of his. They are still feral at the house and in the surrounding area.

I looked at the record again. It was from Petersfield, in Hampshire, not a million miles from Portsmouth. I could feel my hands getting moist with anticipation. It had to be an escape. Usually, we only find out because somebody’s cat brings them in. However, they can colonise from escapes if enough get away. Tring is an example, and even the colonies of dormice on Mallorca and Menorca were introduced by man, the only indigenous species was extinct hundreds if not thousands of years ago and exists only in fossil records.

I would recommend we rejected the record but I’d like to check it out. I would call the person when I was down at Tom’s. I didn’t have to come back to Bristol for a few days, unless we had a problem with the filming and we still had one more day.

Alan eventually called me back. Apparently, Darren’s parents were not impressed with his accident and he couldn’t come out to play with us again. I don’t know why we both laughed at this, but we did. I suppose he had to be about twenty and was still living at home—but then, these days, loads of kids couldn’t afford to move out and preferred to stay at home because they could drink more that way. At the ripe old age of twenty three, I was despairing of today’s youth. I was getting more like Tom every day.

Alan had been playing with the stuff we’d already done and I still had to do some voice over stuff for the rest of the film. He liked the idea of adding the Youtube clip, to keep it balanced with some humour. I would arrange for the original to be sent to him. He thought the first edit would take him a week, then I could comment and see how it fitted the script, then he’d edit number two and I’d comment again and do a trial run of the voice over, then we’d do the final edit and add voice over and mix in a soundtrack and other noises, like birdsong.

I was free to go to Portsmouth. I packed and left within the hour. Tom was delighted to see me, more so when I told him I had a roast dinner on the go for him. We hugged and he said he was pleased to see me. I’d made up my bed and was rather glad I had, because we talked about things until about one in the morning.

I slept like a log and woke about nine—yikes, I was late for the office. I hurriedly showered and dressed and putting on a suit and some makeup, I decided I’d pretend I was an adult.

When I walked into my office, I could see someone else was using it—they weren’t actually there—but it was tidy! I went down the labs, my heels clicking on the tiled floors. Neal was there setting up an experiment. He glanced up and did a double take.

“Cathy, is that you?”

“If it isn’t then someone’s stolen my body.”

We hugged and he told me he was dating Gloria on a regular basis. What a surprise—not. He told me the guy who’d temporarily replaced me was a real lab rat. It was for him that he was setting up the experiment.

A moment later, a thirty something, balding man walked in and looking at me said, “I’m sorry, we don’t allow visitors in the laboratories without special permission.”

“I don’t usually need permission to visit my own lab,” I retorted, if this bloke was like this with strangers, I dreaded to think how my students would be treated.

“Your lab? Who are you?” he spluttered.

“Colin Montgomery (no not the golfer – wrong spelling), meet Cathy Watts, whose position you’re covering.”

“Ah, you’re the dormouse woman?”

“I’ve been called worse.”

“Sorry, let me rephrase that, you’re the lady who studies dormice?”

“Amongst other things, yes.”

“Other things?”

“Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Tour of Brit…” interrupted Neal.

I slapped him on the arm, “You fool,” I looked at the new comer, “I’m leading the rodent panel for the national mammal survey.”

“Oh yes, Professor Agnew’s baby.”

“I think you’ll find Cathy, here, designed much of it.” Neal was being very protective, “Seeing as she’s the only field biologist on the staff.”

“Indeed, prefer the laboratory myself, don’t like mud and rain and fieldwork always involves both.”

“Each to his own,” I said, “Nice to meet you, I must go and see Tom.” I excused myself. However as I left, I heard the newcomer ask how, ’she gets to call the professor by his first name?’

“She’s his adopted daughter, it helps,” was Neal’s reply. I didn’t wait for Montgomery’s. I wasn’t sure I liked him.

I chatted for a few moments with Pippa, she wanted to buy her boys new bikes for Christmas. I recommended the bike shop near the university and to mention mine or Simon’s name.

“I don’t know what bikes to get them.”

“Probably mountain or BMX depending upon what sort of riding they do.”

“I don’t know, if I ask them, they’ll know what I’m planning and I want it to be a surprise.”

“How about I call by on Saturday or Sunday on the bike and see if I can provoke the right sort of conversation?”

“Could you? That would be brilliant.” She smiled at me and went back to her typing. “Have you met your replacement?”

“Yes, bit of a dry old stick.”

“A bit, he’s very good on his lab work.”

“What about fieldwork?”

“I think Tom is hoping you’ll be back to do that with them.”

“Oh, is he now?”

Tom’s door opened, “Pippa, can you…oh, hello, Cathy, what are you doing here?”

“I think I’m on the payroll, Professor Daddy.”

He blushed bright puce, it was lovely. “Um, I thought you’d been seconded by DEFRA.”

“Whatever? Am I bovvered?” I answered in the style of a Catherine Tate character.

“I don’t know. Pippa, can you send these off as soon as poss? I suppose you want me to take you to lunch?” This latter bit was aimed at me.

“If you like,” I wasn’t that bothered.

“Maybe I should ask Colin if he’d like to come too. Have you met your replacement?”

“I think she has and wasn’t overly impressed,” said Pippa, stirring things.

“He’s an expert on phyto-plankton.”

“He’s a botanist?” I squeaked.

“I suppose he is, isn’t he? Anyway he’s doing cell biology, enjoys his microscope work.”

“Phyto-plankton?” asked Pippa.

“Pond life,” I replied before Tom could say anything, “Some people are so cut out for their work.” Pippa laughed loudly and Tom smirked before regaining his composure.

“I think you need to take some of this a bit more seriously, young lady.” He said delivering my censure.

“Why? The best job in the world is one you enjoy. I love mine.” I threw back before he could say anything else.

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Bike 452

We were still standing about talking when Montgomery appeared. “Ah, Professor, if I might have a word?”

“A quick one, unless you want to come for lunch, Cathy is coming, aren’t you sweetie-pie?”

“Actually, I was going to…” I started, but the look Tom gave me suggested I accept his offer. “…to pop to the loo, before we went.”

“Hurry along then, oh, Colin, you’ve met my adopted daughter, Cathy Watts, soon to be the Lady Catherine Cameron.” The old buzzard made me blush. I nodded, then nipped off to the loo. “Weak bladders, these women,” I heard Tom’s voice as I scurried off. I’ll poison him later!

I did use the loo and checked my hair and makeup, they were fine, I hadn’t really done anything to mess them. When I returned, neither Tom nor Montgomery were there, just Pippa whose fingers were flying about the keyboard. I hoped they’d gone with out me.

“They’ll be back for you in two minutes—I don’t know if that’s in real time or Tom Time.” Pippa smiled as she said this, Tom was renowned for his ability to become so absorbed in anything that he’d forget to breathe if he wasn’t reminded to.

I sat on the edge of Pippa’s desk. “What sort of time do you want me to call by?” She looked at me oddly. “To mention bikes…”

“Oh, yes of course; afternoon any good?” I’d have preferred mornings, but I suppose the boys would still be in bed.

“I’ll try and text you while I’m out.”

“That’d be great, oh here they come.” I glanced down the corridor and the two men were in an animated discussion as they approached us. They were still talking when they went past us, not noticing either Pippa or me.

“If it had been warmer, I had thought to come in just my bra and pants, maybe they would notice me then.” I said loudly.

“They might not, but I would,” said Roy, the new security man. I blushed and wished I hadn’t said anything.

“Are you coming or not?” called Tom from the main door, then returned to his conversation.

“My invitation to lunch has just arrived, see you later.” I said as I clicked my way down the corridor to where the two men were standing and still talking.

“We’ll use your car, girl,” Tom said and I led them to it and opened it. I drove to the usual place and they were still rabbiting.

Tom led us into the restaurant and ordered his usual chicken curry, Montgomery chose the same, I went for the tuna jacket—so, I’m predictable. The conversation continued about diatoms and plankton and global warming. I stayed aloof.

“But these are much better indicators of global warming than mammals or birds,” said Montgomery and my ears pricked up.

“We know that,” agreed Tom.

“So why are they persisting in this horrendously expensive survey of mammals, when a much cheaper one is available?”

“Hang on,” I entered the fray, unleashing the little strap of the hammer on my six gun. I strolled towards my opponent. “This survey isn’t just about global warming, if it was a thermometer would be cheaper still. This is about the current status of British mammals, much of which we don’t know.”

“I disagree, my source in Whitehall, said it was about global warming, and they were only using mammals because the public identified with them much more than they did with microbes.”

“Is he more reliable than the under secretary of state?” I asked, now feeling angry, although I knew I had to keep calm and take this guy out with logic not emotion—the moron probably didn’t have any, anyway.

“He’s a politician, they all lie.”

“What? At a private dinner party, with the other sponsors present? Lie at a meeting with representatives of the European Union, in front of the press and hierarchy of this university? Those are powerful accusations to bring, Mr Montgomery. I’d be careful where you voice them unless you wish to defend a libel case.”

I felt rather than saw Tom wince, I was not helping his digestion, not that I cared, I was now on the attack.

“Even if he didn’t lie, it is obviously part of the government agenda.”

“Government might have it’s own agenda, the EU has theirs, and we and the Mammal Society, have ours. On the surface, and the one to which we are adhering, is a better understanding of the status of mammals in the United Kingdom, so we can take steps to protect those who need it and so forth. It’s also about testing protocols and procedures for a larger study across Europe. There are still people looking at pond-water and testing your precious plankton, without which the largest mammals on the planet couldn’t live. But to suggest suspending the survey demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the entire project and its sponsors.”

“Like High Street Banks; how are they profiting from such a study unless it’s about counting the number of other rats they’re in competition with, or is daddy in law doing it to keep you in a job?”

“Colin, I think you’d better withdraw that remark,” Tom said this very quietly, but with sufficient menace to get Montgomery’s attention.

“Well it is isn’t it? What effect will mammal populations have upon them or their business?”

“Sometimes the reasons they do things are best left unknown. However, this is a big publicity campaign they’re mounting about them being environmentally aware.”

“So they get some bimbo to pose with a dormouse—yeah, really environmentally aware.”

“You arsehole, I’m not a bimbo,” I said as I stood up and slapped him hard enough to knock him off his chair. I stormed out of the restaurant and got in my car. I was so cross I was hyperventilating.

Tom came out a moment later. “You saved me hitting him, but you need to control your temper, Cathy. He obviously didn’t recognise you from the posters.”

“No my hair was different. He is total pond-life, just as well I’m not needed at the office, I’d kill him in a week.”

“Can you come back so he can apologise to you?”

“I could, but I won’t.”

“Please, Cathy, I’m asking you.”

“I can’t guarantee not to hit him again and harder.”

“You will young lady, I have asked you not to hit him, so you won’t. Now come on, my curry is going cold.” I reluctantly followed Tom back into the restaurant, Montgomery was sitting at the table with a large red mark about the size of my hand across his cheek.

He looked at me and glared for a moment until he saw Tom watching him. “I’m sorry I called you a bimbo, I didn’t recognise you from the posters.”

“I’m not sorry I slapped you, you asked for it, however, I accept your apology. Tom, I am leaving now, I’ve lost my appetite.” I rose despite his protests and set off towards the door.

“Lady Catherine,” I turned to look for the new voice, it was the manager of the restaurant, “you’re leaving without your meal.”

“I’ve lost my appetite, I’m sorry.”

“Please wait for two minutes.”

“I have to go,” I said.

“Please wait, two minutes, not longer.” He almost ran off to the kitchen and a couple of minutes later he returned carrying a box. Inside was a plate with my meal, cutlery and a napkin, plus a bottle of mineral water. “Please take this with you.” He bundled the box into my hands and walked off.

I took it and left the restaurant. I drove to a picnic site a few miles away and sat and ate my lunch. It obviously wasn’t very warm by then, but at least I could eat it in peace.

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Bike 453

The rest of the afternoon seemed to drift away, I fell asleep in my car after eating my lunch. I had locked the doors so I was reasonably safe. I hadn’t intended to, I just drifted listening to some debate on the US Presidential thingie. It didn’t feel important, and the black guy seemed to be in the lead in the opinion polls—so I nodded. I woke up, stiff necked and feeling worse than I had before I went to sleep. I got out of the car and went for a quick walk to wake me up a bit more, then I drove home.

I had the evening meal on before Tom came home, some grilled salmon would soon decorate his plate, with watercress and pepper salad, new potatoes and cherry tomatoes.

Tom looked very stressed when he came in. “What’s the matter?” I asked him.

“Your little friend has revealed a bit more about himself.”

“Who are we talking about?”

“I think you already know that.”

“Oh, him.”

“The very same.”

“So what do we know now, that we didn’t a few hours ago?”

“He’s an evangelical.”

“So evolution doesn’t apply to plant biology, or is that just botanists?”

“Worse.”

“Worse, I don’t Adam and Eve it?”

“It is, he went to see the Dean.”

“What about me slapping him?”

“Not officially, although that may have been part of the cause. No, he found out about your previous history.”

“Oh, is that a problem?”

“The Dean, actually defended you, telling him that the university had been aware of the situation and had no problem with it, in fact had supported you through it. He thought it was disgraceful, ’ contrary to God’s plan, and unnatural,’ amongst the repeatable bits. He’s threatened to go to the press.”

“Did you tell him it was old hat?”

“The Dean did, he also suspended him on the spot as he contravened the uni’s policy on discrimination and diversity. So he’s got nothing to lose by stirring up a shit-storm.“

“I wish I’d hit him harder.”

“So do I luvvy, but we need to plan for what might happen next. I hate these bigots.”

“Have you warned Simon?”

“Pippa did, she overheard the whole conversation, the arrogant little pipsqueak actually came into me and demanded I sack you.”

“What for?”

“Being an unsuitable influence on young minds.”

“I passed the police check, and the university seemed okay with it, so what’s his gripe?”

“I’m on your side, Darling, remember he’s full of hate and bile, so that probably gives him indigestion.”

“Have you got his application?”

“Not here, it’ll be in the office.”

“Oh, never mind, let’s eat this before the spuds go cold and the salad gets warm.” I dished up and as we tucked into it, Tom asked me what I wanted to see his application for?

“I just wondered where he was educated and where he’d taught before. I wondered if he had a history, surely he must.”

“Nothing outstanding, as I recall, but I’ll go and get it if you like.”

“No, we’ll go and get it while the machine does the dishes.” Which is what we did. I read through his CV and it looked glowing, too much so. “This guy could give Jesus an inferiority complex, it’s too perfect.”

“His referees were okay, as far as I know.”

“And the police check?”

“Yeah, as far as I know, Human Resources do that bit.”

“So what am I feeling is wrong with it?”

“I have no idea, female intuition—it wouldn’t be the first time.”

“He did his degree at Edinburgh, that’s your neck of the woods.”

“Mine was a very long time ago.”

“Yeah, but it’s your Alma Mater, surely you know someone there now?”

“I know several, what good is that supposed to do?”

“Call them up, ask if they remember Montgomery, and what sort of student he was.”

“What time is it?”

Seven thirty,” I replied looking at my watch.

Tom picked up the phone and dialled. A moment or two later he said, “Hamish, hello, it’s Tom, Tom Agnew. Yes that Tom Agnew, hush, I’ve got my daughter here, she blushes easily…”

I sat down and looked through the CV again, there was something bugging me about it. MSc at Southampton in Marine plankton, well they do such things there, so do we, but at the marine biology department. Doctoral degree started at Sheffield, on hold due to lack of funding. It can happen. Taught at Bristol Grammar School, 1995 to 2003. My old school, I don’t remember him there, so did he lie or is my memory at fault?

Tom put the handset down, “He was a pain in the arse, according to Hamish Hewish, especially about evolution—preferred Intelligent Design, which he suggested was as valid a theory as Darwinism.”

“Did he not know Darwin went to Edinburgh?” I asked enjoying the irony. Tom shrugged his shoulders. “I have a query, I went to Bristol Grammar, I don’t remember him, and I practically lived in the biology labs.” I showed Tom the CV.

“Is there anyone we could contact?”

“I think Beeston is still the headmaster, hang on.” I switched on his computer and went to directory enquiries of British Telecom. I soon found a number, which turned out to be correct.

Tom gestured for the phone, I handed it over to him. “Hello, is that Dr Beeston of Bristol Grammar School, no I’m not selling anything. It’s Tom Agnew, Professor of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth University. I’m very well. Yes I know I should call during the week but I have a little problem which I hope you might be able to help me with. Thank you, yes it is quite urgent, it’s about…..”
I couldn’t listen, it was too upsetting. I went for a little walk out into the foyer by Pippa’s office. I paced up and down, my heels clicking on the ceramic tiles. Tom came out a few minutes later.

“Who’s a clever clogs then?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“They have never had anyone by the name of Montgomery, teach at your old school.”

“Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice,” I probably misquoted.

“Exactly. So I called John Arthurs at Southampton, he has no recollection of anyone getting an MSc by that name, and he has a phenomenal memory, so never play poker with him.”

“I’ll try not to. So is this guy a fake?”

“Seems like some of his CV, could be.”

“Isn’t it a criminal offence to claim qualifications you don’t have or to lie on an application form of this sort. I mean it could corrupt young minds, be a bad influence.” I quite enjoyed this train of thought.

“I have phoned the Dean, and he is very concerned, more than he was before. He is asking for an investigation to begin on Monday.”

“That needn’t stop him going to the press and winding them up, remember it’s always open season on trannies.”

“I know, oh don’t I know it.” A very sad expression crossed his face, then he looked at me and smiled, “That’s a long time ago. If he creates trouble, we go for the jugular, we let slip he’s under investigation for academic fraud.”

“Isn’t that going to be less of a story, I mean I have the looks and body of a model, according to my agent.”

“What sort of model?”

“A cat walk model, you know haute couture.

“I thought they were all over six feet tall, so what would you be modelling, junior miss, or pigmy sizes?”

“Gee thanks, Dadd—eeeee, whatever, it’s got to be better than a balding psycho, like our little problem.”

“Oh yes, compared to him, you make a much better looking psycho.”

“Thank you, what did you say?”

“I said, you make a much better looking model than him.”

“You didn’t, you said something else, Tom Agnew, I heard you.”

“In which case, I needn’t repeat it. Come on, let’s go for a drink on the way home.”

“What about Mr Montgomery, if that is his name?”

“I’ll get Pippa to fax his picture up to Edinburgh on Monday, maybe it is someone else, impersonating him.”

“He knows a bit about his botany, his wretched plankton, so he’s either done a degree or been a very keen amateur.”

“Hmm, we’ll see, let’s find out what he’s planning first. Come on, a pint is calling me.” Tom put his arm on my shoulder and we switched off the lights as we left.

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Bike 454

Why do I always dream about situations that are worrying me? I see myself being pursued, occasionally caught; or trying to catch something or somebody. The experience is often unpleasant—I don’t seem to remember the nice dreams, I must get them—and I wake up in a bath of sweat or crying my eyes out. Just occasionally, I wake up feeling angry.

It was three in the morning, okay, I needed a wee while I was awake, and it might have been the reason I woke up, but I was so angry. I dreamt that horrible man had been bad mouthing me and no one would listen to my replies. He was stirring up a mob of people and they weren’t hearing me or what I was trying to say.

As I sat on the loo, I wondered why I was angry—surely, the flight response would have been better than fight? Instead, I seemed totally miffed that no one would listen to me, and I was going to make them listen if it killed me, and it looked as if that could have happened.

I went back to bed and thought about the Christian groups in the university, there were several. I had little contact with them because I wasn’t at all interested in fairy tales, however, enlightening they might be. At the same time I was tolerant as long as they left me alone—I suppose I feel the same about most things. Now I felt worried that they might not leave me in peace. It was comforting to know I had the university hierarchy behind me, however, it was the mob in front which were most frightening. Enraged Christians are as dangerous as any other group of maniacs. I thought about the librarian in ancient Alexandria being torn apart by the mad monks from a Christian monastery. She was apparently torn limb from limb, they also burned and sacked the library destroying one of the cultural treasures of the early Christian era. Religion sucks!

I tossed and turned for a while, sleeping when angry is not easy. I did go to sleep around seven, and Tom woke me at half past eight. I woke up crabby. I suddenly realised that Simon hadn’t arrived. I’d sort of expected him the night before, then in all the excitement, I forgot all about him.

I dressed and had some breakfast then sent him a text: ‘Where r u? C.’

An hour or so later, I got a reply. ’Where wer u lst nite? Tryd fonin. S.’

I responded, ’Call me, u twt! C.’

Moments later the phone rang. It was someone trying to sell double glazing. They seemed shocked at my suggestion—I suppose it might have been difficult, especially with the handset sideways.

I was sorting some ingredients to make a wholemeal loaf, when the phone rang again. I picked it up and let fly again. It was Simon who asked if it was safe for him to look over the parapet?

“I’m sorry, but I seem to be getting stupid calls.”

“Try the tabloids, that’s all we’ve had and it’s why I couldn’t come down. Your little friend appears to have stirred up everything again. Be careful, your double glazing person could have been a tabloid journalist checking if you were home. Now they know you are they might stake you out.”

“What d’you mean?”

“Watch you and take photos, so make sure you don’t look like a scarecrow or wear anything too revealing. They love those shots.”

“Hang on, I’ll have a look through the window upstairs.” I dashed up the stairs and sure enough, there was a strange car parked just up the road, presumably they are waiting for me to drive past so they can follow. How can such scum make a living? It’s immoral. I expressed this to Simon, who agreed. “What do I do?”

“Don’t have any lions handy, do you?”

“Lions, why?”

“If I remember correctly, they are rather partial to Christians.”

“How do you know they’re Christian? They could be born again devil worshippers for all I know.”

“Wouldn’t they have a goat with them?”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” I confessed.

“Just be thankful, you’re not albino and live in Kenya.”

“Yeah, the sun would burn you something awful.”

“No, the witchdoctors have been telling people if they can get hold of a piece of albino, they will get rich. People have been cutting arms legs and goolies of the poor buggers.”

“You’re joking?”

“Tell that to the families of the thirty or forty people butchered so far.”

“Oh my God, that is so pathetic. I can’t believe people can be so stupid and gullible.”

“I’d have thought the evidence was sitting out in that car across the road. If people just got on with their own lives instead of wanting to point out the differences of others, they wouldn’t be there.”

“News of the Screws, I s’pose,” I said thinking out loud. “Why can’t they leave me alone, I’m old news?”

“Obviously not, however, maybe you should inform them of your accuser’s short comings.”

“He didn’t change sex, did he?”

“Neither did you, you were a woman with a urological defect.”

“Sure you don’t mean neurological—as in the bit between my ears?”

“Well that as well, but they don’t want to photograph that do they? They want to see you because they think you are sexy, an opinion I happen to share. From your description of your detractor, he’s an ugly bastard with little to recommend him. If you like I could make a phone call and get his legs broken.”

“No, Simon, much as I’d like to do it myself, that just gives him more credibility. He’s a total non-entity with a sociopathic problem.”

“Maybe you should tell them?”

“I don’t want to go anywhere near them.”

“Okay, call someone you would go near, call the Guardian or the Times.”

“Then I’ve invited them in, haven’t I?”

“Up to you, I have to go, there is still a financial crisis out there, which someone has to keep going.”

“I thought you were supposed to be solving it?”

“Oh yeah, I knew I was supposed to be doing something about it.” He rang off and I went to speak with Tom.

“What do you think we should do?”

“I don’t know, Cathy. They’re not doing anything illegal, so I can’t call the police.”

“Simon suggested calling the Guardian and talking with them.”

“You could do, but then you’ve made the first move, again. What did you do last time?”

“Spoke to Des.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, he spoke to the BBC and they were actually quite nice.”

“Speak to them again, see what they suggest.”

“I don’t know. Oh why can’t they go and leave me in peace?”

“There’s another car out there now, oh and two blokes walking up and down outside with cameras.”

“Oh shit, Tom, what do we do?”

“I think I’d better call the police, don’t you?”

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Bike 455

I felt under a state of siege, and began to batten down the hatches, well pull the curtains at any rate. The only problem being that it means they can’t see in but neither can you see out, and therefore, what they are up to.

The phone rang and Tom answered it. “Certainly not, goodbye.” He put the phone down and turned puce. “The impudence of it, would we like to come out and talk to them?”

I felt quite sick. Why can’t they leave me alone? I’ve done nothing to hurt any of them, so why are they chasing me like I was some sort of criminal? I wanted to sit in the dark and suck my thumb. I wanted Simon here to make it all better. I wanted to be somewhere else. I wanted to scream, so I went upstairs and pulling a pillow over my face, screamed loudly into it until I needed to take a breath. I didn’t actually feel any better and I now had a sore throat.

Tom came up to see me, “Are you alright?”

“Yes, I think so, apart from being totally pissed off by the circus outside.”

“I think that makes two of us. I’ve done a quick inventory and we have a cupboard and freezer full of food, and we have several litres of milk and oodles of teabags. We could wait them out for a couple of weeks if we were sparing with resources.”

“What’s the point? If it isn’t me, it’ll be someone else like me who has done nothing to cause it?”

“I first encountered this with my own daughter….”

“You never mention her name?”

“No I don’t do I, I don’t know why, perhaps it’s still painful to me? I don’t know.”

I put my hand on his leg, “It doesn’t matter and I don’t want to rekindle old wounds.”

“You’re a good girl, Cathy, I’m proud to be your adoptive father.” I got up and hugged him. “Actions speak louder than words.” He hugged me back and kissed me on the cheek.

“So you’re an old hand at the waiting game with the paparazzi?”

“I wouldn’t say that, but I’ve had a bit of experience. They did us three times with Catherine, goodness, I’ve said it and the sky didn’t fall in.”

“That was her name? Do you have any photos of her?”

“Somewhere, I don’t know why I took them all down, those of her and her mother—I suppose I couldn’t cope thinking of what I’d lost.”

“Poor, Daddy Tom, I feel so sad for you, you deserve better than this. I’m just a trouble for you, aren’t I? Maybe I should leave, at least they’d leave you in peace then.”

“What? How can you say that? We’re in this together, daughter, or do you want to dissolve the arrangement?”

“Oh no, no I don’t. But I feel so guilty, causing you all this grief and bother. If I wasn’t here, they wouldn’t be either, would they?”

“Cathy, you will never make a serious scientist until you look at all the evidence. You’re here because I asked you to come. Because you’re here, you met that fundamentalist imbecile Montgomery. Because of him, all this happened. You’re not to blame, I might be, but you are innocent.”

“I’m the one who hit him,” I blushed as I said it, having a vivid memory of the event.

“Yes, you caught him just right, and the shock knocked him off his chair.” Tom chuckled adding sound effects, “Whack—thump, hee hee.”

“You’re not to blame for anything except uncommon generosity and kindness.”

“I employed him, and I’m beginning to wonder who he is, because I have grave doubts that he is actually who he says he is.”

“Yes, so do I, but that doesn’t help here and now does it, besides you employed him in good faith, like you do everything.”

“If ever I need a reference, can I come to you, Cathy?” I blushed as he said this.

“Well you are a really nice man.” I hugged him again.

“I think we need to get beyond eulogies and start planning our next move.”

“And do what?” I felt despair creeping in again.

“That doesn’t sound like you, Cathy, what’s wrong?”

I began to cry, “I’m just so fed up,” I sobbed as he held me, “everything I do goes wrong.”

“I don’t know girl, you’re a real cracker, so that was something right.”

“I don’t regret it, but I do regret that the world seems unable to allow me to get on with my life without the label transsexual and be treated as some sort of sideshow freak. I’m not, I’m just a woman trying to do my own thing and earn my living legally and honestly.”

“I know, sweetheart, I know. These muck-rakers, priests, politicians and lawyers are the only ones who profit from pointing out our differences. The rest of us benefit more from a policy of inclusiveness, or at least an attitude of one. It’s all futile, really, caused by the media’s addiction to novelty to give to it’s public and whose gratification far outweighs the cost of the sacrifice of the unfortunate individual.”

“But I’m old news, Tom.”

“I know, Sweetie. It’s them who don’t.” He disengaged himself from my hug, and got off the bed. “I’ll be back in a few moments.”

“You’re not going to leave me?” I felt a surge of panic.

“No, of course not. I need to do something.”

“What?” I gasped.

“Make a phone call, I’ll be back shortly, try and rest a bit.” He went and I sat there feeling sick and weepy. I lay back and tried to rest, but my stomach was churning and I eventually had to rush to the loo and throw up. I knelt in front of the loo, thinking that I was ridiculous. The last time I’d been interviewed by the press, I was in some sort of control, so why did I feel so anxious now? It didn’t make sense.

I cleaned my teeth and went back to my bedroom. I felt cold and pulled the duvet over me and fell asleep. I awoke with a start, there was someone on the bed. I looked and it was Tom.

“How do you feel?” he asked me.

“Awful, what about you?”

“I’m okay,” he said smiling.

“I was sick.”

“I’m not surprised, you looked quite poorly.”

“Did I?” I tried to smile back, but my facial muscles didn’t want to cooperate. He ruffled my hair, like a father would.

“They’ve gone.”

“What all of them?”

“Every last one of them.”

I sat up and the room swam, so I lay down again, “But…how..?”

“I called the Dean, and explained what was happening, he set up a press conference and they’ve all gone to it.”

“What happens if they come back?”

“He doesn’t think they will, he’s going to tell them about our little friend and release his address—by accident of course—so they have someone else to character assassinate, someone who I think we’ll agree, deserves his moment of celebrity.”

“So the hounds have been given another fox?”

“In a word, yes. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” he said and we both laughed.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Bike 456

I was exhausted, the past couple of days had extracted all my emotional energy and all I wanted to do was sleep. Once the crisis was over, Tom looked very drawn and tired as well. I keep forgetting that he’s an old man closer to seventy than sixty. He does remarkably well, and I grow ever fond of him as a father figure. Sometimes I wish I had a mother one as well, I do miss my mother, even if she didn’t understand me. I like to think that in time, she would have done, but it may be a delusion. The dreams or visions I’ve had have been very mixed, although most recently, they seemed to indicate she’d come to terms with me, which can’t be bad for a deceased individual. I shook my head, perhaps I was more tired than I thought.

“Would you care for a celebratory drink?” asked Tom. He was holding a bottle of whisky, probably a single malt, possibly one of the case I bought him for Christmas.

“Not that stuff, thank you. I don’t like the smell let alone the taste.” I screwed up my face.

“I wisna goin’ to gi’ yer any o’this, it’s far t’ guid for Sassenachs.”

“Not too good for Sassenachs to buy for you, I trust.”

“Ach weel, that’s different, mebbe.” His face broke into a grin nearly as broad as his accent, which got worse the more he had to drink. Think posh Billy Connolly—without the profanities, who said it was going to be easy—and you get the idea.

In the end, I settled for a glass of red wine, which became two and when I eventually got to bed, I completely zonked. I didn’t even wake to go for a wee until about eight the next morning.

It was Monday, and I showered and dressed as quickly as my tiredness would allow, grabbed a piece of toast and a banana and shot off to the university. Somehow, Tom had got there half an hour or more before me.

“Hello, stranger—I take it you didn’t go for a bike ride yesterday then?”

“Oh hell, I’m sorry Pippa, we were besieged by tabloid journalists, did Tom not say anything?”

“No, he’s been meeting with the Dean for the last hour, well forty minutes. I did hear there was a bit of uproar about the new guy, and Tom told me to cancel his classes.”

“Have you?”

“Only the first one, why?”

“Where’s his schedule?”

“Why?”

“Look here, you pen-pusher, I’m academic staff, I can pull rank on you.”

“Pen-pusher? You jumped up dormouse wrestler, you can make your own tea next time.”

“I did last time.”

“Did you, oh, sorry about that, memsahib.”

“I’ll forgive you this once.”

At this, Pippa, sneered and gave me ‘the finger’. I was suitably horrified by her vulgarity—once I stopped laughing. “You’re on secondment anyway, so bugger off.”

“Charming, here I am trying to rescue a sinking ship and all I get are insults from one of the rats—and not one of those refained lab variety either.”

“So how do you propose to save us from the perils of the deep?”

“Did someone wrap your sandwiches in poetry or something?”

“No, but there was a rime on the grass this morning.” This was obviously poetic licence as it wasn’t cold enough for frost.

“I can’t cope with this new depth of shallowness.” At this she chased me around her office with a paper knife, before we both fell down giggling. Finally, after carefully dabbing my supposedly waterproof mascara, I rose and picked up Montgomery’s schedule. “I can do most of this.” Two lectures on meiosis and one on the classification systems of plants and animals. They should have done it at A-level before they got to us, but we do occasionally get maths students who decide they no longer wish to be computers, so go for a more human oriented study—well, as human as rats and dormice ever get.

“I’ll do these for you,” I said and walked off before she could say anything to stop me. They’d had to revamp schedules after I was seconded anyway, so this would have been different to mine. I’ll have to be careful not to get too good at them, or they’ll add them to my list of subjects. These were first years anyway, so they’d have plenty to time to work out that I was winging it and correct their deficiencies and my inadequacies.

I wandered off as fast as my heels would allow me, they were too high really for standing about all day. So, my lectures will become workshops, I’ll set them off and sit down while they teach themselves. I was feeling better already. I had half an hour before I dealt with haploid cell division, something I don’t do any more, since my gonads had gone, so I went up to my office and down loaded a pile of illustrations from the net, swizzed them around in Powerpoint and went off to the lecture room.

An hour later, I wandered back to my office feeling quite energised. I’d actually remembered more than I thought about cell division, mitochondria and the like, and had kept them fairly well amused—as far as I know, no one fell asleep. I involved them, so the vocal ones got to entertain the more passive variety.

We’d even had a good laugh at my expense. It was my own fault, I asked, what’s the difference between meiosis and mitosis? The answer I got back from one of the boys, was—‘eunuchs can only do one of them’, ‘and transsexuals’ added another student. ‘Is that true, Ms Watts?’ asked another.

I paused before I answered, because there was a danger of losing the initiative to the mob, which would be a problem in future. “Are you asking me or telling me?”

“You’re the expert,” came back the reply, “On both counts,” added someone I didn’t see.

“Okay, thanks for that. Shall we say you have missed a rather important point. I am still capable of one form of meiosis—it’s on the marks I give for the essay you will all write. I’m sure you all understand that implication, in which case this has been a success, you now recognise the difference between haploid and diploid.” There were groans and protests, which I ignored.

The next two lectures were on the taxonomy of living organisms, a bit easier on the brain cells and apart from one wag asking, ‘Did someone who’d had a sex change move from one group to another?’

“Group maybe, if we accord them the status of their new gender, however, they remain the same species. Remember there are several vertebrates who change sex spontaneously in response to population needs. They remain the same species.”

“Is that what happened to you, Miss?”

“Yes, I remained the same species as before, would you care to come down and we could do a demonstration on you? I’ve got some scissors here somewhere…”

“Nah, he’d still be a slime fungus,” called another voice in amongst the uproar. Thankfully, after that, I regained full control and we actually had a good time going through the needs and means of classifying animals and plants. As it went on for two hours, it was just as well.

I gave them a short break of fifteen minutes in the middle, I needed to go for a pee and I was sure some of them did, the amount of bottled water they were drinking. Just as I got back from the loo, one of the girls came up to me with a friend. “Can we ask you a question, Miss Watts?”

“Sure, I don’t promise to be able to answer it, though?”

“It’s personal, I’m afraid.”

“In which case, I might not, but you’ve got this far, so you’d better ask it?”

“Were, um…were you really a boy, before, like…um?”

“Why do you ask?” When in doubt answer with a question.

“Well, you’re very pretty, like, and you don’t have, like, big hands and feet.”

“So what do you think, then?” I asked the blushing teenager.

“I don’t know, I don’t think you were…but the rumours…they say the place was full of reporters asking awkward questions and that bald headed bloke was saying nasty things about you an….”

“I think you’re very pretty and very brave,” said her friend.

“Okay, back to your seats then. Right, who can tell me the difference between a plant and an animal? Keep it clean and scientific..”

I was exhausted after the marathon session. Unless you’re a taxonomist, it’s as dry as dust. I hoped they didn’t think so. Just as we finished, one of them asked about the Youtube clip. That bloody film is going to follow me to the grave, I’m sure of it.

As I walked past Tom’s office, doing my world famous zombie impersonation, he stepped out and invited me in. “What are you doing here?”

“Teaching my classes, why?”

“You’ve been seconded, you are not officially here, and after the weekend, weren’t you in danger of being humiliated by your students?”

“That could happen at anytime.”

“They’re more likely to forget weeks or months later.”

“Not if it gets stirred up when the film is shown.”

“Maybe it won’t,” Tom shrugged.

“And maybe the moon is made of green cheese.”

“So why are you here?”

“To help you out, befuddle growing minds, get humiliated by my students—take your pick, but no more than two choices.”

“We’d have coped.”

“No you wouldn’t, I happen to know you have two staff off with flu and Mr Creepy has been suspended if not sacked. I was free, so I thought I’d amuse myself corrupting young minds.”

“They asked you awkward questions, didn’t they?”

“You know they did, apart from two mature students, they are all the victims of their hormones. I’m a curiosity, which hopefully, they’ll now know not to try and take the rise out of.”

“So they did?”

“Of course they did, and I answered back. It’s showbiz with subliminal learning.”

“Want some lunch?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

“Thank you, Cathy, I do appreciate it.”

“I owed you one for yesterday.”

“That was me being protective of my daughter.”

“This was me being caring for my father,” I replied and he pecked me on the cheek.

“Come, daughter, let’s eat drink and be merry.” I followed him out even though sleeping was at the top of my list.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Bike 457

We went to lunch in Tom’s old landrover. It was such a heap these days, but not so long ago, I was more than happy to ride in it. Maybe this time he was making sure he didn’t have to walk back to work, I had abandoned him last time after my row with Mumblestiltskin. Despite the noise of the engine I fell asleep before we got to the restaurant.

“Come on, Cathy, time to go back to work.”

“What? What time is it?”

“It’s after two.”

“Two,” I repeated to myself trying to work out what it meant. Eventually, my slow brain decided it must be something to do with the time. “Did I have lunch?”

“No, you slept through it.”

“Gee thanks,”

“I decided you must be more tired than hungry, besides you were snoring fit to scare crows.”

“I don’t snore,” I said indignantly.

“I thought you’d say that, so I sent a copy of this to your website.” He switched on his mobile phone and played the video. I was snoring and it was quite audible. I blushed to my roots.

“I didn’t know I did that.” I said in disbelief.

“Of course you don’t, you’re asleep when you’re doing it.”

“Oh, that makes some sense, did you get me a sandwich?”

“Here,” he said and passed it to me. I snatched it and tucked in, I was ravenous.

“Trouble with youngsters is they have no stamina.”

“Hmm,” I mumbled, my mouth full of tuna sandwich.

“When I was your age, we used to work all day and party all night.”

“Was that during the prohibition?”

“Prohibition? That was America.”

“Was it? I wondered if you’d got Al Capone’s autograph?”

“You cheeky bugger, I’m not that old.”

“Sorry, I thought you were,” I hoped my eyes were twinkling, because my mouth was still full of bread.

He gave me a Paddington hard stare, shook his head and started the car. Of course we got stuck at a jam caused by and accident. People were flapping around and one in particular, I thought I recognised. I did, my goodness! I jumped out of the car, “Where are you going?” called Tom to my back.

“Where is she?” I asked and saw her lying on the road, her body in an unnatural position. People were stood around. I frantically pushed them out of the way and kneeling down felt for her pulse. There was none.

“She’s a gonner,” said a voice, and as I examined her, I noticed bleeding from her ear, suggesting a fracture to the skull. I laid her flat, and started CPR. There was nothing else I could do.

“Thirty to one,” I muttered to myself as I began pumping her little chest.

“Shift over, I’ll pump you blow,” said a young copper who appeared at my side.

“Don’t do it too hard then,” I cautioned and blew twice into the little mouth. My helper pumped. We did this for several minutes when I heard the sirens in the distance. I knew from experience that even when they arrived they’d need time to set up. “Keep going until they tell us to stop,” I gasped to my colleague.

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” he was looking quite hot and bothered.

I blew again, “Come on Jemima, it’s Cathy, don’t leave us, you hang on in there.”

“…thirty, you know her?” asked the copper.

“Sort of,” I said after inflating her lungs.

“Let us through,” called a voice and the cavalry in the form of the Hampshire Ambulance Service, arrived. “Keep going,” he urged us, so we did.

“We have a pulse,” he said, it’s very weak, “so why isn’t she breathing?” He checked her airway, having stopped the policeman and his compressions. He shoved a bag thing over her nose and mouth and began pumping it with his hand, her little chest rose and fell.

“How long was she stopped?” he asked me, and his companion began to strip her clothing and put on an ECG machine leads.

“I don’t know, maybe five or ten minutes.”

“Shit!” he said and he kept squeezing the bag, “Can you do this for me while we get her on to the stretcher?”

I nodded and moved towards him, “Make sure you keep it over her nose and mouth.” I nodded again.

I kept squeezing as they fitted a neck brace and then ever so gently lifted her onto the stretcher. They raised it up to waist height on it’s telescopic legs and the paramedic took back control of the bag. “She’s not yours then?”

“No, I just happened on the accident, her mother’s here somewhere.” I pointed to the woman sobbing on the shoulder of another copper.

“Okay,” he went over to her, his colleague had taken over the bag squeezing and the gurney was shoved into the ambulance. Moments later, Jemima’s mother was shoved in after her and the paramedic, shut the door and drove off at speed: the lights and wailing siren clearing it’s path through the traffic.

The young policemen took my name and address, I was sort of a witness after the fact. I then got back into Tom’s car.

“What happened?”

I began to realise the enormity of what had happened. “A little girl was hit by a car, I think. The problem is, I think I know her.”

“Who is she?”

“Jemima, the little girl who has damaged my ear drums many times. I think she may never do so again.”

“Bad?”

I nodded, “Fractured skull, there was no pulse when I got there, so I started CPR, a young copper helped me.”

“Oh dear, said Tom, “I’m taking you home.” Which is what he did. He also poured me a stiff brandy and almost forced me to drink it. It burned and I coughed, then I gave a big shudder and started to cry. He put his arm around me and I sobbed on his shoulder. How could so much happen to one person? Did it happen to me, or did I provoke it in some way?

I could see the limp, battered, little body lying in that awkward shape and I never thought I’d be able to get it out of my head as long as I lived. She looked so pale, with her blue lips. Was I too late? I suppose I might never know.

I actually went to bed and slept right through until about six in the morning. When I awoke, I felt physically refreshed but still sad after yesterday’s incident.

“Stay home, go back to bed.” This was Tom’s exhortation and I did wonder about it. I felt like shit, despite my catch up on my beauty sleep.

“I wonder if I called the hospital?” I mooted.

“They won’t tell you anything?”

“No, I suppose not. Poor little bugger, what chance did she have at life? If there is a God, he’s a miserable bastard. That’s two people I know, he’s taken in the last couple of months.”

“Cathy, I’m no expert, but I don’t think that’s how it happens.”

“I don’t care, all these Bible thumpers, they’re all so stupid, can’t they see through all that crap for what it is?”

“And what is it?”

“Crap, that’s what.”

“Cathy, you are justifiably angry, but maybe your anger should be directed at the driver who hit your little friend, or the council for not providing a crossing. Cussing and blaspheming helps no one, and it makes you look rather silly.”

I was about to tell him where to go, when he smiled and melted my heart. He was right—a-bloody-gain—and he held me as I wept some more. Some days I felt so helpless and others, so useless.

“You did all you could, it’s up to her doctors and luck if she survives.” He cooed as he held me. “You did your best, which is all you could do.”

I calmed down, and had a cuppa, then still feeling bad, went back to bed. I wondered how much more could happen, World War Three? I could just see it now—a nuclear sub docks at Portsmouth on a goodwill visit, I go to look around and while doing so stumble and my hand strikes a button which launches Trident missiles at Russia. Yeah, that was my sort of luck. I must have fallen asleep, because I was awoken by the doorbell. It took me a moment to realise what it was.

I struggled out of bed, and grabbed my dressing gown which I wrapped around myself as I descended. I opened the door, half expecting it to be the Russian Ambassador asking why I’d declared war on his country.

Instead, behind a large bouquet of flowers stood an oldish, well fifty something-ish man, with a large moustache. “Are you, Cathy Watts?”

“Yes, why?”

“These are for you.”

“Why?”

“You helped to keep my granddaughter alive.”

“She’s alive?” I shrieked and kissed him on the cheek.

“Yes, she’s in a coma, she’s fractured her skull and they’re keeping her unconscious until the swelling goes down. She is very poorly, but if you hadn’t started to resuscitate her, she’d have been dead on arrival.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get there earlier.”

“You did what you could, please accept these flowers with our family’s gratitude, she has a slim chance of survival.”

“I can’t take those, I didn’t do anything to deserve them, please give them to Jemima.”

“They said you knew her.”

“I showed her some of my dormice at the university, they nearly had nervous breakdowns at the range of decibels such a small body could produce.” We both laughed and he agreed.

“Please take them, we’d all like you to. It’s not much, but it’s important for us to acknowledge what you did.”

“Thank you, would you like a cuppa?”

“No, thank you all the same, I’d better get back to the hospital.”

“Please, “I gave him my mobile number,” let me know how she gets on, won’t you?”

“I’ll do that,” he said, and I accepted the flowers.

“I do hope she’ll be alright.”

“Aye, so do I lass.” He left.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Bike 458

I took the flowers and put them in the kitchen. I felt I wanted to talk to someone, but who? Tom was at work, so were Simon and Pippa. Who else was there? I picked up the cordless handset and dialled, switching on the kettle with the other hand.

“Hello?”

“Hi Stella, it’s me.”

“I thought you’d left the country.”

“I’m sorry, I have been so busy, then had a minor problem with the press again.”

“Oh, poor you—is it sorted now?”

“Yeah, I hope so…” I explained what had happened.

“How come there seem to be so many of these nutters? Why aren’t they off on a crusade to regain the Holy Land?”

“I suspect the Israeli government may not like it too much.”

“When did Saladin lose power then?”

“About twelve hundred, why?”

“Is that GMT or local time?”

“Stella have you been licking the paint off the door knobs again?”

“Damn! I was hoping you wouldn’t notice.” She laughed and so did I, she sounded so much better.

“So how’s it going?”

“Okay, it’s starting to show a bit, even Dad noticed it.”

“Henry called in, did he?”

“No, I went home the weekend before last.”

“Do you want to come down here for one?”

“Where are you?”

“Tom’s.”

“Ooh, that would be nice.”

“Get a pass from tonight, I’ll come and get you.”

“Oh, okay, I’ll pack after lunch.”

“Fine. I’ll see you later.” I rang off. It would be so good to see her. I put the flowers down and went off to shower and dress. Then it was a bite to eat and off to get Stella.

“I thought you had a little car, not this huge thing.”

“If you don’t like it you could put your bag in the back and run alongside.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t like it, I was simply admitting my surprise. If you’re going to overreact, I’ll go back now.”

“I’m joking, Stella, okay?”

She stuck out her tongue and blew me a raspberry, “So am I, and you fell for it.” She said with all the glee I’d expect from a ten year old.

I decided to admit defeat—it was either that or send her back immediately. I drove us out of the gates and towards Portsmouth. We chatted normally about everything and nothing and were about half way home, when she asked me to stop at the next services. I nodded and about ten minutes later, I pulled in to the services, expecting her to say she wanted a drink or a pee.

“Now why did you call me?” she said.

“Because I haven’t spoken to you for a while and I wondered how you were.”

“Liar,” she said quietly.

“I am not, how dare you suggest…”

“Cathy, stop messing me about and tell me the truth, why did you call me?”

“ I needed to talk to you. How did you know?”

“Because I know you rather well. You have something on your mind. Now spill the beans.”

“How did you do that?”

“How did I do what?”

“Know what I needed?”

“I’m your big sister, we older women know these things.” She had a straight face but her eyes twinkled.

“Yes, old women usually do know a thing or two.”

“I said older, not old,” said Stella indignantly.

“My mistake,” I said stifling the snigger which was going to escape any moment.

“It could be your last one if you’re not careful.”

“You and whose army?”

“Me and dumpling here.” She pointed at her abdomen.

“How do you know it’s suet?”

“The wonders of modern imaging equipment, my dear.”

“It could be a pudding of various sorts.”

“Okay, me an’ Puddin’, how does that suit modom?”

“How does it suet me?”

“If I wasn’t pregnant, I’d hit you.”

“If you weren’t pregnant, I’d have already hit you twice by now.”

“How vulgar.”

“You started it, missus.”

“Are you accusing me of being vulgar?”

“If the cap fits…”

“Okay, so I’m vulgar, wot yer gonna do abaht it? Innit?”

“Lady Cameron, I’ve looked up to you for years…”

“Only because I sleep in the top bunk.”

“Damn, you’ve heard it before.”

“Pull the other one, it’s got hairs on.”

“Bells, surely?” I queried.

“I think I know my anatomy better than you, and I am the nurse, here.”

“Yes nurse, you are. I concede defeat, game set and match.”

“Good, now tell me why you called me.”

“Oh that? I’d nearly forgotten. I’m sure you drive the shrinks nuts.”

“I do have a certain reputation to consider.”

“I thought as much.”

“No more beating about the Obama, get on with it.”

“Obama, don’t you mean Bush?”

“No, he’s been replaced, it’s Obama now.”

“Fine,” I shrugged, I never did know when to keep quiet. “Anyway, do you recall a little girl with a voice like a foghorn?”

“Oh, in the restaurant that day, Caffy, me wants a dormus.”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“What about her?”

“I pulled her out from under a car yesterday.”

“Oh!” There was an uncomfortable silence, then, “Are you sure it was her?”

“Absolutely. She had no pulse or other vitals, and was bleeding from her ears.”

“Not good.”

“I started CPR and was helped by a young copper until the ambulance came.”

“Did she make it?”

“She did to the hospital. Her grandfather came to see me this morning and brought me huge bouquet, to say thank you.”

“That was nice, how is she?”

“In a coma, she has a fractured skull, they’re keeping her quiet until the swelling goes down.”

“Is she breathing by herself?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay, what you want me to do?”

“I don’t know, I just needed to tell someone that she might recover.”

“Well, I’m glad it was me. I hope she does. Where can we get a pattern for a stuffed toy dormouse?”

“God knows—I didn’t know you could sew!”

“I can’t, but you can, come on, let’s get on a find a craft shop and get some fur material and some graph paper.”

“Do you need to wee while we’re here?” I knew that some pregnant women had great difficulties with bladder control.”

“Puddin’ is about the size of my thumb, it isn’t a problem yet, ask me in three months or so.”

“Oh, okay.” I started up the car and drove towards the town centre of Portsmouth.

“Do you know what a dormouse looks like?” asked the woman in the craft shop after I selected the exact colour we needed in fur fabric.”

“She juggles them,” said Stella. If she hadn’t been pregnant, I really would have hit her.

“Oh, that’s clever, I can’t even juggle those silly ball things,” said the woman.

“Get her to teach you, she should have been in a circus really…” Stella was in her element.

“What as a juggler?” asked the woman.

“No, a lion tamer, you should see her with a whip and a stool, she absolutely terrifies the dormice.”

“I thought you said lions,” said the woman somewhat perplexed.

“No, definitely not, you wouldn’t get lions in that cage, besides the little wheel thing would get in the way.”

The woman now looked really perplexed, possibly not helped by me standing behind Stella making ‘screwball’ signs.

“Come on Lady C, make your purchases and then we can get you home for your medication,” I said holding back the giggle that so wanted to escape.

Stella paid for the material, the graph paper, the cotton and the acrylic stuffing fibre, when the unfortunate shop assistant gave her her change, she leant forward and in a voice reminiscent of ‘Min’ from the Goon show, said, “I’m ninety three, you know.”

I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her out of the shop and we managed about ten yards before I began convulsing with laughter. Stella looked at me with disdain and repeated her silly voice, “I’m ninety three, you know.” Then she stared at me for a moment, just long enough for me to wonder if she had gone barmy, before she began to cackle and then giggle. Then we both had to run to the ladies’ loos in the shopping centre.

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Bike 459

“I can’t believe you did that.”

“Did what?” asked Stella.

“Acted like a lunatic in front of the woman.”

“She asked for it, asking if you’d ever seen a dormouse. How did she think you were going to draw one, if you’d never seen one? Silly cow.”

“I suppose she was doing what she thought was her job.”

“What pissing off the customers?”

“See, you are vulgar,” I said with a degree of disdain.

“Wot me luv, nah, I’s perfick, I is.”

“The next thing you’ll be telling me is that you can fart louder than I can.”

“Oh no I won’t. Ask Simon about that.”

“About farting competitions.”

“About what?” I was disgusted but fascinated.

“They had them in the dorms in school, especially after they’d had beans on the menu. Didn’t you do such things?”

“No, I did not,” I said this as indignantly as I could manage, “Did you?”

“Course not I was a girl, wasn’t I?”

“Meaning?”

“Girls don’t do such things, do they?”

“Your point being?”

“Hey don’t get ratty with me, missy.”

“Why not? Why should you suggest that I did boy things but you didn’t?”

“Because I’m a gi…oops! I’m sorry, Cathy, I didn’t mean it, I really didn’t.” It was too late, I felt a trickle down my face. I could cope with tormenting from students, even from strange religious bigots, but not from Stella. She was inside my defences and…

I sobbed for a few minutes. These days, my tear ducts were in danger of wearing out, they got so much use. “I am sorry, Sis, I didn’t mean it, I really wouldn’t have said anything like that if I’d thought about it.”

“I’m sorry but that is no consolation. You tell me you see me as your sister, then you remind me that I’m not.”

“You are my sister, you are a woman and I forgot. It was insensitive of me and I apologise unreservedly. How can make things better?”

“You can’t Stella, you can’t undo or unsay what you said.”

“I didn’t mean it though, you have to believe me. I wouldn’t hurt you for the world.”

“I do believe you, but it still hurt, or am I not allowed to say that? You hurt me.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.” Now she was crying too. This was all going horribly wrong.

“I want to go home, is that all right?” I asked Stella.

“Of course…I am sorry,” she sniffed.

I drove home in silence. Stella did try to make conversation but I was too involved in my own thoughts. I was still smarting from the insult I’d received. How could she? I was angry and I was hurt. Stella of all people, how could she?

We arrived at Tom’s and I helped her in with her bag. I still hadn’t said anything for nearly half an hour. There was nothing I wanted to say, I felt so betrayed.

Tom came in a little later, I was in the kitchen getting the dinner ready and Stella was in the dining room, feeling very awkward. We still hadn’t spoken since.

Tom somehow spotted Stella, I suppose, I didn’t see it so I’m not sure. I was busy and she was a big girl now—unlike me, apparently—so she could make her own introduction. I heard them talking, but ignored it and finished the potatoes.

“Catherine, can you come here please?” I heard Tom call. I wanted to ignore it, I knew it was trouble, no one ever called me Catherine unless I was in hot water. I hesitated, Daddy was going to be cross with me. I didn’t want it to happen, but it was going to anyway.

“Catherine, please come here, now, please.” I walked slowly towards the dining room and my fate. I could feel tears running down my face before I got there, didn’t like Daddy to be cross with me, he used to beat me when he was cross. He’d pull off his belt and…”

“Please don’t beat me, Daddy,” I cried as I ran into the dining room, and I threw myself on the floor in front of him, “Please don’t hurt me.”

“Cathy, what are you on about? Who’s going to beat you?” I heard Tom’s voice say.

“Daddy beats me when he’s cross.”

“How old are you, Catherine?”

“I’m nearly six,” I said feeling proud but also scared.

“Okay, Catherine, tell me why I should be cross with you?”

“ ‘Cos, I called Stella names.”

“I see, did you apologise?”

“No, Daddy.”

“Are you going to?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“Go on then.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Tell her not me.”

“Yes, Daddy. I’m sorry, Stella, I was a bad girl.”

“That’s okay, Catherine, I was naughty too. I accept your apology.”

“Thank you, Stella, I’ll be good in future.”

“Okay, I’ll try to be good, too.”

“Right, you two girls give each other a hug and a kiss.” Tom instructed us, so we did.

“Now, Catherine,” he continued, “I want you to close your eyes.”

“You’re not going to beat me, Daddy?”

“No I promise I won’t hurt you. I just want you to close your eyes and tell me how old you are again.”

“I’m nearly six, Daddy.”

“Okay, now I want you to tell me how it feels to be twelve.”

I felt myself floating upwards. “It feels strange, my tummy hurts, like I’m having my period.”

“Okay, you’re doing fine, now you’re eighteen, how does that feel?”

I felt myself growing taller. “Gosh, Daddy, I’m in university and there are so many nice looking boys here—wow, this is going to be fun.”

“Okay, Catherine, now I’d like you to come back to the present, you’re here with me and Stella in our house. I want to remember all you told me about growing up, but I also want you to come back to your normal self. When I count to five, you’ll do this, do you understand?”

“Yes, Daddy, I understand.”

“Okay, I’m going to count, one, two, three, four, five. Come back now.” I felt his hand on my arm, which was good because I opened my eyes and nearly fell over.

“Bloody hell, what happened?”

“For some reason, you regressed to age six.”

“You’re joking.”

“He’s not, Cathy, you really did.”

“Geez, really?”

They both nodded.

“How the hell did that happen?”

“I’m not sure, kiddo, but I think we need to make some notes and have a chat with Dr Thomas.” Tom sounded a bit concerned.

“Yeah, okay.”

“Oh, and Cathy, about this afters.”

“What about it?”

“I was wrong, you were a girl, I just met her.”

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Bike 460

“So what happened next?”

“According to Tom and Stella, I told them I was six years old and my father beat me.”

“Your father did show violence towards you, didn’t he?”

“Yes,” I stared at the floor rather than at Dr Thomas.

“So what happened at six years of age, that would draw you back there?”

“I don’t know, nothing as far as I remember.”

“When did the incident with the doll happen?”

“I think I was younger than six, I can’t remember exactly. Maybe I was in school.”

“You used to dress up in girls’ clothes in nursery?”

“I did at any opportunity.”

“What did you call yourself?”

“Catherine, I think. The name seems to have been with me as long as I can remember.”

“Who else knew this?”

“Anyone could, I made no secret of it.”

“So would your father have beaten you for wearing a dress?”

“He might have done, but I have no recollection of it, so it can’t have been that traumatic,” I said feeling relieved.

“On the contrary, it may have been so traumatic, you’ve either expunged it from your memory or hidden it so deep, you no longer have access to it.”

“Why would he have called me, Catherine?”

“I don’t know, possibly to deter you from using the name again. He might have said something like, ’I’m going to beat you Catherine, every time I hear you call yourself by that silly name.’ Or words to that effect…. Catherine?”

“Please don’t let Daddy hurt me, Mummy,” I whimpered.

“All right, Catherine, I won’t; nobody will hurt you, do you understand?”

“Yes, Mummy.”

“You’re a big and clever girl, can you tell Mummy how old you are?”

“I’m six, Mummy.”

“You are a clever girl. Now tell me, has Daddy hurt you before?”

“Yes,” I sobbed, “he beats me with his belt.”

“Oh you poor dear, why does he do that?”

“He calls me a sissy, but I’m not, I’m a good girl.”

“I know you are, Catherine. You’re a big and brave girl. Now I want you to close your eyes, you are perfectly safe. Just close your eyes, now I want you to look in a mirror and see yourself, can you do that?”

“Yes, Mummy.”

“Good girl, now I want you to see your reflection grow up and become the beautiful woman it is now. Can you see it?”

“It’s turning into a boy—oh, no it’s not, it’s a beautiful lady.”

“That’s you, Catherine, as a grown up, at age twenty three. Can you see her clearly?”

“Yes, she’s nice.”

“She’s a very caring and beautiful lady, just like you only bigger.” At this I giggled.

“She is also very strong and brave. She is going to look after you, are you happy with that?”

“Oh yes, Mummy, she looks very brave and strong.”

“Now will you trust me, Catherine?”

“Of course I will, Mummy.”

“Okay, thank you, you’re a good girl. Now, I want you to step into the mirror.”

“I can’t, silly Mummy, it’s a mirror.”

“Oh, yes I am a silly Mummy, I forgot to tell you it’s a magic mirror and you can step into it. So you step into it and I want you to hug and kiss, big Catherine.” Dr Thomas paused for a few moments, “Is she hugging you?”

“Yes, Mummy, she is very pretty.”

“So are you sweetums, now, this is the magical bit—I want you to hug big Catherine and feel her arms holding you and protecting you, can you feel them?”

“Yes, Mummy, she is so big and strong.”

“Now, I want you to feel yourself becoming absorbed into her, it won’t hurt and she’ll be able to protect you for always. Can you do that, for me?”

“I’ll try, Mummy.”

“You are a good girl. Now when big Catherine has absorbed you into her body, I’d like her to step out of the mirror and tell me that she has.”

“I’m here, Mummy.”

“Good girl, Catherine. Now I want you to sit in the chair and close your eyes, and go to sleep. While you sleep, the angels are scattering a magical dust upon you, so you won’t remember any of this trauma again, unless Dr Thomas or a suitably qualified therapist requires you to. Little Catherine is now part of your past, she is protected by you and doesn’t ever need to feel threatened again. You are as big and strong as your Daddy, so he can’t hurt you because you won’t let him. I want you now to let the angel dust take away the memories of all this trauma and for you to wake feeling happy and contented, without any ill effects from your recent experiences. When I count to three, you will remember you are Cathy Watts, biologist and teacher, who is engaged to Simon. One, come back to real time; two, come back to now into this room; three, be aware of who you really are and awake feeling refreshed and happy. How do you feel?”

I yawned and blinked at Dr Thomas, “Thank you, I’m fine. I know I came here with a problem but it seems to have disappeared.”

“It was a little one, but she’s gone somewhere safe now.”

“She?”

“My little joke.”

“Oh, okay. Goodness, is that the time, I must go and make some dinner for Stella and Tom. Maybe you could come around for a meal one evening?”

“I can’t, Cathy, in order for me to help you most, I have to retain my professional boundaries, which means I have to stay aloof from my clients.”

“Yes, I can see that. How can I thank you, you’re always saving my life?”

“I think that’s a slight exaggeration.”

“You know what I mean, can I send you a bottle of wine?”

“I think that would be most acceptable.”

We shook hands and I left, I called into the local wine-shop on the way home and arranged for a mixed case of wine to be sent to my favourite shrink.

Stella was sitting reading when I got home. “How’d it go?”

“Yeah, fine, why?”

“I just wondered.”

“Apparently she suspects my father beat me when I was six years old for wearing a dress and playing with dolls.”

“Wow, so you remembered it?”

“Not really, but she did some of her usual sorcery and I feel great now.”

“Oh good, I have some other good news for you.”

“What’s that, you’re cooking dinner?”

“I said good news, not miracles.”

“Okay, “ I chuckled, “So what’s the good news?”

“Jemima’s mother called to say she’s out of the coma and breathing by herself. She’s still in intensive care, but it’s looking more hopeful.”

“That is good news.”

“So after dinner, you’d better start making that dormouse for her.”

“Oh bugger, I’d forgotten about that…”

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Bike 461

“Ouch,” I said as I stuck the needle in my finger.

“Don’t you dare get blood on it,” cautioned Stella.

“I won’t,” I said as I sucked my finger. Creating the pattern had caused me a few anxious moments, then I’d worked out what I needed to do and once I’d cut it out, I was able to use it to make the various bits I needed for my dormouse toy. It was only about five times as big as the real thing, but any smaller would have been useless for a kid. Later when I have some time, I might make myself something a bit more life size to keep in my office.

I’d pinned the bits, and was tacking it when I stabbed myself. Fortunately, it didn’t really bleed, although it jolly well hurt—for a moment, I had great empathy for people with diabetes who have to prick their fingers to check blood glucose levels. Can’t be very pleasant, and I’ve heard it hurts more than injecting the insulin. Being a total wimp, neither appeals to me.

I set up my mother’s sewing machine and in less than half an hour, had stitched up the body of the giant dormouse. I sewed in the eyes and embroidered around the mouth, while Stella brought me cups of tea. By this time my eyes hurt and I’d had more than enough sewing for a while, so I finished my tea and went to bed.

I hadn’t long got into bed, when Stella arrived and climbed in beside me. “If that bloody lump kicks me out of bed in the night, I’ll do the same to you.”

Stella put her hands over her tummy pretending to protect the ears of her foetus. “Now there little Pud, don’t you listen to the horrible woman, you kick her as much as you like, her bark is far worse than her bite.”

“Only ‘cos I just brushed my teeth.”

“What is?” asked Stella looking bemused.

“The only reason my bark is worse than my bite.”

“That makes even less sense than usual, Catherine Watts.”

“I won’t bite you because I’d have to clean my teeth again, however, I might just make an exception in a minute.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“It was more of a prediction.”

“Isn’t that all a threat is?”

“Perhaps. Now shut up I’m trying to read this blessed book.”

“Who’s Sam Bourne?”

“The nomme de plume of the author, Jonathan Freedland, why?”

“I just wondered. What’s it about?”

“It’s about a woman who battered her sister in law to death with a book, because she kept disturbing her while she was reading it.”

“Boring plot then, you know whodunit.” Stella was either deliberately pushing me, or too thick to see what I was saying applied to her.

“The plot is actually very good, or it would be if I was allowed to read it.”

“I’m not stopping you.”

At this point I rolled over on my side, and tried to concentrate on my book. I might as well have tried to fly on a broomstick, I was rattled and Stella wanted to talk.

She spoke again and I dropped the book on the floor. It was futile to continue. I lay on my back and she turned around to talk with me. It felt as if I was in the dormitory of a girls’ school.

“It felt really weird meeting you as a six year old.”

“I thought you were older than that?” I replied distorting the meaning of her remark, deliberately.

“No, you as the six year old, silly.”

“I can’t remember any of that.” It was partly true and partly that I didn’t want to recall it. Memory is a mutable subject and those ones, I’d rather forget.

“It showed you knew you should’ve been a girl when you were quite young.”

“So, I got there in the end, with your help.”

“But, I hurt you yesterday.”

“It wasn’t deliberate, so forget it, I have.”

“But you missed out on so many things, because you didn’t grow up as a girl.”

“True, but I also experienced some other things which you didn’t, so none of it was wasted. Life is too short for regrets, and I got where I needed to be.”

“If Pud is a girl, you can share in her upbringing, and enjoy some of the things you missed out on.”

“And if he’s a boy?”

“You can still share him with me.”

“That’s very sweet of you Stella, I was hoping that would be the case.”

“I think I want you to be his or her’s godmother.”

“Don’t you think it would be a good idea to wait and see that everything is okay first; second, as an unbeliever, am I the most appropriate person to be a fairy godmother?”

“Fairy godmother!” she shrieked, “Oh you’d be ideal, but I also think the more conventional type would also be up your street.”

“But aren’t you supposed to be responsible for bringing the little darling up as a member of the church and give them spiritual guidance? I don’t believe the fairy tales, so how can I do that?”

“Isn’t the fact that you’ve recognised the issue, proof enough that you are the ideal person.”

“Run that by me again, Stella, because I didn’t hear the word agnostic or atheist once in the sentence.”

She rubbed my shoulder, “Cathy, it’s not about churches and religion, leastways not how I see it. To me it’s about integrity and the way you live. To point out your lack of religious belief, shows honesty and integrity: ergo, you’d be a good godmother.”

It began to look as if I’d talked myself into it. I was flattered and more than happy to accept the position, except for my own qualms of hypocrisy. I wanted to share in Stella’s baby, because it was likely to be as close as I ever got to one of my own. I quickly shoved that thought from my head, it would do neither of us any good, and it was a fact—when I took the pills, I was reducing my fertility. When I had the surgery, it became absolute without stored sperm and I wasn’t going to bother with that.

I began to yawn, seeking escape from these painful thoughts, through sleep. “You look tired, Cathy.”

“I am, Stel, I think my therapy session took a lot out of me, but it felt so good afterwards to have shifted a piece of baggage that I wasn’t even aware I had.” I yawned again.

“Night night,” she said and pecked me on the cheek. Then she rolled over on her side and switched off the light on her side of the bed. I did the same and tried to sleep. I was very tired but my head was buzzing with all sorts of thoughts. This was Stella’s fault for stirring them up—or was it? I suppose it wasn’t when I thought it through, because we are responsible for what we think, say and do. We can be provoked, but our reactions or replies are our responsibility. I was inducing myself into a really good guilt trip, and decided to use an old trick of imagining that I was riding up a really long, steep hill, focusing on as much detail as I could. Long before I go to the top, I was fast asleep. I had vague memories of strange dreams, but none of them lingered enough to remember them after going to the loo, which I did twice thanks to all the tea I drank—Stella, the bearer of my tea, remained fast asleep all night. There’s an irony there somewhere, but I’m too tired to find it.

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Bike 462

I woke up with the sense that someone was watching me. I knew it was unlikely to be God and all his angels, unless He wanted to see the look on my face just before the thunderball struck.

I opened one eye and peered, Stella was lying on her side, her head resting on her hand. “Hello, sleepyhead,” she said brightly.

“Was I snoring?” I asked sheepishly, just about finding the energy to open the second of my peepers.

“I don’t think so.” She paused for a moment, “Has anyone told you, that you’re beautiful when you’re asleep?”

“I think my mother did when I was about three years old, but I think that might have indicated the negative—that I was ugly when I was awake.”

“I doubt you could have been ugly at any time.”

“It’s nice of you to say so, but I try to avoid looking in a mirror until after I’ve had my first cup of tea.”

“You really do have some hang-ups, girl.”

“You’ve noticed.” I scratched my nose, and added, “I’ve got more baggage than Terminal five has lost.”

“Is that possible,” she laughed at me.

“Dunno, I suspect so.”

“Like what?”

“What the baggage, you mean?” I asked and she nodded.

“I can’t believe anyone would lie in bed with me—a, to start with; and b, to do so in order to jump my bones.”

“I can assure you, the latter is not applicable in my case.”

“I wasn’t implying it was.”

“I’m glad to hear it, besides in my delicate state…” she rubbed her tummy, “…It wouldn’t be becoming, would it?”

“I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that, never having done anything with another woman, let alone a pregnant one, before. Oh that isn’t an invitation.”

“No, just a statement of fact, I suppose,” said Stella smirking whilst I just blushed a bright scarlet. She waited a moment before saying, “I did try it in school with another girl. It was okay I suppose, but it didn’t do half as much for me as Des did. Now that was special. Did you ever try it with another boy?”

“No I did not,” I sat up with indignation, then seeing the surprised look on her face, calmed down a bit. “Until I met Simon, I didn’t even think of boys as interesting me or being interested unless they were gay.”

“But you were a girl, we’ve established that now.”

“I wasn’t officially was I? Remember when you knocked me off my bike, I was still officially a boy.”

“I can’t remember what I thought you were, except wet and dazed.” I started to smile and she looked at me, “What’s so funny?”

“A silly joke just came into my head—If the ceiling had fallen on the members of the Round Table, would it have been a question of knights and dazed?”

“Not if they had their helmets on,” she replied then began to tickle me. “You deserve to be punished for that pun.”

“Don’t, I need to wee,” I protested in between laughs. I managed to half wriggle and half fall out of bed, before trotting off to the loo. By the time we’d both got down to breakfast, Tom had gone to work, leaving a note for me.

‘Cathy, don’t you dare turn up at work today! Look after Stella and make something nice for dinner. Love T.’

“Do you think he’s trying to tell me something?” I asked, showing the note to Stella.

“Do you mean apart from the obvious?”

“Yes,” I said filling the kettle, “cereal or toast?”

“Um, I fancy both.”

“Fancying things eh? You’re not pregnant are you, perchance?”

“Who me, Miss, nah, I’m just naturally fat bellied.”

“Fat bellied,” I choked, “Where?”

“Here,” she said pulling up her nightdress and pointing to her abdomen.

It was slightly bigger than her usual slender waist, but it was hardly noticeable. “Oh come on, Stella, it hardly shows without a microscope.”

“Is your eyesight that bad then?”

“Yep, cornflakes or rice crispies?”

“Cornf…no, I’ll have rice crispies for a change.”

I passed her the packet, then a dish and finally the milk. “Toast as well, eh?”

“Can we wait until I’ve eaten these first? Or it will be cold.”

“Yeah, sure. Tea or coffee?”

“Can I wait a minute?”

“Sure.” I sat down and picked up the cornflakes.

“There’s no need to look at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Resentful.”

“Resentful—who, me?”

“Yes, because I prefer to wait in between my courses.”

“It isn’t a problem, honestly. It’s just you used to cope will all of them together in days gone by.”

“I wasn’t pregnant then, I can’t cope with shoving it down, or it makes me sick.”

“Fine, we have plenty of time. It’s just you used to, you know…”

“You wait until you become….oh, I’m sorry, I did it again, didn’t I?”

“It’s okay,” I blushed. I wasn’t that upset because in some ways it was nice that she forgot my history. In others it was a pain.

“I am sorry, Cathy, I just forget that, you know…”

“It’s all right, so just forget about it.”

“No, I keep doing it,” she put her spoon down and sat with her head resting on her hand, her elbow on the table. “Some days, I can’t believe how stupid I am,” she sniffed.

“Stella, it doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t. Please don’t get all upset.” I put my hand on hers, she pulled her face away from it and there were tears running down her face. I passed her a tissue. “Come on, it’s unimportant, don’t cry.”

“I feel so stupid, I was trying so hard not to say anything like that to you, and I did it again. How can anyone be so bloody stupid?”

I put my hand under her chin so she was forced to look me in the eye instead of staring at the table. “You are not stupid, we all make mistakes, and if I hadn’t made such a fuss the other day, we’d just have laughed this off as a Freudian slip. So it’s my fault, not yours, I’m the stupid, hypersensitive one. Or I was, from now on, I won’t be. So say what you like, it won’t upset or annoy me—I promise.”

“Anything?”

“Anything.”

“Could you pass me another tissue?”

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Bike 463

“So what do you want to do? I have all day to spend doing it, whatever it is.”

“You have to cook Tom a nice dinner.”

“Not just yet, it’s not even ten, yet.”

“You have a dormouse to finish making.”

“I don’t have to do it now, it’s not as if we were going to be taking it into her today, is it?”

“That was the third thing.”

“You are joking, Stella.” If she had been, why was she shaking her head at me now? “You’re not joking, are you?”

“No.”

“We can’t, they only allow family to visit when you’re in intensive care.”

“You only have to take it to the hospital, you don’t have to hand it to her personally.”

“Why the rush?”

“If she knows it’s from you, she’ll feel heaps better and recover sooner.”

“Oh come off it, that makes it sound like some fetish object—and I mean that in it’s original sense, before all these perverts misappropriated the word.”

“I think it will be like a fetish object.”

“I don’t feel like sewing.” I suppose I could have stamped my foot as well for effect.

“Tough, it goes with the territory of being female.”

“What? That is the most sexist remark I’ve ever heard, and if that’s the case, why don’t you do it?”

“I have a chronic health issue.”

“No you don’t, you’re pregnant.”

“Absolutely, and you get to make cuddly toys, now get sewing before I put in an order for one for Puddin’.”

“You are a slave driver,” I protested.

“Yep, me slave driver, you soft toy maker—get making.”

“You…you…big bully.”

“If that’s the toughest you can fight, you’d better wear a big hat.”

“What?” I gasped, “What is that supposed to mean?”

“God knows, Daddy used to say it, something to do with cowboy films, which he used to love.”

“Henry likes cowboy films?”

“Yes, specific ones, like, True Grit, and High Noon.”

“That does surprise me.”

“Even I cried watching True Grit.”

“Why?”

“When the horse dies.”

“I did when we read Black Beauty in school, when Ginger dies.” I had flashbacks to the whole class sniggering at me as I wept.

“Oh, I cried then too, and when Hazel dies in Watership Down.”

“Crikey, I’d forgotten about that. Yeah, the cosmic rabbit comes to get him or something, doesn’t it?”

“Dormouse,” said Stella, loudly.

“Nah, it wasn’t a dormouse, I’d have remembered.”

“No you idiot, get sewing the dormouse or we’ll be here all day.” So that’s what I did, sewed the dormouse and stuffed it, then finished it off. When I looked at it, it didn’t really look much like a dormouse, but it’s the thought that counts—isn’t it?”

“If you’d given it a bushy tale, it could be a pale squirrel.”

“Gee thanks, Stella, you really know how to make me feel good.”

“If the pip-squeak complains, tell her it was normal before it met her.”

“That’s a really useful thing to say to a child who’s fighting for her life.”

“Go on, kids are tough, it’s adults who die in ICUs.”

“I dunno, I think this nightmare in fake fur fabric, may just push her over the edge.”

“Rubbish,” declared Stella.

“My words exactly, this is total rubbish.” I threw her the atypical dormouse.

“Right, get the car out, we’re going visiting.”

“Do we have to?”

“Car,” she barked and I picked up the keys.

~~~~~

“Do you have Jemima on intensive care?” I asked the nurse.

“I can’t answer that, I’m afraid.”

“It’s just that I have a small present for her.” I held up the gift bag, I’d managed to shove the dormouse parody into.

Just as I held up the bag, Jemima’s mother happened to walk out through the door. She looked at us then straight on, then she looked again. “Cathy Watts, it is you?”

I felt like saying, ‘No it’s full size hologram’ but the nerve deserted me. “Oh hello, I brought in a small present for Jemima.”

“How sweet of you, I’m sure she’d be delighted to receive it, come on in.”

“But..um, we’re intruding,” I stuttered and spluttered, while Stella smirked.

“She is still very weak and ill, but she’d never forgive me if I hadn’t invited you in to see her. How we’ll ever thank you for saving her, I don’t know.”

“I didn’t, it was the paramedics.”

“They said it was you and the young policeman.”

“Probably him then, I didn’t do very much.”

“Is she always like this?” Jemima’s mother asked Stella.

“Yes, she is a pathological compliment evader. I keep telling her, avoidance is immoral but allowed, evasion is illegal.” They both chuckled as I blushed. “She’s saved several lives including mine, and she is so modest about it.”

“Goodness, I am in honoured company,” said Jemima’s mum. She led us into the cubicle where a tiny figure in the bed was surrounded by a technology explosion. I suspect there were fewer monitors of various description in Currys electrical appliance store.

“Jem, look who’s come to see you.” Her mother sat by her side and gently stroked her hand.

I stood at the foot of the bed feeling very intrusive and out of place. The pale faced doll on the bed, with dark rings under her eyes and bruises on her face, looked so frail and vulnerable. I felt so anxious for her. The eyelids fluttered open.

“It’s Cathy, do you remember? The dormouse lady.”

“Caffy,” she said in a tiny voice that was barely audible. Her eyes looked around and she fixed her gaze on me. “Caffy,” she said a little louder and her face seemed to brighten up.

“Are they allowed soft toys?” I asked quietly of her mother.

“Yes, look,” she pointed at a teddy bear lying on the bed with Jemima.

“This won’t be as good as that, I’m afraid.” I apologised in advance of presenting my mutant dormouse.

“She’s made Jemima a dormouse,” said Stella betraying me. I was going to suggest we bought it in Oxfam.

“You made it? Cathy, you are so clever. Did you hear that, Darling? Cathy has made you a toy dormouse.”

The little face lit up again as I passed the bag to her mother, who unwrapped it and gave it to her. “Isn’t she clever?” said mother to daughter.

“Oh, I wuv it, fank you, Caffy.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 464

I stood transfixed as the frail creature in the bed held up the deformed dormouse to look at it more closely. “Wook Mummy, he’s got a furwy tail.”

“Oh yes, Darling, so he has, I assume it is a boy dormouse.”

“Um, it’s whatever you want it to be a girl or a boy dormouse.”

“Do you have a boy or a girl dormouse, Caffy?”

“At the university, we have both, because we breed them there, but the one you handled, was a girl.”

Vis is a girl one ven, Mummy—what shall we call her?”

“What would you like to call her, Darling?”

“I don’t know, what does Caffy, fink?

“I think you should call her something nice, so she’ll help you have nice thoughts and dreams.” I was still choked.

“Do you realise her blood pressure and heart rate have gone down since you came in?” whispered a nurse who was making entries in the notes.

“Is that good?” I whispered back to the nurse.

“Good, it’s wonderful,” she hissed back.

Big ears Cameron heard it of course, and poked me in the arm, “Our Cathy is always wonderful, aren’t you?”

Now I was embarrassed as well as unable to move, perhaps it was as well I was in an intensive care unit, if I was going to become paralysed!

“This is the lady who saved Mima’s life, isn’t it, Darling? So we think she’s wonderful.”

“Yes we do,” the little voice that emanated from the broken body in the bed, was only a ghost of it’s usual strength, for which I was concerned but grateful. I suspected if it had been up to it’s usual levels, the mutant muscardinus, which she held lovingly to her chest, would probably have jumped as far as Spike did that day. Even I jumped that day and I’m quite a bit bigger than the noise generator in the bed.

“So you’re the heroine of the day are you?” asked the nurse, she looked at me with the expression which usually precedes mention of a certain Youtube clip; instead she said, “Aren’t you the one who caught the bag snatcher?”

“She’s the one,” piped Stella, “it was my bag.”

“So she’s minor royalty or something isn’t she?” continued the nurse, “Lady Something or other?”

“Cameron, it’s Cameron,” said Stella.

“That’s right, married to Lord Cameron. I remember now. Weren’t you in here yourself for a bit, with a collapsed lung or something?”

“I got stabbed while riding my bike.”

“Oh yes, Lord Cameron apprehended him, didn’t he?”

“So I believe, I was busy bleeding to death at the time.”

“I’m glad to see you recovered.”

“Yes, thank you. Well I suppose we’d best be going.” I looked down at Jemima.”

“Were you in vis bed, Caffy?”

I glanced at Stella and the nurse, they both nodded. “Yes, I think I was.”

“Oh, goody, vat means I’ll get better too.”

“I’m sure you’ll get better soon, Jemima.” I said hoping I was correct.

“Will you come and see me again tomowow?”

“Oh, I don’t know if that’s allowed,” I muttered looking for escape from such a commitment from her mother or the nurse.

“I’m sure it would be allowed, Lady Cameron,” said Jemima’s mum, and Stella snorted.

“It would be fine, I’m sure,” said the nurse.

“Is Caffy, Wady Camawon?” asked a little voice.

“Little piggies have big ears,” I muttered.

“Absolutely,” said Stella, “So, Lady Cameron, you’ll have to honour your promises.” I turned to give her my Paddington hard stare, but she refused to meet my psycho-gaze.

“Yes dear, Cathy is Lady Catherine Cameron. Aren’t we lucky, we know a member of the aristocracy.”

“Oh yes, Mummy. I wike Wady Caffy.”

“We have to go, I’ll pop in tomorrow if that’s okay?” I said hoping they’d all say no, but they didn’t, instead they smiled, looking like contented spiders watching me, the fly, getting ever more ensnared in their web.

“Can I have a kiss, Wady Caffy?” What could I say in response—no? Instead, I bent down and she hugged me, which was when I saw a large dressing on the back of her head.

“What’s this?” I asked indicating the dressing.

“She had cranial surgery a couple of days ago, to drain the haematoma from the fracture,” said the nurse, “Didn’t you know?”

“No, I didn’t, oh you poor lamb, does it hurt?” I said to Jemima.

“Not anymore, fank you Wady Caffy, Mima feels tired now,” she yawned and closed her eyes. I eased her back down to the pillow, she was already asleep, the tube going down her nose was a bit disconcerting as I hadn’t noticed it before.

“She’s a brave wee soul, isn’t she?” I said to her mother.

“She is. Do you know that by coming in today, you’ve made me feel so much more optimistic about her.”

We moved away from the bed and spoke in very quiet tones, “Why?” I asked.

“Oh, you don’t know do you?” said her mother, “She can’t move her legs, or anything from the waist down.”

“Oh my God!” I exclaimed, “Is that temporary or…”

“We don’t know,” said her mother, ”she was too ill to do the scan of her back and neck. It could be the head injury, it could be her back.”

“God, I hope I didn’t make things worse.” I felt quite sick.

“Without your intervention, she’d wouldn’t be here at all, so don’t even think you did her anything but good.” Her mother hugged me, “Thank you so much for coming in.”

“I’ll be here tomorrow, what time do you want me?” I asked holding back the tears.

“Whenever you can make it.”

“Okay, I’ll be here.” I grabbed Stella and we left.As we walked back to the car, I felt extremely worried about the little soul lying asleep in that bed. I was close to tears, and unable to say anything.

“Sometimes we just have to hope, you know, hope that things will improve. You being there seemed to perk her up.”

“I wasn’t even going to come,” I said and felt the tears trickle against my cheeks, “Thanks for making me.”

“I didn’t make you, I just assisted you with a little prod,” Stella replied, then she hugged me. “If she recovers at all, it will be because of you. You’ll have saved her life.”

“Is there a risk she won’t make it, then?” I was aghast at this possibility.

“Sadly yes, she could still get meningitis or another infection, she could have…”

“Oh don’t, I can’t bear to listen. Damn it, she’s going to recover, completely even if I have to go in there every bloody day for the next ten years.” I slammed my fist into my other palm.

“Ooh, that’s fightin’ talk, Lady Cameron,” said Stella.

“Oh bollocks!” I said and we both laughed releasing the pent up tension, “Come on, let’s get Tom some dinner.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 465

“So how badly injured is she?” asked Tom as he tucked into his roast pork.

“Dunno,” I said, crunching on a piece of crackling, “Stella’s the expert.”

“Not on brain or spinal injuries, I’m not.”

“Did you do the right thing by resuscitating her?” He asked putting his knife down to scoop another dollop of apple sauce.

“Of course she did, how could you ask that, Tom,” Stella looked quite angry.

“I was just asking, that’s all. If she’s doomed to a life in wheelchair, she’s going to miss out on lots of things.”

“If she was dead, she’d miss out on a great deal more,” said Stella firmly.

“Okay, I know when I’m licked. So when are you going to see her, Cathy?”

“I don’t know, at the moment it’s about trying to keep her spirits up. She’s too young and probably still shocked, to recognise what could happen if things don’t get better.”

“Youngsters adapt more easily than older patients,” said Stella, “they don’t have all the negative experience or regret.”

“How are you going to help her?” asked Tom.

“Moral support and encouragement.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“Didn’t you know Lady Cameron has magical powers?” teased Stella.

“Which one of you is that, or is a family thing?”

“Why, Lady Catherine, of course, who else?” Stella smirked at me and I felt my face get hot. I couldn’t think of a reply, so I poked out my tongue at her. She laughed.

The next morning, I felt sleepy and crotchety. I’d lain in bed for ages thinking about Jemima and how little I could do for her. My determination from yesterday had somehow diluted itself with self-doubt. What could I actually do for her? The answer was—zilch.

I felt a bit better after my shower and breakfast. Stella had gone into the university with Tom to help Pippa with some filing. I felt totally abandoned. I went for a short bike ride, about twenty miles and was back in the shower less than an hour and half later. I felt much better, and the cobwebs had been blown out of mind, so I was thinking more clearly.

Dried and dressed, smartly—I had a certain appearance to keep up for a little girl—even if they had jumped the gun with my name, encouraged by my future sister in law, who enjoys my discomfort at the misnomer.

I wore my Stella McCartney dress and matching shoes—not anything special with those, they just happened to match the colour exactly and I got them in a charity shop. They were a bit high though, for me at least, being about four inches. I prayed, I’d be able to find a parking space near the unit or suffer for my art!

On the way into the hospital, I stopped at a toyshop and bought a Fuzzy Felt set. It was something I’d had as a kid and enjoyed tremendously. I suppose because it was a unisex toy, my dad had allowed me to keep it. What he didn’t see, was my making only female characters and lots of babies, instead of cars and planes and things.

I had the box gift wrapped and I found a suitable get well card in the newsagent’s shop next door—it had a picture of a kitten on it. I wrote it and sealed the envelope and placed it in the bag with the present. I also managed to find a couple of comics, which I thought were about right for her age group.

I had lunch in the hospital restaurant, a sandwich and cuppa, which reminded me I needed to make some more bread tonight. I was sitting eating my sandwich, when the ICU nurse came in and spotted me. I didn’t see her until she sat next to me, “Do you mind?” she asked and I shook my head. “Are you going to see Jemima or have you been?”

“Going, how is she?”

“She certainly perked up after your visit, Lady Cameron.”

“It’s just plain Cathy, no airs and graces.”

“Okay, Cathy, I’m Annette, but they usually call me, Nettie.”

“Okay, Nettie, how can I help her to recover?”

“If I knew the answer to that, I’d save loads of lives. I think she picks up on your genuine concern for her and the fact that she knows you love children. Don’t leave it too long before you start a family, will you, or you’ll regret it.”

“That’s a moot point, I can’t conceive.” I said and blushed.

“What about in vitreo?”

“I doubt that would be much help, my breeding bits have been removed.”

“At your age?”

“Fraid so,” I blushed, I hadn’t told a lie, just allowed her to misunderstand what I’d said.

“What happened?”

“I’d prefer not to talk about it, if you don’t mind.”

“No, that’s no problem, shame though at your age.”

“We all have our crosses to bear, I love children but can’t have any.”

“What about adoption?”

“Maybe, I need to speak with Simon about it. At the moment, my career means I don’t have time to dwell on it.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a biologist at the university, I do research and a bit of teaching.”

“Ah, now I see the significance of the dormouse.”

“Yes, I showed Jemima around our dormouse breeding unit.”

“You don’t experiment on them, do you?” she looked suitably horrified.

“No we breed them for release.”

“Phew, that’s a relief.”

“They’re protected animals so we’d need a special licence to experiment on them. In a way, the release scheme is an experiment, seeing how they do on their own, in the wild.”

“How do they do?”

“So far so good, about twenty percent mortality rate and some have bred in the wild.”

“Gosh, you really are the dormouse lady, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I suppose I am.”

“Or is it, Lady Dormouse?” we both laughed at her remark.

“Well, I have to go and see my protégé, see if I can have her running round the unit before I leave.”

“If you do, wait for me, I want to see it.”

“Right, I’ll certainly keep that in mind.” I nodded to her and left, trying desperately to think why on earth I’d worn these bloody shoes, they were killing me!

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 466

By the time I’d entered ICU, my toes were burning and it was only a sense of decorum which meant I kept those wretched shoes on. I more or less staggered into Jemima’s cubicle carrying my cargo of gifts.

Jemima was asleep, which didn’t surprise me. Her mother was sitting quietly reading when I clip clopped my way in. She looked up and smiled at me, “Lady Catherine, how nice of you to come.”

“Cathy, please. I said I’d come so here I am.”

“Gosh, you make me feel a total mess,” she blushed back at me. She was wearing a jeans and a tee shirt.

“I suspect you have more important things on your mind than your wardrobe. I had to go somewhere first,” I lied but I hoped it made her feel better. Tomorrow, I’d be in jeans and more importantly, trainers. My toes were on fire. “Have you had some lunch?”

“No, not yet, can’t say I’m that hungry.”

“Go and get something to eat and drink and have a break for half an hour. I’ll stay here in case she wakes up. They’ll send for you if you’re needed.”

“I suppose I could use a drink and stretch my legs. You sure you don’t mind?”

“Of course not, now go on and don’t rush, I’ll be here.” I practically pushed her out the door. As soon as she was gone, I kicked my shoes off and massaged my toes—the relief was enormous. I reckon I had caught them just before I’d rubbed blisters. I lifted up my dress and sat with my feet under me, snug in the easy chair alongside the sleeping child.

I watched her for a while, her eyes were moving under her closed lids indicating she was dreaming. I hoped it was a pleasant dream. She was clasping my dismal dormouse in both hands, and there was blood or some other goo on the pillow, presumably from her head wound.

She still looked so small and vulnerable. I’d heard nothing about the accident other than from direct word of mouth. I didn’t know if the driver had been prosecuted or even, if it was his fault—maybe she ran out in front of him? I suppose it was more important that she recovered than he was prosecuted, although they weren’t mutually exclusive.

She was a pretty little thing, despite the dressing, the tube up her nose and the facial bruising, which was a darker colour now and covered part of her right eye and cheek, along with a graze on her nose and chin. Her right hand had a small bandage too, so that must have been injured too.

How could I have missed so many of her injuries when I pulled her out from under the car, or was it a van? I can’t remember, just as well I’m not a witness, I’d be a very unreliable one.

Jemima sighed in her sleep, “Caffy,” and I nearly fell of the chair. Nah, she was probably wanting a drink, espresso or latte, that was it, she wanted a drink, a fix of caffeine.

As I watched, she snuggled against the mutant mouse and sighed again, “Caffy,” did she still want a drink or was my compliment aversion system, working overtime?

I tried to look at my newspaper, bought the same time as the felt toy, but I just couldn’t cope with Jonathan Freedland or George Monbiot in my distracted state. I was seemingly happy watching a small child, who was still very poorly, sleep.

I felt this hollowness inside me, as if a part of my body had been ripped out, the part which should have been involved with children, leaving an ache, which could only be healed by having my own children: this, not being possible, meant I should never heal.

It was a price I had to pay, and until now, in a sort of abstract sense, it hadn’t worried me too much. I knew I couldn’t father children, I had no inclination whatsoever, and I knew as well that, no matter how female I felt, my chromosomes were XY, even if my phenotype was barely masculine. Now, sitting here and watching the miracle—that was a child—before me, I felt quite broody; no matter how futile such a feeling was. I wanted a child or better still, children.

My mind flitted back to the ‘visitation’ from my mother, suggesting I’d have children. The more I thought about it, the more I suspected it was unconscious wishful thinking, a delusion to keep me sane—if that doesn’t sound too obtuse? My career, my dormice, even my students—spotty and smelly they may be—were my babies, and I wondered if that was all I was destined to have, however acquired they might be.

I was so rapt in my thoughts, I didn’t notice a little pair of peepers opening and a gasp accompanying them. “Caffy,” said a tiny voice, sounding a little hoarse.

“Hello, young un, your mummy’s gone for a quick cuppa, she’ll be back in a minute.”

“I wuv my mousie,” she grinned at me.

“What are you calling her, something nice I hope?”

“Mousie,” she grinned back.

“Simplicity is a virue,” I said under my breath, “Well that’s a very suitable name isn’t it?”

“What does supable mean, Wady Caffy?”

“No, sweetheart, suit-able, it means it’s a good name.”

“Oh goody,” she beamed, “I feel vewy hot.”

I touched the side of her face with the back of my fingers and she was rather warm, her face was also looking rather pink. I pressed the call button and was relieved to see Nettie appear. “Problems, Lady C?”

“She, I mean, Jemima is looking a bit pink and she says she’s feeling hot.”

“Okay, let’s have a look. Ooh you do a bit don’t you? Here, pop this on your forehead,” Nettie placed a strip thermometer on Jemima’s forehead and lifted her arm to feel her pulse. “Um, a bit fast. I’m going to ask the nice doctor to come and see you, Jemima, I hope that’s all right.”

“Do we need to get mum?” I asked.

“That’s her now,” said Nettie, looking down the ward. “I’ll page the paediatrician, be back in a tick.” She rushed off to do her job and Jemima’s mum returned.

“I called the nurse a moment ago, Jemima, is looking a bit flushed and she says she’s hot. She’s gone to page the doctor.”

“Oh, you feeling a bit hot, Darling?”

“Yes Mummy, vewy hot.”

“Would you like a little drink?”

“No fank you, I feew icky, Mummy.”

Thankfully her mother seemed to know how to raise the bed up and handed me a grey, papier mache receiver to hold in front of the stricken child. I was mortified, knowing that if she was sick, I’d follow her lead. My stomach churned when the dog threw up, so humans, even the miniature variety, got a full response. I didn’t have a weak stomach, I could vomit for yards.

Then her mother stepped on my toe and I squeaked and jumped. It bloody hurt. She took over catching the unmentionable while I retired hurt to a safe distance, out of the firing line. So, I’m a wimp? I know it quite well and am secure in my knowledge. Perhaps it’s just as well I’m not a mum, dormice don’t vomit, they just keel over and croak—much more civilised.

The paediatrician arrived and I was, not surprisingly, asked to leave. Promising I’d return tomorrow, I slipped on my shoes, my toe was quite sore and throbbing, and limped back to my car.

I gave the felts and the comics to Jemima’s mother as I left.

The drive home in bare feet was bliss, although my toe was still smarting. I nearly dumped the shoes in the waste bin walking back to the car, then realised they were Manolo Blahnik’s, which I’d picked up for under four quid. Mind you, they were more for decoration than practical purpose, unless you’re a supermodel. I’m most certainly not—too fat.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 467

Once I stopped wearing silly shoes and formal clothes, I quite enjoyed my visits to the hospital. I would go after lunch and, Janice, Jemima’s mum would go for a little break.

Mima, as she liked to be called, got over the infection although it was touch and go for few days and Janice and I worried ourselves silly for a few days. A scan had shown that there was no visible damage to Mima’s spine, so the inability to walk seemed to come from her head injury—in which case it could suddenly return or never come back. Because she was so young, the doctors were hopeful, but by no means certain. We still needed a miracle and I’d pray for one every day.

Stella who arrived for the weekend didn’t go back to the clinic except for occasional checkups, so she moved back in with Tom and I and of course, Simon came home as often as he could. He even took to visiting Mima with me, she loved him.

Two weeks later Mima was moved to the childrens’ ward and she was at least amongst other kids, although she found the mobility of some, rather frustrating because she couldn’t play with them.

I had discovered why Janice was the only one of Mima’s parents to appear, her father was in the Middle East, working for a defence contractor who wouldn’t let him come home to see his daughter. Janice kept him up to date with her progress and sent him photos taken on her mobile phone.

Alan had showed me his editing of the film which matched my ideas very much, and we’d done some recordings of my narration and he’d mixed the clips where I appeared, really well. I was pleased with the overall effect and even, my agent, Erin approved of the bits she’d seen. Everything was going very well.

Mima left hospital and I was invited to go and see her at home, she lived about a mile from us in a very nice detached house. Her father might not be with her, but he provided well for her. She was using a wheelchair to get about by herself, and they were giving physio to her most days to try and stop the muscle wastage. I even got involved in that, moving her legs in various ways, although she still said she couldn’t feel them.

I was there one afternoon, doing my stint of Mima wrestling in the name of physical medicine, when the phone rang. It was no concern of mine as Janice was downstairs to answer it. I finished tying Mima’s legs in knots and left her to rest for a half hour before I carried her downstairs.

I was ready for the cuppa which Janice usually had waiting for me. I walked into the lounge expecting to hear the clinking of cups and instead found Janice sat with her head in her hands and weeping.

“What’s the problem?” I asked sitting alongside her, “anything I can do to help?”

“It’s Lawrie,” her husband, “he’s been shot by some bandit.”

“Oh no, how is he?”

“Very sick.”

“You must go and see him.”

“How can I? How can I leave Mima? I can’t take her with me.”

“Um, I’ll have her.” The words were out of my mouth before I could think.

“I couldn’t expect you to, she’ll have to go back into hospital.”

“No, I meant it, I’ll have her. It’s not as if you’re going to be gone for months is it?”

“I don’t know, Cathy, it’s an awful lot to ask anyone to do, of a family member, leave alone a friend.”

“She’s been to Tom’s house in the chair before, so she could cope and I’m sure we’d all manage for a short time.”

“I don’t know, Cathy, I really don’t.”

“Ask her when she wakes up?”

“It’s still such an imposition, and she’s quite clingy at times, this accident really frightened her, you know.”

“I’m sure it did, it frightened me and I didn’t even see it. Look, I’ll check it out with Tom, I’m sure he’ll be okay about it.” I reached into my bag and pulled out my mobile, then walked out into the garden to talk with my adoptive father.

“Hi, loco parent, “ I teased, when Pippa put me through to him.

“What’s wrong, adopted daughter thingy?”

“Thingy! What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I’m getting old and forgot what I was going to say.”

“Oh, okay….”

“So what do you want?”

“Perhaps just to talk with my adopted parent thingy.”

“I knew it, I told Pippa we were too quiet, so come on girl spit it out, I have a department to run.”

“I can’t fool you, can I?”

“Yes you can, you do it all the time. Now what do you want?”

“I have tremendous favour to ask…” I told him what had happened and he was suitably horrified.

“If you think that Stella and you can cope, then yes she must come to us.”

“Thanks, Daddy.”

“Don’t get any ideas about keeping her, you have to give her back afterwards.”

I laughed, although I knew exactly what he meant. In some ways, I hoped that being a full time stand in parent would cure me of these broody feelings, but I was by no means sure. I went back into the lounge, Janice wasn’t there. Not wishing to intrude, I went into the kitchen and filled the kettle.

I took the tray of crocks and biscuits into the lounge and poured myself a cup of tea. Janice came down a little later with Mima. She sat her in the wheelchair and fastened the strap.

“You realise that because Mima is temporarily paraplegic, she is catheterised and needs an enema everyday.”

I hadn’t thought about it at all, but with Stella’s help, I’d learn. “We’ll manage, if she wants to come with me.”

“I’ve told her, her daddy’s very ill and needs me to go and look after him for a week or two, and that you had offered to look after her while I was away. I’ve explained it would have to be at your house.”

“What did she say?” I asked expecting her to say no.

“Well after many tears, she has agreed to let me go. She is obviously, far from happy about it, but she thinks she will cope. Isn’t that right, Darling?”

“Mima stay wiv Caffy and bow wow.”

“It’s more important that you decide if you can cope with looking after her.”

“Remember Stella is a registered nurse specialist.”

“Yes I know, but it’s a tremendous commitment in terms of time and trouble, she’s very good as you know, but she needs quite a bit of care during an average day. So don’t feel obliged.”

“I don’t feel at all obligated, Tom has agreed to it wholeheartedly.”

“That man would do anything for his daughter.”

“Um, yes, I know and I take full advantage of it. When I don’t he tells me off. He says I remind him of his first daughter, I keep asking him if she was that bad?”

“Was she?”

“I think they had a few ups and downs, she was killed driving to Oxford.”

“Oh dear, poor Tom.”

“Yeah, so he had to adopt me to make his life totally unbearable again.”

“Why do I find that entirely believable?”

“It’s true, ask him when you come back to repossess your offspring, unless we’ve sold her to a gang of white slavers.”

“That’s a bit Nineteenth Century, isn’t it?”

“Okay, East European Mafiosi.”

“Don’t you dare.” She held a straight face for a moment, then it crinkled at the mouth and she started to snigger.

“So, you organise a flight, and I’ll get back and start sorting out her room.”

“Can she sleep in your room, Cathy? She gets so frightened in the night.”

“Course,” along with Stella and Simon, when he’s home. Maybe I’ll invite Tom as well, we could have a party every night. I had some re-organising to do.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 468

Janice packed a pile of Mima’s stuff, and I filled the boot of the car and took it home with me. I would collect more the next day and so on until we actually had her stay with us.

I rushed home and found Stella reading the riot act to Kiki, who’d chased a cat from the garden. I quickly told her what was happening and she was horrified for Janice, what a choice to have to make, leave a sick child or a very sick husband.

I suppose in the end, she had to go to her husband as he was at greater risk than her daughter, and also we could help with Mima, but not her hubby. To cut a long story short, Stella, was a little surprised at my offer but understood it. Looking on the positive side it would give me practice of looking after children – to practice becoming an auntie. Yeah, right!

As I moved clothes upstairs and made room downstairs for the wheelchair, I began to wonder when my need to save the world would diminish? I act before I think things through, offering help when playing the good Samaritan isn’t always the sensible choice.

How was I going to cope with all this? I had no idea, except to believe it was an opportunity to borrow someone’s kid for a few days, spoil them to death, and give them back afterwards. More like a grandparent than a mother. I began to seriously worry that I didn’t know enough about dealing with the disability to properly care for Mima and I really needed to spend all day with Janice before she went, to appreciate the routine.

I was cogitating on this when the phone rang, Stella told me, it was for me, so I dashed to answer it. It was Janice, she had a flight the day after tomorrow. I asked her if I could spend the day with her and Mima to really understand what was needed, and she wholehearted agreed with me. I would go at eight the next morning and spend all day with the two of them.

I felt much happier after that, I stopped tidying and made up a new bread mix and chucked it in the breadmaker. Then, I got on with making dinner. After we’d eaten, Tom asked some quite searching questions. He showed he’d been thinking about our visitor and how we were going to cope.

Stella wasn’t surprised at the fact that Mima would sleep in my room, she helped me move a spare single bed and mattress. I did most of the humping, she more or less guided things and then helped to make the bed.

Tom wondered about the dog, but I reminded him that Mima had enjoyed being with the dog and wasn’t frightened of her. “I was thinking the opposite, Cathy, if Kiki would be terrified of Jemima and her wheelchair.”

“She’ll cope, dogs do, it’s people who don’t.”

“You mean like me? An old fart.”

“Um,” I shrugged, “could be me too.”

“Come off it, you’re the one who volunteered.”

“Yeah, so? I could have got it wrong, horribly so.”

“Indeed, but I doubt it, Stella will help, it’ll be a good chance for her to practice her maternal instincts.”

“My what?” asked Stella.

“Your maternal instincts.”

“Like I said, my what?”

“Stella, you’re pregnant, surely your hormones are preparing you for becoming a mother.”

“If they are, I hadn’t noticed. All they’ve done so far is make me throw up and go a bit more loopy than usual.”

“That explains a few things,” I said smirking.

“Yeah, like agreeing to help with your latest madcap adventure. Why couldn’t we just have got you a Barbie doll or even one of those mock real baby dolls, rather than the real thing.”

“I don’t know, if I get fed up, I can always take her back home.”

“Not if her mother’s not there.”

“Yes I can, we could lock her in the garage until her mum comes home.”

“Or sell her on Ebay?” suggested Stella.

“Not unless you have a Paypal account.”

“I do,” said Stella.

“Ladies, please be serious for a moment. This little girl is going to need all our help and probably beyond what we’d happily give. We don’t know how long she’ll be with us, nor how difficult it’s going to be to cope with her, or her with us. She is going to be anxious and miss her mother. It’s going to be a very difficult time for us all.”

I rinsed off the dishes and placed them in the washer, Stella agreed to sort out the table and I went off up to bed. I felt knackered.

I slept fitfully and crawled out at seven to shower, gulped down some cereal and a cuppa and left for Janice’s house. I got there at exactly eight o’clock. She showed me how to get Mima up. To wash her, empty her urine bag and deal with anything in the nappy. Yes, she wore a nappy to catch any faecal material that didn’t wash out with the enema. We did that next, and I wondered how I’d cope with it on my own. Life was certainly going to be different.

After the toileting, we dressed her and I carried her downstairs, where she had some breakfast and Janice and I had a cuppa. I got to learn what her favourite foods were—I’d need to do some shopping, and what she liked to do. She enjoyed playing on the computer and loved being read to.

After lunch, she rested for a bit, I did the leg exercises and she rested some more. At tea, she ate some sandwiches and then we played snakes and ladders. Finally, another enema, a wash and off to bed for the night, with a story.

I was exhausted and Janice smiled at my yawning. “How do you cope on your own?” I asked her.

“I have to, I don’t have a choice.”

“I suppose not. What does Lawrie say about it?”

“He’s quite pragmatic about it, but then he’s not had to deal with it himself, except in worrying about his favourite girl.”

“When did he last see her?”

“About six months ago. I half dreaded him coming home, because she’ll hardly recognise him. It’s going to be hard work.”

“Could he not find something nearer home?”

“Not at the salary he gets now, plus health insurance and so on. However, it didn’t save him from being shot.”

“No,” I said agreeing with her.

“His boss, says they think it was a robbery gone wrong.”

“Not terrorism, then?”

“It’s always possible, I suppose.”

“Is there something you’re not telling me?”

“Yeah, Lawrie is a bit of a philanderer.”

“Oh, poor you.”

“Well, I’m not with him, so what can I expect?”

“Fidelity?”

“He’s a normal hot blooded bloke.”

“I thought adultery was punishable by various horrible methods?”

“If they catch you.”

“Well yes,” I agreed.

“I wonder if it was someone’s father or husband who popped off at him?”

“Oh goodness, how awful?”

“Exactly.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 469

For Geoff, welcome back.

Finally, the big day came. I crawled out of bed to help Janice get Jemima ready to come to us. Actually, she was all ready, breakfasted and bathed and dressed. I took yet another load of stuff out to the car, then Janice’s case, then we brought out the wheelchair with its precious cargo.

Mima held on to my neck as I lifted her inside the car and fastened her into her car seat with booster cushion. She looked as if she was doing a parachute jump, wearing a plastic helmet not unlike a parachutist’s. Her skull would take several months to heal, so she needed to protect it from any trauma.

Janice took her hand luggage around to her side of the car then dashed back and kissed Mima. I was eventually able to drive away some moments later. We arrived at the airport about half an hour after. Janice would have three hours to kill before she managed to board the aircraft, but at least she didn’t have to worry about parking fees, which are exorbitant.

As she left the car, there were numerous tears, but I’d stopped crying by the time I got back in and drove off. Mima was very good, she looked bemused as she said goodbye to her mother, the first time they had ever really been separated, except during her recent hospitalisation.

“We go see bow wow, now, Caffy?”

“Yes, Mima, we’ll go and see the bow wow, but no running her down in your wheelchair.”

“Yes, Caffy.” She sighed and we set off for Tom’s house. I had managed to copy a CD of childrens’ songs, which I played as we drove. We sang along to them, although some were new to me, Mima seemed to know them all. Her volume control still seemed stuck at half power and it was quite a touching performance rather than the windscreen shattering one I was expecting. It now seemed entirely possible that we wouldn’t need to summon the vet to repair Kiki’s shattered eardrums after all.

I’d love to see her walk again; damage my ears—I wasn’t in such a rush to experience. We chatted and she sang along with the songs until I drove into Tom’s drive. I hoped we had everything we needed—if not, things would have to do.

I opened the front door then went back to release the prisoner and push her to her temporary home. Stella was waiting to help me get the wheelchair over the step, I’d need to get Tom or Simon to make a temporary ramp for our temporary resident. The alternative was to undo the side gate and take her in through the conservatory, there were no steps to negotiate that way.

Stella made a big fuss of Jemima, who only wanted to see the dog. Kiki was thus summoned and she promptly hid under the dining table. Despite our urgings and tempting with titbits, the dog stayed put—trembling.

Stella, who had gone to make some tea, called me into the kitchen for something or other. I heard a slight bump back in the dining room and rushed back to find Mima lying on the floor—presumably having unstrapped herself, and she had crawled under the table and was rubbing the dogs tummy. The dog’s tail was wagging and Mima was chuckling with delight. It seemed quite possible the dog remembered the wheelchair rather than the child.

Between us, Stella and I managed to keep Mima amused and clean, tidy and fed. I did the physio bit and she complained it hurt her knees. My ears pricked up, she’d not been able to feel these before. I said nothing, but I prayed extra hard, you know, to that God I don’t believe in.

When Tom came home at tea time—he actually came home earlier to see Jemima before she went to bed. She sat on his lap and he read to her. She was asleep with the biggest grin on her face I’d seen since the dummy dormouse was given to her. Mind you, Tom had one too, a real shit-eater—strange expression, but you know what I mean. I wonder does it apply to rabbits?

Tom carried her up to her bed in my room and between us we put her to bed. She was still clinging to the dormouse—maybe I should take it up professionally? I think not, I can’t believe there’d ever be much of a market for deformed dormice.

I served dinner, a cold meal of ham salad with jacket potatoes. I really hadn’t had much time to cook and Stella wasn’t going to if she could avoid it. “Doesn’t Jemima have any grandparents?” asked Tom, munching on a tomato.

“I don’t know, I did mention it to Janice, but she pretended she didn’t hear me. I presume they’re either too far away, or sick, or even dead.”

“Maybe they don’t get on, her husband could have alienated her parents and she retaliated with his, or perhaps fell out with her own family in marrying him. Who knows?” Stella had suggested every likely scenario except imprisonment—and that would have been most improbable. Even if they were in the armed services, they’d have been allowed time off. So I think we had to assume, there were problems with family, why else would she be loaned to us? Not that I was complaining, she was lovely, now the volume control worked.

Stella put the dishes in the washer whilst I collected up the cushions from the lounge floor. Mima had been sitting or lying on them much of the day, with the dopey dog close to her. So it must have been the wheelchair which worried Kiki.

I got to bed and Stella followed me a short time later, getting into my bed as she had been doing for a couple of weeks. I wondered what Mima thought of it. I also wondered what she would tell her mother. Oh, Mummy, Caffy and Ste-wa sweep in the same bed.’ I did try to discuss it with Stella, but she claimed she was too tired to talk, which was interesting because she chattered on about some dress she’d seen on eBay. I drifted off without really taking too much notice.

At one point I dreamt I’d been woken by Mima trying to climb into the bed with us and I’d sent her back to her own bed. Clearly, she couldn’t have walked to my bed anyway, and I wouldn’t have rejected her, so it must have been a nasty dream.

I did look over at her bed and she was fast asleep, so I went for a wee and then back to sleep.

We established a daily ritual of sorting Mima out first then taking it in turns to shower and dress ourselves. Mima’s latest trick was throwing the ball for Kiki, who being a less than intelligent life form, rarely took it back to her to throw again.

Janice called every day, Lawrie was still critical, apparently he’d been shot twice, once in the chest and the second somewhere that would make his eyes water. It would certainly limit his extra-marital activities and possibly enable him to sing soprano in future. That it was perpetrated by an outraged husband or father, seemed highly likely. The downside, was she had no idea how long she’d be away.

We were coping and Tom was revelling in it, even Simon got in on the act. The first weekend he was home they practically fought over who was going to push her wheelchair. In the end I suggested one push on the outward journey and t’other push home. Honestly, men!

It did however, give us time to blitz through the house with the vacuum cleaner, without upsetting the dog or her best friend as they were both out together with the men. They’d gone to feed the ducks, although I suspected a greedy spaniel might just get more than her fair share of it.

I vacuumed, Stella polished and within an hour we were both exhausted and sat ourselves down for a cuppa and a piece of cake. I discovered a certain young lady enjoyed Victoria sponge, so I’d made one. Mima also liked it, but not as much as Stella!

Janice called to say Lawrie was worsening, they’d had to operate to remove one of the bullets and he wasn’t looking well at all. The surgeon was an American, so probably a top flight one, but the bullet had been very close to his heart—hence the need for the operation.

“How is Mima?”

“She’s out with the boys and the dog,” I answered, whilst Stella poured more tea.

“She said about Granpa Tom, when I rang her yesterday. She loves him to read to her.”

“He loves to read to her, he comes home early to do so and he takes a sandwich to work to have a shorter lunch hour.”

“Can I borrow him when I come back?”

“He’s a very messy eater, but his spaniel takes care of much of the mess. They say spaniels love children and old people—they drop the most food.”

“I expect I’d cope,” she laughed.

“Doesn’t Mima have any grandparents of her own?”

“Sorry, Cathy, the lines breaking up, I have to go.” She rang off.

“What’s the matter with you?” asked Stella noting my concerned look.

“Lawrie is getting worse and when I asked about Mima having her own grandparents, Janice rang off.”

“Perhaps she killed them and buried them under the patio?” Stella was so helpful at times. Sadly now, wasn’t one of them.

“Not everyone has such a proclivity to violence, Stella.”

“As who?”

“You—duh?”

“I’m not violent, it wasn’t me, who half killed the bloke who kidnapped me, or fired arrows into visiting illegal aliens.”

“The bloke I kicked, on your training, was trying to kill me, and so were the blokes who got the Agincourt treatment. I never start a fight, Stella.”

“No, but you seem to have a way with finishing them.”

“Maybe, come on we still have work to do…”

“Not before I have another piece of cake.”

“Are you sure you’re pregnant, not just fat?”

“Oh I’m preggers all right.”

“If it’s a girl, you could always call her Victoria,” I suggested.

“After your sponges?”

“No I was thinking of Ms Pendleton, she likes making sponges too.”

“You’re joking?”

“No it’s true, I saw it in the Guardian, I think; she makes them for the men in the cycling team.”

“No wonder that Chris Hoy is so fast, he’s running on Victoria’s sponges,” said Stella and we both laughed.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 470

The men brought Mima and Kiki back about an hour later, it had obviously been raining because the dog was wet and smelt like an old carpet—or is it wet carpets that smell like old dogs? Anyway, Kiki ronked just a bit and I made Tom bath her.

Hark at me, I made Tom bath her. Actually, I did. I simply said, “I’m not having her in the house smelling like that,” and he volunteered to bath her. Maybe someone should have told him there were disadvantages to having a woman in the house. I suppose the regular supply of cooked dinners and someone else to do the washing was compensation enough, he wasn’t complaining as far as I know.

Simon lifted Mima out of her chair, she was smiling despite being a bit wet and cold. “Come on lovely, let’s get you up to the bathroom and warm you up.” I said and Simon carried her up to the bathroom and sat her on the chair there whilst I ran a warm bath for her. I checked the temperature with my elbow, it was okay.

I undressed her and placed her in the bath, after emptying her urine bag. She’d also done a bit of solid waste, but it soon cleaned up and she was giggling in the bath and splashing enough to make more bubbles. At one point she leant backwards and her feet rose up, which surprised me, I’d have expected her legs to be flaccid. I suppose it could be a temporary muscle spasm or some such similar event, but I hoped it wasn’t.

I put a towel on the bathroom floor and lifted her out on to it, by which time I was wet too. We laughed a lot as I dried her, sitting her back in the chair to dry her hair, she was wrapped up in towels like an Egyptian mummy—except they were wrapped in linen.

I dressed her after giving her a quick touch of antiperspirant and talc, neither of which I considered were necessary but she asked for them. I had plenty of clothes for her and Simon had offered to get her any she needed, she’d really wormed her way into his big soft heart.

Finally, I changed my clothes while she sat on the chair in my bedroom watching me. “You have nice cloves, Caffy.”

It’s a little distracting to have to translate what has been said before responding, loses its spontaneity somewhat. “Doesn’t your mummy have nice clothes, too?”

“Not as nice as yours.” I blushed, I did have the frillies on, well Simon was home, might as well tempt or is it tease him? How do you explain to a three or four year old why you’re wearing them?

“I like pretty undies, do you?”

“Oh yes, Caffy, when I’s growed up, I’s be wike you.”

I hope not, was what went through my little brain.

“Come on, Mima, let’s take you down to see the boys,” I smiled at her and she grinned back, her tiny white teeth shining.

“I wike Simon and Gwampy Tom, Caffy,” she chuckled as I picked her up.

“Watch out boys, here she comes,” I called as we went into the lounge.

Simon wolf whistled and Jemima giggled wickedly. Three years old and she knows how to flirt—I’m twenty years older and still learning, maybe she can give me some lessons.

Simon took her off me and sat her down on the cushions, a few minutes later we saw the fruits of Tom and Stella’s labours as they brought in Kiki, all fluffed and blow dried. “I gave Kiki a blow job,” said Stella giggling.

“Watch it, little piggies have big ears,” I cautioned.

“Kiki have a bwow job,” trumpeted Mima.

“See,” I shrugged to Stella who became crimson. Simon chortled and Tom who’d been talking to Mima, looked completely bemused. “Don’t ask,” I said to Tom, who almost visibly shrank back from that very thing. “And you can behave as well, Simon Cameron,” I said firmly.

“You behave, Simon Cama-won,” parroted Mima, giggling.

“And you, Missy, had better behave, too,” I said tickling her. She fell back and bumped her head on the sofa and burst into tears. Oh my God! What have I done?

She rolled backwards off the cushions kicking her legs and squealing. I went to comfort her and suddenly grasped what had happened. “Mima, Mima, it’s okay, you’ll be fine,” I cuddled her and she sobbed, as much from shock as hurt. She calmed down after a couple of minutes.

“Okay, Darling, can you move this leg for me?” I asked and she twitched it. “Good girl, can you move the other one,” and she moved it slightly. I hugged her and wept, had my prayers been answered? On Monday, I’d be down her doctors to find out, and to discover what we do next to maintain the progress. When she went to bed a bit later, I would check to see if she had any sensation returning. Come to think of it she had squealed with laughter when I washed her feet, they had tickled, so she’d said. I didn’t really take it on board, then. I did now. The signs were encouraging, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

I did some ad hoc physio with her, moving her legs and trying to keep the muscle tone as good as I could. The last thing I needed was her to try walking and to fall down and bash her head again. Stella brought over the helmet, and although Jemima protested, she allowed me to put it on her, although it cost me a bed time story, much to Tom’s disgust.

“Mima, Granpa Tom is sad now, he wanted to read you a story when you go to bed, but you seem to want me to do it. How about we let Granpa Tom, read it instead?”

“Awight, Gwampa Tom, can wead my storwy.” She smiled and so did a rather happy old man. Goodness, looking after all these children is tiring.

I made Mima some dinner and she ate it, with ice cream for dessert. As a kid, I remember always having room for ice cream—couldn’t eat any more dinner, but ice cream, that was different.

I’d made her some corned beef hash and shortly afterwards, I sat her on the toilet and she pooed by herself. Again my eyes were a bit wet as I hugged her and congratulated her.

“Is Mima a good girl?” she crowed, knowing the answer only too well.

“Mima, is a lovely girl, a very clever girl. You wait until your mummy finds out how clever you are,” I said hugging her.

“I wike you, Caffy. Will you be my mummy?” she held on to me.

“Mima, you already have a mummy and she loves you very, very much. She’s not with you because she also loves your daddy, who is very ill. Because you’re such a big, clever girl, your mummy knew you would be able to help me look after you.”

“But, she gone ‘n weft Mima,” she cried, clinging to me.

“She hasn’t gone…[Oh shit!]..I mean, she will be back as soon as she can, she’s trying to make your daddy better.”

“Daddy—Mima, no wike Daddy, he gone. Mima want Simon to be daddy.” I was unprepared for this—completely at sea, out of my depth, floundering, drowning even, not helped by the fact that I loved this little cherub rather a lot, but she wasn’t mine—I was acting purely in loco parentis.

“Darling, you have a mummy and a daddy who love you very much. I can’t be your mummy, no matter how much I’d like to, you have a mummy already.” She burst into tears. “Look, Darling, I’ll be your pretend mummy, until your real mummy comes home, and Simon can be your pretend daddy, until your own daddy comes home. How about that?” I knew as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I’d dug my own pit.

“An’ Mima want, Gwampy Tom,” she sobbed.

“You can have a pretend Granpa Tom, as well.”

“Awight,” she sniffed, and I realised I’d been out-manoeuvred by a three year old—shit, and thrice shit! How do they do it? Or do I have this sign which only they can see, which says, SUCKER.

I needed to speak urgently with Simon, preferably away from prying ears. I dried her tears and got her ready for bed, she had a small drink of milk and we cleaned her teeth, then I asked Tom to come and read to her.

I asked Simon to come into the kitchen while I prepared the dinner. “I just got morally blackmailed.”

“By Jemima?”

“Who else? None of you buggers would have got one over on me.”

“So what happened?”

“She asked me to be her mummy and you to be her daddy.”

“Tempting, but I think the originals would have something to say about it.”

“Exactly, although original daddy, sounds in a bad way.” Simon looked shocked as I revealed this. “Janice phoned while you were out, they removed a bullet from near Lawrie’s heart, he’s pretty poorly.”

“Poor chap,” Simon sympathised with the injured man.

“Well, yes, from what Janice told me, it looks as if he’s been a bad egg for some time, so this may be a piece of poetic justice, however hard that seems.”

“With infidelity, or what?”

“Yes, primarily, I don’t know what else he might be guilty of, but certainly she mentioned other women. She thinks one of the husbands might have pulled the trigger, so the Saudi Police won’t be looking too hard for a culprit.”

“Oh dear, chickens always come home to roost.”

“Yeah, well mine might. I promised we’d be pretend parents until her real ones came home.”

“Sounds reasonable.”

“Does it? I thought I’d made an awful mistake. What happens if we allow her to call us mummy and daddy, and her real parents turn up? Especially if this fostering goes on for several weeks?”

“I see, how about Auntie Cathy and Uncle Simon?”

“I don’t think she’ll buy it, she wants a mummy and daddy.”

“Oh dear, old girl, I think you might have lumbered us this time.”

“That’s what I thought, I am sorry.”

He shrugged, “Never mind, you can make it up to me tonight,” he winked.

“Not in front of an audience, I’m not—with my luck, she’ll tell me how to improve my technique.”

Simon looked at me, shook his head and chuckled as he hugged me, “Poor wittle Caffy,” he said.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 471

On Sunday night, Simon and I lay listening to Jemima snoring until our laughing threatened to wake her up. I got out of bed and turned her over on her side and she said quietly, “Mummy Caffy,” which brought a lump to my throat. I stroked her hair and then got back into bed to snuggle down with Simon.

“Did she just say what I thought she said?” he asked quietly.

“And what did you think she said?” I whispered back.

“Mummy Caffy, is what it sounded like to me.”

“She might have been addressing her mother and me, who knows?”

“Given what she said to you earlier, I have my doubts.”

“You always have doubts, Simon.”

“Do I? Not about this,” he leant over and kissed me, then turning me on my back he began to stroke my breast while still kissing me. I certainly won’t say I didn’t enjoy it, and as for Mima giving me lessons, in the heat of the moment I forgot all about her as passion ran its course.

Our grunting and groaning didn’t seem to disturb our sleeping tot, and even when I slipped to the bathroom to clean up, she stayed in the land of nod.

About six o’clock, a little voice called, “Mummy,” my brain wasn’t engaged or conditioned to respond while unconscious, so it took a second call of, “Mumm—meee,” and Simon to nudge me—hard before I recognised I was being summoned.

I yawned and sat up in bed, “Hello, precious.”

“Mummy, me wanna poo.”

“Okay, I’ll take you to the loo.” I scrambled out of bed and picked her out of hers and after removing the nappy, sat her on the toilet. She actually did want to go and I praised her for controlling it and for calling me instead of using the nappy. It also confirmed my suspicion that some form of nerve recovery was happening.

“Look, Uncle Simon, Mima is a clever girl, she did a poo down the loo.”

“Not Unkie Simon, Daddy Simon,” corrected Jemima.

“Looks like you’ve been outvoted, Mummy Caffy,” said Simon with a big smirk on his face.

“Would you like to come for a cuddle with Simon and me?”

“Pwease,” said Mima, “Mima wanna dwink,” was added as I placed her on the bed.

“Okay, I’ll get you something.” I left her with Simon and went off to get her cup and pop some juice in it. I shoved the lid back on and took it up to the bedroom to find both the occupants of my bed, fast asleep. I sighed and got back in, which woke Jemima up – of course it would. I passed her the drink, which she gobbled down like a sewer. Then she got hiccups and finally a large burp, which made her giggle and I felt the bed move as Simon sniggered.

“Don’t encourage her, I don’t want my pretend daughter turning into a ladette,” I said firmly to Simon. “I thought you were asleep,” I added for good measure.

“No the thunder woke me,” he laughed and I presumed he referred to our visitor’s uncouth behaviour. “Didn’t you make any coffee?”

“You want coffee, you make it.”

“I can’t, I’m cuddling with my new girlfriend,” he sniggered.

“Simon, it’s half past six on a Sunday morning…”

“So, you’ve been up half an hour, you could have made two lots of coffee in that time.”

“What!” I almost exploded.

“Pwease,” he said in a pathetic voice, “Well it worked for someone else.” I laughed and lost the argument which was how I came to be making coffees all round and when Tom found me.

“I thought I heard someone about.”

“Yes, Mima woke me, she wanted a poo.”

“Oh,” he nodded.

“Given that she couldn’t control any of her lower body functions before she came here, I feel very encouraged.”

“Yes indeed, it may come back to normal then?”

“I sincerely hope so, poor little mite.”

“This business of her calling you mummy, is it really wise?”

“No, but I don’t seem able to stop her. I addressed Simon as Uncle Simon, and she corrected me to Daddy Simon.”

“I wonder what her real mother is going to say about it?”

“I know, at the same time, if we can get her walking again before her mother comes home, I suspect she’ll forgive us.”

“Yes, wouldn’t that be rather splendid.”

“I thought it would be absolutely brrrrrrrilliant,” I said in a fake Scots accent.

“Aye, hen, it wouldnae be bad,” Tom retaliated.

“Do I look as if I lay eggs?”

“Aye, jist a wee bitty.”

“Am I bovvered?”

“I dinna ken.”

“Coffee?” I asked pouring out three cups.

“Pwease, Caffy,” he said, chortling.

“Carry on if you want hot coffee stains on those clothes.”

“You wouldn’t—you would, wouldn’t you?”

“Never doubt it,” I said, smirking. I wouldn’t have, but it made him think twice.

I made some tea for myself and took the remaining beverages up the stairs, giving a mug to Stella before going back to the bedroom. Simon sat up to receive his coffee and I gave Mima a banana, before I got back into bed and sat up to sip my tea,

She wriggled towards me and lay hugging me while smearing banana over both of us. I hoped it wouldn’t stain the silk of my rather nice nightdress. “Mima, wuv you, Mummy.”

“I love you too, sweetheart,” I said, feeling absolutely choked. I stroked her hair and felt a tear run down my cheek.

We lay together for about quarter of an hour before I decided it was time to get up, just then Stella waltzed in, “Are we having a sleep-in for peace, or some other noble cause?” she asked, crawling into the bed next to Simon, who grumbled at his sister.

“And how is our little cherub?” she asked Jemima.

“Mima wuv, Mummy,” she responded, hugging me even tighter.

“Oh, like that is it?” said a rather disgruntled Stella. “I hope that’s not storing up trouble.”

“So do we,” answered Simon, “we haven’t encouraged it, but our efforts to distract it are ignored.”

“Could prove interesting when repossession comes about,” Stella said and got back out of bed. “Anyone for breakfast?”

“If you’re doing a fry up, I might be interested,” said Simon.

“I’m not, but Tom is.”

“Shoulda known you wouldn’t, you can’t tell streaky from back.” Simon hurled this insult at his sister.

“I don’t eat either,” she poked out her tongue at him and left the room.

“Come on, Mima, lets get you sorted,” I said and another day got officially under way. It was still only seven on a Sunday morning.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 472

I waited in vain for Janice to call, she certainly didn’t on Sunday. I wanted to know who was Jemima’s doctor. I thought she’d left me the information, but when I checked the envelope was empty. I gave her the benefit of the doubt, she’d been so busy, dashing off to see Lawrie.

I asked Stella who we should contact and she suggested it would be a paediatrician somewhere in the main hospital. I called the paediatric department first thing on Monday, well as soon as I’d got Mima sorted.

Frustration didn’t describe how I felt, people wanted to know the ins and outs of a cat’s backside and yet they wouldn’t tell me anything. All I wanted was some advice.

“Who did you say you were?”

Okay, let’s try this one, “Lady Catherine Cameron.”

“And who did you want to speak to?”

“The secretary to the paediatrician supervising Jemima Scott.”

There was a pause and I was put through to a different person, “Hello, Dr Rose’s secretary…” At last. I explained what was happening, and she listened carefully. “I’ll need to call you back after I’ve spoken to Dr Rose,” that was it. I had finally got through to them.

Half an hour later the phone rang, it was Dr Rose. “Hello, Lady Cameron, how can I help?”

I explained the situation, and my need for his advice.

“So Jemima is improving, and you’re sort of fostering her?”

“Yes, today she was trying to crawl around the floor.”

“Goodness, she is doing well, look, bring her in this afternoon at half past one and I’ll ask one of the physios to come down as well.”

“Outpatients?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.”

“No, thank you, I hope this is going to be one of those miracle recoveries. See you later, goodbye.”

I liked the sound of this man, he had a kindly voice and a caring manner. I told Jemima and she giggled and kicked her legs. Stella who’d been supervising her, offered to come with us, so I set about organising an early lunch.

I’d made fresh bread on Sunday and put in another batch to cook while we were out. With Jemima, we were eating even more bread than before, or was it simply Tom and Simon, wolfing it down.

I did us a cottage pie, well I defrosted it—it was one I’d made earlier and frozen. I did some veg and we ate an hour before we were due at the hospital. Mima was now continent of both faeces and urine, Stella had removed her catheter, and she was pleased to show us what a big girl she was, even though we had to carry her to the loo. I was feeling so proud of her.

We arrived at the hospital and I gave Mima’s name to the receptionist, she phoned someone and a rather nice, tall man in a white coat came out of a room and invited us in.

I lay Mima on the couch and he examined her, checking reflexes in her feet and legs. Each time she shrieked with laughter and he laughed too. “Right little girl, it looks as if you are going to make a full recovery. Now we need to build you up and get you walking again.”

I explained that I had fibbed about my name, because my real one wasn’t getting me anywhere. He laughed, but took details of where Mima was staying at Tom’s.

“How long have you got her?”

“I don’t know, her mother hasn’t phoned so I hope nothing has gone wrong out in Saudi Arabia.”

“With the father?”

“Yes, he was supposed to be rather poorly after surgery.”

“You could always call the Saudi embassy or the Foreign Office. The F.O. should know if an ex-pat has been injured. If he croaked, his widow might be glad of some positive news.”

“Yes, I’ll see if Henry has any contacts.”

“Henry?”

“Viscount Cameron, my future father in law.”

“Ah, would save some time I expect. Anyway, see physio, they’re expecting you and bring her back in a fortnight.”

“Thanks so much,” I said and we shook hands. I picked up Mima and we went off to physiotherapy, where a lady name Donna examined Mima and began to do some work with her. She then showed me what to do, and we were to do it everyday.

“What about if she wants to walk?”

“As long as she wants to, let her try, but don’t try to hurry the process. The last time I saw this little lamb, I thought she was going to end up in the mint sauce—if you take my meaning?”

“That baaaad?” I said smiling, she laughed and nodded.

Whilst Mima and I were in with Donna, Stella was trying to get hold of her father on her mobile. I pushed the wheelchair out into the corridor and Stella waved to us, Mima kicked her legs and waved back giggling.

“I have a name and a number, let’s get back to the car and try it.”

I had no better ideas, so that’s what we did. I called a Mr Pearson, who was some sort of senior flunky in the Middle East bureau. I dialled the number and a man answered. It was him. I explained the position.

“Right, as you’ll appreciate we have rather a lot of ex pats living or working in the Kingdom or Saudi Arabia. Not all of them are known to us.”

“He’s supposed to working with their defence department.”

“In which case we should know, Lawrence Scott, you said?”

“Yes, he was supposedly shot and in hospital there.”

“Not according to the computer, when did this happen?”

“Nearly a week ago.”

“Well we should have been notified within a day at most unless it was a religious holiday, but even then our blokes out there send us the info. The hospital calls them in and they do what they can and tell us what’s what. Unless there’s something hush hush about this chap, we don’t have any notification of him even being there.”

“But, but that’s impossible, I’m looking after their daughter, I took his wife to the airport.”

“Which airline?”

“BA.”

“Which day?”
So I told him, and what time the flight was suppose to depart. “You know, if I didn’t know this enquiry was kosher, I’d be sending the police round to you.”

“Whatever for?”

“I have the passenger list for that day and the one either side, there was no Janice Scott on any of them.”

“But I’m looking after their daughter?”

“Is it their kid? Looks like they’ve done a runner, unless the information you’ve been given and passed on to me is wrong somehow.”

“Surely, someone wouldn’t just dump their child on a relative stranger, would they?”

“I have no idea, Lady Cameron, but I urgently suggest you call the police.”

“Yes, I suppose I had better do that as soon as we get home.”

Stella looked alarmed, “How come as soon as you get involved, life becomes more complicated?”

“Pass. Come on, we need to get Mima home and down for a rest, she’s had a busy day.” I looked in the rear view mirror and spotted her yawning.

An hour later, I made a cup of tea for Stella and me and the two police officers who were sitting in the dining room. It was going to be a long day, and what happens if Social Services want to take Mima into care? If there is some mistake and I got something wrong about Janice and Lawrie, this is going to get very messy and Mima will never forgive me.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 473

I carried the tea through to the dining room along with a tin of biscuits. “Where is the child now?” asked the woman detective.

“She’s upstairs having a nap after the hospital visit.” I said defensively, “Don’t worry, there is a child, a little girl, who was injured in a RTA a few weeks ago.”

“That’s not the one where the driver claimed the mother directed her daughter out in front of him?” postulated the older, uniformed copper.

“How do I know? I stopped after the event, and with the help of one of your colleagues, got her breathing again.”

“Didn’t you recognise her?” asked the woman reading some notes.

“I saw the mother, then the child under the car or van or whatever it was, and I twigged as I started the CPR. I can’t remember, it was all over in a moment and I must admit I was operating on adrenaline the same as everyone else.”

“Then you went to visit?”

“Well some bloke arrived with a big bunch of flowers and thanked me for saving his grandchild.”

“Can you describe him?”

“Not really, he was mostly hidden by the flowers, I can’t remember him, sorry.”

“Okay, so how did you end up with the little girl?”

“I went to see her in hospital and she remembered me, we’ve met a few times and I showed her around the university, my laboratory, where I have some dormice.”

“So she was known to you?”

“An acquaintance, with a nice touch in decibels.” I said wryly and Stella nearly choked on her tea.

“This is funny?” asked the woman cop.

“It used to be. Jemima had a voice like a foghorn on steroids, it’s actually got quieter since her accident. She terrified the dormice, took us weeks to calm them down.”

“It was a bit silly showing them to her,” said the cop.

“You don’t have children?” I asked although it was almost a rhetorical question because it was obvious she wasn’t child oriented.

“No, my career is my child,” she said almost sneeringly.

“I thought mine was too, having had Jemima a week, I’m not so sure anymore.” I stared wistfully at Stella, who smiled sympathetically.

“Social Services will be here in an hour to collect the child,” announced the woman cop.

“Will they?” I asked.

I nodded to Stella, who rose from her chair, and asked, “Anyone for more tea?”

As she went to leave the room she was challenged by the woman cop, “And where do you think, you’re going?”

“Am I under arrest?” she retorted.

“No,” said the cop.

“Well then, in my own home, I think I can go where I like without permission.”

“Please don’t leave the house or touch the child.”

“Child? What is this with child, her name is Jemima.” I said angrily wanting to knock her head off.

“Very well, Jemima, don’t go near Jemima.”

“Hang on a minute, before we go any further, I called you in, in good faith. I agreed to foster Jemima in the same good faith. Admittedly, I assumed there were no problems with her other than the medical ones she has. So as far as I am concerned, I am responsible for her.”

“We’ll see what social services have to say about that,” said the woman, to whom I was taking an active dislike.

Stella left the room and I hoped was making several phone calls. With a bit of luck Henry played bridge with the Director of Social Services. I found myself praying silently.

Ten minutes later, Stella came in with a fresh pot of tea. I’d amused myself by telling my story of Jemima’s coming here yet again. I half expected them to want to see the wheel marks in Kiki’s coat, although that was from an earlier visit.

As Stella poured the tea, she winked at me. I accepted the gesture as a good sign. The woman cop’s phone rang, and she excused herself to answer it.

“Can we see the child?” she asked when she came back in, she looked flushed.

“Of course you may see Jemima. Follow me.” I said and led them upstairs.

“Mima, I’ve brought some people to see you, I hope you’re awake.”

“Mima, I thought her name was Jemima?”

“It is, it’s a diminutive,” is this woman stupid or am I?

I led them in to the room and Jemima had managed to pull herself into a sitting position, she was getting stronger by the day.

“Why is this child in her underwear?” asked the cop.

“She’s in bed, do you go fully dressed?” I asked back in astonishment. I knew for sure who was stupid.

“I wuv you Mummy Caffy,” said this small voice and a beaming smile.

“I love you too, sweetheart. Can this lady and gent have a little talk with you?”

Jemima nodded emphatically. I gave her a hug and was going to sit her on my lap.

“Miss Watts, if you wouldn’t mind standing away from erm, Jemima.” I did so but the look on Jemima’s face was far from pleased, her bottom lip trembled.

“All right, luvvie, is this lady your mother?” the cop pointed at me.

Of course, Jemima nodded. The cop looked at me and her eyes narrowed.

“She decided she wanted to call me mummy a few days ago. I wasn’t entirely happy because as far as I was concerned the post was already filled by someone else. However, she has persisted and what Jemima wants, she seems to get.”

The woman cop’s eyes narrowed again. “Do you have another mummy?”

Jemima shook her head vigorously, no. My stomach flipped.

“What about Mummy Janice?” I asked and got a hard stare from the cop.

“She goed, you Mima’s mummy.”

I shrugged my shoulders, the cop wasn’t happy. She asked several questions but Mima wasn’t answering them to her satisfaction, well she is only three. She did manage to say she had a daddy, but he’d, “goed too.”

At this point we heard a noise from downstairs and Tom arrived. He was questioned and had a better recollection of our various encounters with Jemima.

I toileted her and gave her a sandwich to eat after her snooze, Stella made her a drink. I offered to show them where Janice and Jemima had lived when I visited them. I left Mima with Stella and Tom and drove off with one of the police with me and the other following behind in a squad car.

We stopped outside the house and I trotted up the path, I gasped as I looked through the window, it was bare of furnishings and a ‘To Let’ sign was positioned near the door.

“They’ve obviously moved and you didn’t notice, or is this some elaborate plan to acquire this child without the legal adoption process?”

“Look, a week or two ago I visited Jemima here, I helped to look after her to give Janice a chance to do some chores. I took her to the airport from here. I don’t know what is going on any more than you do, but if I was trying to harm or keep the child illegally, why in God’s name did I call you lot?”

“To make it look legitimate?”

“Oh for Chrissake, grow up. I want what is best for Jemima. I’d have thought that was with her natural parents, now I’m not so sure. Look, call the estate agents, see if they have any information, their office is only about a mile away.”

I pulled out my mobile and dialled the number on the board and gave it to the cop. She arranged to go straight there. I followed them. “This is a police investigation,” she said nastily.

“Yeah, well I’m doing my own investigating and seeing as you lot couldn’t find pee in a pot, I’m coming in too.” Before she could say anything to stop me, I marched into the office and started asking the woman behind the desk about the house. The woman copper was outraged but her colleague was stifling a smirk, so she obviously wasn’t much liked by her colleagues.

The house had been rented by the Scotts, the young woman remembered them, he was quite a bit older than her. I wondered if that was who brought the flowers, but I kept the thought to myself—let Miss Plod think of it for herself.

There had been references, all forged, even the bank one. The rent was unpaid and it appears they did a moonlit flit. The police borrowed the keys and I followed them back to the house. I showed them where Janice had slept and the other rooms I’d entered. We all looked about the place for any bits of paper and to my astonishment, there was a letter addressed to me on the mantelpiece of the lounge.

The woman cop opened it wearing latex gloves and read it to herself, her lips moved as she read, why did that surprise me? Then she read it to me.

’Dear Lady Catherine,
If you’ve discovered this note, you will be aware we are no longer here. We are no longer in the country, so don’t bother looking for us. I was so glad you offered to look after Jemima, she’s a bit of a tie, especially with no legs and I suspect you’ll make a better mother than me. So you can have her, gratis and free of charge. To them what has will be given, eh? Well you have more than we do, and if you adopt her, she’ll be Lady Jemima, she’ll like that.
Yours,
Janice Scott.
PS There’s no fingerprints or
DNA on this.

“We’ll see about that,” said the woman copper and shoved it in a plastic bag.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 474

When I got home I was met by a social worker and a doctor. They examined Jemima and decided that she was in good health apart from the head injury, which was healing as was the use in her legs.

I suggested they speak to Dr Rose, and the doctor did. He came back suggesting that Dr Rose was in favour of me retaining custody of the child although I had to consent to unscheduled visits by a social worker or health visitor. I also had to apply to be checked by the Criminal Records Office, which would cost me so much and take a month. I suggested that Jemima should remain with me unless they discovered evidence that I was an unfit person to foster a child.

Again the doctor called Dr Rose, who said he would vouch for me. I was quite touched by this show of faith by someone I’d only met once. When I learned he had argued that Jemima was already quite traumatised and thus to remove her from someone who she regarded as her maternal figure, would cause unnecessary suffering on the part of the child. A child—he pointed out, who had suffered significantly already. She had bonded with me very quickly, much to my surprise.

So it was a pragmatic decision by the childcare authorities. I wasn’t a known child murderer or felon, at least locally, so they let Mima stay, for the moment. In fact the older policemen who had been with Miss Grumpy Drawers detective, called to ask me some questions the next day.

I had Jemima sat on a child’s bike, Tom had procured and was trying to improvise some form of static exerciser. “Ah, a mediaeval torture implement,” he said trying to keep a straight face.

“Only on the Tour de France,” I replied.

“Are you a cyclist?” he asked.

“When I have time, there isn’t much available at the moment, not since this scruffy urchin entered my life. Why do you ask?”

“I wondered if you knew my niece, Anne Sommers?”

“The nurse and triathlon specialist, yes, I’ve ridden with Anne a few times.”

He smiled at me, then said, “You have a bit of form, don’t you?”

“If I do it’s news to me?” I said aghast.

“Yes, rescuing a baby from a burning car; catching a bag snatcher; rescuing a woman trafficked by a sex ring; seeing off a would be kidnapper at the university; fighting off an attack by Russian Mafiosi at this house. Shall I continue?”

“I think that’s about it?”

“We spoke to some of your undergraduates, you helped save your fiance’s life when he was shot by poachers, you represented a student who was seriously ill with AIDS, you save this child’s life—in short, shouldn’t we be looking in the book of saints than the CRO?”

“No, I maybe more sinned against than sinner, but I’m no saint nor angel. I only did what anyone would have done in similar circumstances.”

“Like pulling a kid out of a burning upside down car?”

“I had to be pulled out of that myself,” I blushed as I remembered the incident.

“With the child though,” he smiled.

“Dunno, I was a bit overcome with fumes.”

“I have the report from the child’s parents.”

“Can’t remember, anyway what’s that got to do with here and now?”

“Did you know your father in law is a very good friend of the Chief Constable, and head of the county police authority not to mention most of the great and good all the way up to the Lord Chancellor?”

“No it doesn’t surprise me, Henry is a very sociable fellow.”

“Sociable, his address book is like Who’s Who.”

“So, mine isn’t, I can show you if you don’t believe me.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary, Lady Catherine.”

“It’s just plain Cathy Watts, at the moment.”

He looked at me with a kindly expression, “I don’t think plain is an adjective I’d ever use to describe you, my dear.” I said nothing but felt very warm.

“Come on, pet, let’s give you a little drink and a rest. Would you care for a coffee or tea?” I asked the copper, carrying Jemima into the kitchen I placed her in her high chair and passed her the cup.

“Fank you, Mummy,” she said and drank it very quickly, giving a tremendous burp at the end. I tried not to smile as it only encouraged her, however the copper chuckled and she then laughed.

“Only rude little girls make such vulgar noises,” I said trying to show disapproval. She laughed even more.

I made a tray of tea and the copper carried it into the dining room, where I put Jemima on a sofa to snooze. We sat at the table and talked.

“What was that you said about her being directed into the road?” I asked.

“Oh that, the bloke who ran her over said her mother pointed at the other side of the road and the child ran out even though he was very close and felt the mother must have seen him.”

“But she might have just pointed out a nice tree or a dog or something and Jemima ran out before she could stop her.”

“The driver said she made no attempt to stop her.”

“She might have been paralysed with fear or something?”

“Nice try, just plain Cathy Watts, you sure you don’t have wings and a harp?”

“What?”

“Well you seem to see the best in people.”

“I grew up with hypercritical parents.”

“I heard your father abused you.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“And he wasn’t too pleased about having a daughter instead of a son.”

“Where did you get that from?”

“There is quite a lot about you out there if you know how to collect it.”

“Obviously. My father beat me a few times, that was all.”

“I heard he half killed you.”

“Once he beat me quite hard, yes.”

“Couldn’t cope with your change of lifestyle, eh?”

“I suppose it was something like that, although we were reconciled before he died.”

“After his stroke?”

“Bloody hell, where did you get all this?”

“Don’t worry, none of this will be made official unless Detective Pratt finds it out and most of the time she couldn’t switch on a computer, let alone find anything on the internet—including the clip with the dormouse, very funny, that.”

I should have known it was coming, but I blushed and laughed at the mention of my moment of immortality.

“So what don’t you know about me?”

“Why the interest in dormice and why aren’t you a supermodel or film star?”

“I’ve always loved nature, I feel happier out walking in the woods or countryside than I do teaching in a university. Supermodel or actress, me? Don’t be daft, besides Caroline Cossey achieved it and what good did it do her?”

“Who is Caroline Cossey?” he asked.

“Someone a bit like me who became a Bond girl, only she is beautiful apart from a rather deep voice.”

“Don’t underestimate yourself, I have to go and catch criminals. We have nothing much more on the missing parents, if we do, I’ll try and let you know.” As he left he handed me his business card, PC Andrew Bond, ?I smiled when I read it.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 475

Mima woke as I was preparing some lunch for us. Stella was at the university helping Pippa with some more filing, so she said. I’d enjoyed my chat with PC Bond, although I still chuckled at the name, although he was unlikely to ever come across his namesake – the demon racer in Maddy Bell’s Gaby stories.

“Mum-meee, Mima wanna wee wee,” called a voice from the dining room.

“Okay, sweetheart, I’m coming.” I darted into the dining room and Mima was standing up holding onto the sofa. “Who’s a clever girl then?” I said as I hugged her, then lifted her off to the cloakroom.

When she’d finished I wiped her hands in a flannel and dried them, then I took her through to the kitchen and placed her in her highchair and popped a bib around her.

“I’ve made us some macaroni cheese with some banana splits for afters, how about that?”

“Okay,” she piped and I put the dish of macaroni in front of her. Finding out what she would eat or not was an experiment, from which I suspected Kiki would be the major beneficiary.

She poked the strange white worms with her spoon and looked at me uncertainly. I started to eat mine and made ‘yummy’ noises. She wasn’t convinced.

I got her to try a little spoonful and she made a face. Oh dear, oh well Kiki won’t mind. I tried a few times, but she wasn’t going to eat it. In the end, I made her a jam sandwich, actually a bread doorstep cut into fingers and spread with jam, what the Scots call a jeely piece, cut into fingers or soldiers.

She ate some of that, then demanded her banana split. Was I beginning to see why Janice had apparently done a runner. Most of that was eaten and again Kiki cleaned up the leftovers.

At least she had eaten something, and she had previously eaten cooked dinners, so maybe I’d cope somehow after all, assuming she was allowed to stay.

When she had her afternoon nap, I contacted a solicitor who dealt with adoption cases and family law, according to his blurb in Yellow Pages. I explained the situation to him and he commented on how unusual it was—and that was without explaining my background. We agreed that I should visit him as soon as possible, which was at four that afternoon. It was nearly two already.

I checked on Sleeping Beauty and dashed upstairs and washed and changed, put on a suit and my boots, combed my hair and threw on some makeup and a squirt of perfume. I dashed down just in time for a voice to yell, “Mummeeeee, Mima wanna poo-poo.” There were definite draw backs to this parenting lark. I toileted her, and changed her into something warmer, combed her hair and popped a hat on, which she immediately removed. I shrugged and combed her hair again.

I carried her out to the car and after putting the pushchair in the boot, grabbed my bag and keys and off we went to meet Mr Rushton Henstridge, solicitor. I managed to park in the private carpark of his office and pushed Mima in the chair inside. It was two minutes to four.

She sat quietly for a moment, looking around the waiting room, “Mima wanna drink.” I fished in the large bag I had and pulled out her cup, switched lids on it from the sealed one to the one with a spout, and passed it to her. She gobbled it down and gave a massive burp just as Mr Henstridge came out of his office, she then giggled at her own cleverness.

Henstridge looked at her then at me, blushing like a light bulb, a smirk crossed his face, which he quickly corrected. Mima getting no response dropped her cup on the floor of the office. It rolled towards Henstridge who picked it up and handed it to me.

“Miss Watts, I presume?”

“I am, Mr Henstridge?”

“That, I am.” We shook hands and he steered me into his office, with me of course steering the pushchair. Inside his office were the usual shelves of legal tomes, but much to my surprise in the corner was a box of toys.

I had forgotten to strap Mima into her pushchair, and was horrified to see her stand rather shakily and stagger to the box of toys, where she plonked on a bean bag and began sorting through them.

“Are you all right, Miss Watts?”

“Um, yes, I am.”

“You looked a bit shocked.”

“Well yes I am, she hasn’t walked for a month, since she was hit by a car.”

“Goodness, no wonder she was a bit unsteady, she obviously forgot she couldn’t.”

“She’s been getting sensation back and started moving her legs and earlier on she stood for a few moments, but walk—she hadn’t until just now.” I wiped away a small tear.

“I am pleased for both of you. She seems quite settled for a few minutes, so let’s see if I got everything down accurately.” He had and I then told him some more.

“That you’re going to be marrying Lord Cameron, must be in your favour, might even pay you to hurry things up a bit, if you do plan on adopting her, or at least fostering her long term.”

“Ah, we have a slight problem there.”

“What’s that, his family wanting a big society wedding?”

“Um, not exactly. We can’t just yet, for legal reasons.”

“Oh, he got a previous divorce to sort out?”

“No, nor have I?”

“So what is it then?”

I said very quietly, “I’m still legally a man.”

“Okay,” he paused, “Is this a joke, Miss Watts?”

“No, I’m transsexual, and I have to wait a couple more months to qualify to change my birth registration to female. Then I can legally marry. Simon and his family know all about it, and it isn’t a problem.”

“Goodness! I must congratulate you on your appearance, I’d never have guessed.”

“Will that have a bad effect on our case?”

“I think we’d have to declare it, because if we don’t they could accuse us of withholding information, however, these days with all the anti-discriminatory legislation, we will probably be able to bluster through. I’ll call a barrister friend and get an opinion for you. Is this a legal aid case?”

“No, I have an income, although obviously it isn’t that enormous and I do have another face to feed.”

“Of course, no, it’ll be a couple of hundred, I expect. It’s if he represents you at a hearing it gets expensive—but he’s pretty hot stuff, and we haven’t lost a case yet.”

“I hope we’re not the first,” I muttered under my breath.

“I don’t think so,” he replied and I blushed.

“Mummmeee, Mima wanna wee wee,” came the dulcet tones.

“Just across the waiting room is a loo, there’s changing facilities in there as well.”

“Thanks, “ I snatched up the wailing infant and trotted to the loo. Two minutes later we were back in the office. Mr Henstridge was on the phone, he waved us in.

“Yes, Oliver, the lady in question used to be a man, but is due to get legal re-registration as female in a couple of months. The child has bonded, calls her Mummy and they are good together. Hold on…Are you post operative?” He asked me.

“Yes, nearly a year ago.”

“Yes a year ago, I see, yeah, I thought the same, the parents dumped the kid on her or the mother did, on the pretext of going to see seriously sick husband abroad. Phoned for a few days then disappeared. Police have been involved as have social services. About a month or so ago, the little girl was hit by a car and lost the use of her legs, it’s just coming back, she walked for the first time in my office. The only reason Miss Watts, has custody is because of the support of the paediatrician in the case. Is that right?” he asked me.

“Yes, I believe so.”

“Yeah, okay I’ll tell her, thanks, bye.” He put the phone down. “He thinks we have a chance, but we go for fostering not adoption, and you bring your fiancé along to the hearing when it happens.”

“Yes, I’m sure he’d want to be there anyway, so will her foster grampy, Professor Agnew, who has sort of adopted me. My parents died fairly recently and I’d been living in Prof Agnew’s house for a while. I was a student of his and now work at the university, although I’m on secondment to DEFRA.”

“I think you might have to think again about that if you want to foster Jemima, she’ll be a full-time job, so effectively, you’ll have to decide if you want to have a career or a child.”

I was in shock, though I don’t know why, it’s rather obvious if one thinks about it. Naturally, I hadn’t thought, I was just reacting to life. My stomach felt in total turmoil, knotting and unknotting at a pace of knots.

“Mummy, wook,” Jemima held up a doll, “a do-wee, Mummy.”

“Yes dear,” I said, “a dolly.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 476

I felt so unsure of everything for a moment. I had just put Mima back into the car, she still had the dolly—she wouldn’t give it back, so I suppose he’ll add that to the bill. I was looking at a spectrum which could encompass losing Mima anytime the council decided to take her off me, to fostering her for up to the time she leaves home as an adult. Quite a wide variation in both our fortunes. As for adoption, that wouldn’t be an issue for some time and presupposed successful fostering.

On the other side of the coin, my career could end up on hold for anything from a few days to years, mirroring what happened with Mima. Which should be more important?

If one looked at it cold-bloodedly, Mima was no blood relative, so my career could reasonably come first. However, here was a defenceless child who fate had dumped in my lap, who needed protection and nurturing, and who had somehow become bonded with me. I’d seen it with goslings when we did experiments on them at Sussex—they follow the first ‘animate’ object they see, because they are programmed to. As that object would usually be a mother, occasionally their father, it works most of the time. However, it can go wrong, and they have been tricked into following a balloon.

How much of Mima’s bonding was conditioned or purely innate survival mechanisms, I have no idea—for some reason they won’t let us experiment on children. But her mechanisms weren’t the issue here were they, it was mine that were the problem. What did I want out of this?

“Mummmmeeeee, dowee, wants a dwink.”

“I’m sorry, darling, dolly will have to wait until we get home, and we need to go shopping first.”

“MummMMEEE, dowee needs a dwink, NOW!”

“Please don’t raise your voice to me, Jemima, I don’t like it and I won’t accept it. Dolly can have a drink when we get home.”

“Mummeeee cwuell to dowee.” She began to sob loudly.

“You ain’t seen nothin’ et kid. I tortured hundreds of fruit flies when I was an undergraduate, just ‘cos I wanted their DNA. So don’t push your luck.” I muttered to myself.

I put my cogitations on hold and set off for the local supermarket. With Jemima stuffed into the seat of the shopping trolley, I pushed her around the aisles, still crying and waving dolly at me. I got some black looks from several shoppers, who assumed I was a child murderer selecting my next victim. Thank goodness we didn’t bump into an off duty social worker or health visitor.

She was still whimpering when we went through the checkouts, “What’s the matter cutie-pie?” asked the middle aged woman serving us.

“Mummy won’t give dowee a dwink,” was said amidst copious sobs and snorts, followed by hiccups.

“Naughty mummy,” said the woman, to whom I was beginning to take an active dislike.

“Would you like to borrow her, say for twenty years?” I asked facetiously.

“What a dreadful thing to say?” said the seemingly outraged checkout assistant.

“I’m only looking after her until I can sell her to a white slaver, keep your eye on ebay.”

“That’s a dreadful thing to say,” she said accusingly.

“Well you’re accusing me of being naughty, I’m just living up to expectations.”

“I was joking, madam, humouring your daughter.”

“She isn’t mine, I found her on a bus on the way here.”

“Now you’re being ridiculous.”

“Yes, I frequently am, can I pay the bill so I can take her home and drown her with the rest of the litter.”

“You don’t deserve to have such a lovely child.”

“Probably not, but I told you she’s not mine, I bought her in a baby shop.”

“Dear little sweetheart, your mummy says awful things about you, do you want to come home with me, instead?”

“No,” said Mima, and to emphasise the point bashed her on the head with dolly. “Mima go home wiv Mummy.”

“Sorry about that,” I said trying not to snigger, “Looks like I’m stuck with her.” I left the supermarket as quickly as I could, the best part was Mima had stopped whingeing presumably dolly now had concussion and didn’t need a drink.

I stowed all the shopping in the car boot and pushed the trolley back to the collection point and recovered my pound coin. It was only across the width of one of the roads through the car park, so when I’d lifted Mima out and she stood, albeit unsteadily, I asked her if she wanted to walk to the car.

It took a couple of minutes to do what a couple or more months ago, she’d have done in seconds, but she made it. I scooped her up and hugged her, kissing her on the cheek, “You clever girl,” I said and kissed her again.

“Mima, wike, Mummy.”

“Mummy wikes, Mima, too,” I replied.

“Speak pwoperwee,” she protested.

“How about we go home and bake some bread for tomorrow’s breakfast?”

“Yes pwease, Mummy.”

“And if you’re not too tired you show Grampy Tom and Auntie Stella that you can walk a little bit.”

“All wight, Mummy.” She gave me a huge smile which would have melted the stoniest heart, apart from the bogies up her nose, which we disposed of via a tissue.

The drive back caught us up in the rush hour traffic and progress was slow to static. I can’t remember how many verses of, ‘One man went to mow,’ we sang before she fell asleep, but it was into double figures by some distance. I yawned myself, my stress levels were up and my future as uncertain as it had ever been. However, one question I’d asked, had been answered before I had even asked it—there was no alternative, I would attempt to foster Jemima and if necessary put my career on hold.

It might be possible to make the second film and look after Mima, especially if Stella and Simon helped out, not to mention Tom, plus of course, there was no reason why I couldn’t pay someone to help me if things got too difficult—I’d have to check that out, but it seemed logical to me. The intention would be if on the odd occasion when I was too busy, I could get some help in, then it seemed like a good idea.

Of course, all this sudden bonding might be seen as adverse to fostering by the powers that be, or maybe they encouraged it, I don’t know. I would definitely go with the policy that I regularly remind Jemima that I am not her natural mother, so she has one somewhere. I would also be against suggesting her natural mother dumped her, not being privy to the reasons why that seemed to be what happened.

I was pleased with my progress as we pulled into Tom’s drive. I’d made one or two decisions and felt better for it. I hoped I wouldn’t live to regret them.

“Where have you been?” said Tom, until I hushed him lest he wake my sleeping cargo. He repeated it in a whisper.

“Can you get the shopping in while I put her down for a nap?”

He looked at me in astonishment, but went out of the door clutching the car keys. I set my precious bundle down on the sofa, and went out to the kitchen.

“Where the hell have you been?” He demanded as he brought in the shopping.

“I think the answer is in your own hands.”

“Don’t give me that, Cathy, I had a phone call from a social worker who had called to see you at three. It’s now half past six, even you don’t take that long in Tesco.”

“I went to get some legal advice.”

“What about?”

I shook my head in disbelief, “What do you think?”

“I don’t know, why do you think I’m asking, to pass the time of bloody day?”

“Okay, okay keep your hair on, the bit you have left.” He frowned at that. “Okay, I went to see Mr Henstridge who specialises in juvenile and family law, about how we defend ourselves against the powers that be.”

“You’ve decided you want to keep her?”

“No, she decided that days ago, I simply wanted to see what our position was if we attempted to go down the fostering path.”

“And?”

“And it looks possible, my history is a complication as is the way she was dumped on us, but we’re in with a shout. Oh, by the way, she walked a bit this afternoon.”

“We have a chance of keeping her, good. She walked, SHE WALKED, THAT’S WONDERFUL,” he hugged me and kissed me.

“Hush you silly old bugger, you’ll wake her up.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 477

“What’s all the noise about?” asked Stella strolling into the kitchen, “Oh the cook’s here I see.”

“You cheeky cow,” I replied.

“Mima walked.”

“What to Tesco’s and back?” said Stella looking at the bags on the table, “Is that why you’re so late?”

“What?”

“I was getting worried we’d have no dinner tonight.”

I was getting ready to blow a gasket. However, Tom intervened, “Mima walked today,” he said.

“What our little Mima?” said Stella.

“Yes, according to Cathy.”

“That’s brilliant,” she said and they both began dancing around the kitchen.

“I could murder a cuppa,” I said looking at the kettle.

“You can make me one as well, what time is dinner likely to be?” said Stella.

“I have just got in after fighting my way around a supermarket and the rush hour traffic, you’ve been gossiping with Pippa all day, you’ll be bloody lucky to get anything.”

“I worked hard all day,” said Stella.

“Wait until Puddin’ is born, you don’t know you’re born.” I gloated as I said it, she had a shock coming.

“But you’ve been home all day doing nothing?” protested Stella.

“I’ve entertained a copper, been to see a lawyer and done the shopping, all helped by Mima of course, so no I haven’t done very much at all, have I? Now clear out of my kitchen before you end up on the menu.”

She left in a huff. Tom stood there smirking. “What’s your problem?” I asked aggressively.

“She really has no idea, does she?”

“Nope, and if she thinks I’m going to do most of it, she has another think coming. She’ll have to ask Daddy to fund a nanny.”

“Do you honestly think he would?”

“Why not she gets everything else she wants.”

“Not quite.” I presume he meant Des, but I wasn’t going to get involved in that.

“Want me to help?” he asked.

“Yeah, can you keep an eye on tiny-wee?”

“Of course,” he went off to the lounge.

I busied myself with frying a pound of sausages and doing some mashed potatoes, I made some gravy because I know Tom likes it, and did some baked beans as well. Stella grumbled, but it didn’t stop her eating it. I chopped some up fine for Mima, who ate up every bit. She sat with Tom for a while and dozed off while he was reading to her.

I woke her took her to the bathroom and cleaned her teeth, then a quick change into a nightie and she was in bed and asleep. I went downstairs where Tom was loading the washer.

“Where’s Stella?”

“Gone for a lie down, her ankles are swelling.”

“Aw diddums, are we going to have to cope with this for another five months? She’s pregnant, for God’s sake, not disabled. If she was in Africa, she’d still be ploughing or carrying water from the well.”

“Just as well she’s not then, isn’t it?”

“If this carries on, I’m going to say something, or it’ll be more than her ankles that swell.”

It was nine o’clock and I was having a final cuppa before going to bed. I jumped and nearly spilled it as the door bell rang. Tom looked at me and put down his wine before he went to answer it. I heard voices and in walked a woman in her thirties, “Are you Miss Watts?”

“Who wants to know?” I asked unhelpfully.

“I’m Esther Polley, senior social worker. I called to see you this afternoon.”

“So?”

“Don’t take that attitude with me.”

“Hark who’s talking? You hadn’t made an appointment, so how can you expect me to keep it?”

“You were told to make yourself available for inspections.”

“Yes, within the bounds of reasonableness. I was out and Jemima was with me, she actually walked while we were out. I think that’s a damned sight more important than waiting for some overpaid public servant to make snide comments, don’t you?”

“I find your attitude unhelpful, and possibly incompatible with fostering.”

“That sounds like a threat.”

“Prove it?” she snapped.

I held up my mobile phone—“It’s all on here, see you at the disciplinary.”

“Now you wait a moment—oh switch that bloody thing off.”

“Sorry, it stays on, you were saying?”

“I want to see the child.”

“She is upstairs and fast asleep, I will allow you to see her, but if you disturb her, I will call the police and have you arrested.”

“What? If police come, I’ll take the child into custody.”

“If I call them, Ms Polyester, it’ll be you who goes out in custody.”

We glared at each other for a few moments until Tom interrupted. “Ladies, I hate to break up your party, but I think we should sneak a look at Jemima and then you can go home to bed and we can retire to ours.”

We did what he suggested, the woman went in and checked Mima, who sighed and said “Mummy Caffy, wuv you,” and went back to sleep. I felt choked, Tom whispered ‘Aww’ and the social worker snorted and slunk out of the room.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 478

I was so riled when I got to bed that I tossed and turned, so it was just as well Stella had used her own bed for a change. I don’t know what time it was that I went to sleep, but I was awoken by something gently patting my face.

“Mummeeee, Mima needs a wee wee, quickwee, hurwee.”

For the moment of waking I’d forgotten what a novelty her walking was, I staggered out of bed and taking her hand walked her to the loo. It was only when she was sitting on it that I realised she’d walked again. It was almost miraculous, although I didn’t say too much.

“CanI’ve a dwink, Mummy?” said the little voice.

“You can have some water,” this was based on two reasons, firstly, the water was there, as was a glass; and secondly, if she drank juice or cordial, she should clean her teeth again. I couldn’t cope with that.

“Mima want juice.”

“Not in the middle of the night, young lady, water is all that I’m offering.”

“S’not fair, she began to pretend to cry.”

“Life isn’t I’m afraid, but I could take you back to the supermarket if you’d prefer to live with that other lady, the one at the checkout.”

“No,” she said emphatically, “You, Mima’s mummy,” and clung on to my pyjamas. She looked at the silky material, “Shiny and smoove, nice,” she said as she rubbed her face on it.

I poured a glass of tap water and she drank a little. I recall years ago someone telling me if toddlers wake up in the night for a drink, give them water because to give them juice rewards them and they’ll wake again. I decided I check out the practical side of this. She handed me back the glass and we walked back to bed. It was four o’clock.

I tucked her in and kissed her goodnight again, got back into bed and switched off the light. I was just nodding off again, when the patting on my face began again. “Mima wanna sweep wiv Mummy.”

I should have said no, but I was so tired so I bent down and lifted her into the bed. I hoped she’d get too hot and eventually go back to her own bed, in the interim, I said, “Any messing about and you go back to your own bed, understand.”

“Mima wuv Mummy.” She then bent over and kissed me. I could have hugged her and strangled her at the same time.

“Come on, cuddle down and go to sleep.” I moved over and she spooned into the front of me. I put up with a few wriggles and sighs before I managed to drop off again.

I woke up needing a pee, which was probably what woke me, that and the sensation of something crawling in my hair. I opened an eye and saw Mima sat up in bed, trying to plait my hair or something. She spotted my open eye and said, “Mima making Mummy pwetty.” I groaned. She kissed me.

I grabbed her and rolling over pulled her with me, she shrieked as I tickled her and made growling noises. “Stop,” she squealed, “Mima need wee wee.” So I took her and hopped from foot to foot as she went and then wiped herself, almost jumping onto the toilet seat as soon as she vacated it, whipping down my jammy pants as I went. “Ha ha Mummy wee wee too.”

It was now nearly eight and I got in the shower and took her in with me. She squealed and giggled as we showered together, stepping in and out of the water, which I had cooler than usual. Then I wrapped her in a bath towel and did the same to myself and we dried ourselves.

I managed to get us dressed despite her help, she eventually agreed to wear a set of dungarees over a tee shirt with a cardi on top. I pulled on some jeans and a top over my bra and pants. She sat on the bed and watched as I dressed, taking it all in. I suppose this is how little girls learn to be women, except I only have about as much experience as she does, so I’d have to make it up as I went along.

I dried our hair and combed it through, putting hers into plaited pigtails and my own into a ponytail. Then down to breakfast. Stella was eating some toast and reading the paper.

I’d carried Mima down the stairs, but walked her into the kitchen. Stella spotted her walking and said, “My, aren’t you a clever little girl.” She held out her hands and Mima walked towards her. “I love your hair,” continued Stella.

“Mummy make Mima pwetty.”

“Absolutely,” agreed Stella, “did you give her a kiss to say thank you?”

A look of confusion came over the child and she giggled nervously, then she came over to me and reached up to me to be lifted. When I lifted her up she put her arms around my neck an kissed me on the cheek, “Fank you, Mummy, for making Mima pwetty.”

“You are welcome, Sweetheart,” I felt quite choked again, at this rate I was going to need an ENT specialist by the end of the first month. I knew that there were plenty of difficult times ahead, parenting is an enormous challenge to anyone, assuming I was given the chance to have more than a cursory try. I decided therefore, to make the most of my opportunity to enjoy it as much as I could, but also to show this child, who’d been abandoned and dumped on me, that there was another model of parenting, which used large dollops of love inside clear and firm boundaries. That was the outline, putting in the fine detail would take a little longer.

We hadn’t long finished breakfast when the doorbell rang and my heart sank. To my surprise it was the policeman, PC Bond. I invited him in and Mima half hid behind my legs, having a good look but holding on to my back pockets.

He took off his helmet and bent down to talk with her, eventually, she stood by herself, sucking her finger. He looked up at me, “So how’s motherhood?” and smiled broadly.

“It has it’s moments, mostly good at present.”

“Good, I’m pleased for you, she certainly looks happy with the results so far.” He tickled her and she giggled and hid behind my legs again, calling at me to lift her up. “Did you tell her to call you Mummy?”

“No, I asked to call me Auntie Cathy, but she insisted on the ‘M’ word.”

“Mummy,” she said patting my shoulder, she looked at the copper and repeated it.

“That’s your new mummy is it?”

“Mima’s mummy, Mummy Caffy.” She next threw her arms around my neck and nuzzled into me.

“I just realised she’s walking again, the docs will be pleased.”

“Yes, my clever girl, aren’t you, sweetheart?”

“Yes,” she said flirting with the policeman.

“Would you like a coffee?” I asked.

“That would be nice. Oh, we did get some fingerprints off the note and some DNA, both of them belonging to DC Pratt,” his face cracked into a smile, “so we still don’t know who her original parents are.”

“You mean, you don’t think Janice was?”

“I don’t know. She might have been, unless we find her we’ll never know. It’s a very unusual case, I’ve never known anything like it in over twenty years on the force.”

“If someone is going to come forward, then I hope it’s before she gets too bonded—sorry no pun intended—to me, and vice versa.

“It’s strange that she seems to have taken to you so readily, almost as if it was programmed into her.”

“It had crossed my mind, though what would be the purpose?”

“I don’t know, unless maybe to threaten to take her back unless you paid up megabucks.”

“How callous that would be, besides, doesn’t it presuppose my long term fostering, which is by no means certain?”

I made some coffee for Mr Bond and Stella joined us, so did Kiki, who got a little boisterous with Mima and knocked her over. There were a few tears, but nothing I couldn’t deal with, and I also got her to wear her protective helmet.

As PC Bond was leaving a young woman walked up the path, “Are you Miss Watts?”

“I am, who are you?”

“She flashed her identity card, Brenda Walker, trainee social worker, can we talk?”

I invited her in and made her a cuppa, she could see Mima in my arms waving goodbye to the policeman.

“This, I take it, is Jemima Scott?”

“Yes.”

“Like the crash helmet, in training for the human cannonball is she?”

“She was knocked down about a month ago, she had a fracture to her skull.”

“Yes, I read up on that, you apparently saved her life, convenient, wasn’t it?”

“Our paths have crossed once or twice, but that day, I could just as easily have stayed in the car and she might have died. I recognised her mother, or who I assumed was her mother.”

“So you knew her, the mother I mean?”

“No, I’d met her with Jemima once or twice, I did show her around our dormouse breeding room at the university, they’re still twitching, the dormice I mean.” She looked at me oddly. “Mima, usually talks or squeals at levels of decibels higher than a jumbo jet taking off.”

“Ah,” she smiled. Then said, “You have to admit it was quite a coincidence you happened on the accident.”

“I hadn’t thought of it like that, but yes it was. Prof Agnew was with me so I’m sure he would verify it was a total coincidence.”

“I’m sure.” She sipped her tea. “You can’t have children can you?”

I blushed, “You have done your homework.”

“So you see the point of my enquiry?”

“Do you seriously think I’d deliberately set up an accident to gain possession of a child—that is totally sick.”

“I agree, but we have to rule it out.”

“Look, you do what you have to do, I only want what is best for Mima. So if that means you take her and place her with someone else, I understand. I would however, like to see her occasionally if that’s possible.”

“If we do place her with another foster parent, I’m afraid you won’t get to see her at all.”

“I see. I suppose I have no rights.”

“I’m sure you have rights, but not over this child. You aren’t even a registered foster parent.”

“So, are you the one who’s going to take her away, just waiting for the police reinforcements to arrive?” I felt my eyes fill with tears.

“No, not particularly, she seems well looked after and happy enough, but I don’t know what the eventual outcome will be, just don’t hold your breath.”

“Until a week or so ago, Mima was just a noisy kid, I’d bumped into a couple of times, usually when I was least expecting it, like in a restaurant. Oh she’s cute, but no more so than any other child. I went to help Janice, whom I assumed to be her mother, because I could see she was struggling with a disabled child and I had some spare time. Then she sold me some cock and bull story about a philandering husband who’d been shot in Saudi Arabia, and asked me to look after Mima. I expected a week or two at most and was surprised that there seemed to be no grandparents or other close relatives to do it. She said she was desperate, so I stupidly agreed. I was beginning to bond with Mima, and regrettably she with me. I never thought I’d hear a child call me mummy. She does even though I didn’t initiate it and even resisted it at first. Now it feels special. If you have to take her do it soon, or once again she’s going to be the loser, she needs a stable home life, I could provide it but I suspect I’m not going to get the chance, so do your worst but do it soon, for her sake.”

“Very touching, Solomon would be pleased with your allegory on his judgement.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The wisdom of King Solomon, surely you’ve read or heard of it?”

“If I have it was some while ago.”

“Go and read it. I have to go?”

“So what is likely to happen?”

“That, I couldn’t tell you but I’d be surprised if she stays with you, even if you use some clever lawyer to fight it.”

“Did you know I’d consulted a lawyer?”

“No, but you’re neither stupid nor poor.”

“I’m not that wealthy either.”

“No but future hubby is, so is his family. I’ve already heard that Lord Henry has been throwing his weight about. It won’t help, you know. The adoption and fostering committee are completely uninfluenced by such things.”

“I’m not quite sure what you’re implying, but it isn’t true. If it’s in the long term interest of Jemima, then I will naturally surrender her to the appropriate authority. I won’t suggest that I wouldn’t be reluctant to give her up now, she’s got under my skin and I’d love to keep her, but the law is the law and we all have to obey it.”

“Indeed, I knew you’d see reason.”

“Oh, I can see it, but I don’t have to like it. The law is not the same as justice or fairness, but we seem to be stuck with it. Tell them, the powers that be, to act soon if they’re going to, or it will destroy this child, or doesn’t that count as long as it’s within the law? Please go now.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 479

“Who was that?” asked Stella when she saw the look on my face after I closed the door.

“Another social worker, one who seems to think I have little chance of fostering a certain person.”

“Why? She’s so good with you and you with her, you’re made for each other.”

“I think that’s the problem, they smell a rat.”

What d’you mean?”

“They think I arranged it.”

“So why did you call the police? You could have gone on indefinitely without telling anyone.”

“I’m beginning to wish I had. No, the powers that be have rules for a reason.”

“I thought that was just to keep the proles down, stop them usurping the authority.”

“Them? Don’t you mean us?”

“Cathy dearest, you are soon to be one of us, proles are definitely them.”

“You can be such a snob, Stella.”

“What d’you mean can be? I am, darling, I am.” We both laughed as she mocked herself. “Seriously, I think I need to speak to Daddy, see what he suggests.”

“She said it would be a waste of time.”

“Of course she did, just in case you were gullible enough to believe her. You look after your baby, I think she was trying to give the dog an enema by the way, whilst I speak to Daddy.” She disappeared.

“Mima, where are you?”

“Wiv Kiki.”

“Where are you with Kiki?” I might as well have asked the dog, however, with a trained ear, I followed the giggling and found her hiding under the stairs with the dog, who was now wearing her crash helmet.

“Why is Kiki wearing your helmet?”

“She wanted to.”

“She told you, did she?”

“Yes, dinnyou Keek?”

“Come on pest, let’s take it off her and wipe it out with some cleaner. It’s you young lady who has the soft skull, not the dog, do not take it off and put it on Kiki again, do you understand?”

She nodded emphatically, as toddlers do. “Is the wady gonna take Mima way?”

I wanted to say all sorts of things, many of which should not be said in front of adults, leave alone children. “I hope not, Mima, I’m growing quite fond of you.”

“I wuv you, Mummy.” She gave me a huge hug and popped the catch on her dungarees. I did it up for her and she hugged me again, “Done wet her take Mima.”

“I love you too, sweetheart, and I won’t let them take you if I can possibly prevent it.”

“Mima, stay wiv Mummy,” she held onto my legs.

“I’d like that, Mima.”

“Mima stay,” she held my legs very tightly.

“Are you teaching her to play rugby?” Stella came down the stairs, at first I wondered what she was talking about, but then as Mima was holding my legs it could appear she was trying to rugby tackle me. “Daddy said he would see what he could do, but the only way he could guarantee you kept her was to lock you both in the bank vault.”

“Gee thanks, Stella, you’re a real comfort.”

“He suggested to take a copy of the conversation you recorded.”

“I did that, it’s on my computer.”

“And keep notes on any contact you have with them. He suggested that your case was different because you entered into a contract with Jemima’s mum, not social services. If this has all been a misunderstanding, she might come back to claim her kid.”

“What about the letter telling me she was abandoning Mima to me?”

“A practical joke?”

“I need to get a copy of that letter, as it was addressed to me.”

“Certainly any counsel you use will need to see it.”

I looked down and Mima was watching anxiously still clutching my legs. “Come on, sweety-pie, let’s make some lunch,” and to Stella, I said, “We’ll keep adult talk for adult ears, if that’s okay?”

“Oh yes, sorry—what’s for lunch?”

“I’m going to make some soup, what d’you think?”

“Sounds good to me, shall I entertain our guest?” I nodded and she tried to take Mima into the dining room. Mima however wasn’t playing and resisted the attempt.

“Let’s go and play ball with Kiki,” Stella said enthusiastically.

“Mima stay wiv Mummy,” and she locked herself around my legs again. I did manage to get her to sit in her high chair while I made the soup, chicken and lentil, and we ate it with some home baked bread.

After we ate, Mima came and sat alongside me on the sofa, and again clung to me every time I moved. I phoned Dr Rose, who very kindly called me back half an hour later. Mima was actually sleeping with her head in my lap as we talked.

“I thought made it clear that she should stay with you for now. I feel it’s critical to her continuing recovery.”

“She’s walking by herself, she walked to my bed and woke me up in the night to take her to the loo.”

“That is wonderful, so many of these cases don’t recover.”

“She’s showing distress, she is now clinging to me, especially if I go to do anything.”

“I think that’s understandable, having been dumped by her parent or carer once already.”

“I wonder if it’s worth me seeing a psychologist to prove how unsettling this is to her, maybe make social services back off a little.”

“So you want a name?”

“Please, if that’s okay?”

“I’ll get her to ring you.”

“Thanks so much, sorry to bother you, I know how busy you are.”

“It’s okay, if she’s walking, being with you is obviously good for her.”

“Maybe, but I’m getting too bonded to her and she to me. This calling me mummy, really gets under my defences, but she insists upon it.”

“It obviously works for her, whether that means she was told to call you that or if it’s just her way of feeling more secure, I wouldn’t like to say, just go with it for now.”

“Go with it, I love it.”

“She has stuck her tentacles into you.”

“Absolutely, and it’s wonderful.”

“I’ll get her to call you, her name’s Stephanie Cauldwell,” with that he rang off, and it was time to take Mima to the loo again.

An hour later, we were baking cakes and Dr Cauldwell called. I explained the situation over the phone and she arranged to come and see us the next afternoon, she also explained this wasn’t NHS, so I could expect a bill. Stella overheard me talking and told me Henry would cover costs. I thanked her but suggested I’d pay my own way. “Well it’s there if you need it,” she shrugged and went back to her book and I went back to try and stop Mima eating all the cake mix.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 480

Of course Mima wouldn’t eat any tea that evening, she was too full of cake mix—I suppose there was egg in it, raw of course—hell, I hope she doesn’t get salmonella. I could just imagine calling social services to come and get the body, they could have her, I’d changed my mind. It was a little worrying. However, she slept all night—in my bed. When I went up to bed the cheeky monkey had left her bed and was fast asleep in mine, still clutching the deformed dormouse I’d made her.

I changed into my pyjamas and went off to sleep with no problems, this time she didn’t wake at all until about six, when she then decided to cling on tightly to me—across my boobs, actually one boob, and it hurt too.

I took her to the bathroom and heard the front door close. Being late November, it was dark but that made no difference to Tom, he walked Kiki most mornings, providing it wasn’t throwing it down. It seemed it wasn’t.

I washed Mima down and after dressing her, I washed myself and dressed. She seemed fascinated watching me wash and dress. “Didn’t Mummy Janice, let you watch her dress?” I asked, my curiosity well piqued.

She shook her head. “Did she not let you shower or bathe with her?” I asked knowing what the likely answer was. Again she shook her head as predicted. Tomorrow, we would bathe together. Okay, mine isn’t a perfect female body, but I don’t get too many complaints and I consider it’s important for little girls to have some idea of what will happen to them in time. I also felt it showed there were no barriers between us, and if she stayed with me, that would remain until she became self conscious, probably in her early adolescence.

I’m moderately happy with my body, I’ve a flat tum but a smallish bum and hips, and my shoulders are a little too broad for a classic female shape, but nature and the hormones have been kind to me and I have reasonable boobs with decent nipples. There are loads of bio-females who’d swap, I’m sure.

We went down to a kitchen smelling of coffee. I love the smell, but not the taste, not the stuff Tom drinks which is like mud from the river Thames; though a mild roast, I quite enjoy from time to time.

Mima ate her cereal and a banana, a good meal for her. She had survived the raw egg cake mix, and I felt relieved. I was making some toast when Tom came back, Kiki came up and sniffed around looking for any fallen treasure. She didn’t find any, and went off to sulk under the table. Tom drank his coffee and after sitting Mima on his knee, started singing to her. I’d never heard Tom sing before and was flabbergasted, firstly by the fact he was singing, and secondly, he had a nice baritone voice. He was singing an old Scot’s spiritual—Donal’ whur’s yer troosers?’. Jemima thought it was wonderful.

“You never sing to me,” I pouted.

“You’re a wee bit big to sit on my lap, Cathy.”

“If your belly was smaller, there’d be room enough,” I snapped back.

“The same could be said about your ar..bottom, young lady.”

Mima giggled, which was the whole point of the charade. “My tush is flush,” I said glancing back over my shoulder and smoothing my trousers down over it.

“Mummy tush tush,” parroted Mima, which Tom found highly amusing, so she sat bouncing on his lap saying it over and over.

He sang his song to her again and she tried to sing along with it. While she was otherwise occupied I loaded the bread maker and set it in motion. She was still transfixed with Tom’s silly songs, the next one was about Geordie’s Byre or something similar.

I chased Kiki out of the kitchen and quickly swept and mopped the floor, which had been annoying me for a day or two. With luck it would be dry before Stella came down.

I sent Simon a text, we spoke most evenings, but I did miss him, especially when dealing with aggressive social workers. I knew they were doing their jobs as they saw it, but I wished one of them would take account of how I saw things and also one who believed me.

I found it so annoying that no one seemed to believe I was telling the truth, that I had no designs on Mima until after I’d become saddled with her and since then we’d begun to bond.

Simon seemed to understand and made soothing noises, he’d told me that Henry had also talked with him. Henry was talking grandchildren, and long term adoption plans. I responded by suggesting that I’d be contented with long term fostering and he agreed. The credit crunch or whatever they called the financial mess set off by sub-prime mortgages, was still causing him to work ridiculous hours, but he’d also set up a portfolio of shares, which he’d got for peanuts, in Mima’s name, although she wouldn’t be allowed to touch it until she was eighteen or went to university.

I thought it was a very noble gesture, but then he was a nobleman in all senses of the word. The portfolio was worth a couple of thousand pounds but built of shares that he was sure would increase rapidly once things settled down. When I asked him how much it would be worth by the time she was of age, he shrugged and said, “about fifty thou.”

My text said: Dear Daddy Simon,
Fanx 4 d’shares, got n e mor?
Wuv,
Mima. Xxx

He replied a while later: Ungrateful wench, get thee 2 a nunnery.
Love Daddy Simon. Xxx

I sniggered when I saw it. Stella appeared just before Tom set off for work. “Oh, you’re up?” she has wonderful powers of observation, that woman.

“No, this is a full sized hologram, I’m still in bed.”

“Well, Ms Holo-legs, I have an idea.”

“What? If it’s push off en famille to Simon’s place on Menorca, forget it.”

“How on earth did you know what I was going to say? That is quite uncanny.”

“Um, I didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?”

Sometimes talking to Stella was surreal. “Didn’t know.”

“Didn’t know what?”

“What you were going to say.”

“So how could you say it first, then?”

“I made a crazy guess.”

“Oh, am I that predictable?”

“Only with regard to Mima.” She smiled and it seemed I’d relieved her tension enough.

“Mima, Mima, Mima, “ said a little voice and moments later my legs were engulfed in a toddler grip—some sort of wrestling device which would probably work well enough in play group but not on adults—“Mima, wuv Mummy an’ Annie Stewwa.”

“Isn’t she a darling?” said Stella and she bent down to kiss her foster niece.

“She snores abominably,” I said back trying not to smirk.

“Eewww,” said Stella almost holding her nose.

“I said, snores not farts.”

“Farz, farz, farz. Annie Stewwa farz,” piped a little voice.

“You can go off some people ya know?” she said to Mima.

“Annie Stewwa farz,” said the little voice giggling.

“If she hadn’t put that together herself, like a demented parrot, I am pretty sure Simon would have taught and encouraged her.”

“Stella, I keep telling you that little piggies have big ears.”

“Okay, okay, now I believe you. What time is that trick cyclist coming?”

“After lunch, why?”

“What are we having?”

“What do you mean?”

“What are we having for lunch?”

“Stella, you haven’t had any breakfast yet.”

“Oh no, I haven’t have I? No wonder I feel hungry.”

“Maybe someone was right then?” I snorted, thinking about the little song Mima was singing and dancing about which related to Stella’s presumed flatulence. I could get to like this.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 481

After lunch, the doorbell rang and I met Dr Stephanie Cauldwell, who turned out to be a woman of about twenty eight with buxom figure and long dark hair, which she wore down. She was dressed in a denim jacket and jeans with a white blouse underneath.

We shook hands, Mima was having a post-prandial nap so we were able to talk without fear of someone repeating things she didn’t oughta. I explained the whole position as I saw it.

“So Sam Rose believes that separating her from you would compromise her recovery from the accident?”

“Sam Rose, who’s she?”

“He, Dr Samuel Rose, your paediatrician.”

“Sorry, I’m not with it. How about a cuppa before the Kraken awakes? It might wake me up, too.”

She accepted the offer and we went out to the kitchen, I showed her Mima fast asleep on the sofa in the dining room, and she smiled, “I can see why you fell in love with her.”

“She grows on you, like a rash,” I joked. We sat drinking our tea when the first stirrings were manifested.

“Mumm-mee, Mima need wee-wee.”

“They’re playing my tune,” I said and skipped off to deal with the source of the noise. Back from the cloakroom, I introduced Mima to Dr Cauldwell. “Mima, this lady has come to see how you are enjoying staying with me.”

“Hello, Mima, how are you?” Dr Cauldwell offered her hand to the tot, who promptly disappeared behind my legs and peered out around them. “Peep—oh,” said the shrink.

“Mummy, mummy, wady scarwy Mima.”

“Oops, off to a good start,” said Stephanie. “Okay, let’s just sit and chat and I’ll do some indirect assessment.”

We sat on the sofa recently vacated by the sleeping child, it was still warm in places. “How long has she been calling you, mummy?”

“From almost the day she arrived.”

“Didn’t you find that odd?”

“Very and I did try to correct her, but she insisted, now it doesn’t worry me if that’s what she wants to call me, that’s her affair, I don’t mind.”

“Hum, could be wish fulfilment or anxiety…”

“Stephanie, she’s three years old.”

“I’m aware of that, she’s also old enough to try to manipulate things, including people. You’d be surprised how soon they start doing that.”

“Not really, she twists me round her little finger and as for Tom, he’s pure putty.”

“Who’s Tom?”

“Prof Agnew, this is his house, he’s my boss when I’m at the university but we sort of adopted each other. He needed a daughter and I wanted a father.”

“Oh well, nothing wrong with fair exchange.”

Mima grew in confidence a little and did come and watch the strange lady talking to me. She also came to sit with me and hug my leg.

“Would you like to come out in the garden with me and Kiki?” asked Stephanie.

“No, Mima stay wiv Mummy.”

“Mummy can come, too.”

Mima was more agreeable to that until we went as far as the back door, then she clung on to me again and wouldn’t shift.

“Humm, certainly a degree of anxiety behaviour. Does she sleep n her own room?”

“Last night she was in my bed when I went up.”

“Be careful with that or you’ll be stuck with it for some time.”

“I was hoping it would get too warm for her, but it didn’t.”

“You have a partner?”

“Yes, Simon, he’s away much of the week, he works for a bank and they’re dealing with this credit business.”

“How secure is his job?”

“What Simon’s? His family own it, so quite secure I think.”

“Wow, you live with a banker, what does he think about the kid?”

“He loves her. I can’t have children, so he’s making hay while the sun shines.”

“Are you, too?”

“Oh I’m enjoying myself, yes and dreading that they could still take her away.”

“Mima’s mousie,” said the toddler presenting her favourite soft toy to Stephanie.

“What is it?” she asked.

“A mutant dormouse, I made it for her.”

You sewed this?”

“Yes, it wasn’t that difficult, once I’d made a pattern.”

“You did the pattern, too?” There was a hint of incredulity in her voice.

“I had to, they don’t make them for dormice.”

“You are so clever.”

“Is that a professional opinion, can I have it in writing? Simon won’t believe it otherwise.”

“That was a woman to woman opinion, I can’t sew for peanuts and I know my niece would just love one of those.”

“I’ll see if we have any material left over.”

“I’ll pay you for it.”

“I have see if we have enough furry material, it has to be the right colour.”

“You’ve seen a dormouse?”

“Yeah, loads of them, I breed them at the uni.”

“You breed them, wow.”

“Stephanie, what about Mima?”

“Oh yeah, she’s classic insecurity complex, frightened she’s going to lose this mummy, too. I’ll support your case to keep her as a foster kid. I also think you’re storing up a few things for yourself, including allowing to her to call you Mummy, and letting her sleep in your bed.”

“But she’s anxious, I’m trying to comfort her.”

“I know, but how much is real and how much is play acting to control you?”

“What? You make her sound like some sort of monster?”

“She is, she’s only interested in her own situation, most children are the same, it helps them survive. Self centeredness is very much a sign of immaturity.”

“See, Jemima, you’re immature,” I said loudly to her.

“Mima ture,” she said back and laughed. We both laughed with her.

“She is so adorable, the little monster, but you have bonded very well together and I think any separation now would have unfortunate effects upon Mima.”

We had another expert on board.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 482

“How did it go?” asked Stella after she heard Stephanie drive away.

“She was more interested in talking me into making her niece a mutant mouse than evaluating Mima.”

“Really?” gasped an astonished Stella.

“Not quite, but she seemed quite interested in having one.”

“What about Mima?”

“She agreed to support our case for keeping her, although she suggested I was making life difficult by allowing her to call me mummy.”

“Did she say why?”

“No she didn’t, I assumed it was because it opens me to manipulation and also means if she goes eventually, I’ll be more upset.”

“Open you up to manipulation? Ha, she runs rings round you.”

“What about you then?”

“I’m only an indulgent auntie, you get the top job, Mummy.”

“Don’t you start…”

“Mumm—mee, Mima wanna dwink, pwease.”

“I’ll do it,” offered Stella, “I’ll pop the kettle on while I’m at it.”

“Okay, I want to see why she’s been so quiet.” I walked into the dining room and gasped at what I saw. Over much of the carpet were the contents of my handbag and purse. “MIMA,” I shouted, “Get yourself in here.”

There was the sound of little hoof-beats. A pair of arms were flung around my legs. “Wuv you Mummy.”

“You little monster, look at the mess you’ve left on the carpet, all of Mummy’s things, pick them up at once.”

“Mummy cwoss wiv Mima,” she said and burst into tears.

“Yes, Mummy is cross with Mima,” I detached her from my legs and pushed her into the middle of the mess. “You put all those things back in my handbag, you naughty girl.”

She sat on the floor and howled. Now what do I do? If I start doing it for her or making it a game, she wins. She continued howling and I felt like a war criminal—hell’s bells, why do these things happen to me?

“Oops!” exclaimed Stella as she entered the room, “Did the burglars get much?”

“I caught the culprit, but she isn’t exactly coming quietly.” I accepted the mug of tea Stella offered me. “What do I do now?”

“I was hoping to get some tips from the master,” she said managing to hide the smirk.

“Very funny. I put my tea down, “Come on, Mima, stop crying and start picking things up.”

“Mummy, dun wuv Mima, no mowe.”

“Mummy does love Mima, but she’d love Mima even more if Mima helped to pick up the mess.” This was becoming a battle of wills and I was coming a definite second. “Come on, you help as well.”

We did clear up the mess, she picked up my purse and managed to spill all the coins out of it, I cleared the rest up while she played with the money. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a parent for good reasons.

“Well you did really well there,” said Stella, holding her back and making strange faces.

“Very funny, I lost hands down.”

“No you controlled yourself really well, your first inclination was to strangle her, instead you sublimated it.”

“Instead I ended up doing what I wanted her to do. She now knows my word is not my bond, all she has to do is leak a few tears and I give in.”

“You can always change it next time.”

“It gets harder, and she grows stronger. I’m a failure as a mother.”

“Not if they allowed flogging and strangling.”

“I suppose I could always send her up the chimney when she’s older.”

“Or down t’mines,” Stella made a funny face as she said this.

“Aye, ‘appen,” I agreed in best Bristolian north country accent, which sounded a total mess, a bit like my mothering skills.

“Trouble at mill…” replied Stella.

“Mima sowwy Mummy.” A pair of arms went around my legs again. I looked at my purse, all the money had been put back into it. At least I assumed it had. I detached her again from my legs, which once more had her burst into tears. I then picked up my purse, it was empty. I was glad I hadn’t praised her for clearing up that part of the mess. “Mima, where is Mummy’s money?” She carried on crying. This would look really great if a social worker came in now.

“Where did you put Mummy’s money, and where are my car keys?” I felt my temper rising again—bloody children! Why do they always have to do these things? Why can’t they leave other peoples’ things alone?

I got up and walked away, taking my tea with me I left the room. I sat in the kitchen and tried to sip my tea, my hands were shaking. Stella came in and sat opposite me. A minute or two afterwards, Mima came in, still crying, with tears and snot all over her face. She came to me and I told her I wouldn’t cuddle her until she went and found my car keys.

She then tried to cuddle with Stella, who took one look at her dirty nose and freaked, rushing off to the loo. Mima came back to me, I wiped her nose with a tissue and told her to go and get my car keys and she could have a cuddle.

Finally she went off mizzing and sniffing. Five minutes later she hadn’t returned, when I went to look at what she was doing, she was ripping up a twenty pound note into confetti.

“Mima,” I said loudly and I hoped disapprovingly, she jumped and began to howl again. Oh shit, bloody children, maybe I should offer to give her back—like, now? I picked her up and collected the bits of torn banknote, if they had the serial number, they could replace it. “You are a very naughty girl, and Mummy is very cross.” Where were my bloody keys? I started hunting for them, looking under the furniture, under the cushions—which was where my money was, no sign of them.

“Where are my keys, you naughty, naughty girl?” I scolded her and she screamed as if I’d smacked her. I hadn’t, my own experience guaranteed that, even if she didn’t know it.

I stepped back and crushed my favourite lipstick—into the carpet, oh bugger! Maybe I could kill her without hitting her? She was sitting on the sofa screaming her head off then I noticed it. No not my keys, the rivulet of urine dripping off the seat. Oh no, she’d wet herself, just what I needed.

I picked her up and she peed all down the front of me—who did she think she was—a bloody dormouse? At this point Tom arrived, “Someone left their keys in the front door, they look like yours Cathy.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 483

I spent a very uneasy night, although Mima appeared to have forgiven me, the adults were not so easy going. After putting her to bed, I tolerated some criticism but eventually went as well. Naturally, she was in my bed but fast asleep, so I was able to return her to her own.

I lay in bed reflecting upon the day, when the door opened and Stella, climbed into bed with me. “Moral support,” she said and cuddled into the side of me. I began to wonder if I needed a bigger bed—I suppose we could sleep like sardines, head to foot, except Simon’s feet—yewch, don’t even go there.

To her credit Stella said nothing, and she did nothing except cuddle into me. Why, I was never quite sure—was there something she wasn’t telling me? I felt the baby move in her tummy and chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” she asked sleepily.

“Pudding just kicked me.”

“Is that all, he kicks me all the time.”

“Well, you are sort of carrying him.”

“Yeah, wanna swap—I’ll shout at Mima and you can lug this monster and his trampoline about.”

“Trampoline?”

“Yeah, when they next do a scan I’m going to ask them to look for one.”

“How do you know it’s not a girl?”

“I’d like one more than a boy, though Daddy would love a boy.”

“He won’t have to look after it, will he?”

“No, I was going to speak to you about that…”

“About what?”

“Buy the time Pud is born, you’ll be an old hand at babycare, so would you—I mean, um…”

“Would I help you? Of course I will.”

“No, would you look after it while I go back to work?”

“What?” I was aghast.

“You’re so much more into the domestic stuff than I am.”

“Only because I couldn’t afford a maid.”

“I just thought, if you keep Jemima…you know, another one wouldn’t be so much extra, would it?”

“Have you any idea how much work is involved in caring for a neo-natal?”

“No,” I felt her blush.

“Nor me—but I’ll bet it’s enormous.”

“You don’t either, Catherine Watts—you should be ashamed of yourself.”

“Hush, you’ll wake the Kraken.”

“Sorry,” she hissed.

“Why should I be ashamed of myself?”

“I just had this vision of you as a teenager reading Brides and baby care manuals.”

“I did, but it doesn’t mean I know anything, does it.”

“Mima is still alive.”

“Only because Tom came home at the critical moment.”

“It’s still two weeks longer than I’d have managed.”

“You’re a nurse, didn’t you do any paediatrics?”

“Certainly not, I can’t cope with sick adults, so what chance sick babies?”

“Yet you think I should be able to?”

“Well they can’t be all that different to dormice.”

“Stella, I can’t believe you just said that.”

“Said what?”

“Babies are like dormice.”

“Aren’t they, I mean you are a biologist, so should know about the birds and bees.”

“Can I tell them that when they attempt to repossess Mima?”

“Repossess? They haven’t ever had her before have they?”

“How do I know? Given how her so called mother, dumped her on me, I have no idea. If it wasn’t for Dr Rose, I reckon they’d have gone to court already.”

“Oh yeah, Daddy said something about a judicial review.”

“About what?”

“Mima. Apparently one of his barrister friends seems to think because you were asked to take her in a private arrangement, the council can go play with themselves.”

“Yeah, but as child minders have to be registered, I can’t see that happening soon.”

“Yeah, but they are being paid, you aren’t, although he suggests you should be entitled to child benefit allowance.”

“I’d happily forgo that if they left me alone in peace.”

“Why should you, it’s a help for the expense of raising a kid.”

“I have a feeling it’s all going to end in tears, and I wonder if I should give in now to avoid causing Mima extra stress. Besides, I’m not quite as good a mother as I thought I was. In fact, I’m pretty useless.”

“No you’re not. Toddlers are provocative and you are inexperienced. It takes practice. Why don’t you get some books on it?”

“When am I supposed to read them?”

“She’s asleep now.”

“Stella, I am knackered. As soon as I so much as pick up a paper or book, she becomes like Argus.”

“What? I thought that was a shop owned by Great Universal.”

“That’s Argos, you nit wit; Argus was some sort of mega night watchman who never slept and had ten thousand eyes.”

“Cor, I’ll bet he got through crates of mascara.”

“You idiot, ooh, Pudding had me again.”

“Seriously, if Daddy gets and wins the judicial review, will you look after Pudding, too?”

“Let’s see what and if it happens, it might come with conditions.”

“Next question, what would you like for your birthday?”

“My birthday, shit, when is it?”

“Exactly a year after you were born, obviously in this case it will be the anniversary of…”

“No you twit, what day is it?”

“Tuesday, it’s next Wednesday.”

“Oh hell, I shall be twenty four.”

“It’s quite painless, I’m two years older than that—actually, not quite two years, and as for the pain, it doesn’t hurt, except everything is getting ready to sag or become grey, or lined.”

“I think that may be an exaggeration, “ I yawned, “Pudding, go to bloody sleep and stop kicking me.”

“He knows when he’s not wanted,” she said and turned her back to me. I did finally sleep, becoming slightly aware that Jemima got into bed with me, but I drifted back off.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 484

I woke up with Mima and Stella both playing with my hair and giggling. “You need a trim, girl,” said Stella.

“Only ‘cos the people who keep getting in my bed make me try to tear it out,” I said closing my eyes again.

“You’ll be saying, it’s the voices next.”

“It’s the voices next.”

“No you idiot, she poked me in the back.”

“Was that you or pudding?”

“Very funny.” At this Mima chuckled loudly.

I nearly said to her, Auntie Stella has a baby in her tummy, so watch out or she’ll eat you too. Sadly, she might have believed me. Instead I said, “Did you know Auntie Stella has a baby in her tummy?”

“No,” she laughed as if my suggestion were absurd.

I sat up and picked her up onto my lap, “Here feel Auntie Stella’s baby.” Stella took her hand and placed it on her abdomen. For a moment nothing happened then she whipped her hand away and squealed.

“Mima no like.” She jumped off the bed and ran and jumped into her own.

“Oops!” said Stella.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but then I’m sure the man who thought up the M25 said that as well, if only he’d had the foresight to make it ninety three lanes wide the first time. Movement on this motorway is slower than the incremental growth in lanes as they widen it twice a week.

I got out of bed and went over to Mima. “What’s the matter, little ‘un?”

“Howwibwul, Auntie Stewwa’s tummy moved.” She rolled over and put her face into the pillow.

“Mima,” she ignored me, “Mima if you don’t help me, they won’t let me be your mummy.” Okay, the worst sort of blackmail, but it works—most of the time.

She slowly turned over to face me. “Mima, Auntie Stella is having a baby, which takes many months to grow in her tummy.”

She shrieked with laughter at this. It’s true, Sweetheart, babies grow in their mummies’ tummies. It’s what you did in your real mummy’s tum, it’s what I did in my mummy’s tum and so on. It’s how babies are made—well, sort of, it’s all you need to know for the moment.”

“Was I in your tummy, Mummy.”

“No, Sweetheart, I’m not your real mummy, am I?”

“Yes, you’s Mima’s mummy”, and she threw her arms around me. Why do children and dormice always make life so difficult?

“Mima, I am not your real mummy, I’m looking after you until she comes back to take you home.”

“No, no,” she screamed, “You my mummy, uvver mummy said.”

“Very interestink,” said Stella from my bed.

“What did your other mummy say?” I asked gently aware she may not even understand the question or the context.

“Caffy gonna be my new mummy, she nice.”

“She doesn’t know you as well as I do,” piped a voice from the bed.

I hushed Stella. “Is that all she said?”

Mima made a purposeful nodding motion with her head, “Yesss.”

“Okay, Sweetheart, give me a hug and let’s get some brekkies.”

We hadn’t long finished breakfast when there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find a young postman looking at me and smirking. I followed his eyes down and saw that some splashes of water had made my nightdress nearly transparent in the area of my chest.

“Yes,” I said firmly.

“Oh yes please,” he said and blushed, “Sorry, erm you have to sign for this,” he handed me a book and pen. It was a registered letter from South Africa, addressed to Lady Catherine Cameron.

As I shut the door I heard him wolf whistle as he walked back to his van. Oh well, nice to know I made someone’s day. I went back to the kitchen where Stella was clearing up the mess on the floor after Mima had ‘washed up’, hence my wet nightie.

“Who was that?” she asked

“Postie, I apparently have a letter from South Africa.”

“There’s nice for you dear,” she grinned.

“I don’t know, it has a sender’s address of a legal firm.”

“Well open it up then, open it up, dear.”

I took a knife and slid the envelope open, out fell a short letter on thick legal paper. I flipped it open with the knife.

I, Janice Scott, mother of Jemima Jane Scott, make deposition here before this advocate of the South African Bar, that I confirm my bestowal of indefinite in loco parentis and guardianship for the above mentioned Jemima Jane Scott, to Miss Catherine Watts, soon to be Lady Catherine Cameron, whom I deem to be a fit and suitable person to be entrusted with this office, until I am able to return and take over this role again myself.

Witnessed this day

Hans van Krupps, Advocate and attorney at law.

Signed: Janice Scott.

“Wow!” said Stella.

“Will it have any effect upon those in county hall?”

“I don’t know, you won’t find any fingerprints on it, so let me ring Papa and read it to him, he can then pass it on to his counsel.”

“I’m not holding my breath,” I said trying not to think too much about it all. My inexperience the other day had shocked me and upset Mima, and my confidence to look after a toddler had ebbed more than a little.

I was left with Mima standing in front of me, looking up at me. “Why you cwyin’ Mummy?”

“It’s nothing, darling, give me a hug.” I picked her up and she cuddled against me.

“Don’t cwy, Mummy, Mima mend it.”

I laughed and hugged her tighter, “You funny little baggage,” I said kissing her on the top of her head.

“Has Tom got a fax?” said Stella wandering back into the kitchen, “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” I said and some more salt water spilled down my cheeks.

“Mummy upset, Mima mend it.”

“I’m sure you will, Mima. The good news is, Daddy thinks, it might help. So stop blubbing and show me the fax.”

“In his study.”

“Right Social Services, stick this where the sun don’t shine!” We had the odd day when Stella was occasionally less than fussy and feminine.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 485

“Yahoo, let’s kick ass,” yelled Stella as she came out of the study.

“Stella have you been watching Clint Eastwood again?”

“Nah, that would be: Make my day, punk—this here’s a forty four magnum, the world’s most powerful ice cream…”

I began to worry about Stella at times. However, I tried to ignore her wilder verbalisations in the hope someone else would too. Why do these things never quite work so well in theory?

I’d been ruminating on the letter and became aware that Mima was transfixed by something. I glanced down, she was staring at my nipple; although my nightie was drying, it was cold and my nipple was standing on tip toes and projecting through the material.

I just watched as she walked forward and poked me in the nipple, with a sharp little finger. “Ouch, you little bugger, that hurt.”

She laughed and parroted, “Wittle bugger,” dancing round the kitchen while I caressed the offended organ in my hand, it was still smarting.

“You hurt me then, please do not do that again,” I said quite firmly but she was carried away by her cleverness. “MIMA,” I spoke loudly and sharply, she stopped and burst into tears. I couldn’t win with this kid, no wonder her mother had given her away. I suppose there always was ebay, wonder if we’d get a better price for two—have to speak to Stella.

She ran crying out of the kitchen and slap bang into, ‘kick-ass’ Cameron. I suspect that if Newton’s law of whatever, were applied, the equal and opposite reaction was what happened. The smaller object was repelled by the larger force and came flying back into the kitchen, or should I say, backwards into the kitchen. All I could think was, she’s not wearing her helmet—bugger—and I almost dived across the room to catch her before she hit the ground. I did, but she hit me across both boobs and the pain was, shall we say, it was and leave it at that.

I was lying on the floor gasping as Stella walked in, “You alright, Cathy?”

“No, I’m bloody not.” The shock had stopped Mima crying, and Stella picked her up from on top of me. “I tried to catch her before she hit her head—ouch—and I did catch her.” I sat up and cradled my breasts with my hands.

“Ouch,” said Stella. She paused for a minute and said, “I’ll take Mima up and wash and dress her and you take your time, go and have a bath or something to ease them off, yeah cold water, stop the bruises.”

I stood up and they were still hurting, burning inside. Occasionally bending down I’d hit a corner of a desk or handlebar of the bike and it takes your breath away for a minute. This was lasting more than that.

I went up to the shower and stood under the cool water for a few minutes, what a torture that was, talk about adding insult to injury. I showered quickly with more a humane water temperature and dried quickly, plastering the affected areas with arnica cream.

They were still very tender, but almost bearably so. I dressed with great care, especially in my choice of bra, a nicely padded one, finally slipping a polo-necked pullover on with my jeans. I would have to stop Mima bouncing onto my lap for a few days, although it wasn’t her fault, she is only a child and I don’t actually have to kill her today.

I met Stella and Mima at the top of the stairs. “You look very smart, Missy,” I said to her.

She giggled her response and put her hands over her mouth. Stella, winked and pointed at my chest. I groaned and she nodded.

“Where is your helmet?” I asked.

Mima stopped giggling and her bottom lip twitched. I hoped she wasn’t going to start crying again, or I might have to raise her up my execution list. Didn’t you know my alter ego is a hit man for MI6, you know, the name’s Bond, Premium Bond.

“Come on, let’s go and find it,” I took her hand and we went downstairs. At least it wasn’t in the dogs basket this time. I found it under the stairs in her den—made up of a bath towel airing on a clothes horse.

As I tried to put it on, she resisted, “Mima, no wike helmet,” she pouted and kept knocking it off.

“Just a moment little girl. I am going to say this just once, so you listen carefully. A little while ago you had a bad injury to your head. Your head is very fragile, that means it can easily be hurt again. You nearly hurt it again when you fell in the kitchen, only you landed on me. I got hurt instead.”

“Sow-wee Mummy,” she said sniffing.

“Please listen, I haven’t finished yet. Now, if you hurt your head again while I’m looking after you, they won’t let you stay with me.” She immediately squealed and jumped up clasping her arms around my neck and crushing her chest into mine. A minor nuclear blast occurred somewhere in the middle of my chest and I couldn’t breath.

I fell back against the chair and Stella, who had followed us must have seen what happened, because she pulled the kicking and squealing tot off me. “Cathy, are you all right? Mima, just hold mummy’s leg.”

A moment later a felt a cold wet cloth on my face and I gasped, “Geez-zuz, that hurt.”

“Come on, get your coat.”

“Why?”

“I’m taking you down to A&E.”

“I’ll be okay, it’s just bruising.”

“Yeah sure, get your coat. I’ll have to drive your car, it’s the only one with the child seat.”

The thought of Stella driving me to the hospital was actually more frightening than the consideration of what damage Mima had wrought, especially in that big car.

No matter how much I protested, she insisted and Mima was wrapped up, with helmet and plonked in the back, in her kiddi-seat. I was eased into the front where I had to hold the seat belt off my chest the whole journey.

We waited for two hours, the joys of the NHS, but after a good examination—the reason for the delay was waiting for the doctor from the breast clinic to come over to A&E. She knew what she was doing and ten minutes later and a letter for my GP, plus a prescription for two lots of pills, I was discharged. I also clutched a certificate to denote that I needn’t wear a seat belt for a couple of weeks. I was thinking about driving to and fro past the police station for a few hours if I got bored.

Stella had gone over to the urology clinic to see if Mr O’Rourke was about, taking the human cannon ball with her. I slowly walked towards the clinic when I saw them emerge, she called goodbye to someone and walked smiling towards me. Mima was eating what looked like a doughnut. My heart sank, if she ate that, she wouldn’t touch any lunch. It seemed that Stella had even less idea about kids than I did, and I was next to useless.

We called at the pharmacy and got my pain killers and anti-inflammatory pills. As we struggled back to the car, I almost winced at the prospect of wondering which of my two companions would succeed in killing me first? Stella—with her driving, or Jemima—by continuous assault and battery?

I got into the car and prayed to that God I don’t believe in for safe passage.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 486

We got back home about mid afternoon, narrowly avoiding the schools’ traffic, which is a total pain. So few people walk their kids to school, or cycle or use buses—most seem to use those ghastly 4x4s, presumably so they can ride over cyclists and pedestrians without damaging little George or Poppy.

The pain killers were helping now, as had the tuna roll that Stella had bought me in a nice coffee shop down by the quay. We were able to park outside and still see inside the car, so the doughnut eating cannon ball was able to catch up on her beauty sleep while we snacked.

The phone was ringing—it doesn’t ring, it makes a horrid noise something like an electronic bird caught with one foot on an AC current and the other on an earth. I was holding hands with Grumpy, she woke up before we noticed and yelled the place down. Stella had quite an altercation with some woman who thought we should be prosecuted. Okay, on reflection it wasn’t the best thing to do, but Stella can’t really have Mima sleeping in her arms, ‘cos it makes her bladder want to go, and I can’t because I’m still sore from her last hug.

Stella tottered in ahead of us in her high boots, Grumpy and I followed at a slower, more sedate pace as befits little legs. By the time we’d closed the door and taken coats off, Stella was tottering back to us. She was hugely excited until she saw Mima and her face changed.

“Come on, Sweetie, let Auntie Stella give you a nice ‘nana to eat.” She whisked the unfortunate tot off to the kitchen and shoved her in the high chair, peeling a small banana, she broke it in half and gave part to Mima.

Then she tottered out to me, “That was Daddy’s QC, he’s been on to the South African chap.”

“Oh, the letter?”

“Yes, he’s defending Janice and her husband.”

“Against what?”

“I forget which tin pot dictator they tried to upset, but anyway, they are trying to extradite them from Durban.”

“What? They’re mercenaries or terrorists?” I gasped.

“No, he’s an arms dealer of questionable conscience.”

“If he has links to the Russian Mafia, we’ll send Mima back by express delivery.”

“Cathy, listen. It was his opinion that we stood a better chance of having her with us longer and more easily by doing it the way she did, than through a formal agency.”

“Is she guilty of arms trafficking too?”

“I don’t know, but she’s in custody as well. Apparently, there are some documents on their way to us, although it might take some weeks. If they slip this charge, they will have to scarper because there are all sorts of nasty little men after them.”

“So why all the deception?”

“Because they wanted to see how you gelled with Mima and she with you. If it hadn’t gone well, she’d have snatched her away and tried again elsewhere, finding a foster mother. Because the time factor was short, and she was in danger—the car that hit Mima, was no accident, it was after them both.”

“So is she in any danger with me?”

“Hopefully not, unless of course the parents escape punishment. Zimbabwe, that’s the place.”

“For what?”

“That wants Janice and Lawrie.”

“What the hell were they selling arms to Zimbabwe for?”

“To overthrow, what’s his face.”

“I was hoping he’d get cholera.”

“That’s a very loving thought, Cathy.”

“Lovely thought, did you say?” I asked and she smirked and nodded.

“Mum-mmee, Mima wanna dwink,” came the dulcet tones from the kitchen.

“Looks like my turn,” I said, walking to the kitchen. “Okay, Sweetheart, what would you like to drink?”

“Mickey, pwease.”

I poured her some milk in her cup and gave it to her, releasing a hold on it only when she said thank you. I’ve met the occasional polite toddler, or was it spaniel? Anyhow, I thought I’d try it, make her say please and thanks, or as close as she seems able to. Maybe look at speech therapy if she stays.

“Oh the judicial review will happen on the twenty third.”

“Of what?”

“December.”

“You’re joking?”

“I’m not, it ain’t cheap, but it’s a bit quicker than many legal processes.”

“Oh my goodness, Stella, I feel suddenly quite anxious.”

“Why? You well may win.”

“That’s nearly as scary as losing.”

“I think Daddy’s QC was going to suggest that we have a six month trial with Mima, with some opportunity for Social Services to keep an eye on her, but also for input from the medical brigade.”

“Oh my goodness, Stella, this is so scary. I need to sit down.”

“This isn’t like adoption, you know, you only get to borrow her.”

“I know, I know. I’m just frightened because if I screw up after six months, any separation then, is going to be worse than now. It makes me awfully responsible.”

“Of course you’re responsible, you’re her foster mother, you silly cow.”

“I didn’t quite mean it like that.”

“I know, come on gal, let’s celebrate with a cuppa.”

After much ooh-ing and ah-ing, I began to think I might have got Mima to understand I was very sore across my boobs. I was thus able to have her sit on my lap while I read to her, something she loved. I read her some of, The House on Pooh Corner, because there was a copy in the house. Inside the front cover was a dedication, To Colin, love from Daddy, xxx. I wondered if that was Tom’s child’s original name. I felt extra reverence for the book, which I love anyway. I didn’t think I could bear to ask him, and as I didn’t want ‘kick ass’ Cameron to do it, I didn’t show it to her.

“I wonder if she’d like me to read her some Freya North?” asked Stella.

“That’s soft porn chick lit,” I protested.

“So, she’s a chick.”

“What if she turns out to be gay or a nympho and she blames it on your readings of sex obsessed heroines from such stories.”

“How about Bridget Jones’ Diaries?”

“No, Stella, definitely not.”

“I wuv Winnie Pooh—Poohs.”

“See, I have the confidence of part of the electorate.”

“Wait till the coup d’etat, you old reactionary.”

“You’ll need planning permission to build any new coops here.”

“Curses, foiled again, come Muttley.” As she walked out Kiki walked behind but she wasn’t saying, Sassa-frassa rassing, Rick Rastery!.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 487

Tom read to Mima from ‘Pooh’ and Stella and I made dinner. After we’d eaten, Stella picked up the book from the sideboard. “Who’s Colin?” she asked making me squirm.

“What?” Tom said.

“Colin, the book is dedicated to Colin from Daddy.” She passed it over to Tom who stretched out a hand.

“No idea,” he handed her back the book.

“So how come you’ve got it?”

“I love Sheppard’s illustrations.”

“I wondered if you’d bought it for Cameron?” asked Stella and I mentally wanted to kick myself.

“No, I bought that in Oxfam or somewhere like that a few years ago. Catherine had been gone for years by then.”

I felt myself blushing and feeling hot. “You okay, Cathy?” said Stella.

“Me, yeah, just going to check Mima.” I went upstairs and checked the sleeping cherub. I stroked her face and she smiled and moved her head against my hand. I was definitely bonding with this bit of flotsam.

I stood watching her for several minutes, how could I forget something as basic as Catherine’s previous name, was it disrespectful? Especially one as pertinent as Cameron. I can see the surprise on Stella’s face as she suggested things were ordained by a higher authority. I still think coincidence is a wonderful thing, divinely or mundanely inspired.

I came down to see Tom had poured me a glass of wine. “Thanks, Tom,” I said picking it up and sipping it.

“Stella says you might have had some helpful news.”

“We’ll have to wait and see, I don’t want to get too hopeful in case it all falls flat on its face.”

“Yes, that would hardly be a novel experience would it?” he replied.

“I think you win most of life’s battles Cathy Watts,” declared Stella, “especially with my support.”

“It sure helps,” I said beginning to clear the table.

“Leave those for Tom to do, come out into the kitchen where the light is better and I’ll trim those split ends.” As she spoke I saw astonishment in Tom’s face and sniggered as I followed her out.

Tom did clear the table and loaded the dishwasher, while Stella combed and trimmed my hair. “It could do with some more highlights, these are pretty well grown out. I’ll do them for your birthday, how’s that?”

“That would be as nice a present as any, Stella, thank you.”

“No you, silly moo, I’ll do them so you’ll look nice for your birthday. I bought your present weeks ago.”

“Oh, alright then, thanks.” What else could I say without dropping myself further in the mire? So I shut up.

“What did you read to your Catherine?” asked Stella as Tom came out with the final load of crocks.

“Eh? My Catherine? She could read by the age of four, when she was still living as a boy. By nine she was reading Iris Murdoch and understood it better than I did. By twelve she was reading Tacitus in the original Latin. She had more brains than her mother and I put together. We never did discover where they came from.”

“We say that about Simon,” said Stella.

“What about how clever he is?” asked Tom looking slightly bemused.

“No, about where he came from,” said Stella and started to laugh.

“Hoi, that’s my fiancé you are slandering?”

“Hoy? What Chris Hoy?” Stella was now in a real mischievous mood, I was rather glad she’d finished cutting my hair and was sweeping up the bits.

“Very funny, Stella, thanks for doing my hair.” I got up and walked off before she said anything else for which, I might have to hit her. I popped up to my bedroom and phoned Simon.

“Hi, Babes, I was just thinking about you. Can you speak up?”

“No, I’m in my bedroom and Mima is trying to sleep.”

“Can’t you go elsewhere?”

“I could I suppose, hang on…” I went into the bathroom and was quite pleased there was still a signal in there. “Is that better?”

“Much, Babes. How is the little darlin’?”

“She’s fine, although I spent a couple of hours in casualty today.”

“Oh God, she’s okay though?”

“She wasn’t in trouble, I was, injured twice by her own fair hand, or should I say head.”

“What?” I explained what had happened and how sore I was as a consequence. “Sounds like Stella did the best thing, getting it checked out.”

“How would you feel if she were to drive your Jag?”

“She wouldn’t, I’d kill her first.”

“That was what I thought when she got in the driver’s side of the Mondeo.”

“You didn’t let her drive your dad’s car, oh, Cathy, I am disappointed.”

“I tell you what, I’ll hang two mousetraps from your nipples and then we’ll run from the kitchen to your car.”

“You getting kinky in your old age, girl?”

“No, I’m just trying to give some idea of what it felt like walking slowly to the car and trying to head off Stella, who had a room’s lead on me. I was so sore, I could hardly move. My boobs are starting to change to Technicolor,” I said peering down the front of my jumper.

“Never mind, babes, I’ll kiss them better when I come home tomorrow night.”

“Tomorrow night?”

“Yeah, like Friday, it’s Thursday today.”

“Is it? I’ve lost track of the real world ever since I’ve had the two little girls to look after.”

“What, Stella and Jemima?”

“The same.” I heard him laugh. “Just don’t let her treat you like an unpaid nanny when she has her sprog.”

“We’ve called her, Pudding.”

“Who? Stella?”

“No, the baby.”

“How do you know it’s a girl?”

“I don’t, just a guess.”

“Oh well, we’ll see soon enough, I suppose.”

“In another five months, Simon.”

“That’ll be soon enough for me.”

“What about Mima, you seem to like her?”

“Mima is a delightful little girl with whom one can interact, not some bawling, bag of crap which pukes all over you, wees down you or needs shit removal.”

“I take it you’re not overly fond of babies?”

“Damn, I thought I’d concealed it rather well—you must be a mind-reader, but with mine it doesn’t take long,” he said and I mimed. It was, perhaps as well, he couldn’t see me, or my multicoloured breasts.

“I’d better go and check on your new girlfriend,” I said.

“Oops! I gotta go too, Babes, have to call Santiago about a deal I’ve been trying to set up.” We each sent metaphorical kisses and rang off.

I crept back into the bedroom. Stella was already in my bed reading, The House at Pooh Corner. She beamed a huge smile at me, “Will Caffy wead to wittle Stewwa?”

I’m gonna have to kill her!

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 488

“You forgot what your predecessor’s original name was, didn’t you?”

I blushed furiously, “Okay, so I forgot. So what?”

“I’m gonna tell Tom on you,” Stella piped at me in an artificial voice.

“Go ahead, but next time Simon pulls your pigtails, don’t expect me to help you, miss tell tale tit.”

“But I need you to protect me from the big bully.”

“Tough, the price of protection has gone up to two packets of crisps a day, and that only includes break an lunch time. Once school finishes, you’re on your own, unless you want to pay extra.”

“I think we’ll stop there, Cathy, you’re beginning to sound like big Brenda.”

“Who’s big Brenda?”

“A girl I was in school with, she was much bigger than anyone else, fattish but also very strong. Most of the boys at Millfied were terrified of big Brenda.”

“In my school, we had a whole pile of Mafiosi. The black kids were the toughest, but if you gave them no excuse, they usually left you alone. Once or twice they tried to take my dinner money from me, but I refused. I got thumped a few times, but they went off after easier pickings. I didn’t fight back, but neither did I give in. I got called all sorts of names, usually questioning my gender or sexuality.”

“Did you know then, you were really a girl?”

“Definitely, but I wouldn’t have admitted it. I was partly in denial, I suppose. It was also such an outlandish concept, that I had to keep it hidden. They’d have annihilated me.”

“You were really brave to come out at university.”

“Only because some silly bugger hit me off my bike and their brother thought I was a girl.”

“See, he could see it immediately.”

“Stella, I was wearing a skirt and high heeled boots, I mean what else could he have thought?”

“At the time, if I remember, you thought of endless possibilities for that list.”

“Well, I was very inexperienced in wearing the clothes, or living the part.”

“Do you remember tripping up and landing on top of him?”

“Um, do you think I’m ever going to forget it? I was so frightened, I thought he was going to kill me.”

“No, not Simon, he was too amused and enchanted by your falling for him.”

“I didn’t fall for him, I fell on top of him, there is a difference.”

“Yes, but Simon wasn’t aware of it, so it doesn’t really matter, does it. He was convinced you were a naïve young woman, who was painfully shy and had had a bad experience.”

“I had, his sister tried to kill me.”

“I wasn’t trying at all, besides fancy going out in the dark without lights?”

“It was broad daylight, it was mid afternoon, in July.”

“You forgot the thunderstorm and the fact that it was as dark as night and you weren’t using lights.”

“It’s a race bike, it weighs about fifteen pounds, maybe sixteen with a puncture outfit and mini-pump or CO2 cylinder. Lights would add to that weight.”

“You aren’t going to try and tell me that half a pound of lights would make an enormous difference to your performance.”

“It could, especially over forty miles and a few big hills.”

“I ride too, or have you forgotten that?”

“No, Stella, I haven’t forgotten.”

“So I don’t think half a pound would make that much difference.”

“So why are you always complaining about the extra weight of Puddin’?”

“That’s different.”

“Yeah, one law for you and another for the rest of us.”

“Of course, and let’s face it, you proles wouldn’t really want us patrician types to be any different, would you?”

“Not before and during the revolution, no, why? We’ll just keep the tumbrels moving.”

“See, that’s your answer to everything, you peasants are all the same—brute force and ignorance.”

“We don’t have your levels of sophistication, your money, power and tame police force.”

“You seem to have plenty of neck, though.”

“As long as Madam G, doesn’t get to feel it, that’s okay with me.”

“Can’t promise anything when civil law breaks down, except that martial law will follow it.”

“I need to go to sleep now, Stella, I feel very tired.”

“So you not gonna wead wittle Stewwa, a storwy?”

“No chance, I’m knackered.” I switched off my bedside light, but she left hers on as she read Winnie the pooh. Thankfully, it didn’t disturb me; though turning over made my boobs move and the pain shot through them again.

Once again, I had a vague recollection of Mima getting into my bed, and when I awoke the next day, she was curled up asleep alongside us. This next morning she was fast asleep, last time she was wide awake. I cuddled around her gently, hoping she wouldn’t wake. She didn’t and we lay together for nearly a whole hour.

It was Friday, and Simon would be home tonight, we would need a little less of a haphazard system for sleeping tonight. I needed to speak to Stella about it, fairly urgently. I suppose it kept life interesting, occasionally too much so.

Feeling I was in the eye of whatever storm would hit, I relaxed and waited for the crunch as reality invaded my utopian sleep state.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 489

I must have nodded again, but I was awake now, and the sensation I had in my back meant Puddin’ was giving me a kick. I tried not to snigger, but I did and of course, Mima woke up.

I suspect she’d been awake for a little while, but she’d lain perfectly still, except I could feel a tickling sensation in my thumb, she was sucking it. “Hello, Sweetheart,” I said to her, and rolled over onto my back. She of course sat up and leant over to kiss me. The kiss was fine, well a bit wet, it was where she shoved her hand while she leant over. My breasts were still sore and I squeaked.

Stella sat up and leant across me to kiss Mima as well. I was beginning to feel like a party wall. Of course, Puddin’ didn’t seem to like being squashed up and complained by kicking me. Give a dog a bad name…

“Come on you pair, never mind slobbering all over me, let’s get breakfast.”

“Ooh, you can be ever so dominant, when the mood takes you,” said Stella in a camp voice, which had Mima giggling.

“And what are you laughing at?” I asked the giggling tot.

“Annie Stewwa talkin’ in a siwwee voice.”

“Well Uncle Simon is coming home this evening, so that should be fun, shouldn’t it?”

“Daddy Simon,” she corrected me, with an expression of irritation on her face.

“Him daddy, you mummy, me Tarzan,” piped Stella in yet another funny voice, which made Mima laugh again then run off to the loo. She grabbed the plastic step stool and after putting it in front of the loo, stepped up, turned around and sat down—weeing through her knickers. Oh well, two out of three, life’s rich tapestry and so on. I had her stripped out of them and in the shower before she could get upset. I was getting the hang of this childcare business.

We showered together—yes, Stella felt left out, so joined us. I did think about inviting the dog. A certain small hand ran itself over my relatively flat tummy, then over Stella’s burgeoning bulge. “Annie Stewwa’s baby,” she said and I watched as she kept her hand there while a ‘shark fin swam’ towards it under the skin. Instead of pulling it away she kept it there and giggled. “Mima feel baby,” she giggled looking really pleased with herself.

“That’s Baby Puddin’,” said Stella.

“Puddin?” she looked at us as if we were certified maniacs, which we are, only I wasn’t aware she knew.

“That’s what we call her, Puddin’.”

“Siwwee name.”

“What would you call her then?” asked Stella.

“Barbie,” came back the reply.

“What if it’s a boy?” I asked wondering where this would go.

“No boy, ‘s Barbie.”

“I think I prefer Puddin’,” said Stella and I nodded.

My breasts were a mixture of dark purple and green but they did feel a little better. After wrapping myself in a towel, I dried Mima, who sitting on the loo as I put her trousers on, stared at my multicoloured cleavage.

“Mummy’s boobies pwetty.”

“Not really, Mima, they are all bruised and sore.”

“Why they saw?” she asked.

“Because you bashed into them yesterday when you bounced off Auntie Stella.”

“Sowwee, Mima bad giwl.”

“No, Mima is a good girl, it was an accident, and they’ll be better in a few days.”

“Sowwee Mummeee,” she said trying to hug me and thereby squeezing the sensitive and sensitised appendages on my chest once again. Some days, I began to wonder if boobs were such a good idea? However, Simon liked them, so maybe they could stay a bit longer.

Stella had left wrapped in a towel and returned a few minutes later. I was at the point of dressing when she told me she had Mima’s breakfast ready and to wrap my hair in a towel as she’d do the highlights.

“Is this a good idea, she doesn’t take long to eat you know?”

“It’s fine, come on, Mima, you’ll sit still while I do Mummy’s hair, won’t you?” Mima didn’t say anything she stood with her hands on her hips and nodded in the emphatic way small children do. “Then, I’ll cut yours if you’d like?” said Stella.

“Yes pwease,” she said and waited for me to lift her into her high chair. Sometimes this child is so good, I want to weep—other times she is so naughty, I do weep.

The morning passed by, with me having new highlights and Mima having a trim. She made faces at the smell of the chemicals but played with her mutant mouse while she waited for her turn at Stella’s hair boutique.

It was two weeks since Simon had last been at home and I felt quite excited. Mima probably picked up on my tension, because she was an angel all morning and a demon all afternoon. I had to shut the dog in the conservatory because she kept teasing her. I had to move the vase of flowers off the dining table after she knocked them down and they nearly landed on her head. She cried and stamped when I made her wear her crash helmet as she tore around the ground floor on her trike. She crashed into Stella, giving her a nasty bruise on her leg.

In the end, Stella took her out for a walk to the park with the dog. I got on with the cleaning and ran the vacuum cleaner over everything—okay, nearly everything!

I had a chicken cooking in the oven by the time they came back and was doing the vegetables. “Oh oh, Mummy’s wearing war paint, watch out Simon.” Quipped Stella as she came into the kitchen with Mima carrying a small bunch of flowers.

“Are those for me, Sweetheart?” I said reaching down to take the blooms.

“No, Mima’s,” she snapped pulling the flowers to her chest.

“Oh, okay,” I said feeling a little embarrassed.

“Are you going to put them in a vase?”

She nodded, so I got a vase out from under the sink and half filled it with water. “If you pass me the flowers, I’ll cut a bit off the ends and they’ll drink more easily.” I held out my hand and she stepped back.

“Mima do it.”

“Can you supervise her, Stella? I’m trying to get the veg on.”

“Sure,” I handed Stella the kitchen scissors and turned back to the sink to finish my chore. I could hear snipping noises behind and Mima held the stalk whilst Stella cut an inch off the bottom. Then they put the stalks into the water of the vase.

I’d just finished doing the last spud, when there was a tapping on my bum and I turned around to see a beaming tot pointing at the flowers. “Aren’t they lovely?” I said turning around and bending down to be on her level.

“For, Mummy,” she said and bent down and lifted most of the unfortunate flowers out of the water, holding them towards me, leaving the vase behind. Stella stood behind her laughing and shaking her head.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 490

It took us a little while to clean up the mess from Mima’s flower arranging, and it was just one more thing to do before Tom and then Simon, came home. Si had promised to try and get home early to see Mima before she went to bed.

The dinner was all cooking itself, I’d basted the chicken with a garlic mix, which tended to bring out the juices, and it also smelt rather appetising. I wondered who would turn up first. It was Tom, who walked in sniffed and said, “That smells delicious, Cathy. Now where’s that little urchin?” and the human cannonball hurtled into the room and grabbed his leg.

“Mima, please don’t run in the house, especially in the kitchen, you could get hurt.”

“Sowwee, Mumm-meee,” she said with total insincerity.

“Don’t go on to her, it’s my fault.” Tom did the grandparent bit.

“Well, then there’s no tea for you, it’s off to bed with you.”

“But, Mummy, I’ve only just come in and I’m looking forward to my tea,” Tom whined and Mima giggled.

“Shall I let Grampa Tom have some dinner?”

“Yes, he hungwee.”

“Okay, just this once.” I told Tom that Mima had had her meal and was waiting to be changed and read to prior to going to bed.

“What? You want me to change her?”

“Yes, is there a problem, I have gravy to make. I’ll ask Stella if you want.”

“I’m just wondering about, you know, social services.”

“You make the gravy and I’ll change her.”

“No, I’m perfectly capable of changing a nappy.”

“Mima not have nappies!” said an enraged Mima standing right alongside him.

“Oh, that’s even easier.”

“Well, duh—go and do it then.”

He’d just gone upstairs with Mima when Simon arrived. “Babes, that smells so good and I am so hungry. But gi’s a kiss first.” He grabbed me and hugged me and it hurt like hell.

I pushed him away, “Ouch, Simon, I am so tender in the boobs, sorry but that hurts.”

“That’s okay, Babes.” He stood to the side of me and kissed me. I wanted some more kisses but Mima was down again in her pyjamas and dressing gown.

“Daddy Simon,” she yelled and ran straight at Simon, who picked her up and swung her knocking the flowers off the table and all over me.

“Oh thanks, Simon, I really needed that,” or something like that, maybe with a few more Fs in it. He laughed and so did Mima. I left Tom to watch over the saucepans whilst I flew upstairs and changed my trousers. I actually put on a skirt, for the first time in ages. Then trotted down stairs followed by big belly Cameron.

Tom carved the chicken which had been cooling after a couple of hours roasting, they call it resting the joint or fowl. I dished up the vegetables. Mima wanted Simon to read to her, so out came the Milne again, and he went upstairs with his newest girlfriend, whilst we all waited for the story to end before we could eat.

Fifteen minutes is a long time to wait, especially when the air around you is screaming food at you. My stomach was rumbling as Stella and Tom tried to make polite conversation. Finally, Simon returned.

“I love that kid, I really do,” he said as we all sat down at the dining table.

“Just as well,” I replied, tasting the chicken. Iit was every bit as good as it smelt, “cos it’s your turn to take her to the park tomorrow, while Stella and I go shopping.”

“Sure, you coming, Tom?”

“Aye a’richt.”

“Bloody foreigners,” I said, smirking.

“Hark who’s talking, ye’re hardly a native here yersel’.”

“But she does do a neat garlic chicken,” said Stella, coming to my aid.

“I’m glad to see the age of chivalry isn’t dead, even if it does require a female knight to defend me.”

“Ye need defending frae me?” said Tom with indignation.

“Only when you go all Scottish nationalist on me, then you sound like Sean Connery without the whistle.”

“Sean Connery without the whistle?”

“Yeah, if you listen to him talking he whistles on his sibilants.”

“Aye that’ll be the cheap teeth he got frae the NHS, I expect.”

“More likely American, they all have such huge white teeth, they dazzle in the sun and look as natural as Victoria Beckham’s tan. Maybe she does subliminal advertising for Orange.”

“The future’s tanned, the future is orange. Yeah has a nice ring about it.” Stella can’t stand Posh Beckham, don’t know why, she can pull rank on her, she’s rich and has a title, where as Posh is just rich. I suppose having David Beckham on your arm opens a few doors, and he seems a nice guy unless you’re in goal against one of his curling free kicks.

“Anyone for wine?” asked Tom opening a bottle of Merlot. Simon had his glass up very quickly. As soon as all the glasses were full, Tom said, “I propose a toast to the cook, who apart from cooking this gorgeous repast, is absolutely beautiful and my adopted daughter.”

Glasses were clinked together and I sat cringing under the attention. “She might be your adopted daughter, Tom, but she’s my adopted fiancée and carer to my sister and our adopted banshee.”

“Huh, she’s my sister in law to be and helper to me and my baby,” said Stella, practically sticking out her tongue at Simon.

“Can we stop the accolades? It’s so boring being the only perfect human on the planet.” They all laughed and we went back to normal conversation. At bedtime, Stella went on alone to her own room while Simon looked at the pretty patterns the bruising had left on my breasts.

“Geez, girl, that must have bloody hurt.”

“At the time, I felt quite sick.”

“I don’t doubt it.” He produced some massage oil and gently rubbed them with what smelt like lavender. Much of this and I’d be asleep in moments. His touch was so deft and so gentle as he massaged my breasts and down round to my waist and the tops of my legs.

“Babes, you awake?” called this voice from miles away. I felt myself shaken. “Jemima’s awake, what do I do?”

I felt myself resurfacing from waters that were so deep and in which I was enjoying my swim. “What?”

“Mima’s awake.”

I sat up and looked at him. “What?”

“Mima,” he hissed at me, “is awake.”

“What? you woke me up to tell me that? What are you, some sort of moron?”

“Well, what do I do?”

“Nothing, she’ll go back to sleep if you leave her. She sometimes talks in her sleep.”

“Oh, does she? She’s alright, I take it?”

“Of course she is, brighter than you lot of hooray Henries.”

“Thanks, Cathy, I love you too.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 491

The prospect of having someone else here who would take control of Mima for a few hours was wonderful. That was the theory; the practice proved somewhat different.

I felt a little body squeezing in next to me—nothing new there. It cuddled into me and I went back to sleep, like the meat in a sandwich. I was so tired, I didn’t want to wake, I knew there were others who didn’t share this view and I could almost feel them willing me to wake up; as if by staying asleep I was spoiling their fun.

I sat up and snarled, “There, I’m awake, do you feel better?” and glanced at the two sleeping bodies alongside me.

“What’s the matter, Babes?” said Simon sleepily.

“Sorry, I was talking in my dream.”

“ ‘Kay,” he said and went back to sleep. Mima looked at me smiled and turned over with her back to me, presumably to go back to sleep, I glanced at the clock, it was coming up to six. I felt extremely stupid and lay back down again. I cuddled into Simon’s back and felt his arm reach around behind him and drape itself over my hip. Knowing that he’d wake up unable to move his arm, I pushed it back and put my arm around his waist, he lightly held my hand.

I must have gone back to sleep, because I awoke with a small hand tickling my right breast—I was lying on my left side, still cuddled into Simon’s back. “Makin’ Mummy’s boobies better,” said a little voice and I tried not to laugh, except it tickled.

I suspect Simon was wakening because he squeezed my hand. “There, all better now,” said the voice and I heard Simon snigger. “Mima go for wee-wee,” and I felt her get off the bed.

“What was she doing?” asked Simon.

“Rubbing my boob, ever so gently.”

“Making it better?”

“So she said.”

“Where do they get these ideas?”

“How do I know? I’ve had her two weeks not two years.”

“I thought women knew all about babies by osmosis?”

“Like men do cars, you mean?” This was below the belt because I knew that Simon was not at all mechanically minded. He couldn’t tell a chain breaker from a spoke spanner.

“Touche, I suppose I asked for that?”

“Yeah, in a word. Hush, here she comes again.” The thunder of tiny hoofbeats stopped at the bed and she hefted herself in a again, only her feet were cold against mine and I so nearly squeaked.

“Bwwwwww,” she said shivering, and cuddled in tightly to me.

We lay for maybe a minute when she became restless. They talk about ants in your pants, but a Mima in your bed is far less restful, I can assure you.

She tapped my shoulder and I ignored her. Simon still held my hand and could imagine what was happening, he squeezed it every now and again. The tapping got harder and a voice said loudly, “Mummm-mmeeee, wake up, Mima wanna bwekies.” I could feel Simon tense as he tried not to laugh.

The assault on my shoulder was repeated, then she cheated—the little monster—she pinched my bottom. I jumped, “Ouch,” I squeaked bumping my tender chest into Simon’s back. Now I hurt in two places. Mima of course giggled or was it more like a cackle from an old witch?

I sat up in bed just in time to squash her hand which was moving towards my buttock. She yelled and withdrew it, “Naughty, Mummy,” she said and went to hit me.

“Ah ah,” I said firmly, “don’t you dare hit me.”

“Mummy sitted on Mima’s hand,” she said sniffing, “naughty, Mummy.”

“Maybe that will teach you not to pinch my bottom, then. It’s not nice to pinch a lady’s bottom, or any other part.”

“Mummy doesn’t love Mima no more,” she howled.

“Oops, I’ll leave you to sort this one out,” said Simon, hiding under the bed clothes.

Gee thanks! “Mima don’t be such a cry baby. Come on, let’s go and get some breakfast.”

“Mima don’ wannun.”

“Well, I’m going to get some, maybe you’d better cuddle with Daddy Simon,” I dashed out of the room before there was any reaction. Down in the kitchen, I put the kettle on and waited for the sound of movement from upstairs. There was none.

I made the tea and there was still none. I poured myself a cup of gnat’s pee as Simon calls it, and drank it. There was still no motion from upstairs. I ate my cereal and still no sound from my bedroom. I poured Simon a cup of the now stronger tea and took it upstairs.

“…more, Daddy, more.”

“Oh alright, this is the last one. Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Jemima, and…”

“…She pulled a fast one on her two foster parents. Cuppa?”

“Daddy telwin’ Mima storwies.”

“Oh yes, like what?”

“Mummy wons bike wace.”

“Tall stories are they, or do they include stabbings?”

“Shush,” said Simon, “the art of the storyteller is a dying one.”

“Only if said storyteller rubs his fiancee up the wrong way, in which case it will become a dying art very rapidly. I’m going in the shower, I expect you up by the time I come out.”

I strode out to the bathroom and after taking off my nightdress got into the bath and started the shower, a few moments later in got a small body, so I cooled the water a little. I washed her hair and gave her the flannel to wash her naughty bits.

“So this is what happens when I’m not here?” said Simon poking his head inside the curtain. Mima squealed and I just so happened to have the shower head in my hand, irrigated the source of the noise. Mima squealed again, this time with laughter.

Simon was all for getting in the shower as well, until I stopped him. “Just in case she hasn’t had any anatomy lessons, about male and female bodies,”

“I thought if they grew up with nudity, it no longer proved to be a problem.” Simon wasn’t really thinking this through.

“That might be the case in a natural family, but social services might see it differently. Very differently, as in abuse.”

“Oh lord, they wouldn’t would they?”

“Some of the man eaters they’ve sent round so far, yes and thrice yes.”

“But I’m a normal bloke, I don’t do disgusting things with or to children.”

“I know that, they don’t and I don’t want anything misconstrued.”

“That is abso-fu…”

“Language, dear, little piggies have big ears.”

“Oh fish!” he said in frustration.

I smiled at him, “Would you like to help dry our little guest?”

“Am I safe to do that?”

“Just wrap her in a bath towel and lift her out, I’ll do the rest while you shower.”

I heard him swearing to himself in the shower, “Absolutely….king ridiculous, I’m no….king pervert.”

“Language, dear,” I said loudly back to him.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 492

Simon had finished showering before I got both Mima and me dressed. He strolled into the bedroom with a towel around his waist and humming the music of ‘The Stripper’. I should have known he was winding me up, but I fell for it. Standing straight in front of both of us, he whipped off the towel and I jumped in front of Mima. He was of course wearing underpants and I realised I’d been had.

I mimed to him, that he had been born out of wedlock. He laughed, making a shocked face. “Language, Darling,” he said as I glared back at him. Mima, who was blissfully unaware of what was going on, laughed as well. What was it the poet, Thomas Gray, said? Where ignorance is bliss—‘tis folly to be wise. If you disagree ask Adam and Eve.

“Get dressed, Darling, before it catches cold and falls off,” I said to him.

“Ha ha, very funny,” he said and Mima giggled. She was laughing at us laughing, and we in turn were laughing at her laughter.

“Come on, Meems, we’ll leave King Kong to get himself dressed, you need some breakfast.” I took her hand and she came out with me, flirting with Simon as she went through the door. I needed to have a serious talk with my foster child, or she was going to be in trouble before she got to nursery school. I had no desire to be the worlds’ youngest granny.

Because Simon would be taking her out a little later, I’d dressed her in a dress, with tights and her little canvas and sheepskin boots. She had a nice warm coat, in matching pink, and I knew we had mittens and a hat and scarf set.

I made her some cereal and was making toast when Stella came down. “Oh is that toast, I am famished.” Mima was still munching on her rice crispies so I gave the first lot of toast to Stella. Simon claimed the next lot and I put in a third pair of slices of wholemeal bread, insistent that this was for Mima and me.

“Oh, can I have another slice, Babes?” he said stuffing half a slice into his gob.

I put some more bread in the machine, “When it’s done, yes, this is for Mima and me.”

“I could do with some more, too,” said Stella.

I smiled and taking the two slices I’d just taken from the toaster, buttered them and after spreading Marmite on one slice, cut it into soldiers and gave it to Mima. I ate mine with just the butter, I can’t stand the smell of Marmite, let alone the taste, but it’s full of B vitamins and Mima seems to think it’s okay.

“Marmite—wow, I haven’t had that since I was in school,” said Stella, “do me some will you, Cathy?”

“No, get your bloody own,” I said and marched out of the kitchen. At times Stella’s laziness just got my goat and I had to withdraw or say something nasty.

I had taken my toast with me and was eating it in the dining room.

“I think we all know what she didn’t get last night, eh, Simon?” Stella teased her brother. “Still you did have the world’s largest contraceptive in the room didn’t you.”

“Wassa con-septic, Annie Stewwa?”

“Something you don’t need to know about just yet, sweety-pie.”

“Why not, Annie Stewwa?”

“Ask your Mummy, she’s the expert.”

I could hear this quite clearly from the dining room and nearly choked at Stella’s remark. She will have to learn that you don’t tell kids lies and half truths, because they come back to haunt you. At the same time, I wasn’t going to have her setting me up.

“I think you mean anti-coital rather than contraceptive, if you recall, I don’t need the latter.” I left my plate in the sink and picked Mima out of her high chair and wiped her face and hands. She’d eaten all her breakfast, so I praised her and then gave her half a banana. She ran over to Simon and rubbed half of it on his trousers. The day was getting better.

Stella decided to go out with the boys and Mima, so I went shopping on my own. That was fine with me, it was escape from childcare for a few hours, athough I spent much of the time either food shopping or buying clothes for my foster kid.

I did see a pair of black courts I fancied, and of course had to have. They were reduced in one of the pre-Christmas, January sales. Life becomes increasingly confusing. I couldn’t get near Woolworths, who it appears are in big financial trouble, and was full of bargain hunters.

The main shopping area was heaving with crowds and I found the press so uncomfortable, that I went back to the car and drove off to a supermarket. Here, I bought all the stuff on my list, plus quite a bit more. I got home about twelve forty five and immediately was met with demands for lunch.

I of course exploded and was about to fling a box of eggs at Simon, when Tom intervened. “Calm down, woman, he’s just booked a table at the pub, he’s only winding you up.”

“Why does he keep doing this? He knows I don’t like it.” I was close to tears.

“I don’t know, Luv,” he said giving me a hug, “It’s a boy thing, they like to tease girls, and remember he does have a sister who does the same to him.

“I know I shouldn’t take the bait, but I’m just so tired all the time. Looking after a three year old is hard work, especially on top of mothering Stella, as well. She is driving me nuts, she treats me like the bloody maid, then the next moment she asking me to look after her dumb offspring, too.”

“How do you know it will be dumb?”

“A percentage bet based on what I know of her family so far.”

“Cathy, you are marrying one of that family….”

“Maybe, maybe not.”

“What? Don’t you think you should talk this over with Simon, before making statements like that?”

“I’ll see, right now, I feel like getting on my bike and riding off into the sunset.”

“If you did, who would look after your charge?”

“Why do you think I don’t actually do it?”

“It did cross my mind. She was very well behaved, although we had to change her tights when she fell over and got some mud on them.”

“I hope that was all that got muddy.”

“It was, Stella has washed them out and she replaced them with a white pair.”

“Where is Jemima?”

“With Simon, feeding Kiki.”

“Where?”

“In the conservatory, or they may be out in the garden now.”

“I thought you fed her later than this?”

“I do normally, but Simon wanted to feed her with Mima.”

“I keep telling him that children contain too many chemicals and will ruin the dog’s digestive system.”

“Okay, so I didn’t say that very grammatically, but you knew what I meant.”

“So are we all going to the pub?”

“Oh yes, Simon’s treat.”

“I’ll just go and freshen up, better have a quick look at Mima while I’m at it.” I’d just finished putting the shopping away and then found my ‘charge’ as Tom described her, in the conservatory. I took her upstairs with me. She was so excited after being down the park with the others, including Kiki, that I couldn’t do much with her. Her clothes were quite clean, so I wiped her face and hands in a flannel, redid my makeup and a squirt of perfume and we were ready for lunch.

My car was the only one with the child seat, so guess who got to drive? I suppose it wasn’t too bad, and everyone seemed to squeeze in quite comfortably in the Mondeo. I pulled into the car park of the Pig and Whistle, and Mima was fast asleep in her car seat. The excitement seemed to have been a bit too much.

Simon lifted her out and we put her in her pushchair, covered her over and went into the restaurant. She slept right through the meal and back in the car, until we got home. I ended up doing her a boiled egg and toast soldiers followed by a piece of fruit.

Apart from getting egg down her dress—the shortcomings of her bib—she wasn’t much trouble, but the extra responsibility weighed heavily at times, and mostly on me. I felt really sorry for single parent mums, who I’d previously slagged off as spongers. I now knew many of them worked pretty hard just looking after their children.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 493

Sunday morning started with me waking up with Mima on one side of me and Simon on the other. I made them get up at eight, because I wanted to strip the beds. Simon agreed to do them, and I said I’d make them up later. He did flip the mattresses for me, so I suppose I got a reasonable deal. He did it so easily compared to me, last time I got almost stuck between the mattress and the bed base, when the mattress flipped back on me, knocking me underneath it.

I washed and dressed both Mima and myself, and then after feeding her breakfast—she decided she would be a baby today and needed cajoling into eating. It all took patience and energy, neither of which were in much supply.

I shoved the mix into the bread machine and while the washing machine did the first wash, I pushed the hoover round clearing up the mud from the park and the dog’s feet.

Simon and Tom took Kiki and Mima out with them while they went to get a paper, and Stella sat about the place complaining about back ache. Of course no one had ever suffered like Stella did. I almost mentioned, ‘wait until Puddin’ is born,’ and while it was tempting, I couldn’t do it. She was going to suffer unless she had an epidural, knowing her she had probably arranged one.

I started the dinner, putting the leg of lamb into the pre-warmed oven, I’d rubbed it over with garlic and honey, and added chopped mint to it before shoving it in the oven.

Stella sat watching me work—it was the closest she came to doing any these days, which annoyed me, as I was led to believe that pregnancy is neither an illness nor disability. Then I recalled her abortion and the bleed that followed—maybe she was being sensible, if a little over cautious.

By the time our intrepid explorers returned with a slightly wrinkled version of The Observer, the dinner was well underway and the first wash was in the tumble drier. The second lot was in the washer and I’d also done the vegetables.

“Please don’t walk mud through the house, I’ve only just cleaned in here.”

“Come on, Cathy, it’s raining out here.”

“If you get mud on my carpets, you can jolly well vacuum them, like I had to.”

They entered looking quite sheepish. I took the buggy off them and released Mima from the strap and rain cover. “Hang on, this is a different buggy. Have you got the wrong one?”

I was about to play hell with them when Simon blushing, replied. “The wheel came off the old one and it wouldn’t go back on. We passed a shop which sold them so, I bought us a new one, he’s going to try and repair the old one, so then you’ll have a spare.”

“Oh, okay, pity you didn’t bring it back, I’m quite good at getting wheels on things.”

“He said he thought the bearings had gone or something.”

“So? I’ve changed them on a back wheel of a bike, I’m sure that’s harder.”

“I wouldn’t know, Cathy, all I know is what he told us and I bought a new one. Is that all right?”

“Yes, sweetheart,” I kissed him and he grabbed me and got oil on the white sleeve of my jumper. Some days, I didn’t believe my luck.

Mima had gone to pester Stella, who had nodded off on the couch in the dining room. She woke up in a hurry and complained to me later.

“That little hooligan woke me up, doesn’t she know you should let sleeping gestating women alone?”

“I doubt it, I don’t think I’ve got beyond Genesis in the Gs yet, why? She only wanted you to see her new pushchair.”

“Oh that’s what she was saying, that child needs speech therapy.”

“Yes and you need to shake yourself,” I muttered as I walked away.

“Oh do I now, well perhaps you’ll appreciate how much it hurts when you have one—oh, I forgot, you can’t can you?”

She was very lucky I didn’t have something sharp in my hands, because I would have dissected her on the spot. Instead I flew into the kitchen and slammed the door shut and banged pots and pans around for several minutes.

Because I was making so much noise, I didn’t hear Simon, who’d overheard Stella’s remark, take his sister to task. Tom told me later, that he wiped the floor with her, and she disappeared up the stairs to her room, where she languished for an hour or more. Tom had whipped Jemima away before the tongue lashing started, and they’d gone to wash Kiki’s feet which she thought great fun—a view not shared by the poor spaniel, who is very sensitive about anyone touching her feet.

Simon came in to me and held me while I howled and basted the joint—not quite at the same time. “I can’t stay in the same house as that woman,” I sobbed, while he convinced me that I could.

“She’s so bloody lazy, I’m like some sort of skivvy.”

“I’ve told her to pull her socks up.”

“She can’t, it hurts her back too much,” I did an impromptu mime of an old woman with lumbago.

“She’ll be a bit better in future, or I’ve told her she’ll be out on her ear.”

“Isn’t that Tom’s job, it is his house?”

“Maybe, but could you see him speaking to Stella about it?”

“Not really.”

“Anyway, it’s been done and I shall be watching her.”

“You can’t kick her out, not when she’s pregnant.”

“Why not, she has a luxury suite at the hotel at Southsea, she can use at a moment’s notice. She could go and stay with Dad and Monica, and she has access to the house in Scotland.”

“What about your cottage?”

“I’ve let it temporarily, until end of March.”

“You kept that quiet,” I said feeling rather surprised at the revelation.

“It’s an Australian chap who’s working at the Portsmouth branch, he needed somewhere to live, and I thought I’d try and get some of the cost of the repairs back.”

I wasn’t sure what I thought about someone else living in Simon’s cottage. But then I’d been prepared to let someone live in my parent’s house. Having made it mine again, I couldn’t now, but that’s a different story.

“She called Mima, a hooligan.” I complained.

“Well, she’ll find out the hard way what children are like,” he said hugging me.

“How come she doesn’t seem to faze you?”

“Who? Stella or Mima?”

“Mima, who else?”

“I like kids, besides when it seemed like we were unlikely to have any, I felt a bit sad about it, so I’m making hay while the sun shines.”

“Why don’t you ditch me and marry someone who can give you an heir?”

“Can’t do that.”

“Why? Seems easy enough to me.”

“Well, firstly, I love you: secondly, Henry loves you too and would kill me; then there’s Stella, she loves you too.”

“So why does she keep throwing my one shortcoming in my face, at every opportunity?”

“I think she forgets, then remembers half way through what she’s said, but by then, it’s too late to retract it without loss of face.”

“You mean she thought I could become pregnant before she remembered I can’t: come off it Simon, that won’t do at all.”

“Well, I nearly forget, in fact some days I do forget that you’re not absolutely perfect. I mean you are in so many ways and I love you to bits, which is why I’m keeping you, even with your shortcomings.”

“I reckon it’s ‘cos I know too much.” I said and laughed as he held me.

“Yeah okay, there’s that as well.”

“Come on, I’d better check on Mima, she’s probably torturing that poor dog or that poor old man.”

We went into the lounge, where Tom and Mima were fast asleep together and the dog was lying at Tom’s feet, equally somnolent. I could see Kipling’s Just So Stories open and face down on the sofa beside them. So that’s what they’d been up to. I smiled and put my arm around Simon as we enjoyed watching the sleepers. He kissed me.

“I don’t know which of those three is happiest,” he said quietly to me.

“Nor me, but standing here watching them makes me feel complete, if you understand what I mean.”

“I think I do, our little family.”

“Sometimes, Simon Cameron, I love you so much.” I pulled his face down to mine, and despite the tears which were running down my cheeks I kissed him with a passion. One a moment later he gave back in a kiss to me.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 494

Relations between Stella and I were strained to say the least. She did come down for some Sunday lunch, but returned to her room shortly afterwards. As far as I know, the rest of us, including Mima, enjoyed our roast lamb dinner.

Tom and Simon finished the bottle of wine and fell asleep watching the football on the telly. Mima sat in her high chair and talked to me whilst I cleaned up the kitchen and the dishes. Kiki, sat out in the conservatory chewing on the remains of the bone from the joint.

When she’d been to the loo—by herself, Mima yawned and went off to sleep between Tom and Simon. It made me smile how well she was fitting in with us, yet at the back of my mind, was how short lived this could all be. Once the kitchen was back under control, I made two cups of tea and went up to see Stella.

“Oh, I didn’t think we were talking?”

“I thought you might like a cuppa,” I presented her with the mug of steaming fluid.

“Thank you.”

I perched on the end of the bed. “Look, we are both being rather silly, and I suggest that we forget what has been said and move on. We need each other and we can either get over it or we part. What do you think?”

“I’m sorry for what I said,” she looked sheepishly at me.

“I’m sorry you said it, too, but we have to move on. So let’s just forget it all and move on. If that’s okay with you?”

“Yes,” she said, “that’s fine with me.”

“However, we need to write some new ground rules.”

“What did you have in mind?” She sipped her tea and looked as if she might burst into tears at any moment.

“Just that I need you to help me around the house a bit, or with Jemima. Officially, I’m still working remember, and I would like to keep Jemima for a bit longer if I can.”

“I thought you’d like to keep her, full stop?”

“I would, but I’m trying not to build up my hopes too much. I could still lose her.”

“Daddy seems to think you might be successful.”

“I’m grateful for his support but you can’t prejudge judges—maybe I should rephrase that?”

“No I think I got it, or the essence of it. Did you know the barrister he was talking to is the same one your solicitor chappy knows?”

“No, how did you know that?”

“Daddy phoned me earlier.”

“Oh did he? How is he?”

“He’s okay, worried about you and Jemima.”

“I thought he was fairly sure we’d win…”

“Okay, Cathy, you’ve made your point.”

“So, are you happy that we work together here?”

“I suppose so, although you’d never believe how bad my back is.”

“You could still watch Mima for me.”

“Yeah okay, I’ll watch the little hooligan for you.”

“She isn’t a hooligan, she’s a little angel. Come with me,” I led Stella down the stairs into the lounge. The television was still blaring and the three wise monkeys were still asleep on the sofa. What was so funny, was how they were all sitting or reclining. Heads back and mouths open, snoring. Hands by the side of them. Then when I looked more carefully, Mima had hold of a hand of each of the boys.

Typical, I spend half my time keeping her looking clean and tidy, and feeding her and she flirts with the men at the first opportunity. Such are the joys of motherhood—even in fostering.

I rushed off and got my camera, and by using a low shutter speed and high ISA setting, managed to take a picture without using flash. It was fairly dark, but I could lighten it a little with Photoshop, I might even use it as a personalised Christmas card.

Stella took one with her mobile and emailed it to her computer. I took out the card and inserted it into the reader. It took me twenty minutes, but I managed to lighten the picture without losing any definition. When I showed it to Stella, she thought it was perfect.

I saved the picture and printed one off on Tom’s laser printer. I took it up to my bedroom and put it safe. I hadn’t taken any photos of Mima, in fact I didn’t take many of anyone. Suddenly the possibility she could be taken away, made me want to have more memories of her. I felt my eyes moisten and I went back down. The sleeping beauties were all waking up and Stella was busy making tea for them.

Simon told me he was staying the night and travelling tomorrow morning. I was pleased about that, even though we couldn’t do anything at night, not with Mima in the room, it was nice to lie and cuddle with him. Sometimes that was all I wanted to do anyway, much to his disgust.

While they all drank tea, I made up a sort of communal ploughman’s, with the fresh bread I’d made earlier, a selection of cheeses, pickles and salad stuff. Tom cracked a bottle of white, and the two men drank most of it. Stella was on the wagon because of her pregnancy and I wanted to stay awake, if only as long as Mima did.

She had a bit of bread and cheese although she didn’t really eat either, just made it all wet and yucky, then gave it to the ever grateful Kiki. Spaniels, it seems, have great tolerance for what they’ll actually eat. If you don’t believe me, ask an owner what happens when you take a spaniel across a field in which there has been sheep. They’ll scoff any sheep droppings they can find, or maybe roll in them if still soft, or do both.

I suppose cats aren’t much better, they eat stuff from dustbins even though they don’t need it. They’ll happily stuff themselves on small furry things or birds—all of which might have worms or other parasites. How can they swallow feathers or furry things? I had to think of something else or I was going to regurgitate my ploughman’s.

It seemed I’d been preparing or clearing up food all day. Simon entertained Mima for ten minutes while Stella and I made up clean beds. We stripped hers afterwards and remade it. I dumped the bedclothes in the machine along with Mima’s dirty clothes and my white top—the one with the oily mark on it. I sprayed it with special detergent stuff, but I didn’t really expect the mark to wash out, not the first time.

Oil is a pain to shift, especially when it’s rubbed into the material. I have cycling tights which have it on the right leg. They’ve been washed by machine and hand and still have dirty marks on them. Believe it or not, it still shows up on black leggings.

How wonderful, my life has expanded to such a degree that my conversation revolves around toddlers and housework. I get more like a million young women every day, institutionalised into the home, something I was never going to do. I’m a career woman, chasing a PhD and wildlife film making. So what the flipping heck am I doing worrying about oil marks?

Simon took Mima up to bed, bathed her under my supervision and dressed her, then he sat and read to her for about twenty minutes. I had to go and wake him up half an hour later!

I showed Stella how to make up the bread mix and she produced the next batch for breakfast. Goodness the smell of baking bread makes my stomach rumble. It was a real effort not to succumb and eat a slice of bread I didn’t need. It was even more of one to stop Simon, who had bread knife in hand before I talked him out of it.

I snogged him for a few minutes and rubbed my boobs against him. He soon forgot about food even though all we could do was cuddle and tickle each others’ fancy.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 495

I felt Simon get out of bed, and nearly drag me with him—I got my hand caught in the tie waist of his pyjama bottoms. He’d taken to wearing them with a tee shirt for Mima’s sake. It made me smile, but he could be quite considerate when he tried.

I grumbled but followed him out of the bed and into the bathroom. Mima was asleep in our bed, and I wanted to say goodbye to him without waking her up. I hadn’t thought that we’d end up showering together, but that’s what we did and with the door of the bathroom closed and the air thick with steam, I won’t tell you what else we did in the shower, except that Simon’s legs were trembling a bit after and my back was cold. Needless to say we had to continue showering a bit longer.

I sneaked into the bedroom and withdrew some clothes for each of us, and we dried and dressed ourselves in the bathroom. Then on the way down to the dining room, I switched off the alarm clock. It was only six o’clock, I yawned as a reflex to learning the time; no wonder it was still dark.

I made us both a drink and also some coffee for Tom, who ambled in. “What are you doing up?” he asked me rather pointedly.

“Seeing Simon off, why?”

“You don’t usually.”

“So? I can change my mind can’t I?”

“Oh you can surely do that a’richt, lassie.”

I felt my eyes narrow at him although his were sparkling and a smile danced around his mouth. I blew a raspberry at him and he roared.

Simon sat and ate his toast and the egg I’d boiled for him. He couldn’t believe his luck, I’d actually got up to see him off. He was going to have to catch the later train, but he seemed unfazed by it.

Some fifteen minutes later, he kissed me goodbye and set off in his Jaguar for the station. They owned a lock up garage two minutes walk away and he parked in there, so his car wouldn’t be vandalised.

I felt an emptiness in my heart and had to sniff back the tear which had formed. My body felt heavy and I knew that I’d given up an hour or two of sleep, which whilst I enjoyed at the time, would regret as the day wore on.

I did too, Mima was a little monster and seemed to understand my tiredness enough to wind me up. Stella had to take over at one point, I was getting punchy with tiredness and nodded for half an hour in the lounge while she gave elocution lessons to Mima. ‘Ow now bwown cow. Shades of Pygmalion, I nodded off to sleep imagining I sold flowers for a living in Covent Garden Square.

“Mumm-meee wake hup.” I opened an eye and looked straight at one peering back at me. It made me jump. “Mummy, Mummy, I’s bin doin’ leck-cushun.”

“Oh, aren’t you a clever girl?” I said while wondering if we could get her money back.

“Annie Stewwa teached me.”

“Taught you,” I corrected.

“Annie Stewwa torted me.”

It was at this point, I decided I wouldn’t get involved in any explanations of English grammar and pronunciation within an hour of sleeping. Mainly because it was likely to make me want to return to my coma.

“Auntie Stella is a good teacher.”

“Yes, an’ Mima’s good too.”

“Mima is always good. Goodness look at the time, would you like some lunch?”

“Annie Stewwa’s making wunch.”

“She is?” I must still be dreaming. I sat up and Mima gave me a sloppy kiss on the cheek. I managed to clear my head enough to stand and then walk on leaden legs to the kitchen where Stella had opened a carton of organic leek and potato soup and was warming it in a pan. On the side was the new baked loaf, the one she’d made under my supervision in the bread machine. I was most impressed. She cut about a third of the loaf into doorsteps and then cut them in half.

“Nearly ready, Cathy, did you have a nice snooze?”

“Oh what? I was nearly comatose. Thanks so much for looking after Mima.”

“Did I hear some gymnastics in the shower in the middle of the night?”

“It’s an old house, Stella, it makes all sorts of funny noises, especially in the plumbing.”

“Yeah, but I thought I heard it do a fair copy of, When Harry Met Sally and the restaurant scene. She said ‘yes’ a few times and banged on the counter. I blushed and tried to change the subject.

“I think I might have seen the film years ago.”

“You have a copy of it on DVD.”

“Oh do I? Well what a coincidence. I must have bought it years ago.”

“You bought it two months ago, I was with you.”

“I don’t remember that,” it was true I didn’t, although I knew I had bought a copy fairly recently.

“Yeah, from that cheapo video shop, near the market.”

“I can’t remember that.”

“You bought a copy of Zulu for Simon, the same day.”

“Did I? I must be getting Alzheimer’s because I don’t recall any of that.”

“You don’t remember offering to look after Puddin’ either, then?”

“Stella, I’m sleepy not stupid.” I lifted Mima into her high chair and tied the bib around her neck. I mixed some cold milk with her soup and tested it for temperature, it was okay. I then sat and fed her most of it with a tea spoon. Mine was cold by the time she’d eaten half of hers. I whacked it in the microwave and then had to wait ten minutes because it was super-heated and would have dissolved my gullet.

Mima fell asleep in her highchair and got soup in her hair. So far today was proving wonderful. It didn’t get any better and I was pleased to go to sleep that night, from exhaustion. Tom had read to Mima and I washed up and went to bed by eight myself. I was knackered.

The next day, I awoke with Stella on one side and the beautiful banshee on the other. It was a better day, except that I did housework whilst Stella proved she wasn’t much of a speech therapist. However, it gave Mima some attention and me a chance to get things done.

I was in bed early again that night, I seemed to have no stamina. I slept like a log and again woke up to my two female bed-mates. I rolled over on my back to wait for the twenty or so minutes before the alarm went off and dozed.

Suddenly, it felt sudden, so maybe I was deeper than just dozing, a voice said,” Hatty Birtie, Mummy,” followed by a slobbering kiss.

Oh shit! I thought, I’m twenty five and I’d forgotten. Maybe I do have Alzheimer’s disease? The gentle shaking of my arm meant I was either having a mild fit or Mima was wanting me to open my eyes. It transpired to be the latter, which was a partial relief. All I had to do now was survive the day, which the way I felt was going to be something of a challenge.

“Mumm-meee, wakey-uppy,” I opened my eyes and got another wet kiss.

“Thank you, darling,” I said sitting up and hugging her. So began another day, or should I say, another birthday?

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 496

As I sat up and came to, Mima shoved a card at me. For one moment I thought she was going to push it down my throat, then she shoved it into my hand.

“Hatty Birtie, Mummy, your card.”

“Goodness, that is so kind of you,” I said smiling wanting the world to leave me in peace for another hour’s sleep. I opened the card and there was some scribble across the bottom, under which Stella had written, ‘to Mummy love from Mima’.

I gave her a hug and a kiss and she bounced on the bed with me. Stella had disappeared, I thought to go to the loo, but she opened the door and called Mima, who scrambled off the bed and snatched something from her, then she came bouncing back with package in hand.

I transpired to be a DVD of Mamma Mia, which I thought Simon would enjoy more than me, but I tried to be gracious about my gifts, and hugged and kissed her again. “It’s just what I wanted, Mima, you are a clever young lady.” Stella snorted from the doorway.

“I’ve put the kettle on, are you coming down?”

“Yeah, just let me use the loo first. Mima do you need to go?” She did and accompanied me to the bathroom where we weed and washed. Then down for breakfast.

Mima was so excited, Stella gave me a new bird watching book, and a pair of cycling mitts. Mima, of course, had to open them for me. Tom had left a small present on the table with a card. The small gift turned out to be a gold bracelet which was absolutely beautiful, and fitted my wrist perfectly. Stella admired it and Mima wanted to kiss it. Srange things, children.

I had just finished my breakfast and cleaned the mess of Mima’s high chair when the doorbell rang. Stella suddenly seemed busy with Mima, which made me suspicious. However, she wasn’t going to answer the door and the bell rang again. Reluctantly, I got up to answer it.

I opened the door and was met by someone carrying a huge bouquet of flowers, “Caffy Watts?” said an slightly familiar voice.

“Yes,” I replied and the flowers dropped a few inches for me to recognise Simon standing behind them. I squealed and made my way around the herbiage he was holding to hug and kiss him. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to take you out to lunch, Stella said she’d look after Mighty Mouse for a couple of hours.”

“I wondered why she wasn’t answering the door.”

“Can I come in and put these flowers down, they’re heavy with all this water.” They were done in such a way as to have a bulb of plastic under the wrapping which was filled with water.

He came in and put the bouquet down on a table in the hall. Just then, Mima came shrieking into the hallway and threw herself at Simon. “Daddy,” she shouted as she became airborne.

He caught her and I grabbed the flowers. Thankfully both were safe and she hugged and giggled as he hugged and kissed her. They seemed to be bonding so well. If things went against us, I didn’t like to speculate who would be the more upset. I think it was even money.

After I’d washed and dressed and done the same with Mima, we settled down to a typical domestic morning for any typically dysfunctional family. Actually, it was quite funny, Mima wanted to arrange my flowers—I wanted them left alone, the arrangement they came in was adequate for me.

So it was only when I suggested Mima help me make the next batch of bread, that she relented from making my life hell. Once this was done and the machine running, she heard some post arrive and went haring off to the front door. She returned with about six or seven cards for me and a couple of things for Tom. Unfortunately, she opened them before I could stop her. Simon found this hilarious—well he would wouldn’t he, oversized schoolboy.

While Mima laid waste the rest of my mail, I popped the ones opened in error, on Tom’s desk with a post-it, apologising for the vandalism. Just before lunch, Stella told Mima she would take her to the park to feed the ducks. She had bought a cheap supermarket loaf for the job, and while she was sorting Mima out with wellies and fleecy jacket, I made her a sandwich and a drink for her lunch, and also one for Stella.

Five minutes after they went, I put on some make up and a quirt of perfume and off we went in Simon’s Jaguar. “I’m sure I could drive this car,” I asserted, as much out of devilment as genuine desire.

“If James Bond can, I’m sure you could too, except not this one.”

“Aww, why not?” I protested in a whiney voice.

“Because I will kill you.” He flashed as false a smile as he could manufacture.

“Oh, okay.” I shrugged. I knew he was teasing, least I thought he was.

“You didn’t put up much of a fight?” he commented.

“I did want you to kill me,” I simpered back.

“As if I would.”

“But I don’t know that, do I?” I did perfectly well, I was just getting my own back. Since he’d said I couldn’t drive it, I was all the more determined.

We arrived at a pub out towards Eastleigh, and Simon led me to the table he’d pre-booked. On one place was a single red rose. He steered me towards it. I was still going to drive his car.

He ordered a starter of melon, a main course of lemon sole, and a sweet of sorbet. He certainly knew my taste. But if he knew me that well, he should also have known I was going to drive his car. It now became a certainty.

“Are we having no wine?” I asked innoncently.

“You can if you like, I’m driving.”

“Go on, Si, you can have one if you’re eating.”

“Hmmm, I’m not so sure, better not.”

I made an excuse to go to the loo and while I was away, had a pint of Guinness sent to our table. I needed him to sink another, then I could demand to drive on the grounds he could be over the limit.

“What did you send this to me for?” he challenged when I got back to my seat.

“I thought you’d enjoy it, and it’s a thank you for my lunch.”

“As long as you don’t think you can make me incapable of driving, because if I become so, the car stays here and we get a cab back, understood.”

“Of course I do, darling, I’m happy with that.” Okay so I was lying and he’d seen through the first bit. I just needed to get sneakier—now what would Stella do next?

The meal was excellent, and I was quite happy to drink cranberry juice instead of alcohol. Simon stuck at one pint, and I was beginning to worry that he’d thwarted me when he went off to the loo and slipped on a wet floor and wrenched his knee.

It wasn’t an ambulance job, but he needed urgent attention—guess what? Hee hee, he was in so much pain that he begged me to take him to the hospital. I needed no second bidding. So, twenty minutes later we were screaming our way to the Queen Alex and casualty. The car went like a dream, the patient went like a siren—one on a fire engine. He squealed and squawked all the way there.

I parked up after escorting him into the A&E department. Bloody hospital car parks, they are an expensive nuisance. I paid for three hours, but Simon was seen in minutes, he was now in real distress with it. They whipped him off for X-ray, so I called Stella and explained what had happened.

“So who drove his car?”

“I did, why? It’s no big deal.”

“What? You are joking, he wanted the ignition to run on fingerprints or iris patterns.”

“It’s only a car, Stella, I get more excited about bikes.”

“Okay then, I’ll come up in your car with Mima and you can drive it back and I’ll drive the Jag back.”

“Sorry, no can do.”

“See, I told you, you wouldn’t.”

“No it’s more of a refusal to let you drive my car, and the consequences of Simon languishing in a maximum security prison because he killed one or both of us.”

“Don’t be daft,” she roared down the phone.

I blushed, but I wasn’t exaggerating. There was no way was going to let Stella drive my car, the Golf DTi which was in mothballs in the garage, or Daddy’s Mondeo.

The conversation was shortened when I was called to come and get him. I was horrified to see he had his leg in plaster of Paris. “Let’s go home,” he said, and felt for his keys. “Oh you’ve got them already. You didn’t wet that floor in the toilets did you?”

“Simon, how could you?” I was horrified to have him think that a, I could do such a thing, and b, doubly horrified to think he wondered if I’d been in the gents loo.

“I’m only joking,” he said, but his eyes weren’t laughing.

“I don’t think it’s very funny.” I protested loudly and pretended to start to cry.

“Oh don’t cry, Babes, come on, I’m happy for you to drive, honestly. It’s Stella, I don’t want near it.”

“She did offer to come up in my car and drive yours home for you.” I looked at him, “Simon, you’ve gone very pale, are you okay?”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 497

Simon got out of the Jaguar with some difficulty, his leg stiff through the plaster cast on his knee, and painful, made it a problem to move. We managed it in the end by putting the roof down so he could almost stand up in it—not easy in a sports car with bucket type seats.

Finally after much grunting and groaning—Simon made almost as much noise as I did—we made it to the front door. He was using some elbow crutches, and he limped into the house when Stella opened the door.

I had to step forward and intercept Jemima from diving at Simon again. “Simon has hurt his leg, Mima, please let him get in and sit down and be careful not to knock or hurt his leg.”

She agreed and then tried to jump up to him again. I grabbed her and took her out with me to close the car roof. She stopped crying when I allowed her to push the button to make the roof move back to the closed position. Then she panicked for a moment as the roof hung over us, finally, she was in awe of the magic of the machine as it dropped directly into place and locked itself home. It probably had more brain capacity than the average driver.

From there on, even Mima wanted to drive this silver phallic symbol, or at least play with the roof controls. I’d parked it carefully and locked it when I gave the keys back to its owner. He thanked me but grunted as Mima knelt on his bad leg. I lifted her off, but he was in pain by then. I gave him some more of the pills he’d been prescribed and he fell asleep on the settee, with Mima curled up alongside him.

I called Henry to impart news of Simon. He was irritated, “If Simon had stayed in work, he’d have been okay.”

“He came to see me, it was my birthday, today.”

“Oh, how insensitive of me, it’s just we could do with him back, I’m sure you realise just how pressured things are since the credit crunch, or whatever they call it.”

“He kept saying he practically runs the bank.”

“ ‘Fraid not, but he does help a bit.”

“I’m glad to hear it, fraid he can’t come and talk to you, he’s zonked on his painkillers.”

“Ask him to give me a ring later.”

“Will do, Henry.” Instead of letting me get off to do some chores, he said his first impressions to the film were favourable.

I put the phone down blushing a bright fuscia. Compliments from Henry were usually anticipated, this one wasn’t. I was also feeling cross with Alan, I hadn’t seen it myself, but Henry had. I would call him later and express my irritation with him.

I started the evening meal, I also did a small version for Mima, who wasn’t the greatest appetite in the west. I’d treated us to a whole, albeit small, salmon. Which I poached—not in that way, I bought it in Morrisons—and had fun finding something big enough to put the fish in complete. It had been gutted et cetera, but still had the head on.

I then prepared the veg and cooked them. For Mima, I did a mashed up pilchard in tomato sauce, with a jacket potato from the microwave. She seemed to enjoy it—well she ate it, so how else can you measure it?

Tom came in just after she’d been fed, and I thanked him for my bracelet, which I was wearing. He hugged me, wished me a happy birthday and kissed me on the cheek. I kissed him back.

Whilst I finished dinner preparations, Tom took Mima up and changed her and put her to bed. I would shower with her in the morning, so she didn’t need a wash until then, except her face and hands, and of course, cleaning her teeth. She loved the electric toothbrush, so it was never any problem getting her to do it.

Once the ablutions were out of the way, Tom read to her and she went off to sleep. He came down as I was putting the last of the food on the table. He licked his lips.

Simon was grateful for the older man’s help to get to the table, which even so was a struggle. Then came the major challenge—Simon couldn’t drink with his tablets—so did he cope with the pain or the lack of alcohol? He went for the latter, which encouraged me to think that maybe he wasn’t an actual alcoholic.

Tom and I had a glass to toast my birthday, the other two did it with grape juice. My birthday then sort of petered out, once we got Simon upstairs. He zonked having taken some extra tablets, Mima was also fast asleep and I was wide awake despite my glass of wine.

I tried to read, but couldn’t, I couldn’t concentrate. I kept worrying about Simon’s leg and the forthcoming custody review by the judge.

The next day, I took Mima to see Dr Rose and he was suitably impressed with her continued improvement. He pledged his support for my retaining custody especially after he asked Mima where she wanted to live. He tried to do it with me out of the room but she became upset as soon as he asked me to leave.

I asked him to speak with our barrister, which he agreed to do. We had less than three weeks to prepare our case. Each night when I put Mima to bed, I wondered if it would soon be the last time.

One night, Simon forgot his painkillers and didn’t slip into sleep immediately. I hadn’t noticed, instead I checked our precious charge, and was silently weeping when I got back into bed. He saw me wipe my eyes.

“What’s the matter, Babes?” he whispered.

I couldn’t tell him, I was too upset, so he held me until I stopped crying some half an hour later. Then I managed to say quietly, “I don’t want to lose her.”

“I don’t think she wants to go, either.”

“Yeah, but social services don’t see it like that, they see it purely pragmatically.”

“Do they, now? We’ll just have to change their view of things won’t we?”

“I don’t see how.”

“That’s for the QCs to work out, they charge enough.”

“Yeah, but won’t the council have their barrister too?”

“Probably, but he won’t know us, nor the child, so how can they demand she be re-billeted.”

“I just have a horrible fear of this going wrong.” I started to cry again.

“Hang on in there, kiddo, we Camerons don’t give up without a fight.”

“I feel so frightened, Si, I really do. I’ll really miss her if she has to go, and so will you and Tom.”

“I’ll be devastated and ask for an appeal if we lose, but with her health and happiness at stake, how can the judge fail to allow us to continue fostering her?”

“The law and justice aren’t the same thing, Si. Judges interpret the law, they don’t dispense justice.”

“Who does then?”

“The jury.”

“I wasn’t aware we’d have a jury, it’s a judicial review, isn’t it? The bank uses them now and again to test theory.”

“Theory?”

“Yeah, was this lawful or that unlawful? You know when stitching up, I mean advising investors.”

“You be careful, Simon Cameron, one of these days, one of your throwaways will get back to a major investor and he’ll pull the plug either on his account or your career.”

“Okay, I’ll be careful, just don’t wet any more toilet floors, this bloody knee is screaming at me tonight.”

“ I wonder if I can take your mind off the pain.” I began to kiss him and touch him in various places, which caused a few little squeaks. As far as I was aware, that didn’t involve touching his knee, so they weren’t squeaks of pain. He did however, slip off to sleep after I’d finished, although I did have to dispose of the pile of tissues before someone found them the next morning.

Funnily enough, easing Simon’s pain, distracted me too and I fell asleep waking to being part of a sandwich again, only this time, Mima had climbed in next to Simon. I woke after Simon groaned when she accidentally kicked his knee. I do love children, not so sure Simon is quite as keen this morning.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 498

It was nearly two weeks since Simon had hurt his knee, in order to get him back to work, Henry had sent his chauffeur to collect Simon. We had a tearful parting, although I knew he’d be back for Christmas. He’d also hidden the keys to his Jaguar, where I could get them in an emergency. No one else was to touch it.

Stella was driving her Fiesta, although the way Puddin’ was growing, or the flotation tank he was in, driving was less than comfortable, as she wanted to wee as soon as she sat behind the wheel.

We’d had a couple of visits from social workers. I know it’s a dreadful job but someone has to do it. It’s like mine, but without me who’s going to save the dormouse? I tried to be tactful and polite, but they each left making me feel I was trying to do something underhanded or illegal.

“Just because you’ve got money, doesn’t mean you haven’t got to go through the same channels as everyone else who wants to foster children.”

Neither of them would believe that it had happened by chance, or so I thought. They didn’t like Mima calling me her mother, they didn’t like anything, but Dr Rose’s support was holding them off at the moment. He was apparently the Senior Consultant in Paediatrics in the county, and his word carried a lot of weight.

My lawyer was delighted he’d support us continuing our custody of the child. He seemed really pleased that Mima was walking again and agreed that she seemed happy with Simon and me. He’d even visited to assess the house as suitable, he met Tom and realised Tom and his father had been at Edinburgh together as students.

It was now the twentieth of December and I was growing increasingly stressed by the forthcoming judicial review. Stella had dragged both Mima and me out to the best shops in Southampton, to buy a new suit to appear in court, and for Mima to wear something angelic. We found a lovely little dress for her which she adored, in blue and white with lots of ribbons and bows. I thought it was a bit OTT, but Mima loved it, and besides we had to buy it—she wouldn’t take it off.

I decided I’d wear my YSL suit, the one that Stella had given me, that I’d been filmed in and also had a dormouse pee all over. It looked like that was sorted. We were about to head for home, when my mobile rang.

“Hello?”

“Cathy?”

“Yes, who’s that?”

“Alan, what did you think of the film?”

“I haven’t seen it.”

“You’re joking?”

“I wish, I found it irritating that Henry had seen it before me.”

“I sent a DVD to you over two weeks ago. I wondered why you hadn’t got back to me.”

“I haven’t received anything.”

“Well it would have been signed for.”

“Hang on.” I spoke to Stella, “Do you recall something arriving for me that required a signature?”

“No, oh, there was that CD thing, Mima was bringing up to you.”

“I didn’t get it, that’s the dormouse film.”

“Oh no! Where did she put it?”

“Sorry Alan, we appear to have lost it this end, my foster-kid seems to have hidden it.”

“I’ll send another by courier, you’ll get it tomorrow. It’s nearly the finished product, if you like it I’ll tidy up the sound track and we can start Erin flogging it around the terrestrials. I know the Beeb want it, maybe we can get one of the US or Canadian stations to buy it, they know we make the best natural history pictures in the world.”

“Are ‘Mericans into dormice, then?”

“They will be with you selling the narration.”

“Ha ha, very funny.”

“It’s no laughing matter kiddo, once people see it, they will want you doing more—I can almost guarantee it.”

“Don’t be silly.” I was blushing.

“Move over Sir David, make way for Lady Cathy.”

“Have you been drinking?”

“Only tea, your ladyship. I’m serious, you come over as sexy and knowledgeable—the perfect combination. You wait until you see it.”

“I’m not saying anything until I’ve seen it, I can still sink it.”

“Don’t go all iceberg on me, Cathy, this is the best thing I’ve ever done, and if you love dormice, it’ll be the best thing you’ll have ever done, too. Now what’s this about a kid?”

“I’m fostering a young lady, who’s mother had to dash off abroad.”

“Oh, get rid of her soon, we have more films to make.”

“I’ll do no such thing. I’ll give up the films first, every time.”

“So dormice mean nothing to you after all.”

“Yes, of course they do, but so do children.”

“Bloody women, bloody children. Don’t do this to us, Cathy. This is the biggest opportunity you’ll ever have to save the planet, don’t blow it.”

“This young lady is relying on me, I can’t let her down.”

“I’m relying on you, Cathy, so is the world if not the universe.”

“I’m not Flash Gordon, Alan.”

“I know that, you are an amazingly talented presenter and scientist, and the sexiest female on two legs.”

“I didn’t think you’d know about such things.”

“It wasn’t me, it’s the team I’ve had helping me, they all want to marry you or something like that.”

“I have to go, this young woman needs her tea.”

“Okay, get back to me as soon as the film arrives and you’ve seen it.”

“Okay, I will.” I switched off my mobile and shoved it in my bag, and went back to pushing the buggy to my car. “Can you believe that man?”

“Why? What did he say?” asked Stella.

“He said his team thought I was the sexiest thing on film.”

“Blind, were they?”

“Probably, at least some of them might have been, they’ve been doing a sound track.”

“Oh come on, Cathy, you are a real beauty who lights up when you start talking about dormice. Of course they think you’re sexy, you are.”

I blushed, how could anyone say that of me? Surely she was joking? What will the tabloids do, will it affect the custody thing when my origins come out yet again?

“Are you okay, Cathy?”

“Yeah, I suppose so. Let’s go home.” I’d just strapped Mima in her car seat when my mobile rang again. I nearly didn’t answer it. “Hello?”

“Cathy?”

“Yes, who’s that?” I vaguely recognised the voice.

“It’s Neal, we’ve got a problem with the dormice, can you like, get your arse down here pronto?”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 499

The drive to Portsmouth from Southampton can be a real pain, especially when the traffic is heavy. The traffic was heavy and then some stupid bugger went and drove his sports car under a container lorry. They closed the motorway and we had to crawl along the ordinary roads, the same as everyone else.

It took nearly two hours to get to the university, thankfully Mima had nodded off, although she was so desperate for a wee when she woke up, she had to do it in the car park and wipe herself on a tissue. I grabbed her and dashed down to the labs.

“We wondered where you were? I called the vet, he’s taken one of the casualties for a PM.”

“How many have we lost?” I asked praying that my little favourite wasn’t amongst them.

“Four, so far.”

“That’s a third of our breeding stock,” I handed Mima to Stella and went into the dormouse room. “They should be hibernating now, except possibly Spike, who prefers to stuff all year round.”

“She’s okay at the moment. The others were hibernating.”

“So why are they dead? When did you notice them?”

“This morning, they seemed to be stirring, which is unusual.”

“Yes, it is, they should be zonked for three or four more months yet, so what woke them?”

“I don’t know, the tanks are all at the usual setting, no warning lights or anything.”

“Is all this still computer controlled?” I asked.

“Yeah, why?”

“Do me a printout of the settings for the last week.”

“Erm, we’ve never done that before.”

“You mean you don’t know how?”

“Er, no we don’t.”

“Find someone who can, email it through to me tonight.”

“I can’t authorise that, Cathy.”

“Get Tom to do it, surely there’s someone in IT who can do it?”

“At this time of night?”

“Yes, if it kills Spike, heads will roll if I have to bring in my own bloody axe.”

“I hope you’re not threatening me.”

“Get me a carry cage, I’m taking Spike home with me.”

“I’m not your servant, Cathy, you know where they’re kept.” So saying he walked away from me. I was speechless with temper and about as close to hitting someone as I’d been for a very long time.

I got the carry cage, one with a nest box; took a box of food and nuts, shoved Spike in the cage and holding Mima’s hand walked up to Tom’s office. Neal was already in there, complaining about me.

I waited until he’d finished. “Tom, the computer system running the cage control needs checking—now, or you won’t have any dormice left tomorrow.”

“Where will we find someone to sort that at this time?”

“Surely the people who designed it for us.”

“They won’t come out tonight,” he shrugged.

“Get me the number, I’ll have them out to night or destroy their company by supper time.”

“Hey, young lady, I’m not sure I like all this aggression, save it for the court tomorrow.”

Pippa handed me the number. I dialled ignoring Tom’s comment. Amazingly someone picked up the other end. “Sorry there’s no one here tonight.”

“Too bad, give me your managing directors home number, I want to tell him personally why we’re cancelling our contract and why he will be mentioned by name when the university seeks compensation. Dormice are beyond value, but if we set a nominal value of ten thousand pounds per animal, you already owe us forty grand, and there are a dozen more, plus babies. I hope your insurance is paid up because we’re gonna sue your arse off.”

The second call was to the MD, who agreed to send someone that evening. Tom agreed to wait for them. Neal had completely lost my trust, when I came back, I’d make life so difficult, he’d leave. I couldn’t believe they all stood around like idiots instead of doing something while my babies were dying.

I went home with Stella, Mima and Spike and promised to make Tom a cold supper. It was such a fraught evening, only Mima and Spike wanted to eat, oh and Kiki. Then Spike discovered Mima and went into shock—presumably, remembering the banshee from before. This time, Mima was relatively quiet and gentle as she fed Spike an almond.

I knocked together a salad with tuna and jacket potatoes, saving some for Tom. Then Stella took Mima up to bed and read to her. While she was up there, I left her a note and shot off back to the lab, with Tom’s super. I needed to know what was killing my dormice.

Two hours later, we had our answer. One of the thermostats had gone funny and it controlled the temperature for those cages, the ones in which the animals had died. It had warmed them up, then rapidly chilled them again, twice over a period of forty eight hours. They probably died from exposure. The other cages were okay, so as there were no occupants in the defunct ones, they could wait for repair, however, the engineer left us with a means to print out each day what was happening in every cage. Hopefully, we could pre-empt a repeat of the tragedy.

When we got home, I was still fuming about Neal. If he’d done his job properly it wouldn’t have happened. When I raised this with Tom, he asked me to sit down. “Normally, I’d agree with you, and so would Neal, he’s one of the best as you damn well know.”

“Not any more he isn’t.”

“Will ye just shut yer trap for a wee minute. The poor man’s mother is dying with breast cancer, he’s had lots of time off and is fair worried sick aboot her. You didn’ae know all this because ye’ve been off yersel.”

“Oh, I didn’t know, I’m sorry, but he’s still killed four of my dormice.”

“No he hasn’ae, the stupid machine killed them. I’ll check it myself in the morn.”

“I thought you were coming to court with us?”

“Och, so I am. Of course I’ll be there, what time?”

“Eleven.”

“Where?”

“The judges chambers at Portsmouth Crown Court.”

“I’ll be there, Cathy, I’m sure Simon will be, too.”

“He said he’d try to be there.”

“Of course he’ll be there, it’s important to him, too.”

“Yeah, course it is. Just think if we lose this, social services will pounce like a hyena and whip her away in an instant. Those bitches have been looking to take me down a peg, because they think I cheated. They think I tried to pull rank.”

“I know, love,” he hugged me, burping as he did—“My, but that was a splendid salad, except you know whit cucumber does tae me, fair murders me.”

I kissed him on the cheek and thanked him for always being there. His response was immediate, he kissed me back and hugged me. “Tonight, my darling girl, you showed your mettle. I wasn’t impressed to begin, I thought you were being aggressive and abrasive. Instead you calmly demanded action which may have saved the other dormice. You had an inkling about what happened, didn’t you?”

“Sort of, I’ve seen similar happen in the wild, caused by the dormice being uncovered in their nests, they warmed up and didn’t quite get active, then it suddenly went cold and they all died. They use up so much fat reserves coming up to waking temperature that they can’t cope. Something similar happens in bat colonies and the numbers are usually greater. Back in Sussex, when I was there, some kids disturbed a lesser horseshoe colony, they all died—the bats, not the kids, unfortunately.”

“You’d better go and see to your baby, hadn’t you.”

“We gave her some nuts earlier, she’ll be alright.”

“I meant, Jemima.”

“Oh, her, yeah, I suppose I had, hadn’t I?” I pecked him on the cheek again and wished him goodnight. He muttered something which sounded like, ‘bloody cucumber’.

Mima was fast asleep, so was Stella and they were both in my bed. I undressed quickly and joined them, tomorrow was going to be a long, long day.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 500

I slept fitfully, thankfully the other two were sound asleep and stayed that way. At six, I gave up trying and went to boost my caffeine levels, sinking a strong coffee instead of my usual tea. Tom had walked and fed Kiki and had left for his office. For an old man, he had incredible energy—more than me.

I checked my suit and pressed it. The cleaners had done a reasonable job and it was spotless. I ironed the blouse, I was going to wear with it, a pin stripe in white, satin and matt silk, with a Peter Pan collar. With this ensemble I decided I would wear my navy shoes, yes those ones, the ones I can hardly walk in. Stella could sort out her own wardrobe, I had to press Jemima’s dress. I’d checked it yesterday and she hadn’t spilt anything down the front of it, nor had she sat in anything either. It was still clean and I simply ran the creases out of it. She had a nice blue coat to go with it, and with her navy Mary Janes, she’d look at least kempt.

I wasn’t making any submissions, that was my QC’s job, we’d met and I’d liked him, he’d asked all sorts of questions and had also spoken with Mima, which he did very cleverly. He’d taped his session with her and had had it transcribed. The judge would get a copy, along with a deposition from Dr Rose, expounding my virtues or some such thing. Presumably anything they’d been able to get from Janet Scott, had also been obtained, or from her advocate in South Africa.

I organised some breakfast after I’d put the clothes safely away from dirty fingers. It was now, nearly eight. I managed to force down some toast, then felt sick after eating it. I knew I needed to eat, but it was so difficult. My tummy was full of butterflies with a wingspan rivalling that of King Condors, no wonder I felt sick.

I gently roused Mima and Stella, for an awful moment I thought they were dead. At that instant I’d felt a mixture of relief and shock, then they moved and I got real again. I was going to have to cope with this trial or ordeal, not only that, but win it.

“What about my gender situation?”

“What about it?”

“Do you not think it matters, that I’m transsexual.”

“You’re what?”

“I’m a post operative transsexual.”

“Geez, I’d never have guessed. Do the council know?”

“I’ve no idea, it isn’t a secret, insofar as it’s been in the press and on the television. I did a special interview with the BBC.”

“Okay, so it’s in the public domain, if they couldn’t find it, then should we declare it? Yes, just in case, they are waiting to spring it on us. What else do they know about in the public domain?”

“I dunno, I did help rescue a baby from a car fire, and my neighbours when their house caught fire. “ I watched as he did a Google Search
on his laptop.

“Gee whiz, you’re a regular superhero, aren’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Tackled the mafia and rescued Lady Stella, got attacked at the university and rescued by a police marksman, caught a bag snatcher—how much more is there?”

“I don’t know, I don’t keep a record of it.”

“Where’s Robin?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you make Batman look ineffectual.”

“Is that bad?”

“Ah, I see the bit about Sex Change Heroine Saves Baby, yep we’d better disclose it, somewhere in the small print. If the social services have missed it, then it’s too bad, for them.”

My mind came back to the present. “Oh, is that tea for me?” asked Stella. I passed it to her.

“Come on, Mima, up you get, have a quick wee and let’s get you some breakfast.” I escorted her downstairs and fed her, even managing another slice of toast myself.

We were ready to go an hour and a half later. I’d ordered a taxi to take us to the court, so neither of us would have to drive. As we alighted, and my shoes clattered on the pavement, I began to wish I worn a pair of trainers. I had wondered about changing my shoes but a look from Stella, who looked equally elegant, meant I didn’t. I carried my brief case in one hand and held Mima’s hand in the other—she looked a picture in her new dress and coat, and her hair done in pigtails.

My own, I’d thought to put up, but Stella told me to wear it down with that outfit. I bowed to her greater sense of dress decorum. Thankfully, it was a dry day, cloudy but fine. Our heels clicked in unison as we walked to the courthouse, inside which was Simon, wearing one of his Armani suits. He looked a million dollars and as soon as she spotted him, Mima loosed herself from my arm and charged at him, yelling, “Daddy,” thankfully he caught her before she kicked his dicky knee.

“Don’t you look pretty?” he said to Mima, who beamed and giggled, and, “Wow, look at these two ladies about town; do you know them?”

“Dat’s my mummy and Annie Stewwa.”

“Helwo, Mummy an’ Annie Stewwa,” said Simon, as Mima slapped him playfully for teasing her. He hugged and kissed us both. “Don’t you two look smart, I wondered if you were someone’s brief for a moment.”

“Are you implying I look like a pair of knickers, Simon Cameron?” I teased him, trying to hide my real emotions of raw terror.

“Oh absolutely, I’d have thought you were worth a couple of knicker, myself. Any chance, dah-lin’,” he said nudging me.

“Play your cards right big boy, an’ who knows,” I winked back at him, suddenly hoping that Mima hadn’t picked that up to repeat to the judge.

We all trouped inside and our QC met us, followed by the rushing figure of Henry trotting down the corridor behind him. The heavy cavalry were out today by the look of it. It was nice to see him there, he hugged and kissed us both, complimented all three of us girls on our appearance and carried Mima into the room.

It was ten minutes to eleven. My tummy suddenly became becalmed, as if it was too late now to worry, just face the music and get on with it. Our counsel went over a few points and then we were led into the judge’s chambers by an usher in a uniform a bit like a policeman.

Social services were already there and I entered holding hands with Mima, and Simon held her other hand. We were asked to sit down in the front of a small group of chairs. The two barristers were asked to speak to the judge and each then made a summary of their case. We went second, to rebut or challenge any statement they made.

Most of the case revolved around the way I’d come into possession of Mima, as if I had used money and position to enhance my opportunity and short circuit the process which others had to undergo. Then almost as an afterthought, they slipped in my transsexualism. At this the judge, looked over the top of his glasses in mild surprise and at me, as Mima sat on my lap and cuddled me.

My counsel challenged their statement, saying in our deposition, we had revealed that and that there was nothing we were trying to hide. Their case finished, ours began and our chap was absolutely brilliant. He went through their submission and pointed out anomalies, and he made our case very strongly. I was rather glad he was on our side.

“M’lud, I have to remind the court that my clients, actually brought social services into the picture in the first place, when they discovered what appeared to be decidedly unusual procedures by Mrs Scott. In fact, they informed the police, as one should in such instances…

…at no point has the term fostering been alluded to by my clients, although one could deem it to be equivalent to what they are doing. Originally, they assumed it was going to be a very temporary care of a very sick child—I have provided a submission from Dr Rose, the child’s paediatrician, who thinks her recovery is nigh on miraculous and greatly due to the care from Miss Watts and Mr Cameron.”

“Do I not see Viscount Cameron, present?” asked the judge.

“Yes, m’lud, he’s father of Mr Simon Cameron.”

“So you mean Lord Cameron, not mister?”

“Indeed, I could, m’lud, except that my clients didn’t wish to be seen to trying to use any influence of wealth or position in putting their case.”

“Admirable, I’m sure, Mr Bentley.” The judge paused, then looking straight at me asked, “You say, Miss Watts, used to be a man?”

“I didn’t actually say that, m’lud, I would suggest from her obvious appearance that she has undergone gender corrective surgery, and lives a full life as a female. In fact she is intending to marry Simon Cameron in the near future.”

“Presumably the Camerons know of this?”

“They do and accept Miss Watts as the beautiful woman she has become, looking forward to her joining their family when she marries Simon.”

“Is that so, Viscount Stanebury?” the judge addressed Henry directly.

“That is absolutely so, m’lud, and we completely support her application regarding the child Jemima, who as you can see dotes on her.”

“Thank you, Viscount Stanebury, perhaps you leave the case to be presented by your counsel?” Henry blushed as the judge gently berated him. The judge then nodded back at our QC, Mr Bentley, who continued his argument.

He discussed his interview with Mima and that he had a tape of this to show no manipulation, and that he’d provided a typed transcript for the learned judge. He mentioned the submission by child psychiatrist, Dr Cauldwell, about how Mima had settled in and treated me like her mother.

I’d slipped a picture book in my case, which Mima was looking at while all this was going on. During a pause in the proceedings, she asked in loud voice, “Mum-mmee, woss diss?”

“I suggest you answer your charge’s question, Miss Watts,” instructed the judge. I blushed as hot as a microwave on full power.

The judge seemed to be glancing through some papers. He looked over at me, “Miss Watts, could you please ask Jemima to walk to me, perhaps to show me her book.”

Of course, she chose that moment to go all coy. “Come on, I’ll walk just behind you.” Mima started off very nervously. “Come along, show the nice judge your new picture book,” I encouraged.

“Wilw he give it back to me, Mummy?”

“I should think so, if you’re a good girl. So run over and show him your book.” With that, she trotted over to the judge who gave the book a cursory glance and handed it back to her. “Do you like living with Miss Watts and Lord Cameron?”

“I wuv my mummy an’ daddy,” she said coyly back to him before she flew back to me, gripping her book tightly.

“That is quite remarkable. I’ve just glanced through the medical notes, which given her injuries, she has made an almost miraculous recovery. I do have a medical qualification as well as my legal ones.” I stopped in my tracks and took the hand that Mima was offering me.

The judge continued, “I will give my decision in one month’s time. In the interim, I am satisfied that the child is well cared for and has developed a relationship with her temporary guardians. I would therefore suggest she stay in their custody until such time as it has been proven they are unworthy or she is unhappy. Court is adjourned.”

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