Thread: Billy's Kitten
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Old 04-02-2018, 01:25 AM
IanG (Offline)
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Default Billy's Kitten

It was early morning and, as dawn sun lurked between pitched roofs there was no hint of what the day would bring. Rob Horan drove down the street, stopped his van and pipped the horn. He kept the engine running while waiting.... checking his watch..... eyeing a semi covered in pebble dashing. Roots of feather-leaved rowan had cracked nearby tarmac. An empty crisp packet lay in the gutter. The logo on his van announced that he was a plumber. It had been his wife's idea and showed a cartoon character holding a large pipe-wrench.

Rob was about to stop the engine and knock on a door when it was finally opened. His apprentice lumbered out, yawning and rubbing bleary eyes, then climbed onto the passenger seat.

Rob snapped "come on Billy, it looks like I've stopped at the museum and burgled the Neanderthal section!"

"Sorry Rob, I was at a party last night and it went on 'till late."

"Carry on like this and you will be the late Mr Parker!"

He would've been more forgiving had this been a one off, but it wasn't. When he started Billy had been a good time-keeper, and willing to learn. Rob wondered what had changed. Since they were late he didn't ask but indicated, checked his mirrors and pulled away.

As they drove past hedges, bus stops and a primary school Billy revived a little. Still feeling angry, Rob misjudged his approach to a junction and the engine stuttered.

"That's a tense throttle mate," Billy said.

"I had another tense throttle in mind," Rob thought while imagining his hands on Billy's throat. Rob remembered something and asked "shouldn't you have been revising last night?"

"I'll do it tonight, I promise."

Rob drove on, still annoyed. "Do you realise I had to fill in God knows how many forms before I took you on?" he asked. "A lot of people don't hire apprentices because of all the beaurocracy involved. How about doing something to justify my efforts?"

Judging by his expression, the youngster hadn't thought about it until now. Rob wondered if he was handling this situation right; he had no children and Billy was his first apprentice so it wasn't easy to judge. They continued their drive, passing the delicate logo of a Toyota and a blocky one on a Saab. A black cat trotted across the road. It was unkempt, probably a stray.

The plumbers arrived at a large house with mock half timbering on its walls. They stopped under a horse chestnut tree and made themselves known. A jackdaw called "chack! chack!" a dog yapped in the distance, then Rob and Billy entered and set to work installing a new bolier.

At first it was just another day. They worked with care on bare floorboards and cotton dustsheets. Rob fired some exam questions at the youngster.

"A plumbing permit is required for which of the following? Water closet? water heater? Bathing unit? Faucet?

Water heaters, hose pipes and sill cocks are normally protected from backflow by; an air gap? an air break? a vacum break? a reduced pressure backflow preventer?"

Credit where its due, Billy answered correctly.

Late morning came and Rob looked forward to sandwiches of salty bacon and citrusy tomatoes. These days he made his own. He decided to give Billy a written warning about timekeeping. More paperwork, sometimes it seemed as if a glacier of forms was advancing out from London, carving valleys, scouring rocks and crushing everything in its path. He must focus on this job, the lady of the house was in the back garden, weeding and mowing and she could be fussy. It was a big job so they had got to known her well.

Billy picked up his bag and rummaged in it. "I'm looking for washers Rob," he explained. "Can you see any?"

Rob took the bag and checked saying " lunch box, screwdrivers, fire-hardened spear, ochre for painting cave. You want a model for a wild cow? My mother-in-law's free."

The memory of Donna's voice stirred in Rob's mind. She would have said "don't be so hard on him." Well she wasn't here and he didn't want to think about her now, or he might well break down.

Billy gave him a black look but said nothing. Rob ordered him out, through an arched doorway, to get some washers, then stood back to check their progress. There was a large bay window on one side of him, and it showed his van parked outside. A car's engine roared and he thought "that guy's driving a bit too fast."

Then sounds of screeching brakes gave the plumber a start. He looked through the window. Billy stood in the road with both arms raised, then dropped them to his sides. A mini car had stopped just short of knocking him down. Rob stared in horror, then ran outside to investigate. What the Hell was the kid doing? He reached Billy just as the other driver scrambled out, eyes popping and chest heaving. Said driver was a young male, perhaps just a little older than Rob's apprentice.

"What are you playin' at?" the driver shouted.

Billy responded by picking something up from jet tarmac. Rob laid a hand on his shoulder, then realised it was a kitten. It mewed and a pink tongue contrasted with black fur. Four limbs writhed and claws extended in futile attempts to break free.

"Didn't you see it mate?" Billy asked. "If I hadn't come along you'd have run over it."

"I - I thought it'd run out of the way," the driver replied.

"It can't, its limping," Billy retorted impatiently. "I don't know how it happened, but you can't expect it to impersonate a cheetah."

"Let me handle this Billy," Rob said. He managed to calm the mini's owner and send him on his way. As he returned to his car that driver's belly protruded, like a constrictor that's over-indulged on the howler monkeys.

Closer inspection revealed that the kitten had cut her right front paw, probably on a shard of glass. Rob went and got the first aid kit from their van as a stop gap until they could get to a vet. Billy grew tense. They showed the animal to their client who agreed that they could take it for treatment. No, she had never seen it before, it was most likely a stray.

During their drive to the vet's, Rob said "well done Billy; I havn't had cause to say this often but today I'm proud of you."

"Wh-what? I thought you were going to bite my head off for taking a risk." Billy chortled with relief while holding the kitten on his lap.

The boss explained "its what my late wife would've done, before she lost her battle with cancer."

"I'm sorry mate, I didn't know. I thought you were single or divorced. I'm so sorry if I've given you a hard time." He clearly wanted to sink into the foot well.

"Its not something I like to talk about.... my fault for not telling you." Rob turned a corner, than said "try and hide that kitten, if the police come along and see her there, we're in trouble."

Billy slipped her under his hoodie. They slowed down for a mother with a buggy and soon afterwards reached a vet's surgery. For a second Rob felt free, now he didn't share his life with someone else, then guilt engulfed him like a hungry python. He blew his nose, trying to stave off grief. Billy handed him the animal and stroking her raised his spirits.

The vet examined their kitten and treated her, not just for her paw but for dehydration too. Her tail swished as if painting in the air. The vet told Billy to bring her back regularly until she had fully recovered and he promised to do so.

On the return journey Rob asked "why have you begun staying up all hours? It isn't good that you're so tired in the mornings."

Billy answered "I've got a mate on social media, and he can stay out late and hold a job down. If he can why can't I? What I mean is, why don't I have enough energy for it when he has?"

"Listen mate, I know a bloke with a young son and his boy carried on like you. The kid got sacked because of that, but he hasn't said so on social media. None of his followers knows anything about it. I couldn't say if its your friend, but if he's not they could both be doing the same thing."

The indicators flashed like hyperactive amber. Their van went over a speed hump. They heard the singer Pixie Lott on the radio. Billy reached under his T- shirt and ticked the kitten, feeling how skinny she was. Her little heart pounded under his fingertips. Having digested this information he said "thanks Rob, I'll think about what you've said."

They returned to the house and were met by smells of curry powder, for their client had cooked herself a meal.

"The cops didn't see us then?" said Rob.

"I don't think so, there's no whiff of sulphor or or clatter of cloven hooves."

Billy pulled the kitten from under blue-dyed cotton and she nipped his right thumb.

"Ouch! Don't do that Pixie!" he said.

"Is that what you're calling her?"

"Yes, after the singer."

Billy and Rob's blue T-shirts contrasted with milk-white cupboards. Billy put Pixie down on the kitchen floor. She looked around and meowed. Rob wondered what things must look like and feel like from her perspective; legs and feet in her line of sight but not faces, a spine more flexible than any gymnasts, ears that swivelled and a cool, damp nose. Then again, he must look bizzare to a feline; perhaps she was wondering how on earth humans balanced on only two....

Pixie spread her back feet and raised her tail. With a shout of "no-o!" Rob bent low,scooped her up and ran outside. He acted just in time to save gleaming kitchen tiles, but not the back patio.

Billy posted enquiries about Pixie on social media while Rob asked about her in pubs and shops. An advert in their local newspaper drew a blank, as did everything else.

A couple of months had passed. One warm summer morning, Rob stopped the van at Billy's house. The flavour of raisins in muesli squatted on his tongue. One of his least favourite singers came on the radio so he changed channels. Rob wondered what species of porcupine the lady had sat on... one with particularly sharp quills? The new channel was playing music Donna would have liked. For the first time since loosing her, Rob listened without emotional pain. It wasn't long before the front door opened. Billy raised a hand in greeting, then Pixie appeared beside him, like coal come to life. She was in a far better shape than when first they saw her.

"Daddy's got to go now," Billy said while bending and tickling her, "but I'll be back this evening. Yes I will. Goodbye."

He closed the white door and got into their van. As he fastened a seatbelt with a smooth, cool buckle Rob asked him "have you had your results yet?"

Billy clicked his belt, then looked up.

"I've passed!" he said. "Part of me can't quite believe it but I have."

Rob smiled with relief and replied "well done Billy."

He drove off, past small but well kept gardens, flat roofed garages and chestnut trees with leaves like fingers. It was a new day and a new brief lay ahead.

Last edited by IanG; 04-08-2018 at 02:35 AM..
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