The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.
Rosie had laughed long and hard when Morgan claimed he worshipped his mother. In those days, he was trying to impress her with every bit of ammunition at his disposal, including posing as New Man with Hero tendencies, never realising that she was a psychology student and listening hard. It didn’t take much to work out that he was terrified of his Mam. With reason, though, with reason. What a battle-axe, vixen, tyrant, dictator,termagant! In short, a Mam to be proud of.Even with her human shish kebab failings, Boudica had nothing on her. Mam gave her men hell if they stepped out of line. She was probably the sort of good wife the ducking stool in Leominster museum, twenty miles or so up the road, had been invented for. Women in those days kept their lips buttoned in public. Anything else was cured by submergence in the river Lugg.
Maybe things would have been different if Morgan had been a daughter, but things being as they were, the only living creatures Mam cared about were the cats. Her girls. She worshipped them. They tolerated her. A natural born skinflint, she and Dai practically existed on fresh air whilst those hoity-toity felines lived off the fat of the land – smoked salmon, freshly-landed trout, buttered chicken livers, even caviar on selling a litter of purebred kittens. Only female cats were tolerated however. There were quite a few cat traps about the place for filthy marauding toms. And if she caught any it was off to the vet with them, to be done. Never mind asking the owners first.
Not that she didn’t keep her own gelding iron handy. She threatened Dai with it once a week, just to be on the safe side. Morgan, too, especially if she caught him with the wrong look on his face watching under-clad girls on television, and once when he dared smuggle in a Playboy comic. O my God, the carry-on then. She even threatened him with it through his bedroom door one night when the bed was creaking and she suspected solitary goings-on. How she kept two strapping big chaps like that under control is a mystery to be celebrated. Mam had only reached five foot one in her prime and she’d been shrinking earthwards ever since.
There were strict house rules. Only certain chairs could be utilised. All nose blowing had to take place outside. Nails were to be cut on Saturday evenings and at no other time. There was a strict ration of two sheets of hard lavatory paper a day. Best of all, Mam had painted a red mark on the bath. Run tepid water above the line and there was the devil to pay. It wasn’t just that though. To keep proper order, she was forced to chide them day in, day out. Sit up. Stand straight. Have you washed that neck? Call that combing your hair? You look as if you’ve been pulled through a hedge backwards. We’ll have none of your backchat here, thank you. Have you got nits? No? Then stop scratching. You’re not going out looking like that are you? It’s enough to make a cat laugh. Have you been today? Stop sniffing. Put your hand in front when you cough. Stop yawning. Sit straight. Don’t let me catch you raising your eyes to heaven when I offer my opinion. How dare you grin behind your hand when I talk to you?
She was frightening enough when she ranted about Hell – keep on doing that and you’ll end up in the Other Place. Ah, the Other Place. You know where I mean. But she put the fear of God Almighty into young Morgan by claiming that she listened to him talking in his sleep.
Old habits don’t die. They hibernate. Given the right conditions they’ll speedily reassert themselves. Let Slimmer of the Year loose in a chocolate factory and, given time, the Fat Woman compressed inside will reach out and grab with both hands no matter what. And as of old, Man of the World Morgan, six foot three in his toeless socks, built like a brick shithouse, sidled timidly through the back door, after spending a full five minutes wiping his shoes on the succession of dirt-trap mats. By now the cats were all busily washing their behinds, an unsubtle feline insult; the only satisfactory riposte being a furtive kick up the arse, later, when he caught them unawares.
Mam was still muttering over the range. She’d seen him all right, but pretended to jump violently, clutching at her allegedly palpitating heart, the minute he spoke. In spite of the roaring Aga, and curdled steam hanging like tropical cloud, the atmosphere in the kitchen was frosty. If his spirits had plummeted before, they were flat-lining now. Fat chance of any welcome here – nevertheless he approached his mother with theatrical cheerfulness.
“How are you, Mam?” He tentatively offered slightly wilted flowers, even attempted to kiss her cheek, something he was usually only required to do in appreciation of meagre birthday and Christmas gifts. “You’re looking well.”
“Ah.” One bony elbow jerked up to halt his progress. “What are you doing here?” She sniffed suspiciously. “What’s that bad egg smell? What’s that all over your trousers? When was the last time they got an iron over them? Are those blackheads on your nose? That shirt collar looks a bit grey. And whoever cut your hair?”
His tongue turned to lead. Fifteen years disappeared in as many seconds, reducing him to an over-sized gangling adolescent, shifting from foot to foot, a young rooster perched precariously on a barn roof hoping for a full-bloodied crow but only managing a squawk. Nervously clearing his throat, he tackled the first question.
“Didn’t you get my letter?” Morgan haltingly explained, again, about his redundancy.
Mam wasn’t listening. He could tell by the way she rummaged for a pot-lick to scrape dollops of some noxious-looking compound from one pan to another, screwing up her face as she tasted, adding pinches of this and sprinkles of that, lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing, pursing her lips when she achieved dubious perfection.
“Fingers in the till, was it?” she shrilled, with her back towards him.
“No, Mam – of course not.” Sweat gathered to trickle down his ribs and vertebrae like icy digits fingering keyboards. His mouth was dry. Desperate to be seen as a good boy, he tried shifting blame onto the new boss. This proved a mistake. With her deep, abiding suspicion of all men, in all places, and at all times, Mam immediately took the side of Ms Kurswell, poor soul, only trying to get on in the world, and what a world. Another thought occurred to her. Not original, but it set off a train of accusations that had worn well over the years.
“You bin trying it on? Interfering with her?” A slight pause followed as she searched for the current term and triumphantly produced it. “Sexual arrasserment, that’s it. I’ll give you not keeping your paws to yourself.” She turned on him, giving him the special Mother Look, arms akimbo, lips sucked in, her eyes narrowed to mean little predatory slits. “Men! They’re all filthy animals, dirty beasts with one-track minds, only after we-all-know-what and bone idle, too. Women do most of the work in this world. Men would sit on their backsides doing bugger all day and night if we let them.”
Morgan sighed. He looked at the dipping, heaving flagstone floor. He studied the pot-bellied chimneybreast with its manky fox brush, the horse brasses on their cracked leather harness, and row upon row of red and blue rosettes celebrating cow, sheep, and cat perfection. Finally, he glanced up at the two great oak beams straddling the ceiling and remembered thinking how like splendidly spread thighs they were. Bringing to mind that fevered teenage imagery made his lips twitch and Mam noticed.
“Oh, yes, my lad, you can raise your eyes to heaven. You can smirk. I’ll make you laugh on the other side of your face in a minute, just see if I don’t. Let me tell you this, the world wouldn’t be in half the mess it is if women had the running of it.”
“God help us,” muttered Morgan, but not quietly enough. Mam’s deafness was selective. Straining up on tip-bunion she clouted him. He reeled. Amazing what a punch a four-foot-eleven midget could pack.
The cats, still lavishing attention on their nether ends, stopped dead. Twitching thirteen tails in disapproval, they measured the mood change through their upward-pointing aerial hind legs and scrammed. Mam advanced, flipping a tea-towel and gibbering highly personal insults. Trying to sneak an occasional word in edgeways, Goliath slowly retreated to his accustomed chimney corner followed by a skilfully wielded wooden spoon. Glasses off, head down, the intervening years might as well have been a figment of his imagination. He’d been here so many times before. Welcome home, Morgan. Your role’s endured; nothing’s changed.
By now, Mam had worked herself up good and proper. She’d never needed much of an excuse. With her, PMT set in early, finished late, reared its harridan head mid-cycle, paused for a real mad go at the Change, then started again full time, with the pre- changed to post- as it were. Already her cheeks were blotched purple. Spittle flecked her lips. Her eyes glared. A flurry of blows descended on Morgan’s head and back. When the spoon splintered in despair, she grabbed a cast iron skillet and brought that down on his shoulders. The handle was greasy: the pan slipped through her fingers and cracked clean in half against the hearth.
“Now look what you’ve been and gone and made me do!”
“Sorry, Mam,” Morgan heard himself whimper.
It wasn’t enough. Not by a long way. Her eyes ranged along the work surface, assessing the offensive weapon potential of the remaining kitchen utensils. Morgan began edging towards the door. Start now, and he could be in Dover by midnight. Get on the first ferry to anywhere. Keep going. Damned if he’d ever come back.
Two sharp raps on the kitchen window stopped them both in their tracks. A monstrously distorted hobgoblin face materialised, winking and leering as it pressed hard against the steamed-up glass. But for its earthy brownness and the ingrained dirt in the landscape of cross-hatched wrinkles it might have been one of the most hideous of the stone gargoyles, flapped down on leathery wings from its perch above the church gutters. The creature gestured vigorously at something behind itself, grinning horribly to reveal jagged stumps of tobacco-brown teeth. Mam ignored the vision. To achieve this to full effect she had to stamp, fists clenched, to the other end of the kitchen. Morgan straightened cautiously, grateful for the diversion.
“Dad’s trying to tell you something.”
“Don’t take any notice of the senile old fool.” Mam seemed to have decided in favour of the steak tenderiser. Staring meaningfully at her over-sized, cuckoo-laid son, she paused, weighing it in her hand. Morgan’s eyes flicked, Wimbledon fashion, between her and the bizarre performance by his father, who’d made for the midden in front of the cowshed. With dung-laden cattle bedding up past his knees, Dai executed a brief jig, checking that plenty of muck adhered to his boots. Apparently satisfied, he unzipped his moleskins, unbuttoned his longjohns, and pulled out a yard of shirt tail before catching hold of the clay-encrusted Mercher. Dai disappeared from view as he made for the back door. A minute later he stamped heavily through the scullery and into the kitchen, his face a beatifically innocent mask, puffing and blowing and dragging his feet so that a thick trail of filthy straw was deposited on Mam’s spotless floor. She spun round, a whirling dervish of apoplectic fury howling a two-minute warning while Dai quickly yanked forward the stiff-legged, resisting dog – tail between its legs, whining in protest – and positioned the wretched animal in front of his body.
“Get outside with them boots, you dirty bugger.” Mam’s fists became wiry claws twisting an imaginary neck.
“I only—” Dai beamed, a cock-eyed, gap-toothed, elderly baby anxious to please.
“You done that deliberate. Take that daft grin off your face. Do your clothes up decent, you senile old bugger or I’ll have you put away. And take that stinking animal out with you. You know I don’t allow dogs in my house. Go on. Get out. Out. Out. OUT.”
Dai didn’t move. Mam’s eyes bulged dangerously. She lunged at her husband with the meat tenderiser while Morgan continued to skulk in his corner. The dog howled and bared its teeth, cringing and spotting the floor with urine as it frantically pulled towards the scullery. Dai held tight to collar and a handful of mud-caked ruff as Mam took a run at him, smartly sidestepping at the last moment while muttering something unintelligible.
“What was that?”
“I said: Oh, well, if you don’t want to know—”
“Don’t want to know what?”
“Thing is—” Dai made a great production of wiping his nose on a relatively clean patch of shirt tail. The noise that issued from Mam’s throat was nearer a growl than anything. She hopped up on a chair, raised the meat tenderiser and held it poised six inches from his skull. “All right, woman, all right. I was only trying to tell you that my Venus has pushed her gate open again. Don’t know how she works it out.” He nodded at Morgan. “Welcome home, son, such as it is. Real intelligent, pigs are. Folk don’t give them credit for half—”
“Where is it?” Mam hissed, between clenched teeth.
“She.” Dai’s tone was reproachful. “Venus was named after the goddess. Pigs were worshipped in the old days. Jupiter was suckled by a sow. I got that out of a little book from the church bring-and-buy sale. Aw, get off me, woman. Hold your horses. I was just coming to it, wasn’t I? She must have opened it with her snout.” Dai’s arm came up to field off a second blow. Mercher seized his chance, rolling his eyes he skidded across the floor, nosed open the door and made for the comparative safety of the skeletal wooden barrel which was all he’d ever known by way of a kennel. “All right, let me alone – Venus has been and got in the garden.”
With a bloodcurdling shriek, Mam rocketed outside in her slippers and pinny. Dai’s grin widened. He brushed himself down, tucked himself in, zipped up, discarded the gormless expression, and assumed a look of near malevolent determination. Morgan might as well not have been there. He watched in fear and trembling of what would happen next as his father happily tap-danced off a bit more muck, spreading it around and kicking some underneath the dresser where the smell would stand a chance of developing its full potential.
That done, Dai pottered round the kitchen, sampling this and that, anything forbidden: a handful of raisins, a spoonful of brown sugar, another of strawberry jam, two hooked fingers full from the bottom of the beef dripping jar, a packet of special reserve chocolate digestives, one raw onion, half a pound of cheese, and the last slice of pork pie which he wrapped in a cabbage leaf. He hawked and spat thoughtfully into the chutney pan, giving the contents a good stir. His son’s presence was only acknowledged when Dai flicked a single nervous glance towards the door on unearthing Mam’s plump purse from the dishcloth drawer. Then he grinned conspiratorially as he emptied the entire contents into the cheese and onion pocket.
“Bit of beer money, that’s all. Well, well, well, back at last, son. Knew you’d see sense in the end. England’s no place for a man – full of whores and Nancy-boys. Warned you, didn’t I?”
“Ah, well.” Dai noisily shifted the catarrh further up his nasal passages. “Better grab yourself some bait, son. We’ll get nought but tongue pie for the rest of the day. Venus is going through your Mam’s garden like a dingle bat. Might as well go and watch the fun.”
Fingering his rapidly swelling bruises, Morgan followed his father out into the yard where the seasonal dirge continued, rising and falling, breaking like waves against the farmhouse walls. Humming a snatch of The Dambusters, Dai paused to secure Mercher by means of a chain fastened to the iron hoops of the disintegrating barrel. Half a dozen cats jeered from the stone jetties of the disused dovecot. A thin wind had risen, lifting and slamming back the corrugated tin roofs of the sheds like slow handclaps, out of time. Lacking buttons, Dai tied up his jacket with a strand of turquoise baler twine. The rain had given up for a while and, in spite of the cold, a few rays of sunshine now broke from behind the clouds, illuminating the scene and giving it a swollen, peasant quality worthy of Bruegel.
Most flowers were useless fripperies in Mam’s eyes. Could you eat them? You could not. No point to them then, unless, that is, they were foreign, unpronounceable and enviable. She had no use for logic. While the front garden was best described as a conservation area – butterflies and goldfinches thrive on thistles and nettles – for God-only-knew how many years, the kitchen garden had been her shrine, her act of supreme creativity, her place of perfect order. Never a weed was allowed to raise its head more than a centimetre above the thickly manured soil. Once, long ago, Dai had been permitted entry to turn over the neglected hard clay. Since that day, no feet but hers had trodden the cinder paths. All winter, every winter, she brooded over catalogues, pondering the choicest varieties, the heaviest yielders, and the best way to extend the growing season. One of Morgan’s earliest memories was of getting slapped around the legs with a rolled-up copy of Sutton’s Seeds. Little from the cornucopia ever reached the family table. On the principle that serving up petits pois, lolla rossa, or indeed anything of top quality to her menfolk was tantamount to casting pearls before swine, most produce was sold at the farm gate. The family got by on misshapes, mutations, and outside leaves, plus anything free gleaned from the countryside. Including such delicacies as hop tips, which weren’t bad, and young fern curls, which resembled nothing so much as furry green caterpillars and induced spectacular vomiting.
One of the worst periods Morgan could remember was when Mam worked through a 1917 book, a jumble-sale acquisition, entitled The Wild Foods of Great Britain: Where to Find Them and How to Cook Them.Born from the food scarcity of the First World War, this tiny volume provided her with recipes for cooking everything from badgers (smoking their hams over birchwood fires) to young rats (stuffed with sweet herbs and breadcrumbs), grasshoppers (thighs only, fried in butter), butterfly larvae (incorporated intoomelettes), and every variety of snot-ridden garden mollusc (soup: twenty-four slugs produced a pint).
The experiments seemed to go on forever. In the end Morgan got so thin that the school nurse sent a letter home. But it was the time involved in hunting down these epicurean bargains that finished it for Mam – her garden started to suffer – coupled with the misogynist flavour of the text. Under the index entry ‘Cooks, female’ she discovered the following statement: ‘The reason why female cooks are such conspicuous failures is they are not capable of giving adequate attention to the business of cooking.’ That was it – into the fire for L. C. R. Cameron – back to brush-pollinating melons for her.
In a rare moment of attempted male bonding, Dai and Morgan once tried to work out her income from the well-stocked acre. Clearly, her activities were lucrative. In a land inhabited by farming folk intent on raising kale, potatoes, mangel-wurzels, and bigger and better strains of leek, her band of loyal customers were apparently prepared to pay whatever inflated price Mam demanded for her aggressively organic produce. Now Morgan trembled and gnawed his nails to see the garden full of Rhode Island Reds gratefully scuffling up the loam, accompanied by a ton of mud-spattered, contentedly grunting prize sow using its broad snout to ridge and furrow.
Mam grabbed an armful of pea sticks and screamed profanities while flailing the sow’s back in a vain attempt to get it off the strawberry patch. Dai thoughtfully peeled the onion and made himself a sandwich with two chocolate digestives and the cheese. He took alternative bites.
Suddenly the pea sticks stung. Venus took off at high speed with an outraged squeal, sprinting down the rows, nipping off whole lettuce heads as she went. At the first crunch of cinders under trotter she about-turned, grumbling and lowering the massive, bristly chins for a defiant charge through the Brussels sprouts. Mam was close behind whacking the large pink rear with the flat of a spade. Hens scattered. Feathers flew. The dog was up on its hind legs, yipping and choking as it yanked on the chain, desperate with excitement. As the screams, squeals, clucks, moans, yelps and curses rose to a cacophonic climax, Dai collapsed against the open gate, helpless with laughter until, his bladder no longer what it had been, he retired briefly to water the rhubarb.
“Goddess, see,” he managed to wheeze out, after a few false starts.
“What?” Morgan stared, appalled. What had he come back to? How the hell was he ever going to get the peace needed to produce his masterpieces in this loony bin?
“Venus. That’s Gwener, in the Welsh. Aphrodite. Read all about her in the Reader’s Digest, like I said. See, before all this lovey-dovey twaddle them Romans saddled her with, she was goddess of kitchen gardens.”
“So she’s doing Mam an honour really.”
“I doubt she’ll see it that way,” Morgan shouted above the steadily rising din. “Aren’t you going to do anything, Dad?”
“Well,” Dai pushed back his greasy cap and scratched his head, “could let Mercher have a go. Don’t suppose it’d do much good, mind. He’s bad enough with the sheep. Past it, see. About as much good as a sundial in a cellar really.”
He clapped his hands over his ears at a particularly high-pitched scream. Venus had discovered the asparagus bed, the high altar of the garden. Conscious of her antecedents she sought out the precious ten-year-old crowns that were her due, enthusiastically rooting them up like truffles, nipping off the coarse fern stalks, and savouring the succulent morsels with a series of appreciative snorts despite the rain of blows being delivered to her broad backside.
“Do something,” shrieked Mam, galloping towards them. Dai cheered. In retaliation, his wife did what she’d been threatening to do for years. Picking up a mattock she took an almighty swing at Dai’s head with the handle. There was a nasty dull thud.
“Bugger hell,” said Dai, turning towards Morgan. “The old bitch has finally finished me off.” He keeled over in slow motion, still grinning as he fell. Right on cue, Mercher began to howl.
“Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” Morgan stood rooted to the spot. Nobody would believe his tiny Mam did that. He’d be blamed. They’d call it patricide – the ultimate crime. It was that woman, that Kurswell cow. She was a witch. Her curse was working.
“Don’t just stand there gawking, you idiot,” screeched the Widow Mam, not sparing her husband a second glance. “Help me get this filthy lump of pig-sty beef out of my garden.”
“NOW.” Seizing hold of the sow’s tail, she began to pull. Venus shot forward, straight across the parsnips and through the blackened stick-bean vines, dragging her tormentor after her. Mam doggedly hung on, alternately cursing Morgan and calling on God and all His angels to help her because her fool of a son wouldn’t.
It started to rain again. To pour – in fact, now it was the sky’s turn to open its bladder and let rip. Within minutes the yard was awash. Even Mercher was silenced and stood, head down, wet and skinny as a giant rat.
The spell broke. Morgan was galvanised into action. Letting out something approaching a war whoop, he sprinted after the battling pair. Venus glanced back at the sound, observed two opponents and realised that desperate measures were called for. With a nightmare shattering of glass, she charged in one closed end of the greenhouse and out through the other. Mam was suddenly silent. Time stood still. Then a hen started shrieking as if an especially large egg was pulling its insides out. Seconds later, the pig reappeared, ambling down the path between the blackcurrant bushes, slowly ingesting the wildly protesting, and still very much alive, fowl.
By moving his head a fraction, Morgan could see his Mam wedged across the greenhouse door. Never, in his entire life, could he remember her being quiet for so long. She was dead. He knew. He could feel it. Any minute now the world would end. They had come to the time when Celtic oaths became redundant. Today the sky would fall.
He went on staring. The rain went on pissing down.
Some time later, the yard gate creaked open. In through the gap edged Pritchard-Evans the Limp, a wall-eyed, stunted, bow-legged apology for a Welshman, a neighbour that nobody in their right mind needed, looking for something for nothing, clutching a handle-less willow basket and a handful of very small change.
“How do, Morgan, lad? Good to see you back. Have the missus got any cracked eggs today?” He was almost on top of Dai before he saw him. Then he stopped dead, his disparately focused eyes sizing up the situation. “Oh, good Lord, what they been up to now?”
Morgan opened his mouth and closed it again. He gestured helplessly towards the flowery hump of Mam’s pinny. Pritchard-Evans darted here and there, feeling in vain for pulses, and then skedaddled inside to call the doctor, temporarily forgetting the alleged walking difficulties that had kept him in benefits for the last fifteen years. When he returned the corners of his mouth were neatly turned down, but his hands gave him away, rubbing themselves together with suppressed glee. What a carry-on. Something told him he’d be drinking free for months on this story in the DeLacey Arms.
Pritchard-Evans glanced at Morgan, then at the two corpses. “We can’t leave them lying there, boyo. You know pigs. They’ll eat anything.”
He was right. Venus was already tentatively snuffling over the one brown tartan slipper that still encased Mam’s foot. Between them they carried Mam and Dai into the farmhouse, laying them side by side on the kitchen table with the harvest festival of chutney ingredients massed around their feet.
“Dear, dear.” Pritchard-Evans shook his head and attempted to straighten out Dai’s demented grin. It proved impossible. With an apologetic shrug, he covered the old man’s face with a clean tea towel. After a moment’s reflection he decided to repeat the process with Mam and her Gorgon bared teeth. “Some tea, I think.” It arrived strong and black, with six sugars and medicinal brandy instead of milk. The result was cool but stimulating. Pritchard-Evans patted Morgan’s shoulders. “There’s a thing to come home to. What happened here, boyo? You want to talk about it?”
“No.” Morgan took a deep gulp from the heavily chipped Pink Panther mug that had been his from the age of seven, when Mam had ‘rescued’ it from someone else’s dustbin. “No. But please get those bloody moggies out of here.”
“I’ll have a try, boyo, but they’re a law unto themselves, cats.”
One by one the cats had slunk back, prowling the floor and hissing, yowling unease, lashing their tails and sharpening vengeful claws on the table legs. Pritchard-Evans was worse than useless, hobbling round shouting: “Shoo! Shoo!” and waving his arms. A ferociously black member of the tribe jumped up to lie against Mam’s still warm body. Morgan felt nausea rise like stagnant canal water washing against lock gates. He calmed himself with more tea: half and half this time, then reversed the pouring order, opting for mostly brandy with a splash of tea. The shock slowly wore off.
He felt numb. Empty. No sadness yet. No grief. Not even a twinge of self-pity. Picturing Mam holding on to the pig’s tail brought bubbles of hysteria rising to fill the vacuum. Morgan quashed them, terrified of the consequences of laughter in this makeshift mortuary and, to keep them at bay, worked on his hatred of all things feline. Narrowing his eyes he outstared each of the cats in turn. It was his turn to perform a banishing ritual.
“You can all sod off. This is my house now and buggered if I’m feeding a gang of cats.” Plenty of rodents round the yard, flocks of crows…and small helpless creatures in the woods and fields. Let them try living off the land for a change. It only took a fortnight for a domestic cat to turn feral. They wouldn’t look so aristocratic with matted fur and empty bellies. Pinned to the back of the pantry door Morgan discovered a sheet of paper listing the pampered creatures’ dietary preferences. He tore it down.
“Listen to me Hemwinkle Haborym Llsiau’r Drindod, Hemwinkle Haborym Gwyddfid, Hamwinkle Haborymed Pleun Eira, Hemwinkle Haborym Blodeuyn, Hemwinkle Haborym Llygad y dydd, Hemwrinkle Haborym Lili’r dyffrynnoedd, Hemswinkle Harborym Cenhinen Bedr, Hemwinkle Haborym Rhosyn, Hemwinkle Haborym Cariad, Hemtwinkle Haborym Croeso haf, Hemmedwinkle Haborym Eirinen wianog, Hemwinkle bastard Haborhymn Blodyn cigliw, Hemwanker bloody Haborym Cannwyll llygad, otherwise all known as Cat. Or Mog. Or Squashed-Turd-face. I hereby give you notice to quit. Avant thee foul fiends. I banish you from this place.” Morgan giggled and sat down with a thump.
The cats yawned.
Morgan closed his eyes for a minute and a faint whisper seemed to run round the walls. Mam’s voice, in one of her better moods, reciting a favourite poem:
Hemlock, juice of aconite, Poplar leaves and roots bind tight. Watercress and add to oil Baby’s fat and let it boil. Bat’s blood, belladonna too Will kill off all who bother you.
“What? What?” He woke from a wild brief dream in which his Mam was laying-out herself and Dai on the front lawn along with the bodies of all the cats, Venus, and several of the villagers who had crossed his mother and met with sudden and inexplicable deaths. Confronted by Mam’s muddy slipper and lisle-stocking encased foot alongside Dai’s filthy wellington boots, all pointing skywards to the great hereafter, he pinched himself hard, convinced he was still in a shallower level of dream state. The pinch made him yelp. Shit, this was real.
Eliza Granville embarked on a legal career before abandoning it in favour of a Bohemian lifestyle. After coming to her senses some years later, she returned to university – BA & MA University of Plymouth, PhD Aberystwyth University – and began writing in earnest. Her stories can be found in UK, US, and SA magazines, and in anthologies. Of several novels published, the most recent are her Holocaust novel Gretel and the Dark (Hamish Hamilton) and Once Upon a Time in Paris (CentreHouse Press). Granville has long been interested in myths, legends, fairy-tales, and in her writing has combined these tropes with her close study of the post-Enlightenment feminist struggle – all these facets euphorically alive in Curing the Pig.