To celebrate National Storytelling Week, Standard Issue is running a short story each day. No pets were hurt in the writing of editor Mickey Noonan’s little tale, which she hand-on-heart promises isn’t autobiographical.
Harriet wasn’t surprised to see the gerbil. Frank had called her at work that lunchtime and in a state of some excitement announced he felt it was time they got a pet. Since the accident had left him working from home, he felt isolated and had mentioned more than once that a furry companion might make the days seem less lonesome.
What had left Harriet open-mouthed when she walked into the living room was where Frank was inserting the gerbil. His eyes locked on hers and it was a toss up as to which of them was most astonished. God only knew what the gerbil was looking at, but Harriet thought it was probably the most shocked of all.
‘I’ll make a brew,’ she muttered and headed for the kitchen. Automatically she flicked the switch on the kettle and put tea bags in mugs, three sugars for Frank, none for her, a drop of milk. Well, she thought to herself as she stirred each cuppa, this makes a mockery of the World Wildlife Foundation sticker in the back window of his Fiesta. She’d have to make him a new one: a dog is for life, not just for Christ, no, not there.
Frank was retrousered and sat on the sofa by the time she took the tea into the lounge. To his credit he looked uncomfortable, but then he had just had a rodent up his arse. The gerbil scampered around happily in its state-of-the-art plastic cage, a complication of tubes that reminded Harriet of intestines. She wondered whether the gerbil was experiencing deja vu. Probably not. It was busy gathering wads of cotton wool to make itself a nest, seemingly not bothered by its recent adventure.
She handed Frank his tea.
‘Thanks,’ he said, eyes lowered. He blew across the steaming liquid. ‘I didn’t expect you home this early.’
‘I decided not to go to Tesco,’ Harriet explained. She took a sip of tea then let out a huge sigh. ‘I should have insisted we got a cat then none of this would’ve happened.’
Frank looked up, horrified. ‘Why? Because it might’ve eaten Stalin?’
‘No, because…’ Harriet stopped, stared. ‘You named it? You named it Stalin? What, this is some kind of political statement?’
Frank shuffled in his seat and took a gulp of tea. Hot tea. He grimaced, trying to hide the fact he’d scalded the roof of his mouth.
‘He was a bit of a rat.’
‘Yes. I suppose, yes, that’s definitely one way of looking at genocide.’
‘This is no time for jokes Harriet,’ Frank said solemnly.
‘No, Frank? What is this time for? Perhaps you have a guinea pig with which you’d like me to get intimately acquainted.’
‘Harrie, I’m, well, y’know… I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, but…’ There was nowhere for the sentence to go so Frank simply shrugged.
God knows she’d tried. In March she’d slipped a disc fucking him with that strap-on. The leather gimp mask had made her sweat so much she’d come out in a rash. The thigh-high PVC boots had exacerbated her bunions and just made Frank look ridiculous. She’d let him buy her a whip and a leather dress and even managed not to laugh when he suggested ‘jellybeans’ be their safe word if the SM got out of hand. It never did.
Frank interrupted her thoughts. ‘You knew what you were letting yourself in for.’ He sounded a little cocky, which did nothing to calm Harriet’s mood.
‘The deal,’ she said coolly, ‘was no third parties.’
On cue, Stalin threw a heap of sawdust out of his cage and onto the carpet.
‘I think I’ll go to Tesco after all.’
‘Can you get some sunflower seeds? For Stalin…’
She couldn’t even be bothered to slam the front door.
By the time Harriet got home, Frank had taken himself off to The Craven Cow; his Friday night ritual wasn’t going to change because of a little gerbilling. She unpacked the groceries they didn’t really need, fed Stalin a few sunflower seeds and went to bed with a book she couldn’t really get into. How exactly did one compete with a gerbil? How had her and Frank got to this? Weren’t you supposed to shave small furry creatures before shoving them up your bum? Why did she know that? How could that creature think about eating at a time like this? Questions raced around her head to the point of bonkers.
Two Nytol and a brandy-laced hot chocolate later, she was asleep when Frank snuck in at midnight and curled up next to her. Despite being flat out, Harriet moved further onto her side of the bed. Frank rolled over and started to snore.
One member of the household was restless, however. Stalin trotted about his cage, adding fluff and sawdust to his nest. He clambered through the various tubes and chambers of his new home. He’d made his bed in the topmost see-thru bubble, but was currently padding around the main space, which was a metal cage rather than plastic, and was where the cotton wool had been placed.
There were also a couple of wooden boxes, playthings which Stalin investigated as part of his rounds. He’d been in and out of the holes thoughtfully drilled within them and was now using his powerful back legs to push himself onto the top of one. His nose snuffled the bars of the cage, taking in the room’s smell – a mixture of air-freshener and awkwardness – before he grew bored, jumped down and continued making his new home comfortable.
Tentatively Harriet opened her eyes, rubbing sleep away with her fingertips. Saturday mornings always made her tense. It was the point in the week when Frank, sexually demanding at the best of times, was most hungry for action. The bed felt curiously empty and when she rolled over to face where Frank would usually still be lay flat on his back, mouth open and making a noise like a fluey rhino, she found his side empty. She rubbed a hand across the sheet; it was cold.
Frank was in the kitchen brewing up when she padded through in her fluffy slippers and the old grey Fruit Of The Loom T-shirt she knew he hated. He gave her a warm smile anyway.
‘Morning sweetheart.’ He leaned in for a kiss, which Harriet ducked, meaning it dropped awkwardly onto her ear.
‘You’re up early,’ she said, accepting the cup of tea he handed her.
‘Couldn’t sleep. I feel awful about yesterday and, y’know…’
‘Well, I guess so,’ he grinned, ‘But more for upsetting you.’
Taking her hand, Frank led Harriet into the lounge, where a vast bouquet of blood red roses sat in a vase. ‘I’m sorry my darling,’ he said, nuzzling his nose into her hair. ‘Forgive me?’
Harriet was a sucker for grand gestures and Frank wasn’t the most demonstrative of men so she knew he’d put some effort in. She put her arms around him for a brief squeeze.
‘Thank you, they’re gorgeous. But we need to talk about this.’
‘Agreed,’ said Frank, which surprised her, ‘But first: look!’ He pointed at the plastic tube structure on the coffee table. ‘Stalin’s made the most amazing bed.’
Harriet understood why he was impressed by the mass of cotton wool and sawdust within which an inch of furry body could be spotted; Frank had never made a bed in his life. Maybe Stalin could teach him some life skills. Or at least domesticate him a little. Being responsible for something other than himself might make a man of him. At 42, granted, but better late than never.
‘Can we keep him?’ Frank’s nervous voice cut into her thoughts. ‘I promise I won’t put him anywhere I, um, probably shouldn’t.’
Harriet hugged him, nodding. It could have been worse, she thought to herself; she’d read a story in one of the Sunday supplements about a man who’d shoved a vacuum hose up his ringpiece. It had got stuck, meaning his poor wife had to take him to hospital and explain to a crowd of giggling nurses what had happened. At least Frank hadn’t put her through that, although she’d always wanted a Dyson and it would be an excuse to upgrade.
Attentive didn’t start to cover Frank’s behaviour that day. He scurried around seeing to Harriet’s every whim, including giving her a foot-rub and she knew how he felt about feet. He should shove a rat up his arse more often, she found herself thinking. That he’d not pestered her for a shag, vanilla or otherwise, made Harriet relaxed and, consequently, horny as hell. And then she had a bright idea. ‘C’mon,’ she giggled. ‘Sod talking, let’s go shopping.’
‘I bought all his supplies yesterday,’ said a confused Frank as they wandered into the huge pet warehouse next door to the budget supermarket in which Harriet could never find what she needed but had been assured did very good continental meats.
‘We’re not shopping for Stalin,’ she smiled naughtily. ‘Follow me.’
Taking his hand and ignoring his baffled expression, she led Frank to the cat toy section.
‘Um, Harriet, we don’t have…’
‘Shh,’ she giggled. ‘Close your eyes and hold out your hand.’
Frank’s hand closed around something gerbil-shaped and furry. He was about to ask Harriet what the hell was going on, when the furry, gerbil-shaped object began squirming. He let out an unmanly squeak.
‘It’s got a pullcord,’ said Harriet matter-of-factly, dangling the toy creature from the piece of string with a white plastic loop at the end that protruded from its bottom.
Frank’s face broke into a huge grin and he reached for his wallet.
Back at home, Stalin had woken from his slumber and was once more on exploring duty. He poddled about the various plastic tunnels, moving stray bits of fluff and food and nibbling on the sunflower seeds that Frank had placed in several of the chambers. Reaching the main cage, Stalin checked the holes in the wooden boxes were where he’d left them the night before, and clambered on top of one. Standing on his hind legs he touched the bars above him with his snout. They moved. Curious, Stalin used a little more force and the bars – the ones that made up the cage door – moved more. Mustering all his strength and standing to his full height, Stalin gave the door a hard shove with his nose and it swung open, landing with a clatter on the other bars of the cage roof. Stalin was free.
The front door banging shut made Stalin jump and he ran from the lounge into the bedroom and under the bed. Frank and Harriet were in fine spirits, giggling and nuzzling like love’s unseemly middle-aged dream. To get them even more in the mood, Frank had taken them to The Craven Cow for the evening and had also splashed out on a bottle of Tesco’s finest fizzy wine. He popped the cork and almost came in his pants when Harriet took the frothing bottle from him and wantonly slipped the top third of the bottle into her mouth.
‘I don’t want to waste a drop,’ she purred.
Frank, unused to his wife being quite so up for it and buoyed by alcohol, decided in for a penny, in for a pound. Furking around in the depths of his wardrobe, he pulled out a suit that Harriet had never seen before. She stared hard trying to work out whether it was more black leather or silver zip. Fuck me, she thought and took a deep swig of the not-Champagne, swiftly followed by another two.
‘Who’s that for?’ she asked, not sure that either answer would be satisfactory.
‘Me!’ exclaimed Frank delightedly and started stripping. ‘Grab the baby oil out of the cabinet, would you love? This thing’s a bastard to get on.’
Harriet discovered that she could in fact only appreciate the suit’s full glory once it was inhabited. Frank, a keen cyclist, had stayed trim, but like most men his age who liked a pint couldn’t escape the onset of a beer gut. Skintight leather wasn’t the best way to disguise the solid bulge that was now very shiny and decorated with a chunky silver zip that ran the full length of the garment and complemented the horizontal zip across the front of the headpiece. Two more zips opened over Frank’s nipples; the one over his crotch was currently closed but already showing some strain thanks to Frank’s excitement. He looked like a goth caterpillar.
Harriet was pretty sure it was the booze making her light-headed and a bit raunchy rather than her husband’s get-up. She was even more convinced that was definitely the case when he turned round to reveal the suit’s bottom was, well, wasn’t. Instead the wiry hairs on Frank’s arse cheeks were gently moving because of a breeze coming through the open window.
‘Oh,’ said Harriet, who felt she should say something, but was at a loss as to what. She unzipped Frank’s face.
‘Thanks,’ he giggled. ‘It’s hot in here.’
Then he smiled right at her; a big, heartwarming, trusting smile and Harriet was up for whatever.
Trotting into the kitchen, she grabbed the bag containing the fake gerbil and headed back into the bedroom. Throwing the toy onto the bed, she stood Frank up and started to kiss away his nerves, slowly working her way down, unzipping his cock and re-enacting the moves she’d made on the bottle of fizz earlier.
A sudden bang made them both jump. The lights flickered, before going off completely.
‘Bollocks, the fuse must’ve gone,’ grumbled Frank.
‘So?’ said Harriet, continuing her tongue’s exploration of Frank’s nethers. He didn’t argue.
Reaching behind him onto the bed, she grabbed the cardboard tube Frank had made to make the whole scenario more realistic and gently eased it where she’d only ever put her fingers. Patting her hand on the bed, she got hold of something furry and pushed it deep inside the tube. She felt for the cord. It wasn’t there. Her heart stopped as she realised the toy was now moving of its own accord.
‘God, Harrie, that’s amazing,’ groaned Frank. ‘It even feels like its got tiny claws, scrabbling around. I can almost imagine I can feel a little nose snuffling. Thank you Harrie. Thank you.’
‘Um, Frank…’ started Harriet.
‘Ow, it’s starting to hurt a bit. Seriously, ouch. Stop now. Jellybeans! Jellybeans!’
Frank had started doing a frantic dance round the room. ‘Fucking jellybeans!’ he yelled at the top of his voice.
‘It’s Stalin,’ squealed Harriet. ‘He must have escaped and got on the bed and… Shit, what are we going to do Frank?’
‘Fucking find him!’ screamed Frank. ‘I don’t care how, just get him out.’
‘I can’t see a thing,’ said Harriet gently furtling around in Frank’s rectum, which had expanded to a surprising size. ‘Hold on I’ve got an idea.’
At that point, time slowed down. Frank couldn’t tell what Harriet was doing until he heard the match strike the sandpaper on the edge of the box and by then it was too late.
Frank’s screams mingled with Harriet’s as the flame ignited a pocket of intestinal gas, shooting fire out of Frank’s arse and setting Harriet’s hair alight. That wasn’t the only thing burning. Stalin’s whiskers had also caught fire and he was in just deep enough to touch a larger pocket of gas further up Frank’s bum.
Stalin shot out like a cannonball. Harriet, still in shock that her hair was on fire was in for another surprise as Stalin hit her full in the face with a force that broke her nose. Frank had legged it to the shower in the en suite and put his anus out and was now stood in the bath howling in agony. Stalin lay dead in a sad, singed little heap; the innocent victim of human perversions.
It took the gaggle of nurses that surrounded Frank, still in his leather suit, a full minute to pull themselves together. Frank failed to see the funny side of the first and second degree burns all over his arse and at the lower end of his intestinal tract.
Harriet filed for divorce the following Monday. She made £500 selling her story to a Sunday supplement and bought herself a top-of-the-range Dyson.
Aged five, Mickey Noonan shoved an apple pip up her nose to see what happened. Older, wiser but sadly without a nose-tree, Standard Issue's editor remains curious about the world. Likes running, jumping and static trapeze.