In any case, what concerned Todd most was not that they had cancelled his strawberry subscription, but that they had not told him so until three weeks afterwards. It got under his nose, this kind of thoughtless beaurocracy. Yes they were a start up company and would be prone to certain errors due to the nature of the field, but really, where was their pride? Surely they would want to impress their fellow man with a sense that everything possible had been done, for the sake of reassuring everyone of the decency of civilisation. Evidently not however.
Todd had not received his strawberries for the past three weeks. He had not grumbled about it, nor had he mentioned it to anyone, not even his son Glen, whom Todd knew would have taken the news stoically. He had written it down in his notepad, so he wouldn’t forget it and it wouldn’t weigh on his mind.
It would not weigh on his mind. Todd was an active man who had affairs to take care of above and beyond some misplaced strawbs. He could forgive some young initiators whose business was going through teething troubles. God knows he had made mistakes himself in his youth. Carelessness, forgetfulness, a lack of appreciation of the disruption an AWOL strawberry subscription caused, all these were the hallmarks of inexperienced youth. However, as one of his acquaintances, a llama called Joe whom Todd had known years ago and was now sadly late, had said, ‘Once you realise a mistake, apologise and fix it’. They hadn’t done that, really.
He had watched the postman approaching his letterbox, while standing side on and motionless in a grubby recess of his parlour, so as not to be seen back by the postman through the window. The postman had rummaged through his crinkled bag, pulled out a solitary letter for delivery, then about turned and carried on towards Mrs Tiddles’ house, whom Todd knew got lots of post by way of subscriptions and leaflets. He had stayed in his parlour about ten minutes more, checking. Then he had proceeded out, meeting the bracingly cold morning with a sluggish impishness, and collected his mail, before turning feet and scampering back inside.
He had looked around for his letter opening knife, opening drawers and pulling enough things out so he could sort through what was left, but had not found it and had given up. He had sat down at the parlour table, positioned next to the window, solemnly, holding the letter with both hands, and ripped it open with a fat finger. The letter had unfurled and he had read it gravely:
The strawberry patch has been covered by fat slugs. Also the wasps have been at it. The strawberries don’t look too good, we wouldn’t eat them. The Staple Strawberry Service is being cancelled until further notice.
We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.
Squirrel Nuts and Squirrel Trojan.
Todd had lowered the letter below his eyesight, a vein bulging above his mouthline. The tea he had brewed had not been drunk that morning, but had been poured away as cold.
He remembered Squirrel Nuts and Squirrel Trojan paying him a visit four weeks earlier very well. They had sidled up to his front door and knocked. He had watched them approaching from his parlour window.
They had spoken about their new start up company selling strawberries, and Squirrel Trojan had asked Todd if he would like a weekly subscription which, as the company was only in trial phase, would be just four nuts a week. Todd had deflected the question and spoke to Squirrel Nuts.
“I know your Mother.”
Todd did know Squirrel Nuts’ mother. They had chatted to each other while doing the rounds, but Todd had stopped seeing her.
“Oh yes, my Mum remembers you Mr Todd. She says it’s a shame you don’t come on the rounds any more,” Squirrel Nuts piped up.
“She was a good one, your Mum,” said Todd, eyeing Squirrel Trojan bullishly and fishing a fist into the sewn pocket of his pontoloons for his fiscal savings.
“I’ll take your strawberries.”
That had been the start of a fruitful relationship, thought Todd. It had been. Those two had really let the entire countryside down. Folks just wouldn’t be able to trust each other anymore. If Mrs Tiddles decided to start offering subscriptions of bramble, or matchstick or something, and came knocking, Todd would have to refuse purchase. It was the only consistant stance to take. He might even have to not open the door, but bellow at her from behind it to go away.
Todd hadn’t left his parlour since opening the letter and it was now afternoon. He wasn’t sure what to do. The naturological world had been jolted off it’s axis, and a multinumbered plan to get it back on track was needed. This motivation came to him, except more crudely formulated, by degrees and over hours.
Yes, a plan would do it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was well planned. He got out pen and paper, and after a few drafts and test runs, wrote out a good course of action.
- Go to Mrs Tiddles’ house. Did she take out a strawberry subscription? Did she get a letter this morning regarding it’s cancellation? Was she not offered a refund on lost nut payments? Would she like to come with me to Squirrel Fishnets’ house?
- Go to Squirrel Fishnets’ house. Does she know Squirrel Nuts set up a start up company for strawberry subscriptions? Does she know Squirrel Nuts and Squirrel Trojan have not offered a refund on lost nut payments?
Squirrel Fishnets was Squirrel Nuts’ mother. Todd knew where she lived. She had invited him over for tea after doing the rounds one evening. Todd checked his watch. Daylight hours were slimmer at this time of year. He would have to set off nowish.
In his black overcoat and rum worker’s hat, he cast an impressive figure as he approached Mrs Tiddles’ house. She had one of those doorbells. Todd jabbed at it with a warty finger then stepped back so Mrs Tiddles wouldn’t be alarmed by his presence. He could hear someone coming, see movement through the opaque side panels, and he clenched his fists and swallowed, causing his Adam’s apple to bob.
The door was flung back and Mrs Tiddles revealed herself. Head covered in a red shawl with white dots, glasses poked onto a nose that partially caught kaleidoscopic eyes, a bustling blouse that could have hidden all manner of things, the buxom Mrs Tiddles was a paradoxically homish yet vibrant figure.
It had been a while since Todd had last seen her. He gulped, causing his considerable and ungainly throat to bulge in the way he hated. Mrs Tiddles seemed flustered and surprised to see him. She smiled, and looked into Todd’s eyes, and did something with her hands.
“Hello Todd, fancy seeing you today. What brings you the way of Tiddle Grove on this cold afternoon?”
Todd forced his fists to unclench, but then realised they were pointing vertically down parallel to one another in a way that might make him look like a robot, so he instead let each joint of each finger curl at roughly a 45 degree angle, and moved one arm slightly forwards of the other so as to disrupt the symmetry.
“I’ve come on business.”
That was good, stating your purpose. It was a lesson he had picked up in frog school when he wasn’t much more than a tad, and he had retained it and kept it integrated into the functionality of his being after all these years.
“Do come in and have some tea. I find business always goes down better with a cup of tea and a biscuit.”
Mrs Tiddles made to turn back into her inviting home, but was pulled up short by Todd.
“I want to know,” Todd paused in a way that could have been mistaken as a power move if it wasn’t because he was rinsing his throat of phlegm. “Did those squirrels. You know, Squirrel Nuts and Squirrel Trojan. Did they sell you a strawberry subscription?”
A dawning took place on Mrs Tiddles’ face. Todd saw her firm smile decreasing to a rest.
“Yes they came here. Some squirrels selling some strawberries. Got a letter from them this morning.”
Todd bowed his head, letting the grave news resound out into the atmosphere like a dong from a Buddhist bell.
“Come with me”.
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