There was giraffe snot on my hand and I must have been smiling because Mum was smiling back at me with my shaped grin. Not hers.
Two years before that, I handed Mum a picture of a reindeer that I’d drawn and stood back to await approval. She said it was an excellent giraffe. I pretended that it was, indeed, an excellent giraffe, then went back to my room to draw another reindeer, this time with a red nose so she would get it. Rudolph the Red Nosed Giraffe, she said when I presented it to her ten minutes later. It’s not a giraffe, I confessed, it’s a reindeer. She turned the piece of paper at an angle. Oh, she said, it’s a bit necky.
You know, said my reading partner at school the next day, you mustn’t think that you’re rubbish at drawing reindeer, but excellent at drawing giraffes. I told Mum about this. Yes, she said, there’s no denying that you are a brilliant giraffe drawer.
That must have been the start of it. Relatives got giraffe birthday cards. My school exercise books had long links of giraffes in the margins. I tore down the wallpaper in my bedroom and replaced it with giraffes playing tennis and eating from trees and carrying trays of muffins and chasing chickens (which were easy enough to draw). Mum took me to the doctor, who questioned me about all this giraffe drawing, and I shrugged and said, I’m good at giraffes at the moment. On my way out I gave him a picture that I’d prepared and he agreed, yes, you are good at giraffes. I remember his eyes filling with the shine that emanated from my drawing, as if he’d found something he’d always been looking for. I took that to the bank. I filled notebooks with giraffes. I covered my legs and arms in giraffes. Why don’t you try to make one out of plasticine? asked Mum. I shook my head. I was getting really good at drawing now.
What do you want to do when you grow up? asked my uncle when he was visiting.
Draw, I replied, as I was drawing a giraffe.
Draw what? he asked. Pictures in story books?
I looked up from my drawing. Mum leaned forward, elbows on knees. Yes, I said, and went back to my drawing. I heard Mum breathe out and relax into her chair. As long as they’re books about giraffes, I added.
She stood up and left the room.
My pens ran out and Mum wouldn’t get me new ones. I tried pencils which were fine until they got blunt or broken. I couldn’t find a single pencil sharpener in the house and so I used squeezy icing, bootlace liquorice, Mum’s eyeliner, a toothpick and a saucer of mud… One day, my schoolteacher found me hiding in the toilets with a crayon and some toilet roll. Mum was called to the office.
Have you taken him to see a real one? asked my teacher.
Are you mad? said Mum.
No, said my teacher, it might get it out of his system. The whole giraffe thing.
And that’s why we were there that day.
Gerry stepped out into his paddock and swung his head down to my handful of grass. He closed one fringed eyelid at me, then sneezed along my arm. I turned to Mum. That’s when her mouth made the same shape as mine. It almost reached her eyes.
She took a picture of me with the giraffe, standing well back. I stuck it up in my bedroom with the other pictures I’d drawn and I noticed all their eyes on the fronts of their faces, their twisted horns, their legs all different thicknesses sprouting from the middles of their gym-horse bodies. I came downstairs. You lied, I said. I am terrible at drawing giraffes.
Mum started to protest then stopped herself.
I never drew another giraffe.
This left a hole in my plans to illustrate giraffe-themed story books. I tried to draw something else, but my hand would curl around the pencil then hover above the paper like one magnet pushing against another.
Mum was happy for a while.
I got older. Relatives kept asking me, what do you want to do when you grow up? And I’d shrug. But soon enough I had to choose my GCSE options. Then prospectuses for colleges fell through our letterbox. Universities started to send me publicity emails.
I thought about investment banking.
I thought about medicine.
I thought about walking dogs in the park.
Once, I considered having my own smoothie bar.
But by the next day I thought it would be easier not to.
I was walking along our street when an old man shouted me over to give him a hand moving a mid-century sideboard. I got one end of it and he got the other and we heaved it up into his van. He patted me on the shoulder and said, well done lad. I smiled. He offered me a fiver and I refused it because he’d already given me something.
I can still feel his handprint on my shoulder.
I started working for Evans’ Removals. I heaved filing cabinets from office blocks. I guided pianos down spiral staircases. I winched Welsh dressers from third floor balconies.
I made sure that my older colleagues got the light loads.
And I got used to hearing Well Done Lad.
One day, I was told to move an early twentieth century china cabinet from a bungalow. I noticed it had been lined with fabric depicting a safari scene. I was appraising a giraffe when the urge to sit down and draw enveloped me. This urge usually disappeared if I looked away quickly, so I turned around. A woman was standing in the room. She asked if I needed any help.
No, I said.
I’ve never seen anybody like you before, I said, then clapped a hand over my mouth.
She laughed. She was much taller than me and it hadn’t taken me long to realise why. My gaze trekked from her collarbone,
up to her throat,
then to her jaw,
and along her chin
She reminded me of a swan, or maybe even…
My eyes gaped as they met hers.
Long, feather earrings dangled high above her shoulders.
The centre of her bottom lip was pierced with a large stud.
I’m sorry, I said.
Why? she said.
What’s your name? I said.
She grinned at her feet.
We got married two years later. We moved into a boxy semi opposite a fifteen-storey council block. The garage had been converted into a caterer’s kitchen and this suited Mindy as she baked award-winning cakes that got her on the telly once in a while. Her curving, shining, contoured, colourful cakes. They produced the kinds of looks from customers that reminded me of the doctor that day looking at the picture of my giraffe. Can you do giraffes? I asked, one day. You know, a giraffe shaped cake?
She looked right at me and said, let’s not talk about giraffes.
I made my eyes go twitchy and defensive to let her know that I was confused.
I was bullied, she said. It was a while ago but it still pinches me in a very raw place.
She went back to the piece of icing she was moulding into a deer antler, slim fingers busy inside their blue, latex gloves; her head swaying about over her work.
We never spoke about it again.
But I thought about the bullies.
I looked through her lists of friends on Facebook to see which ones had unkind faces.
Under our bed, her memory box contained notes passed between schoolgirl hands, from boyfriend to girlfriend, from parent to child, written on photobooth strips, on train tickets, on napkins from Costa. Scraps of life archived for another day.
But no hatred.
When I went to her parents’ house on Boxing Day, I snuck into their bedroom and found a box of photographs. I thumbed through them, checking for storms of wickedness swirling inside eyes. But the faces were frozen, captured, aware of the camera. I turned the photos in the light to see if they would reveal something else.
What are you doing here? asked her mother.
I looked up and the box fell from my lap. I’m sorry, I said. Mindy doesn’t say much about her past…
We collected up the spilt photographs in silence.
I think Mindy’s mother must have told her about that day. But Mindy never let on.
In the street I looked at peoples’ faces, watching as they scanned her. People have photo faces when they are peeping at others. People know when to freeze their expressions and move nothing but their eyes.
We went to Wagamama’s and the teenagers on the next table whispered and laughed, chucking glances at the long rope of muscle at the side of her neck. My head-resting place, I used to call it when whenever we slow-danced together. When she went to the loo I stared at their table, turning my bank card in my fingers, and was about to speak when Mindy came back. One of them rose from their seat and came over, the others egging her on in whispers. I stood and held out an arm to block whatever weapon she had in her hand, whatever words she held in her mouth, but she asked Mindy for her autograph. Are you the cake lady from the telly? she said. Your cakes are well nice.
I sat back down. My senses swirled and sank like the bits of leaf in my green tea.
I couldn’t find her enemy.
On the toilet that night, I looked at a sheet of loo roll and was reminded of that day at primary school where I’d been caught drawing a giraffe with a crayon. That urge to draw had closed my ears to the telling off.
My fingers tingled. I rose from the loo and found a pen.
I drew screwed up, hateful faces. I drew men with severed, torn neck-flesh between their teeth. I drew men with baseball bats beating a poor necky figure. I drew women with lightning bolts coming from their eyes, connecting with her long, pale throat. I drew faces with spirals of anger on the cheeks and around the ears, speech bubbles shouting Giraffe! Giraffe! Giraffe! At Christmas I drew Santa Claus handing her a stuffed giraffe with a bow around its neck. On her birthday I drew birthday balloons, the two and the four in the shape of giraffes. On Mothers’ Day I drew my mother feeding a bunch of flowers to a giraffe-Mindy, with breasts and a little lip stud. Each time I drew, I scribbled out the faces. I plunged sketched daggers into their throats. I took a pair of scissors and cut off their legs. I scratched through the paper with my pen. In a Sherwood Forest café, I saw a pug staring at Mindy’s jugular notch. I went to the loos to draw it and sunk teaspoons into each glob of eye.
I should have burned those pictures.
But I kept them, even the torn and cut fragments, in a treasury box under the tomato plants in our greenhouse.
Hidden in plain sight.
In fact, I didn’t really think about hiding them.
One morning we woke up to a sucking, crumbling rumble. Glass shattered and concrete roared into rubble. I looked through the bedroom window towards the council block to find it still intact, so I ran along the landing to the back window. A hole had torn through the patio, the left-hand side of the lawn, the back hedge, and right into the middle of the greenhouse which stood half erect, tomato plants in one neat trail from upright to buried. The edge of the sinkhole was less than a foot from our patio door. I saw Mindy’s head lean from the door and look down into the hole.
My pictures mosaicked its edges.
The treasury box butterflied upside down at the bottom.
I jogged downstairs to find her squatting at the door, squinting to see the stabbed and scribbled out men, women and pugs; Mindy holding giraffes, Mindy being beaten with giraffes, Mindy being eaten by giraffes and the worst picture presented itself just below her feet, my mother feeding Mothers’ Day flowers to giraffe-Mindy.
She left me.
I texted her until she changed her number. Then I commented on her Instagram posts. I watched her brief TV appearances. I followed her through the town. I waited at events, parked behind her caterer’s van, its little cake-stand logo reminding me of a Victorian pedestal dining table.
The house plants died.
Our fridge started to smell.
The bath grew dusty.
Beard-hair oozed from my chin.
She told the police to serve an injunction on me so I turned up on her parents’ doorstep.
Please talk to her for me, I said.
Go home, they said. And have a bath.
One day, Al called me. My boss. Where are you lad?
It’s the weekend, I replied.
We haven’t seen you for three weeks.
Really? I said.
Are you coming back?
I said I needed to think about that for a while…
In the evenings I drank bottled beer while my legs swung into the sinkhole and tears got trapped in my beard.
You haven’t called me in weeks, said Mum, are you okay?
I told her about the sinkhole, the split, my job…
She made gasping noises and said, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to hang up now.
Thinking back, that was the last thing she said to me.
The same day, my neighbour popped his head over the fence and asked what I was planning to do with the sinkhole. I said we had it checked out and it was stable. We? he said. Is your missus still there then? I wanted to throw my beer bottle at him. Instead I bit into my fist and sobbed.
It’s not turned out too well for you, has it? he said.
Ha, I managed, wiping an eye.
We are worried about the sinkhole though.
‘Kay, I said, wiping the other eye.
We. He meant ‘he’ and his wife. ‘He’ and the other neighbours. Their eyes rose above the fence to stare at the sinkhole when they thought I wasn’t looking. Their polo-shirt collars up and their cheeks red. I’d seen them looking at Mindy like that too.
Two weeks later, I ran into my dad at Mum’s funeral. He looked at me over the lily spray on her coffin and shook his head. My aunt was there, her cheeks and eyes rising to greet me. She said that I could live with her. That I needed looking after. That when everyone thought I was a lost cause she had always felt very sorry for me.
Do you remember when you used to draw giraffes?
When you think of all these kids doing drugs and knifing each other, is sitting down and drawing giraffes all day really that bad?
I said I didn’t know what it was like to be a parent. Mum did her best.
Nevertheless, she said, I thought I’d bring you this. It’s just a silly thing.
She pushed something into my palm, put a flat hand against my cheek and left.
It was a small plastic giraffe that could be attached to a bunch of keys or something. I felt it burn against my hand. I lifted my fist to throw it at the wall, my nose hissing air in and out. But instead, I squeezed it tighter, wringing it of any pain it could cause me. I snatched a corkscrew from the kitchen and went into the loo. I took the point of the corkscrew and severed the giraffe’s head from its neck, it’s legs one by one from its body. Then I wrapped it in toilet roll so that it wouldn’t float and flushed it.
I didn’t sleep that night but stared at severed giraffe legs as they floated about in the darkness. I turned on the light to quell them but they swam through my eyes in different colours. Patches blotched along my arms and I tried to rub them away. In my mind’s eye, a little head bobbed up to the surface of the toilet water, looking at me from the side of its face. It was by far the worst thing I had done. My aunt messaged me to see how I was doing, but I couldn’t answer; the weight of my crime pulled at my stomach. I had cut off so much with that little corkscrew.
It pinched me in a very raw place.
One morning I was sitting by the sinkhole, the TV on in the background. I had just finished my beer when the doorbell rang. I got up to answer it and found three of my neighbours stood on the doorstep. Look, said one, we are really very concerned about the sinkhole. We just want to know, said another, if you received a report from the council. We think, said the third, that the council is hiding something from us and your report might throw up the truth.
Our homes could be in danger.
And leaving the hole open could weaken the surrounding land.
We could never sell our house while your garden is in the state that it’s in. It’s very off-putting.
I was half listening, but the TV was saying something that had caught my attention. I wandered back into the living room and stood in front of it, my dressing gown lolling open. ‘Parents were shocked when a local zoo dissected a giraffe in front of primary school children’. I held my stomach. My neighbours were still talking at me. All we want is the report, they were saying. I watched as the zookeeper fed a chunk of patched flesh to a lion. I leaned over the laminate flooring and vomited.
I couldn’t understand why they would do it and I wanted to prove that it wasn’t true, but as my research deepened, I realised it was. My heart writhed and thrashed about. I remembered that day with the snot all up my arm. I remembered the giraffe head gazing at me through the toilet water. My mind poisoned its memories so that the snot on my arm morphed into brown and gold patches; so that the head in the toilet bowl became Mindy’s. So that the lion became the pug. So that the giraffe became Mum. So that the pug became my dad. So that Mum became Mindy. So that my dad became the bullies. So that Mindy became me, all those years back, in the teacher’s office.
I watched documentaries, read nature magazines, searched archives on zookeeping practices, and printed reports on the transportation of giraffes from zoo to zoo. I looked up records on giraffes gifted from other countries, other zoos; the optimum number of giraffes for captivity, the redistribution of giraffes when two males clash, the adoption process when a calf is rejected by its mother. The euthanasia of a giraffe when it grows old or lame or ill. The culling of certain species when their genetic make-up is not diverse enough to be of any use.
I went to the zoo and found it hard to look up into that fringed eye that had sneezed on my arm all those years ago. It was the same giraffe. Gerry. Older now. Greying in his darker patches. He still liked a nice clump of grass but was slower in bending towards it. He had fathered many calves, most of them had gone to other European zoos. Some had stayed and had gone on to become fathers themselves. Gerry would soon be allowed to retire. My worry was for his son, Jensen. By my calculations his family tree would put him in the at-risk category. I found a zookeeper, feigned an investigation into giraffe genetics, claimed that I had found a link between this family of mammals and another (rare) species that I couldn’t fully disclose. I deadened my face and asked the zookeeper about reproduction; had they tried to reproduce with other species at this zoo? Had they perhaps used the excess bulls to experiment in this way? Was it something they were planning to do with the current surplus? The zookeeper kept her answers smiley and neutral as if she were talking to a group of school children. But answered no. I pressed on. So do you have a calf that could potentially be used as part of this experiment? She said, who exactly do you work for? I gave her a name that I’d made up and told her that it was a Government Initiative. She said she hadn’t heard of it. I said it was Very Embryonic. She said perhaps you should contact one of the head zookeepers by email. I laughed and said, I’m just here on a day out actually and thought I’d ask on the off chance, sorry to have kept you… No! she brightened, realising she could leave soon, don’t be sorry. Science can take over your life sometimes, I know that.
It does, I said. If all of your bulls are viable then I’m wasting your time… I shrugged and smiled.
Well, she said… You should really to talk to my boss.
I held her gaze for a moment, then let my eyes flutter over Jensen as he stood tugging mouthfuls of straw from a net attached to his stable.
And there my research stopped.
The night-time faces − Mindy’s, my mother’s, my father’s, my boss’s, my neighbours’ − started to smile at me and my new idea and I told them I didn’t care what they thought, they could smile if they wanted.
It had to be a Sunday, I thought to myself, because that’s when the vans would be left at the depot. My ex-colleagues would be with their wives and children. There were only men with wives. Each man and each wife had children. And each man and each wife and their children (and sometimes grandchildren) would devote their Sunday to a roast dinner. Sometimes Al would bring me a stuffed Yorkshire pudding on a Monday in exchange for one of Mindy’s sponge cakes. I went to the depot at 9pm, took my old key and climbed into the largest lorry there. I drove it away and told myself that I was too far in to back out. I arrived at the zoo with ladders, metal cutters and a piano winch. I parked on a farm track that I’d located on Google, not too far from the back of Jensen’s enclosure.
I pulled on a balaclava and used one of the ladders to get over the fence. From there I could see the giraffe house looming darkly. I jogged over, scaled the enclosure barrier, headed for the stables and looked for the one with Jensen’s name. Jensssen, I hissed. He came to the hatch and I took a moment to stare at him before giving him an apple. He took it, leaving a wet stripe on the palm of my hand and I turned it in the moonlight, thinking about my younger self and what he would say if he could see me now.
Jensen liked the apple. I gave him another so that when I unhitched the door and fumbled a rope about his neck, he let me. Then I led him to the back barrier of the enclosure. Once there, I cut through the wire with metal cutters and led him over the belt of green land towards the lorry. The final fence would be the hardest as I couldn’t cut through, but the closer I got, the more I realised that there was no way I’d get him over with the piano winch on my own. I’d underestimated the size of an adolescent giraffe. The plan would have gone to shit at that point, but I found a gap where the fence met a stream. I shimmied along the embankment with Jensen following, bending to lick at my coat pockets.
At the lorry, I unclicked the doors and drew down the ramp. Earlier I’d placed a box of carrots and pears up towards the back. He ambled up the ramp, ducking his head as he went, heading for the box. There was no room for him to stand upright and I’d hoped he would sit down. I felt him stumble as I pulled the lorry forward and apologised into the wingmirror. Nearly there, buddy, I said.
Back at my house, I led him through the side gate, into the garden and down some makeshift steps into the sinkhole. He followed, placing his legs carefully like a large stick insect. I climbed out, removed the steps and stood back to look at him. He lolloped over to the nets of hay I’d prepared and started grabbing out tufts with his lips.
I returned the lorry, swept the inside and sprayed with Febreze. I checked for scuff marks and traces of vegetable, then rode away on my bike.
By 2am I was home. I opened a beer and sat by the sinkhole where Jensen sniffed at me and licked my ankle. Then he sank onto his legs and curved his neck around his body like a swan.
I slept on the sofa that night and was woken by the incessant turning of a moo box. It took me a while to remember the giraffe in the garden and to tune into his calls to his mother or his friends or perhaps me. I went to the window and when he saw me the mooing stopped; we became caught in each other’s gazes. Then I saw the snowman-sized mound of poo at the bottom of the sinkhole − I hadn’t thought about that…
Movement at the fence distracted me from the poo. My neighbour stood with his coffee mug an inch from his wide-open mouth.
I hadn’t thought about that either.
In fact, my plan had stopped developing at 2am.
The doorbell rang. I answered. My neighbour and his wife. Are you serious? the woman asked me.
I don’t know…what I’ve done, I said.
You’ve put a giraffe in your sinkhole, that’s what you’ve done, she replied. Nothing, she said, nothing about that is okay.
We will have to report this, said the man.
Jensen started to moo again. I turned and went out into the living room. He stopped when he saw me at the patio doors. I sensed my neighbours padding up behind me in socked feet. You could have kept your shoes on you know, I said. The street is probably cleaner than my floor. But they were gazing at the giraffe, their eyes emanating the shine of his reflection as if they’d found something they’d always been looking for.
Whatever possessed you, said the woman, breathy now, to do this?
I don’t know, I said.
They stared at me. Then back at Jensen. Then at me.
Eventually I said, A giraffe got dissected in front of some school kids. Did you see that? On the news?
Yes, said the man. We couldn’t believe it.
Well, I said, that’s exactly what would have happened to Jensen.
The woman frowned. Why would they do that?
He can’t reproduce. And so they can’t keep him.
She lifted a hand to her mouth and gasped through her fingers.
At that point, the back-fence neighbour came through the open door and took off his shoes. Are you serious? he asked me. Have you seen what this idiot has done now? he asked the others.
My floor is really rather dirty, I said.
He rescued the giraffe, said the woman. Do you remember that thing about the school kids? And the giraffe being cut up?
That was awful, said the back-fence neighbour.
Well the same thing was destined for Jensen. She threw an arm out towards the garden.
The neighbour looked at Jenson and climbed his eyebrows, one after the other.
But why would they do that? he asked.
That’s exactly what I asked, she said.
What do you suggest I do? I said as I handed out Rice Krispie squares and cups of coffee. The three of them stood by the patio doors watching as Jensen masticated whiskers of hay and blinked widely.
I’ll take his dung, said Karen, the woman. Unless you want to keep it?
Sure, I said.
He can’t stay here, said her husband Jim, so we’ll have to work out where to send him.
Aren’t you a removal man? asked Back-fence.
Was, I said. I lost my job.
You brought him here in a lorry, said Karen. Evans Removals. We saw it.
I borrowed it.
They nodded slowly over their coffee mugs.
I’m not in a good place, I said.
Well, if you brought him here in a lorry, that’s how he’ll have to leave, said Jim.
I can’t really borrow the lorry again…
We might have to, said Back-fence. In the meantime, we need to keep this very quiet.
What about Tim and Ralph that side? said Karen nodding her head to the right.
I’ll have a word, said Back-fence. They’re in Scotland this weekend.
Ralph’s father is a laird, Karen said to me.
I looked from Karen to Jim to Back-fence, my eyes fat with tears.
Jim noticed this. I’ve seen some daft things in my time… He shook his head. But he’s not going back to the zoo, lad. Don’t worry.
I stood at the front door for a while after they left, then went out to Jensen. I topped up his water, marvelled at how he bent to lap it up in snaky tonguefuls, then shovelled up his poo for Karen. In the afternoon, Tim popped his head over the left-hand fence, gaped his eyes at Jensen and disappeared. He returned with Ralph. They looked at Jensen, then at me, then at Jensen. He had his head bent to his water and his backside broad and upright like a church doorway. They smiled and gave me a thumbs up.
I nodded back.
In the evening, two children came up the side of the house, hands in pockets, and stopped dead at the edge of the sinkhole.
Can I help you? I said, from the patio door.
Oh, said the girl. We didn’t know if anyone was in.
You could have knocked.
We just wanted to get a closer look…
At what? I said.
Jensen was strolling the length of the sinkhole, mooing when he reached the edge, then turning and strolling back again.
Him, said the boy, rocking the top half of his body towards Jensen. We can see him from our flat.
The girl pointed at the council block behind. It grew tall from the roof of my house like a giraffe neck.
Oh, I said.
Can we feed him? said the girl.
I gave her a carrot for Jensen. She stood rigid while he licked his tongue around her hand and munched his head back up into the air.
Cool, said the boy.
Do you want to feed him? I said.
He shivered his body away. I’m not keen on his tongue, he said. But thank you.
You know, said the girl, the other flats can see your garden.
Right. I looked at the flats again, hands on the sides of my head, elbows out.
Are you okay? said the girl.
Um… I replied. What floor are you on?
Seventh, they said. Of fifteen.
Seventh of fifteen? I said. Hmm.
Later, I wheeled the dung over to Karen and Jim’s. I’m so stupid, I said, gesturing at the council block behind me. They can all see what’s in my garden. How stupid am I, Karen?
Karen made big eyes and said, Well, you’re all over the news.
What? I said.
She stepped aside and I walked in. Jim was stood in front of the TV with the remote. Shoes off, lad, he said.
A missing giraffe… Gap in the zoo fence… Suspect may have been this man… Acting suspiciously last week…
They showed a snowy, jolty image of me talking to the zookeeper.
I took one shoe off, then the other, and stood with them hugged to me.
What was I thinking? I said.
I think, said Jim, you believed you were doing the right thing.
As it grew dark, I watched Jensen settle on a pile of his own legs and loll his eyelids at me.
It’s okay buddy, I said. It looks like you’re going home soon.
Tapping woke me.
I had fallen asleep cradled into the patio doorframe. It was dark outside and Jensen slept with his head on his back haunch. I fumbled for my phone to check the time. Midnight.
The tapping became banging.
Okay, I called, and went to the door. I’m up. I’m coming.
A large figure blurred through the glass, backlit by headlights. I took a deep breath, put the chain on the door and opened it.
You alright lad?
Al. My ex-boss.
Um, hello, I said, folding my arms.
Been a while, he said.
I nodded. I didn’t know what to say.
He looked at me from under the ridge of his forehead.
I’m sorry, I said, that I took the lorry. I’ve not been doing too well, if I’m honest…
Ralph called us, he said.
Your neighbour, he said. Isn’t he?
Yes. He’s my right-side neighbour.
We’re here for a removal, he said. Livestock.
I dropped my arms. What do you mean? I said as Ralph crossed over the short box hedge and came up to the door wearing an orange ski jacket, cargo pants and a head torch. Jensen is going to Scotland, he said. It’s all arranged.
I looked at Al.
He nodded one, deliberate nod and continued to stare at me from under his forehead-ridge.
Where? I said.
A private menagerie, said Ralph. But I won’t tell you where.
Oh, I frowned. Will he be safe?
It’ll buy us some time, he said. To whip up a social media storm.
You’d really do that? I said, looking at Ralph, then Al.
Yes, said Ralph, pulling on a beanie.
Round the side, is it lad? said Al.
I led them round the back, told them to watch their step while I fetched a rope and some carrots. Then I edged down into the sinkhole while Jensen slept on. I stopped to watch the rise and fall of his piled-up giraffe bits, then sang his name in a long, hissing whisper. He opened an eye, uncurled his neck.
Time to go, buddy, I said.
He mooed at me, then stretched to sniff my carrot-filled pockets.
Okay, I stepped backwards and held my arm out behind me, a carrot in my hand.
His head and neck reached so far towards me that his body and legs had to follow. I coaxed him out of the sinkhole and round the front of the house to the lorry. He staggered behind, tongue lapping at the air. I didn’t need the rope.
Back-fence came to see him off.
Jim and Karen looked on from the glow of their bedroom window.
We watched Jensen disappear behind the lorry doors.
Get some sleep, lad. Al put his hand on my shoulder. You’re on in the morning. Early shift.
I looked from the lorry doors to Al.
He nodded at me.
I pressed my lips together and nodded back.
I cried the day the council came to fill in the sinkhole. I watched scoopfuls of earth piling upwards until it looked like it was never there. Mindy crept up and hugged me from behind.
I folded my arms around hers.
It’s a good thing it’s gone, she said.
Probably, I said.
Look what Ralph sent.
She showed me her phone. Jensen stood with his girlfriend, Jennifer. Between them, their stick-insect calf pushed itself to its feet.
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