Home Truths, by Jeff Gardiner
Home Truths, by Jeff Gardiner
Alan lifted up his thirteen-month-old daughter and sniffed her bottom.
“Eurgh! Time for a new nappy, young Pippa.”
He checked the clock on the mantelpiece. Still ten minutes before the viewers arrived. With their house on the market, Alan, and his wife Jane had got used to having to tidy the place up daily for the benefit of the regular stream of prospective buyers continually intruding on their privacy.
“Let’s go and change you quickly. Then we’ll tidy up, ready for our visitors.”
But Pippa didn’t seem keen on this plan and as soon as Alan moved, she shrieked as if being viciously tortured.
“Babby! Babby! Babby!" she screamed. Alan sighed as he realised that she wanted her favourite teddy. Scanning the room rapidly he spotted Babby’s legs poking from underneath an upturned walker that had perpetually flashing lights.
With Pippa gripped tightly in a right arm-lock, he carefully picked his way through the debris of scattered toys and, slowly bending his legs, got low enough to reach Babby’s foot with the fingertips of his left hand. Alan tugged it sharply, setting off the infuriating music produced by the walker. A woman’s voice sang the alphabet at top volume, “Ay, bee, cee, dee, ee, eff, gee...” and ending with “…ex, why, zee.”
Pippa now clutched Babby and quietened down, so Alan carefully headed towards the door, catching another whiff of the contents of Pippa’s nappy. Then the doorbell rang.
The viewers and estate agent were early. There would be no time to change Pippa now. He would have to risk it and hope the smell didn’t prove too off-putting. Whilst the agent showed the visitors round, he could nip off and change her with no harm done.
But just as he reached out to open the front door a horribly familiar noise came from the kitchen. At first it sounded like something being scraped, but then became a regular rasping and finally a hoarse cough. As it got more urgent, Alan turned around just in time to see the cat vomiting behind him on the hall carpet. The doorbell rang again, for slightly longer.
“Smoky! Stop it. Get outside!”
In a panic he jumped over the puking pet and rushed into the kitchen and, still holding Pippa, used his free hand to unlock and open the back door before returning to the hall to poke the still retching cat with his foot. Without actually kicking her, Alan guided Smoky forcefully with his slipper; the cat slid onto the kitchen lino, but refused to go outside. Instead, the cat nonchalantly doubled back, hopped over Alan’s foot, slunk out of the kitchen and into the living room, where she curled up on the sofa licking herself as if proud of her morning’s work.
Alan panicked as the doorbell rang for the third time. He had to answer it.
Looking down at the fur-ball he grabbed a tea towel and got on his knees, grateful that Pippa was being so good. With a swift movement he scooped up the grey slug, folded over the cloth and flung the lot in the peddle-bin. Running to the front door, he hauled it open just in time to see three figures closing the gate about to walk off.
“So sorry,” Alan gasped. “Um, it’s just that … you know … sorry.”
The estate agent looked relieved. “Ah, Mr Bloom. This is Mr and Mrs Lake.”
Normally, he would have shaken their hands but he could hear a familiar sound in the living room like a rasping cough.
“Oh, hell. No,” Alan groaned through gritted teeth.
The estate agent frowned questioningly. Alan acted quickly.
“Um … would you mind just waiting there for a minute? Sorry, I mean, come in – that’s it … but could you just … I’ll be right back.”
Setting Pippa down by her toy box, Alan played ‘hunt the fur-ball’ for a couple of minutes – a game at which he proved highly unsuccessful. Unfortunately, Pippa began crying having been rejected by her dad. Out the corner of his eye he saw Smoky clawing the curtains by the French windows, so he scampered across, unlocked the sliding door and lifted Smoky with hands gripped round her soft warm belly. The cat then found herself unceremoniously thrown in the manner of a rugby pass, landing feet first on the lawn. Unconcerned, she sniffed the air, flicked her tail at Alan and went to explore behind the shed.
Pippa continued to cry and rock back and forth, as if about to topple and hit her head on the floor, but the kindly estate agent heard the noise and gathered her up quickly in experienced, motherly arms; cooing silly, but comforting noises that seemed to appease any potential tantrum.
Grateful and feeling pleased with himself, Alan now had to find the newly deposited offending disgorgement. But just as he bent down to peek under the table, he realised that Mr and Mrs Lake, tired of waiting in the hallway, had followed the estate agent into the living room. Quickly glancing across the toy-strewn carpet he could see no obvious evidence of feline voidance: a false alarm.
Alan heard a quick snatch of conversation:
“This room has potential,” said Mr Lake. “Such a shame the present owners have neglected the whole place.”
“Oh dear,” said a woman’s voice – presumably Mrs Lake. “I don’t like that wallpaper. And that will have to go. How horrible.”
“The garden needs a lot of work too.”
“The state it’s in I’m very surprised the property is priced at such a high cost.”
“It’ll take a few months to get rid of the ghastly smell.”
Alan went in undeterred and looked up .Four faces looking at him in anticipation. The couple eyed him accusingly; the estate agent stared with furrowed brow, whilst Pippa grinned and held out her arms for a daddy-hug. As Alan took back his daughter the unpleasant odour rose again to his nose, but he cleverly turned the need to gag into a polite smile.
“Please excuse me while I go and change her nappy. You carry on down here and I’ll be back to answer any questions.” Alan felt calm again. “Make yourselves at home.”
As he ascended the stairs he heard the estate agent giving the spiel he’d heard a dozen times, before she was interrupted by Mrs Lake’s harsh comment about the kitchen’s inappropriate decor and lack of hygiene. Pippa allowed her dad to quickly change her without a fuss. As he did so he sang some nursery rhymes and chattered the usual nonsense that made her smile so beautifully.
“Bu-bu-bub. What a lovely girl.” With that he blew a raspberry on her tummy before buttoning up her undergarment and slipping her jeans back on. “That must feel better. Let’s go downstairs and see those silly people. They are silly-billies aren’t they? Arriving so early-curly-wurly-squiggly-squirly.” He lifted her up and rubbed his nose against hers. “Aren’t they silly? Such silly-billies?” Her face broke into the smile that always brought tears to his eyes. “Can you say silly-billies?”
He tickled her and watched her squirm.
“Old grumpy frumps aren’t they? Moany old phoneys. Yes they are. Whingy stingies. Can you say moany-groany-grumpy-frumpy-bloody–whingy-stingy old gits? Yes you can. Oh ess oo can.” He made pouty faces at her, watching the delight in her eyes. Then he stood up, muttering between gritted teeth. “So let’s hope they sod off and die, eh?”
Alan kissed her, swung her up into his arms and descended the stairs. Halfway down he heard a woman’s voice sing “Ay, bee, cee, dee, ee, eff, gee...”.
He spoke as he entered the room: “Would you like to see upstairs now?” But Alan wasn’t prepared for what he encountered.
Mrs Lake was lying on the floor with her husband holding her hand. She had clearly tripped over some toys in the middle of the carpet. Alan grimaced. Even worse, the estate agent had found some baby-wipes and was rubbing Mrs Lake’s sleeve and hand. She looked up at Alan shaking her head sorrowfully.
“We found the cat’s vomit. It was on the sofa.”
Mr Lake stood up looking squarely into Alan’s eyes. “I’ve never been so insulted in all my life. You obviously have no respect for guests and never clean this house. You could have made a slight effort to tidy up.”
Alan panicked again. “I thought you might like to see what we’ve done to our bathroom…”
“No thank you, Mr Bloom. I wouldn’t want to live in this pig sty. We have other properties to view.” Mr Lake eventually got his wife to her feet and helped her limp outside and hobble back to their car.
As they drove off the estate agent stood in the doorway, sighing.
“I should tell you, Mr Bloom that you might like to turn off your downstairs baby-monitor. Sorry that we’re such silly-billies and that we arrived so early-curly-wurly - although you might be right about the stingy-whingers. We’ll sod off now, but hopefully not die. Goodbye.” And with that she swept off.
Red-faced, Alan slumped back into the living room and put a giggling Pippa down to play with her toys.
“I guess they won’t be putting in an offer, then.” Seeing Pippa open a book about a teddy and cry out “Babby!” made him grin and glow with pride.
“What a silly-billy, eh? A moany, groany, phoney loner.” Pippa gave him a huge grin as a reward for his little rhyme.
Just then the phone rang and Alan braced himself for a confrontation with a justifiably irate estate agent manager. To his utter relief it was Jane, phoning from work.
“Hiya. How’s Pippa?”
“Hi. Yeah she’s fine.”
“Have the people been yet?”
“Oh yes, they’ve definitely been.”
“What, have they put in an offer?”
“Er, no. Most certainly not.” Alan laughed wondering how he could begin to explain.
“Alan … I’ve been thinking …” Jane began.
“I’ve changed my mind again.”
“Don’t get angry with me, Al, but I think I’d really like to stay where we are.”
“Are you annoyed?” she asked uncertainly.
“No, no,” Alan replied. “I think you’re right.”
“Yup,” said Alan as he watched Pippa cuddle her favourite bear. “I only went along with the idea because you seemed so set upon it in the first place.”
“Really?” Jane sounded surprised. “I only agreed because you seemed so keen.”
“Me? But I’ve never wanted to really. It’s so much hassle and expense.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
“So that’s agreed then.”
“Well, I’ll see you later then.”
“Bye. Love you.”
Replacing the handset, Alan chuckled to himself.
Pippa ran up to him putting up her arms for a daddy-hug.
He couldn’t help feeling that Pippa and Smoky had been conspiring against this whole move all along. He picked her up and felt just then that he never wanted to let her go.