Friday, 6 February 2015

The Wastage of the Willows – Branch II; Leaf IV

A hard rain’s a-gonna fall…

Mister Mole’s bacon and marmalade toasted sandwiches

1. Two thick slices of your favourite bread
2. A pot of best orange (preferably with ginger) marmalade
3. Freshly-churned butter
4. Four to six rashers (at least) of streaky bacon
5. Freshly-ground black pepper (optional)

Grill (or fry) the bacon until crispy on both sides. Meanwhile, toast the bread lightly; spread one side of each slice with lashings of butter (whilst the toast is hot); and then – once the butter has melted – add dollops of marmalade (and black pepper), to taste. Layer the crispy bacon immediately on the bottom slice; add the top slice; and, if feeling cowardly, or delicate, cut into two – and let munchings proceed whilst still hot! (It is advisable to have a very large napkin tucked into the top of your pyjamas: as butter will inevitably dribble down your greedy chin; and you will frequently need to wipe your paws!) Repeat as necessary!

“Everything’s stopped,” said the Water Rat, mysteriously, taking one of the tea-towels from the rail in front of the stove; and with a mixture of bemusement and happiness painted on his wind- and rainswept face; his whiskers still dripping; his clothes starting to steam with the heat of cooking, like frost emerging from shade on a sunny winter’s day. “EVERYTHING!”

Before the Mole or the Mouse had a chance to ask what-in-the-Wild-Wood he was gibbering on about, the Rat’s expression quickly changed to one of complete bliss, as his shiny nose began to quiver, and his eyes to sparkle: “Ooh, brunchfast! My FAVOURITE!” And, before the others even had a chance to say porridge-bacon-butter-teacakes-toast-jam-marmalade-and-coffee, he had dropped his soused hat, boots and coat onto the floor, and was sitting at the heavily-laden table, grasping his knife and fork, and banging the ends of their poor old ivory handles happily on its deeply-patinated, ancient wooden top; the tea-towel tucked under his chin. “A little bit of EVERYTHING, please, Mister Mouse. SIR!”

Once the Water Rat had greedily broken his fast, and been satiated with enough scrumptiousness to make some sort of sense – and whilst waiting for a helping of thirds from the Mouse, humming happily back at the stove – the Mole – filling all three mugs with yet more deep, dark, thick, almost treacly, piping coffee – started to squeeze the Rat’s morning story from him, raindrop by raindrop.

“It’s deserted,” spluttered the Rat: his voice slightly slurred by the fact he was talking into his mug, rather than to his colleagues. “Deserted. And the whole place has turned to sludge; with that big, awful machine up to its knees – if it HAD knees – in the stuff. I knew SOMETHING had happened: because it was the first morning I’d woken up, since returning, not being continually thumped in the back. So I went out to investigate. And what a foul morning I found… – even for ME! Le Rat D’eau; M’sieur Campagnol Amphibie; le grand Campagnol Aquatique!”

“So what time did you go out?” asked the Mole, wiping his extremely puzzled face (and trying to ignore this very peculiar outburst). “I didn’t hear you at all. But, without that infernal banging, I slept sounder than sound. A log amongst logs.”

“I bet THIS won’t have hurt, either,” chipped in a cheeky voice from the direction of yet more sizzling and frizzling – and in-between extemporizing hums of both activity and song – brandishing the empty bottle high above his head. “It certainly didn’t,” grinned the Mole. “But what ELSE did you find, Ratty? Why has it all suddenly ground to a halt?”

“I couldn’t get back to sleep,” yawned the Rat: “so I lay there, wondering if I should – could be bothered to, really – go out and watch the sun rise. But it’s probably as dark now as it was in the middle of the night. I’ve never seen such weather; such thick, dark clouds. If it carries on like this, the river will be back. Soon….” The momentary silence in the room was accompanied by an evanescent expression of dreaminess deep within the Water Rat’s moistening eyes. “But we all know that’s NEVER going to happen. Don’t we…?” Even the spits and sputters sensibly hushed for that moment; and the Mole and the Mouse looked at each other, and then the Rat, with an ineffable sympathy for their friend.

“Anyhoo,” he continued, composing himself: “Once I’d realized just how tranquil everything was; and this old hooter of mine had also come to, and discerned just how very damp it was, outside; I KNEW I had to drag myself out. What I wasn’t prepared for was all that mud. Everywhere – it’s everywhere. It can’t have stopped raining since YOU turned up, last night, Mouse. (Another bacon butty? Oh, yes PLEASE!) Protected by all these trees, it’s fine, here. But once you get to the edge of the Wild Wood, it’s a mire of utter muddy mayhem: as if a herd of giant pigs had spent the night trampling and rolling around in the meadows… – where the meadows used to be, I mean. That’s why everything’s stopped. Apart from the rain. But I’m not really sure what it all signifies. It’s probably only temporary, isn’t it? And it’ll all start up again once the sun comes out. But wouldn’t it be marvellous if it wasn’t; if it didn’t? And the river returned….”

Brunchfast – although it was near-enough lunchtime – thus finished in silence (although there was much self-restrained slurping, chomping, and soft smacking of lips): as the Mole and the Mouse ruminated on the Water Rat’s report. Was it good news, or bad? Who would know?

The Rat, though, dreamed of burblings and rushing eddies; the rhythmic creaking of boats moored by riverbanks, tickled by the coolness and gentleness of enveloping currents on a summer’s day. And a small, essential, central part of him – which he had believed was locked away for ever, deep and forgotten – rose within; and opened up the remote possibilities of a life lived out to its rightful conclusion: ending where it had begun, by and in the water that still flowed through his very veins.

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