April 25, 2019

Mrs Chippy and the Pipe Shop by James Spender

Jangling the bell attached to the frame as she pushed open the door, Chippy felt a certain coolness around her whiskers. With one swift movement of her brain she realised; this was it. The musty smell of pipe confirmed it. She had entered Terry’s Pipedream; the fabled fitter’s nightmare. Shelf upon shelf. Row upon row. Elongated aisle after elongated aisle. A pipe-doctor’s stage in an ill-fitting play, the proverbial boards trod with a mixture of dirt and washers. Fitting instructions lay at all fourteen corners of the store. Lank next to an old boiler stood back issues of ‘Pipe-Monthly’; on top an early edition of ‘Pipe: The Begotten Overtones of Lead’ by Ned Barkley, the one time fastest fitter in Hampshire, plumped only to the post in an early spring mismatch by Steve Pemberton (although later it turned out that the Durkin twins had their part to play as well). So it went, no plumber had made it into the shop for nigh-on thirteen years without emerging with at least a u-bend. The purchases sold themselves you see, and all Terry had to do was to sit and watch. As legend had it, at one point during the mid-eighties the transaction rate was so high that it wasn’t unusual around winter time to find squirrels hibernating in the receipt pile. Even Mrs Davis, held in high regard for not having purchased anything since March, had been found with a 6mm wingnut. Terry knew all right. He knew that unquenchable thirst that could shake a town to its very knees; the thirst that came only from the anticipatory glory of owning a pipe. Of this, Chippy was only too aware…

 

Stooping low beneath a beam in the ceiling then taking a tight berth around the apex of the wrench aisle, Chippy drew breath and approached the counter. Large beneath his sweat ridden spectacles and caked in an uncommonly sly array of cheeses sat all fourteen stone of Terry. Now, this might not sound like a lot (not least because the cheeses adorning Terry’s chest and fingers had to weigh at least eight or nine pounds) but to a slight yet radiant tabby like Chippy, it may as well have been a tonne. It was now or never.

 

‘Excuse me,’ croaked Chippy, in the most dainty, girlish north Hampshire accent she could muster, ‘Could you please advise me on basins?’

 

‘Mwah hahahaha’ Terry guffawed in reply. ‘So we meet again do we Chippy?! I told you that pipeless bungalow idea of yours was nothing but a fairytale!’

 

At this, Chippy’s hips went slack. Her heart pounding like a Clapham short-face, hunkered down on all fours as she was, a tear began to form in the corner of her eye. ‘You must be strong Chippy!’ she told herself, ‘You only want a basin, just a little somewhere to soap one’s paws and nothing else.’ But the time was near approaching. Terry had seen her uneasy stance and had begun the soft chanting that was token with any imminent transaction. Choking down her sobs Chippy could hear it…

 

‘Pipes, pipes…look at my pipes. You see them, you want them, pipes, pipes…’

 

‘Don’t listen,’ Chippy told herself, ‘his magnetic tones will set you in pipes well into the New Year.’ But still the sound came, its hypnotic motion increasing by the notchful:

 

 

‘All around in a misty haze, you sit and dribble, you cast your gaze, fishing with your pipe aspersions, trying not make assertions. For you wish you could afford some more, those beautiful pipes, you plumbers’ whore! Tasty pipes, long pipes, shiny pipes, strong pipes, short pipes, hand pipes, increasing pipes, unleaving strife, you know all you need is pipes pipes jaunty pipes. Find them all amongst my aisles…’

 

Reaching for her pocket, Chippy felt her claws grasp the handle of her credit-note book. Stop it, stop it! She was almost saying it out loud now but still to no effect, the pipe seller’s bolero was almost in full swing. No one had ever made it past the third verse, yet Terry had just sung his second chorus. To her horror, Chippy realised that she had already taken out three of the credit notes and had handed them over to Terry in exchange for a 3/4 inch sandpipe for her stove.

 

‘At this rate you’ll be in pipes for most of the month Chippy! Your pipeless bungalow’s finished!’ crowed Terry, his many cheeses dangling all around his nether reaches, the smell of pure ass rising along with the pitch of his song. ‘Just you try and resist Chippy, just you try…’

 

It was no good. Three more credit notes, one more stovepipe,

 

‘Come on Chippy, I thought I knew you better than that!’

 

This time five. Paws everywhere, scrabbling at the notes. Chippy couldn’t act quick enough to keep up with the pipe-purchases. Number increasing, the stovepipes mounted. And then came the ornate tap arrangement:

 

‘Gold trim this time Chippy!’ bellowed Terry, ‘You know that’s five more credit-notes!’

 

Chippy was by now weeping uncontrollably, the mound of pipes dwarfed her like a great copper mountain bedecked with plumbing jewels. What to do, what to do? But then she suddenly remembered. Her bungalow! Her true dream! How could she have descended into this pipe-mare without so much as a by-your-leave to her most precious project? She must return; she could return! Fighting for air, her face strewn with the salty remnants of her beloved bungalow in tear form, Chippy reached once again into her pocket-style pouch, but this time not for any credit note. Oh no. Chippy had remembered the one thing Terry feared most and that she’d the damned good luck of just so happening to have with her. A Jacob’s Crackers! For all Terry’s pipes you see, for all the braising equipment and pipe magazines, for all the spanners and flannels and aluminium spacers, Terry loved only one thing more. His array of sly cheeses, all eight or nine pounds of them. Chippy could outwit the plumber after all with only this simple cracker, bent slightly at one end and dented lightly in the middle. Reaching forward, crumbs flying in all directions like iron filings to their cheese magnet, Chippy lunged at Terry.

 

‘I’ll smite your pipe-ways,’ she cried, ‘with this, my only cracker, and once finished, you shall return all nineteen of my credit-notes!’

 

‘How can this be? A cat with a cracker can’t outwit a plumber! I have an array of cheeses enough to make even Steve Pemberton jealous. They are my gorgonzola jewels! My tiny cheddar rings! My mozzarella mace and camembert crown! Good heavens, my shoes of brie!’

 

But it was too late for Terry. The cracker had spread to at least a dozen parts of his cheese stained plumbers’ uniform. Small crumbs of stilton had already been picked off by some of the squirrels nestling in the deep folds of the receipt pile. A trail of cranberry scented feta had made its way out of the door. Terry was loosing cheese fast!

 

‘Enough!’ he screamed ‘I shall return all nineteen of your credit notes! Just leave the shop and take the accursed dry biscuit with you!’

 

In reply, and indeed now in mythical legend, Chippy could be heard to utter these words thus:

 

‘Terry, whose middle name is, like mine, also Kevin, I shall leave your premises forthwith, my nineteen credit notes restored. As for you, remember this: I once had a dream, a dream of a pipeless bungalow, where gasses and liquids roamed free yet there was still no upstairs for that would have been a maisonette. And you, Terry Kevin, tried to piss all over my dream with your bloody stove pipes; yet lo, I did smite your plans with deft thinking and a kindness of heart, both quite extraordinary traits for a cat of my size. So know this: your sly array of cheeses may lay largely intact, so long as you remember – no one gips the Chip.’

 

And with that, Chippy turned sharply on her heels and left the musty smelling pipe-shop, still with little or no regard for cheese, and with only the faintest hint of a polite smile traced upon her lips.

 

THE END

 

Chippy will return in her next (slightly shorter) adventure entitled Mrs Chippy and the Permanent Frown. You cannot buy these books.

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