Gregory padded along outside our patio doors, a young rabbit, obviously alive, suspended obscenely from his jaws. It hung there, almost touching the ground, petrified and staring blankly ahead as it swung from side to side, its silky brown fur ruffled by the breeze.
Like a little girl abducted from outside her school by a ghoul lusting for fresh lean meat, or a shrieking schoolboy plucked from his bed through an open window by the enormous hand of a ravenous giant, the rabbit was doubtless heading for the same fate.
“Oh my god, Paul, not another!” exclaimed Amanda, coming into the sun room. “He had one yesterday and I saw him with another one a couple of days ago. That poor little rabbit.”
“It’s nature. That’s what predators do, catch and kill their prey.”
“Maybe it is, but I don’t want to see it.” There was a wobble in her voice.
Still carrying the rabbit, Gregory jumped four feet onto a fence at the end of the patio and disappeared into our neighbour’s extensive property. You had to admit that was one powerful creature.
Gregory was the name that my niece, Alicia, had come up with for the ginger cat that lived next door. “That cat looks like a Gregory!” she’d exclaimed. It was a rich orange colour with golden swirls, rather like a Catherine Wheel, and, on closer inspection, its eyes were huge and yellow. A handsome animal, though whether male or female we knew not. At a later date our neighbour had informed us of its name, the far more prosaic “Ginger” and that it was female. But to us it was always Gregory and a ‘he.’
“It’s funny,” I said, “people are glued to the telly, watching wildlife programs where animals are always tearing each other to pieces, left, right and centre, but they don’t like it when it’s on their own doorstep.”
“I’ll put some more netting across behind the summerhouse.”
I doubted that would do much good, cats were very good at finding ways into properties and a bit of netting would only provide them with a temporary challenge, a kind of feline IQ test. “OK, good idea,” I said.
Just then there was a high-pitched keening, almost like a human scream. Amanda clapped her hands over her ears. “Oh, God.”
It only lasted a few seconds but it seemed like an age. That was the end of the rabbit. Soon it’d be chomping on Heaven’s pastures.
“I’m going to speak to Norman about this,” she said, with tears in her eyes.
Norman was our neighbour, a Scotsman of dour disposition and someone whom Amanda considered bore a strong resemblance to Sean Connery, not that I could see it; he looked more like Donald Duck to me. But an architect, apparently renowned for his unique design of the chancery of the Gambian embassy, an eye-catching monstrosity, in line with the extravagant comportment of that country’s natives. Hence his huge house that dominated our cul-de-sac.
“It’s hardly his fault is it? Anyway, Gregory must be going over the road to get them … maybe he’ll get hit by a car?”
Over the road was a large area of wasteland where some development work was ongoing. There were piles of bricks and breeze blocks, but they seemed to have been there for ages with nothing happening.
Well, blow me, the exact same thing happened that evening. Gregory must have fancied a bedtime snack. I suppose you could hardly blame him. The excitement of the hunt and, after carrying the prey back, the pleasure of the torture and eventual kill. That, versus a tin of Whiskers. Fortunately, Amanda was out at Judo. Well there was no shortage of rabbits over there, I mulled. They must be breeding like, well, er, rabbits.
I’d had a text from Amanda to say she’d be late back. She didn’t say why, so I was surprised at the sound of the door opening and a loud barking. Don’t tell me she’d volunteered to look after someone’s wretched dog!
There she stood with the lead of a stocky black animal held in her hand. “Hello Darling, meet our new pet, Charlie! He’s a Labrador cross.” Its bulging, bloodshot eyes regarded me menacingly.
“What?” I stood, incapable of further speech.
Just then, Gregory came past our patio window, this time rabbit-less, but ambling along as if he owned the place. Maybe he’d eaten them all, I surmised, or maybe they’d grown more wary. Suddenly, Charlie pulled the lead from Amanda’s hand and rushed to the glass, barking furiously. Gregory took one look and his composure vanished. He was gone ‘quicker than you can say Jack Robinson,’ as my old dad used to say, jumping up at a higher section of fence and scrabbling frantically over the top.
Amanda laughed. “I don’t think we’ll be seeing so much of Gregory now!”
Charlie had his paws against the glass, slobbering on it and barking furiously. I decided I’d had enough of screeching rabbits and barking dogs. I felt a sudden urge to go to the pub.
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