Someone, or something, was stealing Jopson’s apple-blossom.
Three small apple trees in pots stood on his front path. A supermarket bargain. It was their first year for blossom and every bud, as it burst into colour, was carefully counted. Four for Lady Sudeley, three for New Beth’s Pool and two for Pitmaston Pineapple. He’d fallen for the names. But each night, for three consecutive nights, a blossom had disappeared from Lady S.
Enough was enough.
So Jopson went to the library and took out a book on fruit trees.
Chapter 7: Diseases & Pests. But it wasn’t canker, or scab or mildew. So, a thief. And what a list of scoundrels: badgers, foxes, rats, mice, squirrels and deer. Imagine: a deer in Dullage!
There was nothing for it – he’d have to stay up and keep watch. Like Morse. Just thinking about it made Jopson’s heart beat faster. He prepared sandwiches and a flask of coffee. Watched the clock.
Jopson stared out through a crack in the bedroom curtains. ‘Ow,’ he whispered after pinching his cheek. Staying awake was harder than he’d thought.
At half past midnight, his gate clicked open.
He couldn’t believe it. Not his neighbour Dr Fitch who never left out any bird food, and lit a smoky bonfire whenever Old Mrs Rodway hung out her washing. Jopson had half-suspected Fitch. But it wasn’t Fitch, it was Old Rodway – Dragon Breath, wearing her dressing-gown and slippers. She plucked the remaining flowers from Lady Sudeley, put them in a paper bag and shuffled off. Jopson went to bed, but couldn’t sleep. Stared at the ceiling, wondering what to do.
In the morning, Jopson knocked on Old Rodway’s door. Stood back when she opened it. She still wore her dressing-gown.
He followed her into the lounge. Ornaments and trinkets stood on every surface. He sat on the edge of the sofa and Dragon Breath slumped into the armchair. From her pocket she produced the blossom. ‘You might want to loosen your tie.’ She divided the flowers into two and handed half to Jopson. ‘Close your eyes and chew slowly.’
Jopson sat back and did as he was told.
He found himself staring at the cuckoo clock on the mantelpiece. A car-boot knick-knack, the sort of thing he might buy. It was in the style of a Swiss chalet with the clock above a thermometer and the weather pendulum at the bottom. On the right stood a man in a top hat holding an umbrella, and on the left a woman in a summer blouse.
A white blouse with bright red daisies. Her pleated skirt was a golden yellow and shimmered, like a field of wheat. The daisies on the blouse became cherries. Jopson could taste them. One of the cherries had eyes and a mouth. ‘He’s eating us,’ said the cherry. One by one the cherries began to disappear.
Jopson glanced at the weatherman in his top hat and tails, and white leggings. He tucked his shirt in and doffed his hat at the woman in the blouse. ‘Afternoon, Lady Sudeley.’ The umbrella became a cigar, a big fat blue cigar. Jopson had never smoked a cigar, never smoked anything, except Fitch’s bonfire. It felt fantastic. He stopped smoking, bit off the end and ate it. He’d seen it done in films. Tasted like fig rolls but without the rolls.
The hands on the cuckoo clock showed eleven hours had passed. Jopson was starving.
In the kitchen, Old Rodway fried up. Two eggs each. Jopson never ate two eggs, even on his birthday.
‘How did you know about apple-blossom?’
‘I read it on the world wide web. Meant to help my–’ She pointed at her mouth. ‘The blossom has to be picked at night.’
The next night they met up and picked blossom from New Beth’s Pool.
Jopson sat on Rodway’s sofa. He’d taken off his tie.
Nothing happened for a while, and he glanced across at her. Her eyes were closed, and soon he followed suit.
Jopson climbed down from the cuckoo clock and waited for Rodway. In his tails, he felt like a tiny James Bond. He was only six inches tall. Wearing a cherry blouse, six-inch Rodway whispered their mission.
Next-door, they clambered through Fitch’s cat-flap. Jopson climbed the cupboards and urinated in the kettle. But just as they were getting started, Rodway heard a noise. She jammed a paper-clip in a socket, and they scurried away, giggling like teenagers.
A shaft of sunlight woke him. In the armchair Rodway was snoring.
The third night they tried blossom from Pitmaston Pineapple.
Again, Jopson found himself staring at the cuckoo clock. His old friends with the blouse of cherries and the figgy cigar. He waited, but he couldn’t taste cherries or figs. Umbrella man stripped off his tails and stood in his underwear. Cherry blouse took off her cherry blouse to reveal a lacy white bra. Jopson didn’t know where to look.
The weather people stepped down from the pendulum onto the mantelpiece. They held hands. They counted down from five and Jopson found himself counting with them.
‘3 – 2 – 1.’
The two of them jumped off the mantelpiece, cherry blouse’s skirt billowing up like the Baroness in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
They landed on the rug in front of the fireplace and continued to undress. Jopson covered his eyes with his hand. Then let the fingers splay apart.
Watched them couple like dogs.
The cuckoo clock showed three hours had passed. Old Rodway was sitting next to him on the sofa. They were holding hands. He disentangled his fingers and frowned. She smelt delicious. Intoxicating. Like . . . The Spicy Girls. He looked down at his lap. Trousers poking up.
‘The blossom of this tree is different.’
‘You can say that again,’ said his neighbour.
Jopson wondered about her first name. ‘The blossom of this tree is different.’ He leant over and kissed her.
(c) James Ellson