Short Story

Get Yer Larffin Gear Round This …..My Luvs…

                Walrus Walter in Wonderland

          ‘I’m not strange, weird, off, nor crazy,

          my reality is just different from yours.’

                      (Cheshire Cat)

‘Walrus’ Walter BottomleyGrubbs was a strange fellow in many respects, not least physically. He sported a heavy Walrus moustache, hence the nickname, straight out of the Victorian or Edwardian era, like Lewis Carroll and Alice, but this growth was the result of deep trauma. The long moustache, below jawline level, masked a rather unfortunate pair of oversize incisor teeth which, if one were thinking on the dark side, brought to mind the Nosferatu, the vampire such as is embodied in Dracula. Now the Nosferatu (as the name translates from Latin) implies nocturnal activity only, and the same may be said of Walter Grubbs on occasion. Some species of the animal, bird and fish kingdoms (fox, owl and such as dogfish) do indeed only come out at night, but that is nothing to do with them having teeth, or none, which must be false.

The impression received was not unlike the legendary Mark Twain, whose look is iconic, and who loved rivers and water, notably the ‘Big Muddy’ Mississippi, as even the surname of his huntin’ shootin’ an’ fishin’ hero, Finn, would tend to suggest.

Yet there was another similarity. Any image of Mark Twain reveals the piercing, beady, almost boss-eyed gaze of a creature on the lookout for something, and not knowing quite where it is: myopic, rather than iconic. Walter Grubbs suffered an equally curious squint which made him look as if he was searching the bottom of a private world, or indeed, globe, again rather like certain fishes, for instance the scavenger varieties. Strange, given his middle name Bottomley, which Walter shyly kept secret, like a cat by day, but with piercing lamp eyes by night, even swimming underwater. That name gave away his own big secret. On another view, it may have been entire self-consciousness which caused Wally to look down upon the moustache, so prominent down there he could hardly take his eyes off it.

            ‘I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons.

            It all exists, even if it’s in your mind.’

                         (John Lennon)

A child of the 1960s, the poor teenage Grubbs had suffered terribly at the mocking tones of the lyrics in Lennon’s song  and of course it didn’t help that during that period a beatle was wearing the same moustache . . .

                     ‘I am the walrus

           Goo goo g’joob, goo goo goo g’joob . . .’

. . . which other cruel teenagers would verbally abuse him with, even in the street; and how he suffered beside the swimming lake in the old woods: there, very close to the wonders of nature, and apart from the occasional shout of derision, the young Walter always felt entirely at home, dipping, and dripping, in and out of the water.

The lad Walter (intending the family career in service, so he had better learn to crawl) so much enjoyed being in water, the youngster learned to swim below the surface, length after length, around and around, a real dab hand at sub-aquatics; which tickled him, like a happy trout. This made the taunts of ‘Walrus Chops’ a little more bearable because Wally couldn’t hear anything down there. Nor could Walter be seen, and was thus invisible.

Years later . . .

                Below the Manor House: Grubbs Up

Walter Grubbs, hereditary Butler, generally Grubbers above stairs, but to the younger members of the haristocracy ‘Grubby’, by way of sign of affection,(yet perhaps something to do with bits of Kedgeree left over from breakfast, clinging on the big moustache like limpets), father a footman gone upstairs in the world . . .

. . . dredges up from his leaking recess in a cubby hole down belowstairs, mud and sludge all over his plimsoll line, and submerging the swimming fins Grubbers mostly splish-splashes about with in the water that floods everywhere down there below, like a waste-hole with no plug, to wash away the nasty smells of one’s iffy, sniffy, smelly staff . . .

. . . and drudgery his trade, trudges ever upwards, frogspawn and tadpoles in his pockets, a lit candle protruding from an empty tin of tuna strapped to Walter’s sternum, with strong purple rubber bands from Pilates stretched around below his armpits, trayed up fishplates and knives balanced Billingsgate Bobbin-like, other arm akimbo like Africa, on the mohawk mountain ridge of spiny hard skin crested over the top of his grubber head, nape of neck to mid-forehead, a bit fishy as one Doctor was of the opinion . . .

. . . but with the deepest revenge his own personal agenda, meaning this very night to puncture the lordly disdain dished out to the Grubbs family for so long, with a serving of poison, gruesomely and gloatingly mis-spelled poisson on the menu card, stuffed with Ricin, reduced from castor beans growing in the Manor Bog, beans seeded from abroad His Lordship discovered like Darwin on his haughty cultural travels in foreign parts.

Walter now enters His Lordship’s dining room to the call of ‘Sua’ (His Lordship’s demeaning Tamil word for pig) which M’Lord uses merely to remind Grubbers of where he comes from and belongs, and to grovel, grateful in his hovel, before kicking Grubbers under the table as a reminder of his lowly status . . .

      ‘And they shall be broken in the purposes thereof,

          all that make sluices and ponds for fish.’

                     (Isaiah 19:10)

Being of religious sensitivity,  ever praising the Lord his Shepherd (yet meaning to slaughter His Swineherd Lordship), this was what the butler swore: ‘Holy Mackerel’ ; a blasphemy leaping out of Walter’s hairy gob with a gibber like a kipper slip-sliding from a box. Wishing redemption for even this moderate fall from grace, and to wash his gullet out with some soft soapy words, perhaps a rinse of fairy liquid from the lower kitchen, Walter struggled to supress the kind of Billingsgate banter common amongst the fishwives of the market, a curse in four letters perhaps; in favour of a curse, wicked enough, under his godlike, if cod-like, breath, condemning the Lord of the Manor to rest in pieces, like fish cutlets freshly dead on the marble slab, far down below in a watery grave: fodder for fishes and their colleagues familiar along the riverbank . . .

His Lordship recounted a country cousin’s gloat about servility: staff, toiling in the rain and snow and cold, contrasted with us, cosy in the carriage, passing by on the other side in misguided pleasure . . . Schadenfreude the Huns call it, old boy . . .

Yet balancing his own scales of social justice, Wally reflected on The Eyes of the Poor, Baudelaire’s compassion for the hungry and envious . . .

‘Those people there are insufferable with their eyes open like carriage gates! Could you not ask the maitre d’ to send them away from here?’

. . . and sighed . . .

(pike-dives under kick below table) . . . cold, indeed so, My Lord . . . (do remember, My Lord, as we bow, scrape, curtsey yet curse you below stairs . . . revenge is a dish best served cold . . .) . . .

                        Carpe Noctem

                       (Night Fishing)

          ‘Do you think I’ve gone round the bend?’

                     (The Mad Hatter)   

 . . . That same night, very dark already, Walrus Wally, fed up to the back of his great incisors with lordly sarcasm for his degraded station in life, decides immediately to fill the great gap facing him in the mirror, by accepting the engagement with friends mooted for some time. Old Walrus Chops was going to a reunion. Walter slithers like a fish out of water would (all wobbly slimy jellied eel style) down the endless stairs to the bottom of the well which lay below his leaky chubby hole lodgings, and dreams of a voyage for getting out of there, maybe a boat by night to the perfect pond . . .

. . . and to dream, of all imaginable creature things, of turning into a cat, and a captain too, once upon a seaside town, time and tide; and sailing away in his dreams on the high seas: to hear a distant voice recognisable from an old catnap, of all imaginable familiar things, under an imagined wood, words out of a liquid world . . .

Blind Captain Cat climbs into his bunk. Like a cat, he sees in the dark. Through the voyages of his tears, he sails to see the dead . . .

   . . . as Walrus Walter might meet the odd spirit . . .

                . . . this very night . . .

 . . . but Walter holes his boats, and turns to swimming for it underwater. The sodden butler (which M’Lord had indeed once called Grubbers) swam for what seemed hours towards the old wood which was his destination, indeed underwater all the way, not seeming to take a single breath as he swam along. Some soul would be lighting a fire to signal the meeting point in the glade deep in the woods.

‘You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head.                        But I’ll tell you a secret.                                                       All the best people are.’

                    (Alice)

Walrus Wally sloshed out of the water on the riverbank and shimmied, this way and that, through the dense trees surrounding the Bonfire Glade of the Old Forest.

There in the Bonfire Glade stood His Lordship in all His Regalia, Master of Ceremonies, in the centre of a crescent half circle; and facing the Master on the outer crescent were all Walter’s old familiar friends. Walter took his station amongst them. Was there to be demonic ritual, the coven of covens . . . a séance contacting the dead?

         ‘Welcome, my fine fishy friend; Grubbs up!’

His Lordship tossed Walter a smallish piece of pinkish flesh, which might have been a piece of fish, but was, in fact, not; and Walter responded with chortling applause, and clapping like a sea-lion on a platform in the circus in the old days.

It was in fact a man’s big toe, not a fishfinger but a cutlet scavenged from the foot of the Lord of the Manor, indeed the foot kicking the lowly pig under the table that night Walter condemned his Lordship to the river bed with a curse. His Lordship had collapsed into the river very soon afterwards, complaining of severe stomach pains. There was very little left of His Lordship of the Manor, his other toe with most of the rest of him in the belly of a fish, not unlike Jonah.

               ‘Imagination is the only weapon

                  in the war against reality’

                         (Cheshire Cat)   

All because ‘Walrus Wally’ Grubbs is no pig, for kicking under the table or any other refuge of the mistreated, but from birth a shape-shifting Catfish familiar, indeed scavenger captain, come to worship in the Bonfire Glade of the old Witchwood . . . Walter’s gills are hidden wavering lesions, slits through a skin of scales in the soft throat area, well concealed behind the long Walrus moustache, somehow grown even longer than when you last saw Walter look down upon it . . .

For this Lordship is no lord known to Man. Walter has assembled in the Witchwood before their Most Worshipful Master of Familiars and Shapeshifters, in the company of all the frogs, toads, snakes, cats, rats, foxes, rabbits and even the odd badger night-owling, with all other sundry creatures, familiars and shapeshifters known to the witches of the forest, sitting in an arc like Noah’s.

At last, for once in his life, Walter Grubbs felt like a big fish in a pond, however small, but one at least with room and respect enough for all other earthly creatures.                      

                             FIN