Monday, 9 July 2012

Pride and Palimpsests

Palimpsest: a manuscript on which two or more successive texts have been written, each one being erased to make room for the next. (Collins Dictionary).

Like 99% of the general population, I’d no idea what the word meant. If I’d been wise to it, I wouldn’t have come within a whisker of losing my inheritance. I was aunt Dorothea’s only living relative, but her opinion of me was mixed at best and I knew she’d toyed with other ideas about what to do with her considerable fortune when the time came to pass it on.

I’d answered an advertisement in the county magazine: “Pet Portraiture and Palimpsests”. Always trying to find ways to secure my niche in my aunt’s good books, I thought I would treat her. Her birthday was fast approaching, and I was certain that a painting of her adored white Persian cat would go down a treat. I didn’t bother to seek out my shorter Collins dictionary to find out what was a pali-whatsit. More fool me.

I should have suspected something wasn’t right when Tom arrived in a white van at my aunt’s house one morning by arrangement when she’d gone up to London for the day. I mean, he was a total caricature, complete with beret, Breton shirt and goatee beard. But I despatched him to the garden where I knew that Scheherezade had adopted a classic pose – as was her custom – in the sun. I sat and read the paper and let him get on with it. He was a fast worker, popping his head through the open window after an hour and calling out ‘All done!’

He didn’t hang around (I’d paid him cash in advance). I’d assumed that the finished work would be delivered in due course. That was another lesson I should have learned – don’t take things for granted if you don’t want to be taken for an idiot.

Aunt Dorothea returned late in the afternoon and duly made her way out to the garden where Scheherezade was presumably still sleeping.

Her shriek would have woken the Gods. ‘Oh, you wicked, wicked boy! What have you done?’

She ran in, clutching the cat in her arms. To my horror I realised that Tom had painted her OK. I mean, literally painted her. She had been transformed - into a very fine tabby indeed. The marking was classic. Only her eyes were the wrong colour, of course.

Fortunately, like most cats Scheherezade was fastidious, and lost no time getting to work on the overpainting with her tongue. I think that Tom, joker as he must have been, used paint flavoured to appeal to feline taste buds. Probably fish paste. But it took her two weeks to wash away the last trace of the results of his undoubted skill. I though it a bit of a pity, but was careful to avoid sharing my opinion with aunt Dorothea.

I did see Tom just once more, a couple of weeks later, driving too fast for me to hail him down as I should dearly have liked to have done. The familiar logo was on the side of his van. But as it receded in the distance I caught what was emblazoned on the back. I felt well and truly mocked:

Revamp your cat – just visit Tom


  1. Fresh, amusing - very well written...

  2. An absolute joy, Henry. Congratulations on a really original idea and fabulous writing.

  3. Brilliant, I loved it. If you would like to read one of mine, dropped by 'You're Booked' The Harrogate Crime Writing Festival site to read my 'Roofscapes' short crime story.

  4. Thanks Paula. I'll certainly look that one up.

  5. An absolute joy indeed Henry. Let us have more of these yoyous tales!

    Anna :o]