Peter Lingard, born a Brit, laboured in a large dairy, served in the Royal Marines, was an accountant, a barman and a farm worker. He once lived in the US where he owned a freight forwarding business. An Aussie now because the sun frequently shines and the natives communicate in English.
Lofty wanted to throw a party at his house while his parents and young sister were away. However, there was a price of admission for his best friends. His girlfriend Sue, Valery, Julie, Taff and I had to help map everything in every downstairs room to the nth degree. Books and papers left on a desk in his dad’s den had to be noted, making sure we didn’t move place markers. We had to be aware of a shopping list and coupons magnetized to the fridge. When Lofty was satisfied we had done a perfect job, we carried everything into the garage. It took us all day to get ready for the party.
As the time for the party neared, Lofty’s girlfriend went to the kitchen to organise nibbles.
‘If I’d known there was gonna be all this work, I’d woulda gone with his parents,’ said Taff.
‘Thanks, Taff,’ said Lofty. ‘I asked you guys because you’re the only ones I trust to do this right. I’ll know better next time.’
‘Sorry, man. I didn’t really mean it, I was just grouching, is all.’
‘It’s okay. I’m a bit stressed as well. Has someone taken care of my sister’s pet tortoise?’
‘Julie took it to the garage earlier. Right, Julie?
‘Yes. I took him out of his cage, fed him and left a saucer of water for him.’
‘Did you put him back?’
‘What? No. I forgot all about it. He’ll be all right, won’t he?’
‘I guess. Where’s he gonna go? He still had the string attached to his shell, right?’
Julie nodded. ‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘How about that? What’s the string for?’
‘My sister often ties one end to the laundry line pole and lets it wander around the garden while she plays, or reads out there.’
‘You got a record player?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, it’s … ‘ Lofty looked around the vacant room, expecting to see it. ‘No! Where the fuck is it?’ he yelled.
‘You said take everything out,’ said, Julie with a slight tremor.
‘Yeah, but not the record player.’ Lofty yelled. ‘You ever been to a party that had no fucking music?’
Taff stepped up to Lofty. ‘Cool it, pal. She did exactly what you told her. We’ll get it back in in next to no time.’
Lofty exhaled his panic. ‘I’m sorry.’ He turned to his girlfriend. ‘Sorry, Julie.’
‘You continue puttin’ the orange lightbulbs in everywhere while me an’ Julie fix the record player situation,’ said Taff.
Valery and I were creating a barrier at the bottom of the stairs to prevent people ascending in search of a toilet on the next floor. We had refused to move all beds to the garage and were happy to be away from the stress.
‘Found it.’ Julie’s voice carried from the garage. Then she screamed loudly and dramatically. I heard Taff say, ‘Oh shit.’
Lofty’s panic surfaced again. ‘What the fuck’s the problem?’ he shouted as he ran to the garage door. He stopped when he saw the tortoise skewered on the end of the stiletto of Julie’s bright red shoe.
‘I’m so sorry,’ said Julie, ‘I fell backwards after I tripped on some furniture.’ She sounded like she was crying.
‘It’s dead! It’s fucking dead! My sister’s tortoise is dead! Oh, shit shit shit.’
‘We’ll get her another one,’ said Taff.
‘She’ll fucking know,’ wailed Lofty. ‘She fucking loves that tortoise. She’s had it for three years. Calls it Whangdoodle.’
‘Yeah! You gotta a problem with that.’
Taff shook his head.
Valery and I wandered over. ‘She’ll never know, will she,’ I said. ‘We get one the same size and she’ll never know.’’
‘She’ll know. The little shit’ll take one look and she’ll know it’s not Whangdoodle.’
‘There’s not much blood,’ Valery observed. ‘Oh, look, it’s still alive, look at his paws moving.’
‘You know what I mean. Do you know the right word for a tortoise’s feet?’
‘Feet,’ said Lofty. ‘That is, according to my sister.’
The feet were moving. I suppose the thing had been concussed, or something when Julie stabbed it but now his paws, feet, whatever, were flapping back and forth like he was trying out for the tortoise Olympics.
Julie screamed again.
‘Oh, enough of this,’ said Taff. ‘Where are the kitchen knives?’
‘No!’ screamed Julie.
‘We gotta put it out of its misery. You got a better idea?’
She shook her head.
After Taff beheaded the thing it looked convincingly dead.
‘You got a tape measure? ‘I asked Lofty
‘Tape measure? Why ya wanna a tape measure, for fucks sake.’
‘We need to measure the tortoise so we get one the same size. We get one the same size, your sister’ll never know it’s not the original Whangdoodle.’
‘She’ll know, I’m telling ya.’
‘How? Does the tortoise waddle toward her when she calls his name? Do they play games? Does your sister throw a ball and say, ‘Fetch Whangdoodle? How’s she gonna know?’
‘Yeah, you’re right. There’s a tape measure in my mother’s sewing basket.’
We had to move several pieces of furniture in the confined space before we found the sewing paraphernalia. While we shifted stuff, Sue whispered a lot in Lofty’s ear. He eventually nodded at her and said, ‘Thanks, Sue, you’re right.’
‘We may as well cancel the party,’ he said.
‘What? Fuck off! We’ve brought all this clutter out of the house and now you want to cancel?’
‘Bloody Sue’s told you to do that, hasn’t she!’ Taff said.
‘Yeah, but it’s a good idea, given what’s happened. I was a bit worried in the first place, shifting everything out of the house. A party seemed like a good idea at the time but when we came to do it I wasn’t all that sure. Sorry guys.’
‘You fucking wimp!’ said Taff. ‘We’ve spent nearly all day on this and now you want to cancel. I suppose you expect us to put it back now, don ‘t you?’
Lofty’s shoulders sank. ‘Look! I said I’m sorry, okay. You don’t have to put it back. Me and Sue’ll do it.’
‘Yeah, that’ll happen without a hitch! I’ll help you Lofts, but you’ll owe me big time.’
’Thanks, Neil. Me, an’ Sue an’ Taff’ll go and search the pet stores for a Whangdoodle double. Will the rest of you start putting things back in the house and tell anyone who turns up there’s no party.’
‘Not bloody likely,’ screamed Julie. ‘You expect me an’ Valery to carry all this stuff? Phhht’
‘Mate, you should let the girls go for the Whangdoodle double,’ I suggested, ‘while we guys shift the shit back into the house. Plus, I reckon you’re the one to tell anyone who turns up that it’s off. Blame Whangdoodle for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
He pulled a face but agreed to the idea. As we picked up a settee I started singing, ‘There’s a hole in my shell, dear Lofty, dear Lofty.’
He dropped his end and charged me. I side stepped him and pushed him to the left. His momentum carried him over the back of the settee and there were some worrying noises as he landed, When he got to his feet I could see the anger had been replaced by fear that he might have broken something. ‘Come on,’ I said, ‘Let’s take this into the house.’
Nothing had been broken and we had about finished replacing everything to its exact place when the girls returned.
‘Where the fuck you been,’ asked Lofty.
‘Good question,’ said Sue. ‘Did you know that a tortoise’s shell is like its bone structure, so they suffer a lot of pain if you drill a hole for the string?’
‘So we had to find a tortoise the same size as whatshisdoodle that already had a hole in its shell. You want to know how many pet stores we went to?’
‘Whatever. Here, Here’s your effing tortoise. We all spent the journey back here teaching the tortoise his new name. Everyone on the bus was highly amused. Some even tried the name out for fun. Lots of them were saying Whangdoodle with us. Someone said they were going to change the name of their poodle to Whangdoodle. They kept repeating Poodle Whangdoodle. Others stared singing the words to some tune. You owe us big time.’
‘What was his old name?’ Julie asked. ‘Do you think he’ll know now that he’s called Whangdoodle?’
‘He’s a fucking tortoise, Julie,’ said Taff. ‘Get a grip!’
‘String!’ Lofty shouted. ‘There’s no string attached. How’re we gonna find string that’s the same as before?’
‘Oh, thank you, girls,’ said Valery. ‘This one does look exactly like the dead Whangdoodle. Just use the same string, you ungrateful sod. Untie it and attach it to this tortoise.’
‘We threw it away. It’s in the rubbish bin, Oh shit, shit, shit.’
I retrieved original Whangdoodle from the bin, untied the string and handed it to Lofty. He tried to thread it through new Whangdoodle’s shell hole but the string was so tattered he had to cut off a couple of inches. Once new Whangdoodle was tethered, Lofty took it to the cage to fasten the other end of the string. That end was shredded too, and another two inches were trimmed off.
‘She’s gonna know. Four inches missing, she’s sure to notice it. Shit, shit shit.’
‘Just tell her you noticed the string was fraying and you smartened it up for her. You did her a favour. You can even save these ends for her if you’re that worried. That’ll make it crystal clear to her. How old is you sister, anyway?’
‘That’s good, Neil. Thanks. Erm, she’s nine. Why?’
’You’re so scared of a nine-year-old?’
‘You don’t know her. She’s always getting me into trouble.’ We all laughed. He paused and, hands on hips, looked at Whangdoodle. ‘Ya know, something’s still wrong, I just can’t figure out what.’
Sue turned on the record player and Mario Lanza belted out, ‘Because You’re Mine’. Val put her arm round my waist and cuddled me.
The doorbell rang. When Lofty answered it, a group I knew from school all yelled, ‘Parteee.’
‘Sorry, there is no party,’ Lofty said. He went on to explain his troubles and there were grumbles but nobody got too bent out of shape. As the group was leaving, they informed another group of arrivals that, due to a death in the family, the party was cancelled.
We all helped change the lightbulbs. Lanza’s song, ‘Drink’ started and we all went to the kitchen to grab a beer.
Lofty was down to the dregs of his bottle when he spluttered, ’It’s the hole! The hole’s on the wrong side of the shell! Shit, shit, shit!’
Mario Lanza sang, ‘Look for A Silver Lining’.