As Valentine crunched up the long driveway he was reminded of those bleak days of his youth when he would be dropped by one of the estate workers at the bottom of his parent’s drive at the beginning of school holidays and exeats. They had never once been to get him; they were supremely practical people and saw no reason to interrupt their busy days when they could get a hired hand to go instead. And it was such a boring journey; even then the M4 corridor was like one sprawling wasteland.
They were often out when he arrived home and he would pace the passageways trying to think of things to tell them over supper. He could mention that he had been spirited away for a couple of weeks to Borneo by the new Biology teacher who was conducting a study of Wooly Pipistrelles in virgin rainforests and had taken a special interest in Valentine, but what was the point? They wouldn’t listen anyway. Really they were only interested in dogs and horses. All other animals they preferred dead. His father thought he was an idiot because he couldn’t train a labrador to come to heel just by flicking his eyes. Of course Pater Chevaux could do two at once; call a lab to his side with his right, whilst despatching a spaniel into cover with his left. Give him a whistle and he could command an entire pack of hounds.
What miserable days those were. He hated school, he hated home. And he especially hated the purgatory that was his own mind. How much better things were now, he mused. Reaching middle age had at least given him some gravitas in his father’s estimation. And he was getting quite good with his labs and his beloved Cock.
As he let himself in the back door he immediately sensed that something was awry. There were crumbs in the kitchen – his mother had something of an obsession with keeping the formica surfaces clean, so he knew she could not be herself. As he approached the drawing room a feeling of dread spread through him. What if his father was right and she really had lost her marbles? There was no way he was looking after him if she no longer could.
He opened the door and immediately his heart sank. She was staring vacantly at a bloodied whippet who had settled on her lap to merrily chew its own femur.
“Mummy!” Valentine squealed, “What’s wrong? Look at Mr. Whippy, look at what he’s doing Mummy!”
Diana Chevaux looked blankly at Valentine and then back to her lap.
“Oh dear” she said.
“Mummy what’s happened to you?!” Valentine said, his voice trembling.
“Oh I’m just jolly lovely thank you darling. I had a cup of tea with Mr Sinclair and I’ve been feeling a bit swimmy since. Lovely”.
“Swimmy? Mummy there are bits all over the surfaces! When was Mr Whippy last fed? Why is Scabby eating the curtains?” He looked questioningly to his father “Daddy? What are you going to do?!” But his father just turned to face the fireplace.
“Right, that’s it. I’m not standing for this. I’m bloody well going to do something if you won’t!” At this his father spoke ”Where are you going you Buffoon?”
Valentine spun on his heel and said through gritted teeth “I’m going to Popwell to see the queen”.