The Night I Ordered the Smoked Eel

Michael Bloor

(first published in Ink, Sweat & Tears, Nov 14, 2018)

It’s late, late at night and I’m sprawled on the couch watching a DVD of Mel Brooks’ ‘The Producers.’

Somebody says, in a low drawl, ‘Must you keep picking your nose?’

I’m immediately alert: there’s no-one else in the room – there’s just me and Mungo the cat, either end of the couch. Nothing happens for a very long five seconds, then…

‘I said, must you keep picking your nose – it’s utterly disgusting.’

I stare at the cat. Mungo stares back, in that disconcerting, direct way that cats look at you: ‘Of course it’s me, you prat. Never heard of a talking cat?’

In the course of the evening, I’d drunk enough whisky to go with the flow: ‘Er, well, there’s that Saki short story about a talking cat called “Tobermory”…’

Mungo twitches his tail. I recall too late that poor Tobermory came to a sticky end. Mungo jumps off the couch, ‘OK, Sunshine. Just keep your digit away from your nasal cavities from now on, and we’ll say this conversation ever happened.’

‘Hang on, Mungo. Sorry about the Tobermory reference: I was in shock – never met a talking cat before.’

He gave his tail a final, lazy twist. ‘Bollocks. I talk to you all the time – you just never listen.’

I stare back. ‘All the time? So… when was the last time?’

‘Earlier this evening, when you were sat staring at a blank laptop screen.’

‘Don’t remind me – Must’ve sat there for over an hour. Dismissed one half-baked idea for a short story. Then totally failed to come up with another.’

‘Uh-huh. Hunched over your laptop, like a constipated tortoise.’

‘OK, OK, though I might borrow your “constipated tortoise” analogy. Err, what was it that you said to me back then, when I was staring at the laptop?’

Mungo starts licking his right-hand back paw. ‘Just said [slurp] I’ve an idea for a story, if you want one [slurp]…’

There’s a long pause. No pun intended.

‘So what was the idea?’

‘You really want [slurp] to know?’

‘Sure.’

‘OK. How about some of that “Tuna Surprise”?’

A few minutes later, in the kitchen: ‘So Mungo, the story idea?’

‘Mmm. Yeah. Hope you’re gonna buy some more of that “Tuna Surprise,” by the way. Right then: the story. You remember that Bergman DVD that you were watching before Christmas?’

‘Ingrid Bergman??’

‘No, you dope, Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish director. You were watching Bergman’s “The Face.”’

‘Oh yeah. Gotcha: “The Face.”’

‘Well, dumbnuts, that’s a great plot. The MC can work miracles. But nineteenth century Sweden has got no use for a saint or a messiah – he finds he’s disturbing, unpopular. So, instead, he makes a hand-to-mouth living as a travelling magician. Occasionally, he deliberately messes up a trick, so there’s less danger that the audience are disturbed by the thought that they might be witnessing a miracle. You’ll recall that there’s more to it, but you get my drift.’

‘Hmm, I get your drift, Mungo. It’s a great plot. But if it’s already been done…’

Mungo twitches his tail and turns away. I hastily apologise, ‘Oops, sorry. A bit slow on the uptake after that whisky. Gotcha now: maybe make a few alterations…’

‘Exactly. Update it to the twenty-first century; switch it from a travelling magician to, say, a travelling psychic. That sort of thing. After all, somebody pointed out that there are only seven basic plots in the whole world, so a bit of recycling’s unavoidable.’

I sit quietly for a moment, absorbing this scintillating guidance. ‘Thanks pal, want another dish of tuna?’

Mungo heads for the catflap, ‘The tuna’s finished. No thanks necessary. Just make sure you buy some more of that tuna tomorrow. Either that or some smoked eel – I understand that you can order that online.’

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