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Alan Alone

Robin was away in Australia visiting her family and the cats and I were considering how best to take advantage of the situation.

"Why don't we stay up after midnight and fall asleep watching the television?" suggested Bess.

"That's a good idea," I said, "and it sounds like a lot of fun. But we usually do that anyway. There's no novelty in it."

"Perhaps not," said Bess. "But we could do it together, just for a change. Normally I ignore the television by sleeping on the sofa where Robin sits. But this time I could sleep on the sofa where you sit and we could both lick our bottoms and snore through the second world war on the History Channel. How does that sound?"

"That's an excellent suggestion, Bess. Now Harpo, have you got any ideas as to what we should do?"

"I could rip your leg off and beat you to death with the soggy end," said Harpo. "That's always good for a laugh."

"You've done that far too often in the past," I protested. "It's getting boring. And anyway, I'm not a fan of pain."

"Aren't you?" Harpo sounded surprised. "I am! Particularly when it takes place in other people."

"But you're a long haired cat," I said. "Long hair means you're a hippy. You're supposed to get all mellow on catnip and espouse peace and love."

"Catnip is good," said Harpo reflectively. "Have you got any in the cupboard?"

"I think so," I said. "Why don't you go and have a look?"

"I can't open cupboards," said Harpo gloomily. "My fingers are all in favour and my thumbs aren't opposed. But nevertheless I can't manage the doors. You'll have to do it."

"Say please," I suggested.

"Just do it," said Harpo, "or I'll rip your leg off and..."

"...and beat me to death with the soggy end." I finished the familiar sentence and got up off the couch to investigate the cupboard where the cat treats live. "Here you are, Harpo. Here's the catnip."

"Thanks. You can keep your leg a bit longer." He rolled himself an enormous spliff and hid himself away in the bright orange tunnel that we got as a free gift from the vet when we bought entirely too many cat biscuits. It's his favourite place. He always goes there when he is doing, has done or is about to do something against the rules. He took a toke on his catnip. "Groovy...".

I turned the television on and switched to the History Channel. Explosions roared, Bess snored. Time for a rhyme. Thyme for a rime...

We fell asleep to the peaceful sounds of murder and mayhem.

Over the next few days, it became abundantly clear to Bess and to me that the very best way to celebrate Robin not being here was to carry on living just as we normally did, doing all the things that we normally do. After all, we enjoyed doing them; that's why we did them. What possible reason could we have to try doing other things?

Even Harpo eventually agreed that we were probably right though he himself isn't all that fond of the History Channel. He prefers the much more cerebral Arts Channel. Despite his addiction to violence and blood (preferably mine) he has intellectual pretensions and he enjoys shredding my flesh and committing mayhem with Mahler raving in the foreground.

And so our time without Robin passed agreeably. We cooked and we cleaned and we did the washing up. This was our only departure from normality. Robin is in charge of corpses, semi-corpses, vomit and washing up. I found I wasn't really enjoying taking over her duties and I wasn't very good at them. But I persevered.

"These cat biscuits taste soapy," said Harpo. "You used far too much washing up liquid when you cleaned my bowl, didn't you?"

"I might have done," I said casually. I never plead guilty to Harpo's accusations. He punishes me if I do. but if I refuse to admit to my crimes, he punishes me for lying.

The time went very quickly and, almost before we knew it, Robin was due back home. Her plane was scheduled to land at midnight. However I checked the arrivals website and discovered that the plane had a downhill wind and would therefore arrive twenty minutes early. I made sure I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. The plane landed exactly on time, twenty minutes early. But it was ages before any passengers appeared. Eventually Robin came through the doors with her suitcase following obediently behind her.

"Sorry you had to wait so long," she said. "But the plane was half empty, there were no other planes scheduled and the customs people were bored. So we all got searched. The drug dogs sniffed every case and the customs men poked around inside my dirty underwear."

"I hope they enjoyed themselves," I said.

"Oh yes," said Robin. "They were quite taken with the solar powered cockroach I brought as a present for the cats."

"A solar powered cockroach?" I was puzzled.

"Yes," explained Robin. "It's a life size plastic cockroach with a solar cell embedded in its back. And when the sun shines, it scuttles. The cats will love it."

"You didn't really buy it for the cats, did you?" I asked. "I know you. You bought it for yourself."

"Well, yes," she said. "But I couldn't tell that to the customs man. He'd think I was strange."

"But Robin," I said, you are strange."

"Oh yes. That's right. I forgot."

We walked out of the airport to the car and I began the short drive home.

"I got a solar powered praying mantis as well," said Robin.

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