The Cousins

I had the strangest dream last night. It may have been the Shropshire Blue that I polished off before I went to bed; that and my excursion to the archives to fossick through the documents newly released by the Foreign Office and MI6. The long and the short of it is that I dreamt that Cousin Ezekiel had shot Mr X.

I’m not sure why I haven’t mentioned Cousin Ezekiel before. I suppose I didn’t see him very often, but that doesn’t mean he left no impression. He turned up every year or so with a carpetbag. My late Mama called it a Hebammekoffer because it was the kind of thing midwives carried about. Cousin Ezekiel was not amused at this; he was very particular about his appearance. He dressed like a conductor and had even somehow managed to part the pelt on the top of his head. There was some debate in the burrow about how this might have been achieved. Uncle Ratty said he was sure it was Macassar oil, and Great Uncle Mole saying that Macassar oil might work for parting rat fur, but for parting mole pelt nothing short of varnish would do the trick.

I remember on summer mornings when we ate breakfast in Great Uncle Mole’s little garden, how Cousin Ezekiel buffed his claws and then blew the dust off in short, sharp puffs. He kept the buffer in a velvet pouch, drawn close with a tassled drawstring. Buffing at the breakfast table irritated Mama, but I would try to will Cousin Ezekiel to devote his concentration to buffing from the first flick of his coat-tails as he sat down to the dabbing of the last crumb of toast from his snout with the starched napkin kept solely for his visits. I wanted him to keep buffing because as soon as he had drawn the strings of his pouch closed, he would adjust his pince-nez, lean forward on the table with steepled paws and interrogate me about my dreams.

Now there is nothing quite so private to a young mole as its dreams. All its waking life is somehow under adult surveillance. But in the nest, eyes closed, the young mole can slither into a deliciously chaotic, inexplicable world of impossible feats, and wild adventures. I only once made the mistake of acceding to Cousin Ezekiel’s demand. He hooked the tail of my dream, reeled it in, and then dissected it for the entertainment of the assembled company, speaking of me in the third person as if I were not there. His spoke his words sharply but with unusually long silences between each one. And with mitteleuropean confidence, he delved into the deep flaws in my nature that the dream revealed, the traumas I had suffered, and my illicit desires. After that experience, I made my dreams up.

You may well be asking yourself about the chap who was shot. On the whole, we don’t go in for first names in the Mole family. Cousins were cousins. Of course naming moles by relationship becomes problematic because they change according to where you hang yourself and them on the family tree. To be quite honest I am a bit vague about whose cousin, Cousin Ezekiel was. Not mine. I don’t even think they were my Mama’s. Great Uncle Mole’s probably. What would that have made them to me? Once, twice, thrice removed? No matter, the reason Cousin Ezekiel had a monitor was because he had a twin and we had to find a way of referring to them separately. Although fortunately they seldom came to the burrow together. They were highly competitive and a game of Monopoly would have them at each others throats before the first card had been dealt

Cousin Ezekiel’s twin was as elusive as Ezekiel was probing. When asked to select a name, he said that X would do. Cousin X, someone ventured, I think it might have been Mama. No, Mr, he had said firmly, Mr X. And when, map enthusiast that I was, I brought out an atlas to get The Cousins to show me where they came from, he cut off Cousin Ezekiel’s reply and said: ‘Ruritania. Find that if you can’.

Mr X existed in a state of high drama. He always arrived unannounced and late at night. He wore a cape in all weathers, outside and in, and hogged a position in front of the fireplace whether it was lit or not. His visits to England were inevitably associated with some mission or other, or so he said. He was a great raconteur. And he would launch into tales of the danger he was in, but then stop in mid sentence and cite the Official Secrets Act. ‘Hush-hush, you know’.

Why did I have my dream? Cousin Ezekiel would never have accepted my mundane explanation of the Shropshire Blue, but he is not around to offer an alternative. But I am glad I had it, because it has reminded me that between them the cousin sowed the seeds to my current trade. Cousin Ezekiel forcing me into falsifying dreams, and Mr X forcing me into inventing the endings to the dramatic tales he never concluded.

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