It rained and it rained and it rained. Piglet was goodness knows how old – he couldn’t remember because Christopher Robin had never told him, but he certainly felt old enough this morning – and he’d never seen so much rain. Not a good start to the day.
He flicked the curtains shut and groped his way across the room. Standing on tip-toe he managed to switch on the light.
“Christ, turn that bloody thing off,” said a growly voice from underneath a pile of rugs on the bed.
“Good morning, Pooh,” Piglet said, in a nervous little voice. When Pooh was in One of His Moods, Piglet became nervous. He was, after all and in every way, A Very Small Animal.
“Grumph,” said Pooh. Piglet went into the kitchen, piled high with dirty plates, bottles and honey pots, and started nosing around in the cupboard, looking for coffee and aspirin. After a while he heard a thump on the floor, a curse and a cough. Winne-the-Pooh had got up.
A few moments later Pooh himself was in the kitchen, crashing around as usual. Piglet stepped back, not wanting to get squished.
“God, what a night,” Pooh said. “My head. We’d better get ourselves straightened out. Where’s the coffee? He’ll here any minute to take us off on some madcap adventure.”
Neither of them could tell the time because, being animals of supposedly Very Little Brains, Christopher Robin had not seen fit to teach them. Pooh’s clock was, of course, no help. But, being animals, They Knew.
Pooh jammed some beans into the grinder but as usual his paws didn’t manage to screw the top down before he switched it on. Piglet reached up and took it off him just in time. His trotters, though hardly more dexterous, were at least smaller. Ignoring Pooh’s theatrical grimaces at the noise, he managed to get the beans ground and the coffee percolating without too many mishaps. He never understood where all the things in his, and Pooh’s, and Kanga’s and all the rest of their kitchens had come from but most of the items were virtually unusable without an opposable thumb or, in Owl’s case, hands. It seemed that the world had been designed for creatures other than them. That was just The Way Things Were. He also wondered why he sometimes thought in capital letters. Another thing to ask Mr Milne, though he knew he’d never have the courage to do so.
“Wonder what Twinkle-toes has got planned for us today?” Pooh grumbled. Piglet stiffened slightly, not that anyone would have noticed. Christopher Robin was their friend, their protector. He was God. In the evenings – yes, in the evenings, when they were on their own, their baser animal instincts might be excused: but during the day, they were His playthings. It was The Way It Was. It upset him to hear Pooh speaking so roughly about him, the more so as Pooh would never dare to do so to his face.
He passed Pooh some coffee and sat down at the table, his little trotters curled around the egg-cup that he used for his Americanos.
Pooh took his coffee over to the window and started to roll a cigarette, with predictably disastrous results. He sucked at it for a few moments before a final defiant puff made the whole thing explode. “Of course, I love him,” Pooh said tiredly, “but sometimes I think he’s a prissy little so-and-so.” He stared moodily at the remains of his his roll-up, some of which was now floating in his coffee. “Particularly first thing in the morning.”
Piglet cocked his head at some unseen signal that was floating through the ether towards them. Pooh heard it too. He rubbed his paws through the thick, honey-encrusted fur on top of his head. Piglet drained his coffee and jumped onto the floor, bouncing up and down slightly on his hind legs, Ready For Anything. Piglet looked at Pooh and watched Pooh’s slow, gentle, good-natured and slightly dim smile that was his familiar public expression slowly dawning over his face. They both moved into the main room towards the front door. Piglet caught a glimpse of himself in Pooh’s cracked mirror. He looked pink and frightened, but suspected that he always did.
They stood, waiting, their ears still cocked. The signals were getting stronger. One minute to go. Pooh let out a small fart.
There was a ring on the bell. “Pooh? Pooh!” said a familiar voice. Pooh lumbered forward and opened the door. Christopher Robin rushed in and gave Pooh a huge hug. “The bestest bear in the world,” he said. Pooh grunted slightly. Christopher Robin stood back and beamed at them both. “Hello Piglet,” he said.
“H…h…hello,” Piglet said, feeling the tips of his ears going pink.
Pooh glanced at the clock on the wall, permanently stuck at five to eleven. “I was just thinking,” he said dreamily, “that it was Time for A Little Something…”
Christopher Robin laughed. “Silly Old Bear! Come on, we’re going to go and see Rabbit and Eeyore!” Piglet eyed the rain slanting down outside and the puddles that were forming outside, into which A Very Small Animal could, if he were not careful, Tumble And Drown. However Christopher Robin was there, with a very cheerful pair of red Wellington Boots so everything would be all right. Anyway, it was Showtime.
So there the three of them were, tramping off in the rain into the Hundred Acre Wood for another day of fun. Christopher Robin was already laughing at Pooh, who was Starting A Hum, and at Piglet whose ears were getting pink again because he was afraid that he would have join in with his squeaky voice at the ‘diddle-dum’ bits.
But what Christopher Robin didn’t know was that in the evenings, when he had said his prayers and been tucked up in bed by Nanny, Pooh and Piglet would sneak back, sometimes to Pooh’s house and sometimes to Piglet’s, and get thoroughly pissed.
* * *
“The trouble is,” Pooh said the previous evening, staring moodily into a half-empty glass, “there’s naff-all to do in the Wood of an evening.”
As they were at Piglet’s house that night, they were drinking haycorn gin. When they were at Pooh’s they drank honey vodka. There wasn’t much to choose between them as the spirits came from the same still near Rabbit’s House which they’d told him was for Christopher Robin’s lessons. It was then just a question of adding a few haycorns or a bit of honey, as the case may be. The last batch but one had made them both go blind for two days; another had left them hallucinating, leading Mr Milne to write a story which no one had been prepared to publish.
Pooh filled up his glass. “We could get some of the others to come over,” he said, as he often did.
Piglet blanched slightly. The evening when Tigger had ‘come over’ to his house and drunk half a bottle of haycorn gin was one he preferred to forget. Eeyore’s brush with strong liquor had briefly cheered him up but soon afterwards he’d burst into tears and run off into the night. Kanga hadn’t touched a drop but had lectured them for half an hour before, enraged with Pooh’s unexpected sarcasm, hopping home in a huff. Last week’s Owl and Rabbit soirée had been perhaps the most ghastly, both of them talking incessantly using Very Long Words for what seemed like hours before Owl had left hurriedly after knocking over most of the furniture while demonstrating the Power Of His Dorsal Muscles and Rabbit had thrown up in Pooh’s hatstand and passed out under the table.
Alcohol was, Piglet realised, a terrible thing. Being a Very Small Animal he took Very Small Drinks: Pooh, on the other hand, knocked it back like nobody’s business and often went off on rants that lasted for ten minutes at a time. Piglet often didn’t listen. Still, as Pooh had said, what the hell else was there to do?
“The other thing about the Wood,” Pooh went on, “is the lack of crumpet.”
Piglet felt his ears pinken.
“There’s Kanga,” Pooh said after a long belch, “but that’s it. I don’t know about Rabbit’s Friends and Relations, of course. Some of them may be female. Thing is, Kanga’s not exactly Hollywood, is she?”
Piglet looked blearily across the table. Pooh was not exactly Hollywood either, certainly not now, a great blurry, fuzzy thing half collapsed on the Ottoman. Piglet’s only intimate dealings with Kanga – when she had forcibly stripped and bathed him after their abortive attempt to kidnap Roo at the sandpit – had left him in a state of suppressed erotic confusion from which he had yet to recover. The thought of a sexually-charged Kanga bouncing all over him in her four-poster bed was one that he only entertained during these drunken evenings, and then briefly. A few minutes of that image could keep his fragile little libido going for a week. Seeing Kanga in the flesh the day after these visions made him almost faint with nerves. Sex, like alcohol, was best left to those with stronger constitutions.
“We’re a bloody odd bunch, aren’t we? Pooh said half to himself. “I mean, where did we all come from? Where do we belong? Take you, Piglet…”
Piglet jumped slightly. “Me?” he squeaked.
“Yes. All I know about you is this uncle, Trespassers William. Who was he?”
Piglet didn’t speak for a while. His memories of Trespassers William were still very much unfinished business. Still, as Pooh had brought the subject up he could hardly avoid it. “He used to come over a lot…to see my mother. He wasn’t really an uncle. I was just told to call him that.”
Pooh nodded. “Strange kind of name,” he said. “How did he get that?”
“Why do you think? He was a burglar. He used to bring my mother stuff he’d stolen and…and she didn’t know what to do with it. He spent a lot of time with us. I didn’t like him.” Piglet now found he couldn’t stop. “And at night, when mum was asleep he used to…he used to come into…my…” Just as suddenly, he had now dried up. The memory seemed so horribly vivid – the cold, dark sty; the sickly, foetid smell of Trespassers’ breath; the grunting and groaning. He shuddered.
Pooh, with rare tact, changed the subject onto himself. “Sounds like Mr Sanders,” he said. “Whoever exactly he was. My step-father, apparently. My mother didn’t talk about my real father. Then this old bore turned up, so we all ‘lived under the name of Sanders’ because my mother said it was more seemly. He was a right bastard. Hated me. He took off one day with everything we owned. Which wasn’t much, but still. Then I ended up here, via a charity shop in Hastings.”
“Oh,” said Piglet, who could think of nothing else to say. There was a long silence.
“What about the rest of us? So, who arrived after us?”
“Rabbit…no, not Rabbit. Owl.”
“Yes, Owl. He was rescued from a lab. Did you know that, Piglet?”
“I didn’t know that, Pooh, no.”
“Christopher Robin told me. They’d been doing experiments on him, using chemicals to build up his dorsal muscles or his frontal lobes or something, so Mr Milne rescued him. Maybe the experiments are why he talks in that extraordinary way. Then, as you say, there’s Rabbit.” Pooh shook his head sadly and poured some more gin for them both. “He was one of the survivors from the great myxom…myxi…mixmo…it was a disease and it killed most of the rabbits. Mr Milne found him and they rescued him as well.” Pooh sat back in his chair. “There’s something a bit rum about Rabbit, don’t you think?
“How do you mean, rum, Pooh?”
“Well, all those ‘friends and relations’ as he calls them. All sounds a bit like your uncle Trespassers William, don’t you think?”
Piglet hadn’t, and was horrified. The thought of big fat Rabbit and, say, Small the beetle…mind you, Trespassers had been been far, far bigger than Piglet and that hadn’t stopped him. Piglet watched Pooh shift his bulk in the armchair opposite. There were times when he felt like a Very Small Animal and this was one of them.
“Eeyore was rescued as well, from a donkey sanctuary, obviously. As you can tell every time you talk to him, something pretty awful must have happened to him. Not that he ever mentions it.” He smiled at Piglet in an encouraging if rather drunk way. “It’s good to talk about these things, if you can.”
Piglet nodded a few times but didn’t trust himself to speak.
“Tigger, of course, is endangered, simple as that. On all the WWF lists. He came from some zoo, I think, after his mother died.” Pooh threw another mangled roll-up into the flickering fire and stared gloomily at it for a few moments. “If he keeps on coming round and waking me up at six in the morning he’s going to be a damn sight more endangered, I can tell you. And who else is there?”
“Of course – Kanga, and dear little Roo.” Pooh sat back and tried to cross his legs but they wouldn’t. “She says she’s from Australia. Anyone could say that. I, for example, could say I was from Australia.” Pooh looked across the table at Piglet in a rather blank way.
“Yes, Pooh, you could say that.”
“She might be from Australia. With a name like that…then again, they might be illegal immigrants from…from…” Pooh tried to think of another country. “Brazil,” he suggested at last.
Pooh poured the last of the gin into his glass, having privately decided that Piglet had had enough, which he had.
“We’re a bunch of fuck ups and no mistake. Look at us. One way or another we’ve all come off the scrap heap. Hardly a parent between us. I mean, look at dirty old Trespassers and Mr Sanders and the absent Mr Kanga – I don’t see any positive male role models there, do you? The reality is that little CR, and Mr M, took pity on us. Fine. Great. But how long will that last? What happens when he gets bored with us? When he grows up? All those lessons in the afternoon…”
Piglet had for some weeks been thinking the same thing and now he started to sniffle. Pooh who, drunk or sober, was a kind if not always tactful bear, reached across the table and patted Piglet’s trotter. With the ghost of Trespassers so recently out of the box he felt that was about as much physical proximity as Piglet could stand. Poor little Piglet. Now Pooh understood why he got startled so easily.
“And the problem is compounded,” Pooh went on, suddenly sounding very much like Owl, “by the fact that, as I’ve said, once CR goes to bed there’s bugger-all to do here. Sometimes I feel like going and pushing over Owl’s tree, like we did last time.” Pooh’s eyes briefly glowed with malicious excitement before becoming dull and bleary again.
Piglet blinched. If Pooh wanted to go off and start smashing things up he supposed he’d go too but right now he wasn’t feeling in the mood. With a mixture of emotions, he remembered how, drunk and bored, they had earlier that year rampaged around the forest singing songs and waking everyone up before the ghastly denouement. Lord, how Mr Milne had roared at them. They had been very, very lucky, he had told them, that he was able to solve the problem with a story with a rather different build up, involving a gale.
There had been a similar incident involving Eeyore’s house, though they’d managed to convince everyone it had blown down in a snowstorm. Then Pooh had thrown that pole into the river, blocked up Rabbit’s door and wrecked one of Mr M’s precious beehives; worse still, Rabbit and Pooh and Piglet had tried to kill Tigger just after he’d arrived: the whole thing had backfired horribly and Rabbit had nearly died of exposure.
The three of them had also hatched a plan to kidnap Roo – another fiasco – which had culminated in Piglet’s erotic episode with Kanga. And then there was that awful time they’d pulled Eeyore’s tail off; and the mad day they’d dug the huge hole in the path into which a drunk Pooh himself had later fallen and half killed himself…the charge sheet ran on and on.
Recently, Piglet had felt these random destructive feelings more and more strongly. As Pooh had pointed out, they had all been dragged off the scrap heap and it was surely to the scrap heap that they’d one day return. What did it matter what they did in-between? In a strange way, it almost felt better to have Mr Milne roar at them every so often rather than ignore them, as he normally did. The roles they played in the stories were acted out as if in a dream.
Piglet now found himself wondering if Mr M had written his stories to cover up these acts of vandalism, abduction and assault. Or perhaps he allowed them to continue just to give him some inspiration? Piglet supposed that Mr Milne enjoyed having power over them. They also must have made him money, so enabling his son to enjoy the India-rubber balls, hoops, pencil boxes and bright blue braces of which he seemed to have an inexhaustible supply.
Piglet could just up and leave, of course, but the world was a frightening place, full of people like Trespassers William and Mr Sanders. It was easier to stay where they were, while it lasted, and spend as much time as possible getting pissed and kicking things over. That was just the way everything seemed to be. No escape plan had been provided and nothing about the way they’d been treated suggested they ought to consider creating one for themselves.
Pooh put the glass down. “God, this gin in disgusting. Tomorrow I’m going to get some Burgundy.”
This was a another familiar Pooh riff. About a year before they’d stolen a bottle of Burgundy from Mr Milne’s drawing room on one of the rare occasions they’d been allowed downstairs in the house. For Pooh, who’d drunk most of the bottle, repeating the experience had existed as a hopeless holy grail ever since.
Once they’d struggled as far as the off-licence at Hartfield where Pooh had tried to buy two bottles of Gevery Chambertin on credit. Piglet, who wouldn’t even have been able to see over the counter, had been left outside and had only heard some of the muffled, contemptuous insults from the licensee. Ever since Pooh had, when in his cups, outlined various breaking-and-entering plans regarding the shop in which Piglet was to play a heroic role, being lowered in through a shattered skylight on ‘a thin-ish piece of rope: or, if there isn’t any, bring a thick-ish piece of string.’ Pooh would guffaaw at the memory of this rhyme.
Piglet was happy enough to play along with Pooh’s fantasy, up to a point. Their relationship depended on Pooh suggesting things and Piglet following on behind. However, the thought of raiding the off-licence filled him with real dread. So, whenever Pooh brought the subject up, he would pass the bottle as quickly as possible with the aim of ensuring that Pooh and sometimes himself were sufficiently pissed to prevent the suggestion from becoming a reality.
As a result of this and other circumstances, each of which served either to encourage or to justify the act of getting completely plastered every night, he and Pooh both spent half the following days with Christopher Robin stumbling round in a bit of a blur. Although their animal instincts kicked in when CR appeared each morning, the physical toll of the night before took some time to wear off. Pooh was dopey and gruff until his so-called ‘little something’ at eleven o’clock. Mr Milne was kind enough to imply this was half a pot of honey but Piglet knew it was this plus a slug of gin. By the time of the obligatory picnic, Pooh was normally OK, dopey and good-natured for a few hours. In summer, when there were normally evening adventures as well, Pooh often needed another ‘little something’ at about half four. Piglet would often accompany him, sometimes gulping an egg-cup of honey vodka and, on more abstemious days, merely licking Pooh’s plate clean of its mixture of honey, condensed milk and haycorn gin.
Piglet’s reactions to these dissipations often resulted, during the following day’s unfeasible adventures, in a series of abject, blushing confusions which did nothing for his fragile self-esteem. Mr Milne was a strict ‘story a day’ man, 1,000 words without fail by tea time. Piglet was relieved that most of these shallow farces never ended up in print. This combination of the humiliation and peril he risked during the day and heavy drinking he indulged in during the night, which carried with it the constant risk of being made to tramp across the Wood to commit an act of vandalism or burgle an off licence, was starting to play hell with his nerves.
Then Piglet realised something else. Most of Mr Milne’s stories which had ended up in print were based on his and Pooh’s drunken debacles. Perhaps they had more power than he thought in the situation? Although he couldn’t begin to see how he might use this, the insight had given him a new perspective on life. Maybe he was worth something after all, if only as an inadvertent inspiration for Mr Milne’s writing. This was hardly the basis of a career: but nor was racketing around as Pooh’s side-kick in the only world they had ever really known but which they were fast outgrowing. There had to be something else but for the life of him Piglet couldn’t work out what it was nor how he might attain it.
* * *
“Come on!” Christopher Robin shouted, “we’re going to see Kanga and Roo!”
Pooh was lagging behind. He turned to Piglet. “Frankly, I can’t face Kanga and Roo right now,” he admitted, slipping alarmingly out of his conventional daytime character.
Piglet stood in the middle of the path. He looked at his little God dancing through the trees ahead of them in his freshly ironed blue knickerbockers, of the kind that Piglet would never own, the way things were. He looked at Pooh, fuzzled and frazzled and cross and seeming, he realised for the first time, to be slightly mad.
“Let’s nip back to my place and have a quick snifter,” Pooh said. “we can catch up with him later. Pretend we’ve fallen down a well or something. Milne will think of an explanation.” He gave a sarcastic snort which, at night, Piglet could relate to but which, in the middle of the Wood and with Christopher Robin only fifty feet away, slightly repulsed him. Pooh winked artlessly. “He probably needs us more than we need him.” The co-incidence of Pooh’s thoughts and his own was unsettling and jerked him back into this familiar orbit. Piglet was feeling thoroughly uncomfortable, torn in three different directions and with no moral compass to guide him towards or away from any of them.
He watched Christopher Robin jigging away from them, still calling but now almost lost between the trees. Sooner or later, he would leave them, Piglet suddenly realised. At Galleon’s Lap or wherever else there would be a moment when this time would end, when he would slip into another world that left no place for them. Already he could feel the strings that bound them starting to fray. But was today the day? He blinked a couple of times.
Christopher Robin had vanished. Pooh was still there, blinking as well, perhaps as confused as he was. But at least he, like Christopher Robin, had a plan.
“Let’s have a drink,” Pooh repeated. Expecting that Piglet would follow he turned and stumped off down the left-hand path. “Then,” Pooh added over his shoulder, “I think it’ll be time to get that Burgundy. Today’s the day…”
Piglet stood stock still in the centre of the little junction of paths. Both Christopher Robin and Pooh had now vanished. For the first time in what felt like ages he was alone. The rain had stopped. The clouds were parting and few shafts of sunshine slanted through the trees. The world, or what little he knew of it, was spread out before him. He could choose what to do. Piglet almost swooned – it didn’t take much – at the thought. He could choose!
“Come on!” he heard Christopher Robin’s voice call from ahead of him.
“Where the hell are you?” he heard Pooh’s voice growl from the left a few moments later.
To the right was another path that led to the Pooh-sticks bridge and, beyond that, to the world beyond the Wood.
Still Piglet didn’t move. He only had a few seconds to decide. What was he going to do?