After Anthony Rudolf’s “Perfect Happiness”
My grandmother wears a floral frock and a grey cardigan, no bra. She doesn’t hug or kiss. The hall smells of damp and lavender. I hang my blazer and satchel from the coat-stand and follow her into the kitchen to sit at the Formica-topped table. There is no heating. Grandmother makes the tea in her Victorian silver teapot and serves it in a rosebud china cup, with a saucer. There are fish-paste sandwiches and a rock bun, which she serves as a treat, but it’s hard to swallow. When I need the lavatory, I can choose between the bathroom upstairs, which is cold, and the one by the back door. That one has spiders in the top corners.
After tea, we go into the sitting room. There is an upright piano, but she doesn’t ask me to play it. We play Bezique, which uses two packs of cards, but only the picture cards, the ace, and the ten. Grandmother remarks that it is a bit cold in here—she means I should shovel a lump of coal from the brass coal-scuttle and feed the small fire. She never asks directly, never says please. She is the only person who uses my given name, which she hunts down, like this: Mary, Geraldine, Judith, Bridget, Anthea, Jane….
Archie stands quite still, his back a little stooped as though he has always been this shape. He is tall, lithe, his head pushed slightly forward. Is he outdoors, on his way to a picnic perhaps, since he carries a small piece of cake and a fork? But his top hat and lack of shoes remain a puzzle.
He was bought from a pet food shop, gassed and frozen, to be later defrosted and transformed. His skin was peeled away with scalpel strokes. Turned inside out. Soaked in alcohol. Painted with tanning solution. Rammed with a hand-rolled cotton wool sausage. Some people remove the head entirely to reach the contents and scour the cavity; in Archie’s case a firm chop excised half the skull, which was later re-formed with super-glue. His face and brains have been thoroughly cleaned, as this part of the rat, if not properly treated, tends to rot.
Archie’s metal spine cannot be re-moulded. He stands, thanks to the wires that pierce his back paws. This is a kind of crucifixion.
Jinny Fisher has been a violinist and is now a psychotherapist. She has been writing poetry since 2007 and has been published in print and online, including in The Interpreter’s House, Under the Radar, Prole, Ink Sweat & Tears, and Spilling Cocoa over Martin Amis. She lives near Castle Cary in Somerset where she is a member of Taunton’s Juncture 25, and Wells Fountain Poets. She has been three times longlisted for the Bridport Prize, and in 2016 was Highly Commended in York Mix competition and placed second in The Interpreter’s House competition. Her most recent project is the Poetry Pram, which she likes to push around music festivals with her poet friends, reading its contents to surprised festival-goers.