Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by, London. This week’s story of squirrels is by Alex Tomlin.
Cara walked through St James’s Park, wondering whether she could afford a new pair of Jimmy Choos. Probably not, she concluded, but she didn’t mind. She loved London like this. The sun low over the trees, glinting off the roof of Buckingham Palace and illuminating the faces of tourists ambling through, taking pictures of trees, the lake, ducks, even squirrels. What was the fascination with squirrels?
A small child sat on a bench holding a crisp out to a squirrel which darted forward to grab the crisp. It nibbled its way through it then hopped up and down squeaking plaintively. Around them the child’s family clapped, squealed and took pictures.
Cara watched them, wondering idly where they were from. Spain maybe? Or Italy? Clearly somewhere they had never seen a squirrel. A movement caught her eye. One woman’s pocket was twitching. As Cara watched, a furry head poked out, looked round quickly, bobbed back out of sight then quickly re-emerged followed by a lithe body then a bushy tail. The squirrel leapt to the ground, the woman’s wallet clamped firmly in its teeth, then scampered away.
Cara stared, amazed, and then increasingly indignant, as several more squirrels emerged from various pockets, handbags and rucksacks, gripping purses, chocolate bars and a packet of cigarettes. They all ran over to a clump of bushes in a darkening corner of the park.
Cara approached the bushes and peered in. She couldn’t see anything. As quietly as she could, she eased into the middle of the bushes.
Inside was a small clearing. Squirrels ran back and forth carrying food, sorting it into large piles in front of what looked like a plastic sandwich wrapper lined with a woollen scarf. Lounging on the wool was the fattest squirrel Cara had ever seen, observing proceedings with sharp eyes.
Cara took a step back in shock. A branch snapped beneath her foot and the scene in front of her froze, dozens of squirrels staring up at her, shifty looks on their tiny faces. The fat one seemed to slump a little in his chair. He tiredly beckoned her in with a chubby paw.
Nervous but made brave by anger, Cara stepped into the clearing and looked round at the assembled creatures. “How could you steal from those people?” she cried. “They’re here on holiday, just trying to have a good time and you’re ruining it for them. You’re making my city look bad. Well, what have you got to say for yourselves?”
The fat one regarded her solemnly then made a gesture. One squirrel brought him a cigarette and put it in his mouth and two others operated a lighter. He leaned back, holding the cigarette in both paws. The end of cigarette glowed red and he exhaled slowly then said in a deep, raspy voice, “Okay guys, explain to the lady”.
In a blur of grey the squirrels gathered in the centre of the clearing. One tapped its paw on the ground, one, two, three, and as one they broke into song.
A squirrel’s life is awful hard
Give us an inch, we’ll take a yard
No one looks after us squirrels
They say we are vermin and pests
We all have to look after each other
So please lay off your protests
Despite herself Cara found herself tapping her foot in time as the song continued.
A squirrel’s life is terribly tough
That’s why we have to steal this stuff.
Those tourists have money
Coming out of their ears
They can spare a few quid
So please save your tears
A squirrel’s life is nothing but trouble
So no one’s going to burst our bubble
If we don’t help ourselves
We’ll starve, thems the facts
We all need to eat
So please mind your beeswax
Cara clapped delightedly. What a tune. Then she remembered how angry she was. “It’s wrong to steal. I’d like you to stop. And smoking’s no good for you either.” She whipped the cigarette out of the squirrel’s mouth and threw it away with distaste.
The fat squirrel bristled. “Look missus, you seem like a nice lady, and I like what you’ve done with your hair,” Cara blushed and patted her hair self-consciously, “but this is really none of your business”.
“Well,” Cara said, narrowing her eyes and fixing the squirrel with her best mean look, “we’ll see about that”.
She turned on her heel and stormed off, humming, “A squirrel’s life is terribly tough…”
The next evening found Cara back in the park. She stood guard by the bench, waving squirrels away from pockets and bags, trying to ignore the strange looks she was receiving from the tourists. She bobbed and pounced, rebuffing the grey invaders. Finally one defeated squirrel brought her a message. The chief wanted to see her.
“I’m going to keep doing this until you stop stealing,” she told him.
He sighed. “You’re taking away our livelihoods here, lady. How do you expect us to survive?”
He had a point. She didn’t want to see them starve. Cara thought hard then suddenly her eyes lit up.
“I’ve got a great idea. Listen.”
Cara listened to the applause from the audience inside as she gazed proudly upon the freshly painted sign: Cara’s Tremendous Troupe of Performing Squirrels. Singing, Dancing and Acrobatics to amaze and astound. Tickets: £15.”
Once more she counted the money and smiled. This would buy a lot of shoes.
Got any more stories about London’s green spaces? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
Previously in this series
- Heath Swimming: A story of heartbreak and Hampstead.
- Second Hand Mediation: Overcoming a phobia on the Isle of Dogs.
- Lost Sister: A search among London’s mythical inhabitants.
- The Wishing Duck of Regent’s Park: Be careful what you wish for.
- The Strangest Suitor: An unconventional Prince Charming.
- Mud Man: A quietly heartbreaking tale from the canal.
- The Fingernail Fairy: Do you believe in her?
- The Last Train: A fairy godmother on the tube.
- Waterloo Sunrise: A dawn encounter on Waterloo Bridge.
For children/by children
- The Lion: Something’s up in Trafalgar Square.
- Lyndon The Greatest Thief in London: A light fingered robber meets the Queen.
- Beyond the Central Line: Notting Hill Gate looks different today…
- The Makings of a Killer: A dark encounter in Southwark.
- Places to Hide a T-Rex in London: About time someone tackled this one.
- The Modern Fire of London: A sneezing dragon is a dangerous thing.
- The Let Down Competition: A mango has a fight with a pig.
General London fiction
- Mark: A struggling actor becomes a hero of the people.
- The Guardian of Travellers: Victoria Coach Station passengers take the advice of a sage.
- Graphic Novels: A celebrated novelist finds inspiration in Shoreditch Library.
- Not Enough: A family struggles to get by.
London at Night
- The Soho Nocturnes: Sebastian Groes tries to shatter the concrete dream that is London.
- The Station Clock: Peter Watson takes a slow walk to Euston.
- Asparagus and Syrian Gold: A guy on a blind date takes a risk… but will it pay off?
- The Race: Susanna James races against the dying of the light.
- Sirens of the Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- Mark: A struggling actor becomes a hero of the people.
Christmas in London
- The Ghost of Christmas Replete: David Croser shares a Christmas tale set in the bleak midwinter.
- Keep the Change: Lee Hamblin takes a sneaky taxi ride.
- Night Bus Dreams: Michelle Surtees-Myers is picked up by an enchanted night bus.
- The Patient Banker: Tom Dean has a visitor call in at a houseboat.
- An Afternoon Some Time Ago: Nathan Good takes a nostalgic ride on the London Eye.
- Easy Pickings: Kay Seeley is being vigilant on the South Bank.
- Stepping Stones: Alison Chandler goes on a night walk.
- One Summer in London: Angela M. Rodriguez steals a very personal item and then wears it at Notting Hill Carnival.
- Blackout on Fen Street: Seth Insua wishes away the city.
- The Man From BEER: Which bits of London would you delete? By David Ritchie.
- London Falls: Liz Hedgecock unleashes a digital wipeout on the city.
- They Walked: Adam MacLean ponders what would happen if London’s building just got up and left.
- The Wallbuilder: A great wall was built around London, not everyone was happy, by Jonathon Dean.
- Tastes Like Chicken: Glen Delaney retreats inside London’s oldest fortress.
- The Conqueror: Rebecca Sams filches a legendary London object.
- The Busker Ascends: Darren Lee brings plague to Leicester Square.
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.
- The Sender of Second Chances: Anthea Morrison records a chance encounter on a bus.
- Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
- Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
- Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- Sirens Of The Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairy tale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
- The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.
- Routine: The importance of the day-to-day, by Clare Kane.
- Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
- A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
- Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
- Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
- The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
- St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
- First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
- Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer’s buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
- NO! SUSHI: A relationship breaks down during a Japanese leaving party, by Clare Kane.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor: More from the feckless thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor (Part 2): Our debauched hero tussles with mannequins.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.
- Direction: Kevin Acott goes on a time-shifting pub crawl.
- RTA: Ryan Cartwright is involved in a traffic accident where all is not what it seems.
- Vegan Pigeon Eater: Rae Chambers sees a south London cafe get an unwelcome visitor.