Writer - Richie Brown
That Tuesday I sat round the toaster for warmth and read the headlines in the local paper. Police baffled by door-to-door groping scandal. I tossed another slice of stale wholemeal in. Just then I heard a strange knock at the door.
'Who is it?' I asked through the keyhole.
'Jelly inspector,' came the reply.
'I don't have any.'
'We'll see. Open up, there are fluctuations around this neighbourhood.'
I did as he said. The man marched into my kitchen and put a small, orange box on the table, rather too close to a house of cards I had been building. 'Cards,' he snorted. 'Waste of time.'
'I don't think so,' I replied. 'I rather like a game. Would you have time for a few hands of Red King Run-around?'
'No,' he said. 'Waste of time, I told you. Where's your meter?'
'Gas or electric?' I asked.
'Jelly.’ He held up a barely official-looking laminated badge so I could read his credentials.
'Didn't I say I was a jelly inspector?'
'I didn't know I had a jelly meter.'
'We'll see,' he repeated. 'I'll get the detector out. You can't hide these things you know.' The man reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small device, about an inch long.
'If that's the jelly detector, then what's in the orange box?' I asked.
'Ah, I bet you have jelly sandwiches, don't you?'
'Don't be ridiculous, man, with the price so high at the moment? Not two years since the great jelly drought? No wonder we've had these reports of fluctuations with the likes of you dining free on our natural resources!’
'Oh,' I said. 'They should really tell you these things.'
'Yes they should.' The man squeezed the small device as he walked. It began bleeping louder and louder. 'Ah, we’re not far from the meter now. Look, come over here. I'll show you, it's quite simple really.' The man came to a stop and opened the cupboard behind my Uncle Bertram's old chair. I had never dared look in that corner. Bertram had forbidden it. And, even these thirty years later, I still respected his demands and kept the corner in the dusty, murky state it had been on his watch. I squatted down, just behind the Jellyman.
‘This was Bertram’s cupboard,’ I said. ’He kept his peppermints and niche pornography in there next to his sun lamp and dead skin remover.’ I noticed a small pile of grey, brittle matter, almost like a fine dust. ‘His dead skin too come to mention it. I don’t see a jelly meter anywhere.’
The man put his finger to his lips and pointed to a small box in the bottom corner.
‘There it is,’ he said. ‘It’s a 1968 Watkinson model. Tracks jelly usage to within one hundredth of a fluid ounce. There’s no hiding with a Watkinson.’ He lowered to his hands and knees, his generous backside protruding, and flashed a torch at the box. 'Now, let’s get a reading, this might cost you a packet.’
‘But I don’t even like jelly,’ I protested, getting down on all fours behind him. I could see the box in front of him, but I couldn’t quite make out the reading. He had the torch in his mouth and was trying to fish a notebook and pencil from his back pocket. ‘Let me get those for you,’ I said. I placed my hand on the notebook and tried to whip it out, the other hand I placed on his left buttock for greater purchase. The notebook was stuck fast. I pulled harder, tightening my grip on his ample arse, my hand full of flesh. With a determined yank the book became free. The inspector did not thank me, however, instead he rose to his feet and turned to face me, ashen-faced. ‘Don’t you want me to get the pencil?’ I asked.
‘You…’ he said, and pulled out the pencil, wielding it against me like a knife.
‘Yes?’ I replied, offering him the notebook.
‘You’re the groper, the phantom bum-snatcher, the Tidsbury Gooser!’
‘Oh no,’ I said. ‘I can see how it would look like that.’ The man made for the door. He shook his head as he left. ‘Don’t you want the reading?’ I shouted after him as he made his way to the lifts.
‘There’s more to life than jelly,’ he said.
I returned to the table and my house of cards and opened the lunch box. Inside I found two sandwiches overflowing with lime jelly. With a clean knife, I scraped the gooey condiment into the bin and placed the bread in the toaster.