I’d been after the weather, overshot the station, and was just about to go back when I heard a name from half a lifetime ago.
Next day I tuned into the programme as I tinkered with a story on the computer. ‘…and my guest this afternoon is an expert on the world of Mickey Mouse…’ Quite suddenly I remembered Mark’s teenage fascination with Roland Rat. As it happened, I’d just learned I was a runner-up in quite a big writing competition. So I thought I’d email to say ‘hi’ and see if we could do something on the show.
Two weeks later, a bitter December afternoon, I arrived at Radio Suffolk. The receptionist and I chatted about nothing in particular as we listened to the show in the lobby. The phone rang and she took it in a quiet voice as a song finished.
‘My first guest this afternoon knows a thing or two about cheese…’ Mark’s voice grew thick and syrupy as they sampled Suffolk cheeses; Stowmarket Stilton and Bury Blue stick in my mind. I suddenly felt unaccountably nervous.
The door to the back opened and a tall, thin-featured young man appeared. ‘David? Steve. Mark’s producer. All set?’ We went down a long narrow corridor lit by fluorescent strips. ‘It’s one in, one out today I’m afraid.’ He opened the door and pressed himself to the wall as the cheese guy came out.
‘Those boys like their cheese and no mistake,’ he confided, and then I was in. The weather played just loud enough to hear, and we shook, grinning foolishly. I did notice his plate of cheese though. Extensively nibbled.
Mark checked his emails, and I was just looking round at the equipment banked up around the tiny studio—when sudden, excited squealing made me look back sharply. For a split second—although it could have been an hour—I froze, unable to believe what I saw.
There was Mark, and Steve through the glass, gesturing excitedly and jabbering away in high-pitched squeaks as they devoured blocks of cheese. They looked the same as before but with one difference: they were big, brown, furry rats.
I remember thinking ‘So, this is madness’. Then Mark winked at me, and they laughed—an amazingly good-natured laugh—as the jingle finished. Then Mark’s voice: ‘Thanks Su, and now, in the second hour of the programme we’ll be talking to local writer David Hughes.’ I screwed my eyes up tight, probably closed my mouth at some point. ‘…to have him on the show. Thanks for coming in David, and congratulations on the competition.’ I opened my eyes. They were perfectly human—although the cheese really was looking sorry for itself now.
Before I knew it the interview drew to a close. A record came on and we chatted for a couple of minutes about mutual friends from those days. Steve’s voice came over the intercom. ‘Next guest’s here.’
‘Let’s not leave it so long next time,’ said Mark, smiling. No sign of the whiskers now, none at all. Perhaps I had imagined the whole thing. Steve opened the door for me. Glancing down, I just glimpsed the long tail as he whisked it deftly away.
I thought perhaps I should say something to the receptionist—but what? It was dark when I got to the station. Commuters scurried through the ticket hall, feet clicking on stone flags. I bought some coffee and a paper, thinking You know, I think there might be a story in there somewhere.
David Hughes was born in Nairobi in 1970, and has lived in England for most of his life. After a French degree, David worked as a language teacher, a clerk and then communications officer for an insurance company. He now lives near Colchester in Essex, and works part-time as a housekeeper while concentrating on his writing. He has placed his work at Viz, a British humour magazine, and was highly commended in last year’s annual Commonwealth Short Story Competition, one of his stories being professionally recorded by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association and broadcast on BBC radio. He’s been DM’s man in auld Albion forever, flirting long-distance with the Publisher for almost as long.