Earlier this year I was privileged to read and review ‘The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper’.
In this delightful tale, a widower goes on an adventure and discovers that he and the world still have plenty to offer each other. It’s perfect for readers who enjoy slightly whimsical, touching stories about loss and discovery, letting go and moving forwards.
Today, as part of her blog tour, author Phaedra Patrick is visiting Buriedunderbooks to share her favourite episode in the book.
Over to Phaedra:
As I showed my childhood charm bracelet to my son, andÂ told him the stories behind each of the charms, the idea came to me about an elderly man who discovers a mysterious bracelet in his late wifeâ€™s wardrobe.
I knew I wanted a tiger in my novel and I loved the idea of 69-year-old Arthur Pepper, visiting a crumbling manor house where he encounters a ravenous tiger.
The following scene is my favourite because it made me laugh the most as I wrote it. As Arthur climbs over some high railings to get into the manor grounds, itâ€™s totally against his character and one of his first attempts to try to find out the story behind each of the charms on his wifeâ€™s bracelet. Inserting the tiger into the novel allowed me to be brave, and make nothing out of bounds for poor Arthur to endure on his epic journey of discovery.
Arthur spotted a ridge of metal along the top of the railing. He used all his might to lift his leg up and wedge his foot on the ridge. With strength he didnâ€™t know he possessed, he managed to clamber up onto the top of the railing. He hung there for a moment then rallied himself. Come on, Sir Edmund Hillary. Up and over, old son. He steadied himself and flipped his leg over. He jumped. The iron fleur-de-lis on the top of the railing got fastened in the hem of his trouser leg. There was a loud tearing noise as he dropped onto the lawn. Looking down, he saw that his left trouser leg was torn to the thigh so it looked as if he was wearing a strange sarong. No matter. He was over. He stood and strode toward the manor house, his left leg exposed.
The grass was damp and squeaky. The buttery sun made it sparkle. It was a beautiful day. Arthur gave a sigh of relief. Birds twittered and a red admiral butterfly alighted on his shoulder for a few seconds. â€˜Hi there,â€™ he said. â€˜Iâ€™m here to find out about my wife.â€™ As he lifted his head to watch as it fluttered away, he didnâ€™t see the brick on the lawn.
He kicked it, then felt his ankle twist. He stumbled sideways, falling to the ground, and then rolled onto his back. Beetle-like, he tried to right himself, but his legs and arms flailed feebly in the air. He tried again and then groaned. The fall had winded him. His ankle throbbed. He had made it over the dizzying heights of the railings and then been foiled by a brick.
He lowered his legs and arms and looked up at the sky. It was Wedgwood blue and a cloud shaped like a pterodactyl drifted by. An aeroplane left a vapour trail. Two cabbage whites flew higher and higher until he could no longer see them. The brick lay besides his ear. It was chipped around the edges as if it had been chewed.
He tried to right himself again by sucking in his stomach and attempting to sit up, but it was no use. Idiot, he sighed. He would have to do his statue thing for a while before he tried to move again. He wondered if he had ever come across a National Trust statue that lay prostrate. Hmmm, probably not. Lifting up his leg, he tried to rotate his twisted ankle. It circled and clicked. It wasnâ€™t as bad as he first thought. The manor was in striding distance. He was nearly there. A few more minutes and heâ€™d roll onto his side and get up. He would crawl there if need be.
It took him a few seconds to realise that he was no longer alone.
First of all he sensed movement beneath his fingertips as the grass rumbled. It was a strange feeling, not a thumping, or a buzzing but more of a padding sensation. Something brushed his right foot. A dog? A squirrel? He tried to move his head, to raise it, but a pain shot down his neck. Hellâ€™s bells. Ouch, that hurt.
The next thing he knew, his view of the sky was obliterated by something big. It was something with fur. It was something orange, black and white.
Oh, good God. No.
The tiger stood over him. Its face was so close that he could feel its meaty breath burning his cheek. There was an unmistakable tang of urine. Something heavy pressed down on his shoulder forcing it into the earth. A paw. A huge paw. Arthur wanted to screw his eyes shut but he couldnâ€™t help but stare, hypnotised by this great beast.
The tiger had black lips and whiskers the thickness of crochet needles. Its lips curled and a string of drool glooped down, down into Arthurâ€™s ear. He wanted to reach up and wipe it away, but he darenâ€™t move. This was it. He was a dead man. He turned his head slightly so the drool slid out onto the grass.
When heâ€™d imagined his death (and he thought about it often now Miriam was gone) his preferred method was to fall asleep and not wake up â€“ though he would want someone to find him straight away. It would be awful if he began to create a stink. And he wanted to look serene, not have his face screwed up in pain or anything. He supposed Lucy would find him so that wouldnâ€™t be nice for her. It would be most useful if he could have a premonition about his death and be prepared for it. If he could be sure that, say in fifteen years on, say, 8 March, that he would go to sleep and not wake up, he could tip Terry off the day before. â€˜If you donâ€™t see me tomorrow morning, then feel free to break in. Youâ€™ll find me in bed, dead. Donâ€™t be alarmed. I know itâ€™s going to happen.â€™
Or, he understood that cancer was very common amongst men his age. Heâ€™d seen a feature on daytime TV on how you should cup your testicles to check for lumps. It had been disconcerting seeing a hairy pair of balls on his television screen at that time in the morning. Afterward he had felt around in his pants and decided that prostate cancer wasnâ€™t going to do him in. What he hadnâ€™t ever pictured was being eaten by a tiger.
Intrigued? ‘The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper’ is out now and available in all good bookshops.