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WHEN we found the tiny form it looked so insignificant in the palm of my hand that we could not have guessed that its death would become the stuff of life, that it would teach us to embrace fearlessly each day as though it were our last.
Clearly very young, we assumed it had been inadvertently dropped by its mother, perhaps startled at our approach, and so, as it was squeaking forlornly, my wife and I decided not to interfere with it, in the hope that a parent might appear from the undergrowth. Sadly, an hour’s wait became proof enough that this was not going to happen and so we took the hapless creature home with us.
In the beginning its angry eyes just glared at the world from within the dark confines of the small box that my daughter, Stacy, had placed inside an old bird cage, and everyone but her feared the snap of its needle-sharp teeth. She could handle it as calmly as if it were a hamster.
Fittingly, she named the russet-coloured mongoose Mongy and, despite it having a temperament that was a fusion of gentleness and anger, which allowed it to transform, in an instant, from a passive pet into some animal equivalent of an irascible, flame-haired woman overcome with hormones, the two became inseparable.
We knew that Stacy dreaded the inevitable approach of Mongy’s adulthood. Because he was a wild animal it had been decided to allow him to choose between staying with us and answering the call of the wild.
Left: A slender mongoose like Mongy: it could 'transform, in an instant, from a passive pet into some animal equivalent of an irascible, flame-haired woman overcome with hormones'.
Happily for her, when that time arrived and the cage door was opened, Mongy chose both those options. During the day he roamed at will but returned to cuddle up to Stacy each night.
A new family ritual developed at the end of each day with her enquiring of everyone: “Have you seen Mongy?” and upon invariably receiving answers to the negative, she would go outside and call until the little mongoose appeared from nowhere and leapt into her hands. At other times Mongy would dart into the house, muttering and bent over like an old man, until he found her, whereupon, with incessant, high-pitched grunts he trailed her until he received some attention.
However, Mongy’s relationship with the family cats and dogs was more acrimonious. The cats, after receiving nips to their curious faces, aloofly, yet warily, ignored him, while the dogs, perhaps because of their size, seemed to tolerate him with slightly more interest than they showed the cats. However, it quickly became apparent that Cady, our female Alsatian, had somewhat maternal feelings towards the animal, either due to his diminutive size, or perhaps due to the sad mewling calls he made.
Predictably, Mongy’s wanderings brought him into contact with a wild counterpart that inhabited our Ashburton property and that resulted in the most violent of scuffles. The fiery creatures would become a single, tumbling ball of fur and teeth that would have been the envy of the cartoon character Taz, the Tasmanian devil. These skirmishes were so frenzied that we would hear the commotion, rush towards it and rescue our agitated mongoose.
Unfortunately, it was our overindulged, hand-reared Mongy that came off the worst.
He eventually lost all but the middle toe off each of his paws, but, despite the likelihood of receiving further injuries, he would greet every day with the highway salute before tearing off into the bush to do whatever a mongoose does.
It was usual that whenever these fights occurred in Cady’s presence she too would rush at the melee and cause the wild mongoose to disengage.
One afternoon, as the family sat watching television, Stacy suddenly let out a scream of dismay, “Aww, nooo, Cady’s got Mongy!”
I leapt to my feet and stared in horror at the dog. She stood at the veranda door with the limp body of Mongy dangling out both sides of her jaw.
I reacted immediately and leapt outside, cursing the dog and slapping her over the head until she cowered guiltily at my feet. Stacy was weeping inconsolably at the pitiful sight deposited on the veranda, so I picked the lifeless body up and hurriedly walked into the garden with it, out of her sight.
Only then did I notice the tiny bite marks around Mongy’s throat, marks that brought the realisation that he had been the wild mongoose that had killed Mongy, not the dog.
Cady must have heard the commotion and rescued Mongy, bringing him home.
Needless to say I felt terrible for chastising the dog and, regretting my wrong conclusion, patted her head profusely.
We placed Mongy’s tiny remains onto an anthill, in a clearing in the bush in which he was born, and the circle of his life was completed when an inevitable Yellow-billed Kite spotted them.
ABOUT THE WRITER
KEN Farnsworth lives in Ashburton, is married to Tracy and has three daughters: Joanne, Stacy and Shannon. Encouraged by being selected as a short-story semi-finalist twice and once as a finalist in the past three years, Farnsworth was motivated to complete a novel that had been burning in the back of his mind for several years. The work was published in September this year and is titled Brothers in Blood.
It is available directly from Farnsworth, online at Amazon, Blackwells Books, W. H. Smith and Books of Zimbabwe or from Bookworld in the Cascades shopping centre.