Celia Buckwheat spent the evenings stroking her pet snail Norman. Norman was no ordinary snail, not like your average garden snail, he was a giant snail, the size of a large dinner plate. His natural habitat was in the tropics but now Norman found himself in a suburban two-bed semi just south of Derby.
Celia had become infatuated with the oversized gastropod while holidaying in a hut in Belize. She would tempt it with lettuce and it would come back every day and sit with her while she read Jackie Collins on a swing chair outside the hut. She called him Norman, after her ex husband’s brother with whom she had a dalliance five years before. He died while limbo dancing at a stag do in Reykjavik, Celia had remained celibate ever since.
Celia felt attached to the snail and not wanting her holiday romance to end, stuffed him in her suitcase with a bunch of leaves and drilled a small hole in the top. By a miracle she got to the UK and through customs unscathed and more importantly, so did Norman.
Once Norman had settled in at home she occasionally let him sleep with her in her bed. He had free reign of the house and sat with her while she watched television.
Friends who came were shocked when they saw the slimy creature gliding all over the upholstery. So put off were they by this sight they would often make their excuses and leave, seldom staying longer than ten minutes. Soon Celia’s friends dropped away, most of them deciding that she had become a loon. But Celia, so enamoured with Norman, was oblivious to her friends’ reservations.
Then one day, during a spell of inclement weather, high winds yanked a branch from an oak tree in the garden, bringing it down on top of Norman who was out on the grass exercising. Celia saw what happened from the kitchen window and dashed to his aide. Norman lay trapped under the branch writhing in despair, his carapace shattered. She scooped him up and brought him into the house and laid him in an alcove in the spare room, surrounding him with blankets.
The next few days were spent nursing Norman. His shell was in a state of disrepair and gradually broke away bit by bit. On the fifth day of his convalescence, Celia came in to give him a bowl of lettuce. As she crossed the threshold the bowl dropped from her grasp smashing on the floor. Norman lay there shell less, glistening with slime. Seeing Norman in this state shocked her. She recoiled in horror and left the room.
As time went on, Celia saw less and less of Norman. She would pop her head round the door once a day, just to check he was okay and leave a bowl of greens for him to munch on.
She started going out more, frequenting the local pet store and became drawn to the owner Derek and his chinchilla collection. Celia grew attracted to Derek. His mop of curly hair and thick-rimmed glasses had Celia swooning as soon as she laid eyes on him. He, if truth be told, wasn’t that fussed by her but he went along with it anyway as he had nothing much better to do.
On a date at the cinema, while watching Toy Story 3, Celia felt Derek’s hand wander up her leg. Instead of pushing it away she let it travel and before she knew his hand had reached the cleft of her crossed thighs. It stayed there and explored, fingers probing. A welcoming smile grew on her red painted lips. Derek knew at this point that she was a goer and couldn’t wait for the film to end.
In his car back to her place, Celia started having doubts. Her thoughts turned to Norman. She dwelt on the time they had spent together, the months of companionship. A pang of guilt swept over her and she realised that she couldn’t go through with this while Norman was still around and living at home. Those feelings amplified with every step to her front door. As Derek eagerly stood behind her while she fumbled the key in the lock, she turned.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘I’ve got a terrible headache, would you mind if we do this another time?’
Derek’s grin fell away and a disgruntled look spread across his face. He marched back to his car and sped off, leaving a cloud of black smoke in his wake. Celia shut the door behind her and leant back on it and burst into tears, realising she couldn’t go on like this. Something had to change. She decided she needed to finish with Norman and move on.
The next morning when she came down to see Norman, so hideous had his appearance become, that she shielded her eyes and turned her head away. What was once a beautiful snail had become a grotesque slug whose sight and smell made her nauseous. She hurried to the potting shed and grabbed a garden spade. She knew that she was doing the right thing and with the spade carried him out into the garden and left him there, vulnerable and exposed to the elements.
In the hot sun, without the protection of his shell, he became a desiccated mollusc. It didn’t take long for his dried up body to attract a predator. A circling sparrow hawk cast a shadow on the lawn and swooped down and grabbed Norman in its beak, unable to believe its luck on the unusual size of this tasty creature. Celia watched as the bird took off, with Norman dangling from its beak, and soar above the trees vanishing into the sky.
Relieved, Celia dashed into the house and grabbed all of Norman’s personal effects. She lit a bonfire in the garden and threw on his mucous covered blankets, a cosy she had knitted him to keep him warm and a photograph of their time in Belize.
The bonfire roared and the last traces of Norman turned to ash.
She could now get on with her life unfettered.