The gnomes would help her with this one, she thought, reaching down into a tussock, picking up Cyril and standing him in the palm of her hand level with her face. To the untrained eye it simply looked like she was pulling up and examining grass.
‘They’re coming to look at me again today Cyril. Going to need a bit of help with the entertainment,’ she said.
‘Only too happy to oblige,’ answered Cyril.
‘I would ask the tree people, but they sang a rude song last time and did you see their totally rubbish wavy branch routine? I really don’t think anyone else was impressed. I was the only one who joined in. Bit boring maybe…’ She gave a short example for Cyril’s benefit with only one arm so as not to drop him.
Number 8 laughed at her and motioned to Number 7 as they walked past on their way to their own house next door. ‘Mad as a hatter.’
‘Shhh,’ said Number 7. ‘Morning Looby love!’
‘Hello Seven,’ answered Looby.
Looby didn’t have names for people. She could never remember them the way she could gnome names. So she gave them all numbers. People were all frightfully stupid. Numbers 1 and 2, whom she had lived with all of her life – so far as she could remember – and were getting a bit wrinkly now, couldn’t see the gnomes and she was getting terribly impatient having to continually remind them who they all were. Still – they seemed pleasant enough and Number 1 made nice mini chocolate cakes for her to share with the tree friends. Numbers 3 and 4 who used to live in Number 1’s tummy and were always getting told off for laughing at her, came and went a lot, especially Number 3 who was going off for a long time soon to learn stuff and get clever at somewhere called Universe City. Maybe if he got clever enough he’d be able to see the gnomes when he got back and would stop looking at her in that painful way like she was a difficult maths sum that needed working out.
Number 4 liked to stay at Number 5’s house quite a lot, where he was allowed to have friends to play. Which was nice for Number 5 since Number 6 had gone to live in the sky. Number 5 was extraordinarily wrinkly and really not clever at all. She didn’t have a clue about gnomes. Number 6 had been good at pretending he knew about gnomes and could see them but Looby knew he could never really see them. He didn’t even put his glasses on for heaven’s sake! All the same Looby had been sad that he decided to live in the sky instead of at the house with Number 5. Once you go to live in the sky people can’t see you anymore. She knew because she’d looked and she never saw anyone in the sky. If anyone could see things it was her.
‘How many do you think I need? I do have to entertain for quite some time when she brings another person round and they have to write a story too so I like to help them to come up with good ideas.’
Cyril scratched his little gnome’s beard and cocked his head like a bird. ‘Percy got you into trouble last time, didn’t he? There was really no need for him to wee in the lady’s handbag. How about Arthur? He behaves. He and Roger could do a nice dance for your visitors. Maybe that would keep everyone happy. Oh and Denis does a great fishing talk. How does that sound?’
‘Denis broke all the biscuits last time and the poor lady had to pretend she hadn’t noticed. Although she did seem to like his knock-knock jokes. Yes, okay, I think a talk about fishing would be very worthwhile. You know, when the lady comes I might see if she wants be called Number 9 – She’s been visiting since Number 3 got out of Number 1’s bottom and we see her nearly as much as number 7 and 8 from next door these days.’
Cyril thought this was a very good idea.
When he heard Looby’s visitors leaving two hours later, Cyril snuck behind a flower pot to listen to how it went.
‘Away with the fairies, that one,’ said the stranger to Number 9.
‘Gnomes actually,’ hissed Cyril crossly.