Patricia and Jemima Eat a Bowl of Mouldy Porridge

 Jemima knocked on the door of Flat 253, Dresden Towers. Patricia hovered nervously behind her.

''You sure this is the right one, Jem?'' she asked.

Jemima looked at the post-it note stuck to the front of her clipboard.

''Yep. 253.   253 Dresden Towers, and this is Dresden Towers. Now stop being so blimmin' nervous all the time. Have I got it wrong yet?''

''No. Sorry Jem, you haven't. I should learn to be more trusting, shouldn't I?''

Three months earlier, Jemima had come up with the idea of starting a house-cleaning business, with the two girls working together.    Patricia had gone along with it, but her heart was not really in it, not at all.    But she went along with it because she always went along with Jem's bright ideas.    She always had.   She probably always would.

Sometimes she wished that, just once, she could make herself say, ''No, Jem.   I don't like that idea and I don't want to do it.   I'd rather do something else.''   But she knew that there was about as much chance of that happening as there was of her becoming the next Prime Minister...or the next Kaiser.   The very thought made her giggle nervously.    Jemima looked round at her, frowning, which made her giggle even more.

The door opened, and an elderly man stood, staring at them.

''Mr. Battenburg?'' asked Jemima.   Patricia giggled, because it sounded like a cake.   But then, she had laughed for the same reason when she discovered that ''The Jungle Book'' was written by a Mr. Kipling.    Jemima glared at her, but she was staring at the man.   He looked very familiar.

''Bucket.'' said the elderly man.

''What?'' asked Jemima, glaring at him now.   ''Are you Mr. Battenburg, or not?''

''He's pointing at my bucket, Jem.''   She pulled Jemima to one side, and whispered.   ''Jem. I think it's him.   That Prince Philip bloke.   He went missing, remember.   That one who's married to the Queen.''

Jemima stared at him.   He had turned away and was inspecting his letter box, with his hands clasped behind his back.   He turned round and looked at the girls again.

''Bucket.   One learns to ski.   Chorles.   Rabbit Al Fayed.'' he said.

''He's barking, whoever he is.'' Jemima said to Patricia.   ''Lets get him sorted quickly and get out of here.

''Don't you reckon it's him, then, Jem?   Looks very like him. Perhaps we should tell someone.   There might even be a reward.''

Jemima pushed past the old man and walked into the flat.   She wrinkled her nose.   The stench was overpowering.   Patricia followed her.   She looked a bit pale.

''One washes.   One cleans.   Bucket.   Rabbit Al Fayed.''   The man walked in and shut the front door.  Then he turned the key in the lock and shot  three bolts - one at the top, one at the base, and one just above the keyhole.  He put the door key in his pocket.

Patricia looked at Jemima, nervously.   For a change, she wasn't laughing.

''What's he done that for?'' she hissed at Jemima.   ''I'm scared, Jem.''

''What do you mean, you're missing a bloke?'' said the man.  ''Rabbit.   Rabbit.   Rabbit Al Fayed.''   His voice was becoming agitated.   And so was Patricia.   She clutched Jemima's arm.

''Calm down, you.'' she said calmly, for her.   Then she went to the man and stood nose to nose with him.

''Now see here, Mr. Battenburg or whatever your name is.   We're not staying here.   We're not going to clean your stinky flat.   I mean to say.   We are leaving.    Now!''  She held out her hand.   ''Give me the key.''

''Key.   Monkey.   Rabbit.   Rabbit Al Fayed.   Cheeky Monkey.''   He took the key out of his pocket and slipped it down the front of his trousers.   Both girls looked at him, their mouths open.   Patricia let a frightened giggle escape.

Jemima looked around.   There was a telephone.   She made a dash for it, and picked up the receiver.   There was no dial tone. Her eyes followed the cable.   It was unplugged.   Then she saw that there was a fork sticking out of the wall socket.   She leaned over and wiggled it.   It didn't budge.   She pulled out her mobile.   Damn.   No signal.

''Give us that key!   Now!'' she shouted.

''Monkey.   Monkey.   Rabbit Al Fayed.''   He turned and walked into the kitchen, and closed the door behind him.

The girls looked at one another.   Patricia was wringing her hands.

''Jem, what are we gonna do?   He's a complete loony.   He's not gonna give us that key, is he?''

''Well, we're just gonna have to get it off him, aren't we?'' said Jemima, her voice firm.

''But how? You saw where he put it.   I'm not putting my hands down there.''   Patricia made a disgusted face.   ''Anyway, it wouldn't be right.   He's Royalty, and all that.''

Jemima snorted. ''You still going on about that?   Course he isn't. What would a Prince be doing living in a grotty high-rise flat?''

''Well, perhaps She put him here, then made up the story that he'd gone missing, to explain why he doesn't appear in public any more.   Let's face it, Jem.   Could you put up with all that rubbish coming out of his mouth all the time?''

''Yeah, but surely Buckingham Palace is big enough that they could lock him up in a wing of it, or send him up to that place in Scotland?''   Jemima stopped, realisation dawning.   ''Hang on a minute though.   The lady who rang did sound very posh and plummy.   You know what?   You could be right.''

''OK, so what are we going to do?   It's nearly lunchtime, and I'm hungry.''   Patricia looked as if she was about to burst into tears.

''Lets go in the kitchen.   If he's going to keep us here, he can't really object to us eating his food.   She marched to the kitchen door and pushed it open.

Her face fell.   The kitchen was empty.   The window was open. The Duke – if it was him – had disappeared.   Patricia sank onto one of the kitchen chairs.

''He's gone...'' she said, redundantly.

''And he's taken the key with him.''  said Jemima.

''How are we going to get out?   We've got no telephone, and we're miles up in the air.''   It was all too much for Patricia, and she burst into tears.




The girls searched the flat, just in case there was a spare key. There wasn't.   There was also not a single scrap of food in the cupboards.    They banged on the front door for hours, and shouted through the letter box, and through the open windows until they were hoarse.   Then they grew tired of shouting. 

They survived on black tea and coffee for five days. There was one thing in the non-working  fridge   They ignored this as long as they could, though neither of them threw it away.   It was a bowl of mouldy porridge.

On the sixth day, they shared it.   They scraped the mould off the top, and tried to pretend that the white things underneath it were grains of rice, but they both knew that rice didn't wriggle.    When they finished, they were still hungry, so they picked the mouldy bits out of the bin, and ate them too.

On the seventh day, they both felt very silly when they drew back the three bolts on the front door, and turned the handle.   The door opened.   It had never been locked.    Neither of them had bothered to check this before.

The End

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