Chapter 4.4

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"I don't know if Leif would like it," Slops said, glancing across at the bureau where Grim and a gillywig were perched. Grim's back was arched. The gillywig's hair stood on end and it hissed menacingly through its buck teeth.

"They'd get used to each other," Carmen said.

Slops's response was to grimace and scratch at the back of his head. It was never advisable to come right out and disagree with his cousin. It could be downright dangerous.

His real name was Rupert Slooper, but even his own parents called him Slops, more often than not. He was an undersized boy, with great blue eyes like that of a baby. His hair stuck out in all directions. He had perpetually about him the air of someone who has just woken from a deep sleep.

"He might pick on Grim," Slops said, as the hissing sound from the bureau got louder.

"Grim can look after himself," Carmen said. Leif was, after all, the size of a pigeon, and about as dangerous.

There was a long silence, in which Slops seemed to grow more and more uncomfortable. Finally he blurted: "It's Mere and Pere. They'll know I got him."

It was a good point. Carmen couldn't rely on her aunt and uncle to keep such a secret. All grown-ups - even the Sloopers - were full of peculiar ideas about responsibility and truthfulness.

While mulling over this she gazed out at her cousin's bedroom. There were clothes everywhere, and balled up pieces of paper, and dirty plates, and odd shoes. There was a painting of Mrs. Slooper's, which consisted of wild sprayings of paint in every colour of the rainbow. Various contraptions devised by Mr. Slooper were scattered about: these included a steam-powered can opener the size of an armchair, and a comb that converted (unexpectedly) into a cut-throat razor. For the inexperienced, a visit to the Sloopers could result in serious injury. A peculiar stringed musical instrument poked its long neck out of a wardrobe, hung about with dirty socks, as if it had tried to dress itself in the dark. It was one of the antiques that had been passed down to the family through Grandmere Anna. These antiques, banned items mostly, had gravitated towards the shambolic Slooper household – it was as if the casual heresy of the Sloopers acted as a magnet.

"We could give Grim to Old Abe for a while," Slops said.

"Are you crazy?"

"It was just a -"

"I heard he eats children."

"He doesn't," Slops said. "I met him."

"What?"

"I went there."

"It's haunted. Nobody goes there. You're a liar."

"Old Abe is weird but he's alright. Leif likes him."

Carmen wondered how you could tell with gillywigs.

So you've worked out that Grim is a cat, but do you know what a gillywig is?

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So you've worked out that Grim is a cat, but do you know what a gillywig is?

That's right: another, slightly smaller cat.

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