Rufus the Despondent Manatee

In which I euthanise a despondent manatee. Another improvised tweet sequence.

Does anyone know what Amazon’s returns policy is on manatees?

It’s kind of embarrassing. When I got home on Friday, someone had signed for my Amazon order.

‘Its name is Rufus. It’s in the bath.’

‘What’s name is Rufus?’

‘Your manatee.’

‘My what now?’

‘The manatee you ordered from Amazon.’

‘Mantronix album. I ordered a Mantronix album.’

‘Must be on back order. This is all that came.’

I entered the bathroom. I coughed decorously.

‘Hello? Rufus?’

Rufus was lodged in the bath. He looked like a seal that works from home.

‘Are you the proprietor?’ asked Rufus. You expect a manatee to have a lugubrious voice, of course, but nothing prepared me for this.

When Rufus spoke, it sounded like someone was attempting Siegfried’s Funeral March on a didgeridoo. Or a dying sun phoning its mum.

‘Well,’ I said. ‘My wife and I, we both–‘

‘I shall require certain items,’ Rufus continued.

‘Of course,’ I said. ‘I’ll get some tuna.’

‘I am,’ replied Rufus, ‘largely herbivorous.’

‘Largely,’ I said. ‘No kidding.’

‘A simple salad of baby greens. And the Financial Times.’

‘Salad, right. I’m not sure if the place on the corner carries the FT, though.’

‘And indulge me, if you would, with some early Madonna.’

‘Early Madonna?’

‘Nothing later than True Blue. No ‘Vogue’. Manatees do not vogue. It is not, as you might suppose, a good look.’

I returned with a week-old bag of rocket. I ransacked iTunes and turned up ‘La Isla Bonita’. I perched on the side of the bath.

‘Look, Rufus.’

‘Last night,’ he said, shifting immensely in the bath, ‘I dreamt of San Pedro. One’s heart is instantly captive.’

‘I’m more of a ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ man,’ I said.

‘Oh, ‘Papa Don’t Preach’. That stripy top. One would happily lay down one’s life.’

‘They used to say of me,’ Rufus continued, ‘that I myself might have been separated from Danny Aiello at birth.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Oh, yes. Danny Aiello. I am much past my prime now, of course. But I once cut quite the dash.’

‘Rufus, we have to talk.’

‘Let her keep the baby. What a cherub it would be. We would manage somehow, little Maddy and I.’

‘Rufus, you’re making me uncomfortable.’

Rufus glared at me and picked at his salad. This involved clumsily paddling clumps of rocket into the bathwater and staring bleakly at them.

‘Would you like me to help you with that?’

‘I’m not hungry after all,’ said Rufus, his voice seismic and disconsolate. ‘Where’s that FT?’

‘I’m sorry. It’s a small newsagent’s.’

‘Imbecile,’ Rufus moaned. It was like a foghorn doing a Scott Walker impression. ‘The Economist?’

‘I don’t think so, Rufus.’

‘Oh, never mind.’ He reclined laboriously in the bath, like Marlon Brando in an olive dish. ‘I’m broke anyway.’

‘Live to Tell’ was now playing on the laptop. Morose DX-7 chords reverberated around the bathroom.

‘Oh, yes,’ said Rufus. ‘Disinherited.’

‘I was in Paraguay on my gap year,’ said Rufus. ‘There was this water snake called Ramón.’

‘Isn’t there always?’

‘Those endless nights.’

Rufus seemed lost in reverie. Or succumbing to bedsores. I gave him a moment.

‘My sister Gloria, the malignant shrew, saw her chance.’

‘Your sister is a shrew?’

‘Hello? Figure of speech? This isn’t The Wind in the fucking Willows.’

‘I’m sorry. Go on.’

‘So, there it is. One day I stand to inherit half of Tampa Bay, the next I’m a novelty gift for hippies on Amazon.’

‘Look, about that.’

I shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the bath. ‘Into the Groove’ came on.

‘I do so love this track,’ said Rufus. ‘Let’s have candles.’

‘We don’t have any candles, Rufus.’

‘I might have known. I suppose you take your meals in front of the ‘teevee’.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ Rufus boomed. ‘I’m a monster, I know I am. It’s because I no longer love life.’

‘Rufus, we have to send you back.’

‘Life,’ Rufus continued, thumping a flipper to ‘Into the Groove’, ‘holds no savour for me. I am resolved. I shall never go back.’

‘I do sympathise, Rufus, but I’m afraid we don’t have the room–‘

‘Of course not. Nor would I dream of imposing. I crave only death.’

‘iTunes was now playing ‘Crazy for You’. Rufus smiled languorously.

‘What are you saying?’ I stammered.

‘Help me to end it. Be a darling.’

‘Jesus, Rufus. We don’t have assisted suicide for manatees in this jurisdiction. You don’t know what you’re asking.’

‘All you have to do is tip the laptop into the bath while shuffling early Madonna. A tragic accident. No jury in the land would convict.’

‘But, Rufus. I–‘

‘Look at me. I am a blood pudding with flippers.’

‘Rufus.’

‘Do this thing for me. Release me. Put on ‘Material Girl’ first.’

‘Are you sure? It doesn’t seem–‘

‘Jesus, can I get a last wish here?’

‘Okay, I’m sorry.’

‘Rufus? Oh, Jesus. What have I–‘

‘Rufus?’

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