My Prickly Friend

Fiona Pitt-Kethley

Returning from a party late at night
I went to use the basement loo and saw
a mass of heaving spikes and bright black eyes
and swore I’d never touch champagne again
until I realised that it was real –
a hedgehog struggling in the lavatory pan.

I held a walking-stick – he grabbed the end
and wrapped his body round it like a ball.
(He didn’t smell too good when he came out.)
Harry Houdini, Master of Escapes,
I christened him. His black eyes glistened as
I fed him with the leavings from the cat,
then picked him up, a poncho round my hands
to save them from his mass of bristling spines.
I carried him down to the garden’s end,
where he could safely graze on juicy slugs.

Next night, at two, my prickly friend was back.
He’d catapult himself into our house
(via the cat-door right above the loo),
then chunter round the basement busily,
night after night. He had no hedgehog friends.
A chortling, snorting presence in my room
would wake me as he scuttled to my side
and tried to tug the blankets on my bed.
I’d stroke his face up from the nose to where
the whiskers turned to bristles on his head.

Four centuries ago, I’d have been burned
for having a ‘familiar’ friend. These days
it’s just peculiar.

Eventually, the novelty wore off.
My hedgehog ceased to come. I like to think
he found a prickly girlfriend on his beat.

One night, before he left, he went upstairs,
wearily climbing steps higher than his height.
I lost him in the house for one whole day.
The following night I caught him, wide awake,
inspecting corners in the room above.

Weeks later, when I’d half begun to think
my nightly visitant had been a dream.
I found the evidence – a prezzy wrapped
in newspaper behind the drawing-room door –
three green-black drolls, tiny as fairies’ turds.