Thom pulled his hood up as the clouds came lower and lower. They seemed to be at rooftop height already. Today was not a good day to be outside but Thom wanted to cheer up his girlfriend. Carly’s pet salamander had died recently leaving his girlfriend heartbroken. Today was her birthday and to make matters worse, her family could not come.
The same storm that now glistened the streets of London with light rain had caused flooding North of the border. No one wanted to risk such a dangerous journey, not even the foolhardy. On entering the pet shop Thom shook off the excess and looked around.
Maurice’s pet shop was familiar to him as Carly’s first salamander had come from the same place. To his left Thom saw a bank of fish tanks, humming away. Opposite was the food section. In the middle was the counter, behind which stood Maurice himself. Bald, tall and as thin as a tin whistle Maurice was engaged in feeding a row of birds.
“Good morning,” said Thom “I’d like to buy a Salamander.”
“I’ve got just what you want and it’s all yours for thirty quid.” said Maurice before disappearing through a curtain of beads into the back.
“It’s Pink.” said Thom, spitting the words out when Maurice placed the container on the counter.
“It’s magical.” answered Maurice, the pet shop owner, conspiratorially.
“This isn’t a fairy story. We’re in a pet shop in London and you’re trying to sell me a wrong ‘un. No mythical creatures are going to pop out of thin air and tell me I have three wishes. I don’t know what you’ve done to the poor thing but salamanders are not meant to be pink!”
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise I was stood in the presence of the world expert on Salamanders.” came the sarcastic reply. “If you’re not going to buy it, please leave.” he added.
“Please leave, please leave.” screamed a cockatoo behind Maurice’s head.
Thom stormed off banging the door behind him.
“I know I’m right.” he said to himself as he wandered the streets.
Pulling out his mobile, Thom searched for pet shops.
“Figures.” he said after half-an-hour’s browsing. Maurice’s pet shop was the only one in a ten mile radius.
When he returned Thom quietly opened the door and stepped inside.
“Hi.” said Thom, after clearing his throat.
“You again.” spat Maurice.
“Yes, me again.”
“What do you want?”
“Okay, I’ll buy it.”
“The Salamander is eighty.” came the curt reply.
“Eighty? You said it was thirty earlier!”
“You hadn’t insulted me earlier.”
“Look, I’m sorry about that. I was rash to say those things, I apologise.”
“Apology accepted, Seventy five.”
Thom sighed and dropped his shoulders. Some battles are best avoided, he thought.
* * *
Closing his front door behind him, Thom stopped and listened. He hoped Carly would be out shopping but a gentle cough told him she was at home. The noise seemed to come from the kitchen. Creeping forward, Thom peeked around the door and saw that she was reading a book. Tucking the plastic container behind him, Thom pushed the door saying
“What did you get me!” said Carly, smiling.
“Close your eyes and hold out your hands.”
Carly closed her book and did as she was bid. Thom placed the container in Carly’s hands, readied his camera and said “Okay, when you’re ready.”
Carly’s puzzled expression was captured for posterity.
“You got me a pink salamander?”
Thom hesitated “Ummm.”
“Did Maurice sell you that magic salamander of his?”
Thom’s guard dropped and he nodded, looking at the floor. He could feel a prickling sensation across his neck while rivulets of sweat made their way down his back. He’d been a prize fool, Carly’s voice said it all.
“I don’t believe it.”
“I’ve asked about that salamander maybe a dozen times and each time he’s refused to sell it. You come along and he practically gives it to you.”
Thom nodded until the penny dropped.
“Say that again?”
Putting the box down Carly flung her arms around Thom kissing him deeply. When they broke for air she said “This is the best present ever!”
“I thought I’d messed up.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Of course it’s pink. Whoever heard of a magic salamander that wasn’t pink?”
“Me, apparently.” said Thom, still confused. “If its magical, what can it do?”
“Let me show you.” said Carly removing the clear plastic cover and emitting a series of squeaks and grunts.
“What are you doing?” he asked, once she had stopped.
“Waking him up. I was using salamander language. It makes them feel more at home when you do that.”
“Greetings human female, what service can I offer today?”
“It speaks English.” said Thom.
“Yes human male, I do.”
“Why English, I mean, why not Chinese?”
“Because I wasn’t born in China.” came the curt reply.
“How can salamanders know that?”
“How do you know you weren’t born in China?”
“Okay you two, cut it out.” interrupted Carly.
“He started it.” said the salamander.
“I can’t believe I’m having an argument with a talking salamander!”
“I can’t believe I’m talking to a hairless ape who doesn’t believe in talking salamanders, but wonders never cease.”
“Stop it!” snapped Carly. “You two boys behave yourselves.”
Thom and the salamander looked sullenly at each other.
“Now mister-” said Carly.
“Gregory?” said Thom.
“It’s easier for you to pronounce than my real name.”
“Can we call you Greg?” asked Carly.
“Can’t we call you ‘Pain in the arse’?”
Carly whacked Thom on the arm.
“You’re already one of those, can’t have two of you.”
“I like Greg, so modern.” said Greg.
Thom thought Greg was smiling, but couldn’t be sure.
“Now then Greg, Thom doesn’t believe you can do magic.”
“This fool wouldn’t know magic if it hit him on the back of the head. The fact that I’m talking to him hasn’t fazed him one bit.”
“So you’re talking to me is because of magic, is it?”
“No, years of learning.” admitted Greg.
Thom smiled and drew a vertical line in the air with his index finger.
“Thom one, magic salamander nil.”
Carly sighed as Greg fumed.
“You want magic, I’ll show you magic.”
“Wait, he was only joking!” said Carly, but it was too late.
Bang, zip, clunk.
“There, all done.” said Greg as the cloud of smoke dissipated.
Carly’s eyes bulged “That’s a little extreme.”
“Oh I don’t think so, he hurt my feelings.”
“He’s a frog.”
“Correction, a toad.”
“He didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I’m sure if you give him a chance, he’ll say sorry.”
“Please can you turn him back into the man I love?”
Greg looked Carly up and down critically. “You can do better than him. Take me for instance, I can do magic.”
“I’m sure you’re lovely but Thom is the man for me.”
“He’s not much of a man now, is he?”
“Fine, let me be miserable for the rest of my life then.” Bending down Carly picked up the toad and looked him in the eye and said “I still love you Thom, no matter what you look like.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” said Greg.
“Yes.” she answered simply.
Greg sighed and chanted. “Abracadunk, abracadunk please turn Thom back into a hunk.”
“Thom!” cried Carly.
“Carly, oh I’ve missed you. It felt odd being a toad. You know, for one brief moment I had a hankering for flies.”
“Was that before or after Greg changed you back?” teased Carly.
Thom turned to Greg and said “I’m really sorry I hurt your feelings. I guess it was too much for my brain to handle.”
“No probs. If there’s anything else I can get you, I’ll be happy to oblige.”
“There is.” said Thom, glancing at Carly.
Thom leaned down and whispered in Greg’s ear.
“Oh that’s easy.” said Greg when Thom stood up again. “I can see why you love him.” said Greg, looking at Carly.
Zing, pow, crunch and the magic was done.
Waving away the smoke, Carly saw her family looking at her.
“Happy birthday!” they cried together.
“Oh Thom!” said Carly, “This is wonderful!”