Cuckoo in the Burrow by Dan Keeble

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Cuckoo in the Burrow

Dolores stands with me at the back of the main festival stage. The male crew in black T-shirts, emblazoned with Storm Leaders, roll boxes over rivers of cables onto the ramp of a truck. Her top is wet with sweat and it clings to her bronzed body. Even at one in the morning she is running her fingers through jet hair, encouraging the air to cool her scalp. I hand her another bottle of water from the cool box.

‘Maxine, you’re a godsend,’ she sighs.

Dolores is the only one of the backing group I am sure hasn’t slept with Jake. Anita and Marsha are always polite to me. To the guys, they are more attractive, certainly younger. They exchange a few words with me after a gig, then scurry away, busying themselves. It speaks volumes. But Dolores is a friend. She will talk for ages about anything except the business. Jake’s fame doesn’t impress her. She’s been around too long to be dazzled by ego-driven here-today-gone-tomorrow stars, and their after-gig shenanigans. The antics of her young son and my-five-year old daughter are what we talk about. Her sympathetic ear acknowledges the way Jake takes my affection for granted.

I’m telling her about my latest row over a swimming pool with Jake, when I glance over her shoulder. He is standing by the corner of the truck with Councillor Rory Courtard, chair of the Planning Committee. Jake is handing him an envelope. For sure, it’s not tickets for the next gig. That’s 200 miles away. As the councillor stuffs the envelope into the back pocket of his denims, his eyes sweep the area. He catches sight of me staring, smiles and nods.

I was at college with Rory Courtard. At thirty-six, he is a young councillor, committed to serving the community. Not someone you would associate with anything underhand. Jake invited him over last week to see the site he had earmarked for a swimming pool and building, and to discuss the planning application. It is normally a paperwork and committee process, but the councillor was eager to make the trip. 

Jake told him I had other ideas for the site. He smirked as he told him I wanted to turn the one acre piece of land into a meerkat enclosure. Rory gave me a non-committal smile. 

I love meerkats. They are such social animals. It is the female that assumes the dominant role. She not only protects the group, but ensures her own offspring receive the best care, 

entrusting their safety to other favoured females. Only at her discretion are the young of other females tolerated within the group. If she perceives them as a threat, she will banish them and their mother from the tribe.

After the briefest of introductions, Jake took Rory off to the rear of our estate beside the walled garden, where he plans to build his swimming pool. Alina is sitting on the grass with her baby beside her. I watched Jake’s face light up as a three-way conversation goes on for some time. If it is Jake’s idea for a swimming pool, there was lot of directional pointing and sweeping coming from Alina’s hands. But it didn’t surprise me. I stumbled upon a newspaper cutting in her room. A little online research revealed Alina wasn’t the unfortunate Polish domestic, thrown out by the wife of a musician pal of Jake’s, because she was pregnant. Alina was a successful twenty-four-year-old swimming champion from Gdansk, the city where twelve months ago Storm Leaders performed two shows. No, Alina wasn’t simply grateful we had taken her in, in exchange for some daily housework, and occasionally looking after our daughter. 

Jake was trapped, and had no choice but to win the battle to have the swimming pool built. Equally so, I was determined to build my meerkat enclosure. Yet, despite his weaknesses, I wasn’t going to watch him being controlled and have our lives ruined. Her confidence grew daily as her mistreated image waned. The DNA swab I took from her baby set her fate.

A week after the festival, Jake heads off early to the city for a radio interview. Lunchtime, Rory’s car grinds up the long gravel drive and I meet him at the front door. He hugs me, kisses me on the cheek and hands me the envelope. I open it, surprised by how much Jake had given him. Had Jake delved into my past, he would have discovered that Rory and I were lovers before he met me. We have both moved on but still retain a respect for each other.                                                               

‘It’s all arranged, he tells me,’ and I am grateful we remained friends.

Later in the afternoon, a people carrier arrives, containing two officials from the Department of Immigration. They ask to speak with Alina. Within an hour, she is standing with a suitcase in the entrance hall holding her baby. I manage a convincing furrowed brow and enfold her sobbing body in my arms. As she walks to the vehicle, I put the envelope in her hand. I ask her to let us know where she ends up so that Jake and I can make sure she gets all the help she needs.


Jake is sitting on the couch with a drink after dinner, the most relaxed he has been for ages. He says he is looking forward to the upcoming tour. ‘The rehearsals are going so well,’ he says. ’It’s like having a weight of worry lifted.’

I bring up the subject of the swimming pool again.

‘You know,’ he says, ‘I’ve been giving that some thought. I’m away so much, it seems selfish. Maybe we ought to think more seriously about your meerkats. Strange little creatures, though.’ 

 Dan Keeble hails from the furthest point East in the UK, and has enjoyed many successes with online and print publications of poetry, short stories, humour, and more serious articles. He has appeared in Fiction on the Web, Everyday Fiction, Turnpike Magazine, Scribble, Flash Fiction Magazine, Agape Review, and many others on a long journey to a stubby pencil.

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