An Inspector Called – a short story
Health and Safety inspector saves mankind
“Eve, you’ve left the bloody cage open again.”
The man had come out of his room and found the door of the cage swinging open in the corner of the dining room. There was no reply so he wandered around the house and called out again, each time a little louder. Eve’s room was open but there was no sign of her there so he went out through to the kitchen and the conservatory.
Out in the garden there was still no sign of her.
The week before they had been visited by a health and safety inspector. He had neither made an appointment nor phoned to say that he was coming, as if, perhaps, as if he had hoped to catch them out. It was the serpent that had troubled him. He had looked at it for a while and then turned to Eve.
“This creature is a particular threat to you. Statistics show that serpents make the very worst of pets. It sort of tempts fate to bring them into a home, as if there is a special something about them, an aura of powerful hidden feelings that can suddenly be released without warning.”
“And these might affect one or other of us?” Eve had noted the man’s concern. He nodded. “So, what sort of thing do you actually have in mind?”
The man consulted a clipboard and looked up again.
“It’s difficult to say really. Nothing, nothing you could actually put into words.”
He picked up his cup and saucer and stirred at it before drinking the tea that Adam had made while Eve chatted to their visitor in the front room. He put down the cup and picked up a leaflet.
“I think you had better have a look at this.” He held it out without much in the way of enthusiasm. “This explains just how to carry out a risk assessment. You should really do something like this whenever you engage in a hazardous activity.”
“What do you mean?” Adam was finding all this rather tedious.
“Well, until you can be sure that the serpent doesn’t represent some kind of threat you must keep it in a cage. And of course, once you’re granted your serpent licence we will be round to inspect your arrangements periodically. Non-compliance is simply not an option. If the creature is not in a suitable cage next time we call, I’m afraid we’ll simply have to close you down.”
After their visitor had gone, they had argued about the cage. Eve thought that the creature deserved better treatment and had glared at Adam as he encouraged the serpent to slide into his prison and settle there.
Now the gate was open and beyond it, out in the road along which the inspector used to come, Adam could see Eve bent over something in the road. They had never gone out of the gate; he could remember the old boy saying something about it.
It was the serpent. It was writhing about in the road and, when he got closer, Adam could see that it was choking on something it had swallowed.
“Eve. What’s happened? What are you doing out here?”
“It’s that inspector. He called again. I wanted him to see how harmless the serpent was.”
The snake continued to roll and thrash around on the ground, something they had never seen him do before. The creature lifted its head and belched loudly, then shook its head from side to side.
“So what happened to the inspector? Where is he?”
“It swallowed him.”
“What, all of him?”
“All of him Adam, every last bit of him.”
“He was right then, the damned thing is dangerous.” He took a couple of steps back, away from the creature which wriggled its jaw back into place and belched again.
“Oh look, Adam, it’s managed to get its mouth closed. Did you see that, it sort of clicked its jaw.”
“Yeah, I see what you mean. You can almost imagine a grin on its face.”
“Imagination, Adam, that’s not like you.”
“You know what I mean Eve. This bloody serpent’s got ideas. I don’t think he’s finished with us yet.”
Eve smiled at Adam. “You could be right. I think it’s trying to tell us something.”
“Yeah. Funny about the inspector though. I’m glad he didn’t take it away. Perhaps he was right Eve – there’s something more, something we haven’t found out about yet.”
“But Adam, what about that risk stuff the inspector was on about? He said the snake would always cause trouble. I don’t know why.” The woman shook her head. “I think we could get quite used to it.”
The woman moved away, quietly, back through the gate.
“Let’s put the kettle on.”She turned and walked up the path towards the door and the man walked on behind her.
Full, bloated, but with the beginning of a smug expression on its face the serpent followed them indoors and curled up in its cage. Then it belched again and settled itself for a few day’s sleep….
They sat over a cup of tea.
“Funny how that inspector worried about us so much.” Adam sat and listened. Eve continued. “Only cause trouble in the end he said, something about an unacceptable risk.”
Eve stood up and held out a hand. Adam looked surprised.
“What are you doing Eve?”
“Dunno.” She took hold of his hand and looked straight at him. “I’ve had an idea Adam, Come and have a look in my room.”
Later, over a cigarette, they remembered the inspector.
“Funny, isn’t it Eve – the idea of not seeing him again. We’ll never be able to tell him how he’d got it all wrong.”