Tabitha was having one of those days. The rain was so heavy it bounced six inches back upwards, but she was out of milk and tangleweed so she had no option but to go out. Mervin was hungry and last time she’d run out of his food he’d eaten her slipper, two bonsai trees and A-Ke in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
“Come on, Mervin,” she said, pulling on his collar and saddle. “I’m not going on my own. You can give me a ride.” Mervin flared his nostril. “What? This is for your benefit.”
“When did you last hear of a unicorn adding milk to their tea?” he asked. “You know our species take tea with lemon, so it must be for you. For that cereal rubbish you eat, I dare say.”
“Well I don’t eat tangleweed , do I?” she said.
“Did I ask to be born? Did I make you buy me from that male with the vinyl windcheater and slip-on hooves? You should have bought a canine if you wanted a pet that cared.” He settled his withers into a stubborn set and faced the wall.
Mervin had just turned 125 and as hormones raged through his body his behaviour grew more cranky and condescending by the day. Tabitha took a deep breath, counted to ten, then to another six, and headed to the front door, tugging Mervin’s reigns.
He let her mount his back as normal, but sniffed every nettle, licked every silver car and scratched his ears on every fence post between home and 24hr Quadruped on Derby Road. Tabitha dismounted and as she tethered Mervin to the post outside the shop, caught sight of her reflection in the window. Her hair managed to be plastered to her head and frizzy at the same time. As she lifted it from her cheeks a cold drip ran down her neck. She stood close to Mervin and shook herself like a golden retriever, then went in the shop.
By the time she had chosen what she needed and reached the pay desk, a small crowd had gathered outside the door. Tabitha peered out, worried that even though he thought he was tough, Mervin might be unsettled by the growing group. There was a loud thump and the people cleared, running in all directions. She could see Mervin, eyes wide and backing into a corner as far as he could, facing two men with a hacksaw. They wanted his horn.
Tabitha dropped her shopping and was outside in a second. “Get away from him,” she said, putting herself between the men and the unicorn. “He’s only young and his horn isn’t worth much. You wouldn’t get more than £200 for it.”
One sneered and said “Well that’s £200 more than we have now,” and tried to grab past Tabitha. She pushed him and he fell into the other, knocking the hacksaw to the floor. Tabitha kicked it away, into the road and as the men rushed for it, she jumped up onto Mervin’s back. She leant over to untie his reigns and said “We need to run for it, Merv. Think you can do it?”
“But they’re big. And that saw. What if they catch me? I’d die without my horn,” he said.
Tabitha leant down and patted his flank. “They’re big, but we’re bigger. Together we can do it. I’m with you, boy. Just run.”
Mervin shook his head side to side and flicked his ears. As the men retrieved their weapon and turned back to him again, Mervin kicked off with his back legs, barrelling through them. He headed for home, ignoring posts, cars and greenery, and outran them both, guided down side streets to throw a false trail.
Later, when there was no tangleweed for Mervin and no milk for Tabitha, she took her tea with lemon and he had a slipper and Kh-Tu for supper.