Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Width of a Circle

Yes, I've been very quiet. Sorry, running around like a chicken with bits cut off. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass last weekend, Portland next and of course there is the omnipresent lead up to APE. Here, enjoy a story I wrote a little while ago featuring Gwendolyn Anderson, Kate's great-grandaunt.

Width of a Circle

The aspect of her chosen profession that Gwendolyn Anderson enjoyed the least was exposing the frauds. Not that she liked or approved of the frauds, far from it. For a start, it was tedious. More importantly, the crushing of hope in the scammer’s victims was sometimes unbearable. Was it better to live in the stark light of truth than in the murky mists of ignorance? Yes, of course. It had to be. Otherwise, what would be the point?

She walked up the five shallow steps to the front door of 127 Shadwell Street and rapped the doorknocker once. Almost instantly, a bespectacled butler opened the door. He peered at her and presented a small silver tray. Without a word, Gwendolyn placed her card upon it. The butler led her into a small receiving room while he went off in search of his master.

The room was filled with ferrotypes that had been fashionable a decade or so previously. They all showed of the day posing with the same weasel faced little man.

‘You are admiring the ferrotypes, I see.’ Gwendolyn turned to see the weasel faced man enter the room. ‘Yes, I have done readings for many people. Look, here is Charlotte Ellison. And there, Randolph Henry Ash, splendid fellow. And Hamilton Slade,’ he pointed each of them in turn.

‘You are Robert Emil, then?’ Gwendolyn asked, knowing full well the answer he would give.

‘I am he, dear lady. You have come for the séance.’ It was not a question.

She answered yes and followed him to another room, windowless yet swathed with drapes. Two elderly women and a middle aged man were already sat around a round table in the middle of the room, the only piece of furniture in it. Gwendolyn sat down and looked at the other people at the table. The man had a long nose and piercing gray eyes. His hair, though graying at the temples, fell back in ringlets down past his neck. The women were unremarkable, but chatted amicably between each other.

Gwendolyn leant over and introduced herself to the gentleman. He smiled and said hello but did not give his name. ‘I lost my memory,’ he said offhandedly. ‘It was suggested to me that someone “out there” might know me.’ At this he gestured to the open air with a conjurer’s flourish. ‘All nonsense, of course, but it can’t do any harm.’

Emil took his seat and motioned for everyone to take hands. ‘While Mrs. Runcible and Mrs. Sloat have been here many times, this is the first visit for our other guests. Let me explain what shall happen, I am about to make contact with the spirit world and shall be set upon by those who have passed on. I beg of you, do not be alarmed! They shall not harm you. These spirits are benevolent and wish only talk to us.’

And he began to chant, a wordless hypnotic droning. After several moments of this, he opened his eyes, which were rolled back into his head leaving only the whites. ‘Spirits? Are you there?’ There was a slight pause and then a mysterious knocking.

Oh no, thought Gwendolyn, not a table knocker. She took a quick look at Emil, but he had his feet firmly on the ground. She looked around the table; the pepperpots were enthralled but the steel eyed man was clearly bored. ‘A table knocker,’ he mouthed to her. She shrugged and nodded back at him.

‘Mr. Runcible?’ There was another knock.

‘Ask him if he’s well,’ said Mrs. Runcible.

‘Mr. Runcible, are you well?’ KNOCK

‘Ask him if he’s had his vegetables,’ Mrs. Runcible said.

‘Mr. Runcible, have you had your vegetables?’ KNOCK KNOCK

‘Now, Geoffrey, you know you’re supposed to have your vegetables. Just because you’ve passed to the other side-’ KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

‘What do three knocks mean?’ Gwendolyn asked.

‘I fear Mr. Runcible has passed outside of our purview for the moment,’ Emil said quickly. ‘But I do sense another presence.’

‘Is it my Arthur?’ asked Mrs. Sloat. KNOCK

‘Nooo, no.’ There was an element of panic Emil’s voice. ‘Do any of you know McIntosh? Hob-no-Robert McIntosh? ’

‘No,’ said Gwendolyn.

‘I might do. I don’t know,’ the gray eyed man sighed.

‘He says-he says to-’ KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

‘He says to knock?’ The gray eyed man stood up from the table. ‘I’ve had rather enough of this.’ KNOCK

‘I quite agree,’ Gwendolyn stood next to him. ‘The link is broken and there’s still-’ KNOCK ‘Still knocking. The “spirits” aren’t doing this. Shall we go upstairs and see what is?’

‘After you’, the man gestured towards the door.

‘No, you can’t,’ Emil cried.

Gwendolyn and her companion raced up the stairs, the tails of his coat flapping behind him. Emil followed them, yelling at that and threatening police action. All the while, the knocking grew louder.

They reached the top of the stairs. Gwendolyn paused before the door where the knocking seemed to be originating. ‘Ready?’

‘I was loomed ready,’ the man smiled his mysterious smile at her. For an instant Gwendolyn saw something behind his eyes, as if he realized that he, himself, didn’t understand what he just said.

Gwendolyn turned the handle and the door open wide, prepared to take on anything.

‘It’s a pony,’ said the man.

‘Yes,’ said Gwendolyn.

‘Forgive me, my memory again, but that’s not normal is it?’ he asked.

‘No,’ said Gwendolyn, again.

‘Thought not,’ the man said and miraculously pulled a sugar cube out of his pocket to present to the pony.

Emil came spluttering into the room. ‘Hillary!’

‘Is fine. Perhaps you might explain why there’s a pony in your bedroom?’ Gwendolyn asked.

‘I don’t have to tell you anything,’ Emil crossed his arms. ‘What a gentleman does behind closed doors is his own prerogative.’

‘Oh,’ said Gwendolyn before the implications set in. ‘Ohhh.’

The man giggled. Both Emil and Gwendolyn shot daggers at him. ‘Sorry, Hillary was eating a sugar cube off my hand and it tickled,’ he said sheepishly.

‘You hussy!’ Emil screamed at his pony and ran out the door, sobbing all the way.

Gwendolyn placed a hand on the strange man’s shoulder. ‘I’m sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for. I knew before I came here that he was a fraud.’

‘So did I,’ he said after a moment. He walked away, letting her hand fall. ‘You’ll contact the proper authorities, I trust?’

‘Of course.’

‘Good,’ he said. He walked out the door, leaving Gwendolyn alone with the pony. The pony eyed her wearily. Gwendolyn did the same. ‘How do we get you out of here?’

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