Last autumn, husband decided that he needed a new handle for the scythe so we went to a big out of town store that sold everything from floor tiles and electric radiators to agricultural machinery. What I hadn’t realised was that husband intended to walk around the place with the scythe over his shoulder. Oddly enough, nobody batted an eyelid.
Yesterday Kat Myrman and I were ruminating names for poetry forms along the lines of Essence, which always makes me think of Gasoline. The French for fuel oil is also a fun word—mazout—which could be the name for a fun poetry form. I thought of this one while I was struggling to get out of bed this morning.
This was pure fun—no darkness, no evil. Ken’s probably came the closest to a serious story, but most of them, my own included were lighthearted with funny, sweet, cuddly dragons of the most deliciously anthropomorphized kind.
Tomorrow we’ll be back to the serious stuff again.
Today is Towel Day. Don’t know what Towel Day is? That’s okay—nor do I. Not exactly. One answer is that it’s in honour of Douglas Adams, which makes it clearer. And towels, which might make it clearer still. Or not. Anyway, my contribution to the shenanigans is a short story inspired by one of Douglas Adams’ most loved (arrrggghhh!!!) creations—Vogons and their poetry. And towels.
A grand night out
The ambassador had been bored. So bored she almost filled in an application for a real job. She was there just as a presence, in case anyone forgot that the dead chunk of rock her ship was orbiting belonged to El Gordo. As if it wasn’t bad enough representing a galaxy cluster called “Big Fatty”, she was lumbered with supervising the mining concession extracting the universe’s only known deposits of Purgolite, the most powerful laxative ever discovered.
She had been bored rigid until she discovered poetry. Vogon poetry to be precise. One of the other ambassadors had given her a copy of ‘Jeltz’s Ballads’ just before he opened an air lock and threw himself out. Fascinated, the El Gordo ambassador had skimmed a few of the first poems. She was hooked. She had never been a fan of poetry. Let’s face it, if she had been, she wouldn’t have been able to get past the first two lines, would she? Now she had something else to occupy her time besides flushing grenades down the toilet and watching them burst in space like pretty flowers. Best news of all, Jeltz, the sublime poet, was actually the present Vogon ambassador. She had even met him at a function and he seemed quite happy with his posting, found it inspiring. In fact, he joked that he took a large dose of Purgolite on his cornflakes every morning to keep the creative juices flowing. She thought it was a joke.
This evening, Commander Jeltz, in gratitude for her praise of his poetic genius, had invited her to dinner and a private recital of his opus major, an epic in the style of Beowulf. Arnold P. Beowulf. The excitement was intense. She settled down with a slim volume of some of Jeltz’s early works to calm her nerves and sighed with pleasure. She could read this stuff all day. She barely needed to read the words, in fact the doctors had advised her against it. All she had to do was look at the page and she heard the Vogon commander’s voice. As a general rule, the droning sent her to sleep, but today the soporific effect was rather upset by what felt like a small earthquake getting under way in her lower bowel. She would have to take something for that. Such a shame when certain parts of one’s anatomy failed to appreciate the finer points of poetry.
“More towels, Ma’am?”
The voice of the laundress broke into the complex images of bogglechittering and hyperventilating fartlebogles.
“I believe I have everything I need,” she said, slightly irritated at the interruption.
“You’ll want a new set if you’re having dinner with the commander, Ma’am.” The woman was insistent. She filled the doorway with her huge beefy arms wrapped round a laundry basket of impressive proportions.
“Of course.” The ambassador hadn’t given a thought about how she was to dress. “Yes, Euphrosnia, leave me out the pale green set, please.”
“Marge,” the woman said.
“No thank you. I hate the stuff.”
“No I’m Marge, Euphrosnia’s on her day off. The pale green’s got those…stains that won’t come out. You know, when you—”
“I remember,” she said quickly. “The sage green then.”
Marge gurgled to herself, “Wise choice,” and dumped a pile of clean towels the colour of nasal secretions at the foot of the couch. “Oh, and the President said to tell you that this evening they’re doing a re-enactment of the Inter-galactic War XLIII round the Horsehead Nebula with a firework display to finish with if you’re interested.
“Fireworks? That’s a bit tame, isn’t it?” She stifled a yawn.
“Well, fireworks is just a manner of speaking, innit? They’re going to put nuclear lights on the Christmas Tree Nebula. You won’t want to miss that. What’s left when they’ve finished they’re going to feed to a Black Hole.”
There was a faint flicker of interest in her eyes before they fell back to the page of her book. Commander Jeltz chuntered on in her head.
“I think not, Euphrosnia.”
“Bread and circuses, Marge. Culture is a higher calling.”
“Suit yourself.” Marge heaved the laundry basket round onto the other hip. “There’s Twiglets and Jammy Dodgers.”
The ambassador had a moment’s hesitation but there was really no choice.
At eight on the dot, the ambassador made her way to the bay where the Vogon vessel was docked, one towel tucked neatly under her arm, the other turbanned around the luxuriant purple locks of her hair. She was under no illusions about the quality of the dinner, having already witnessed Vogons at table, so she had taken the precaution of eating before she left.
The Vogon ship was in its usual state of filth: she had had the foresight to wear rubber boots and swept up her long skirts to save them from the worst of it. The ship was as echoingly empty as she remembered it from her last visit. She wondered which of the many corridors led to the ambassador’s suite and hesitated at a junction partly blocked with a pile of pizza cartons and crates of non-returnable stout empties.
Then she heard the noise. A smile flickered in her eyes and she hurried towards it. Stepping over a box of used teabags and a dead cat, she turned into a broad corridor where a crowd of people—cleaning staff, office workers, embassy officials—who had obviously taken a wrong turning somewhere before Alpha Centauri, were running, screaming towards her. Halfway down the corridor, two Vogon guards, with uncharacteristic courtesy, were holding open an airlock. The crowd, their hands clamped over their ears, and their faces the very image of torment, elbowed and kicked their way to the airlock and leapt into the void beyond. Through a porthole, the ambassador watched the expression of beatitude that illuminated their faces before they disintegrated into tiny frozen dust motes.
She clutched her towel and her copy of ‘Odes to the Snorkels of Bureaucracy and the Labyrinths of Gruntfungle-by-the-Bogsnatcher’ and prepared to wade into the crowd. She knew where she was going now. With a final disdainful glance out of the porthole at the sky filled with brilliantly coloured mushroom clouds, she strode purposely towards the door through which was pouring the musical accompaniment to one of Jeltz’s most famous compositions.
I saw this flash fiction writing prompt on Twitter this morning and thought I’d have a go. In the end I had two goes: the first is less than 300 words, the second just over.
The one that got away
It was all going well, until I opened my big mouth. I was sure he was interested. He’d looked in my direction at least twice, and if you get a second look you’re doing well. At my age anyway. But I had to go and spoil it, didn’t I? He has such a nice bum too—the way it rolls in a muscular sort of way as he hurries away from the tram stop, itching to get as far away from me as possible, In fact, he’s probably on his way to the airport to buy a one-way ticket to Australia.
I can see now how stupid it was. But I was worried we’d get to his stop before I’d had chance to get him hooked. I wasn’t to know what it was, was I? I mean it looked like a hanky from where I was sitting.
I put on my best come hither smile. I can do a really lascivious one. I’ve practiced it in the mirror often enough. I swooped down on the article by his feet like a falcon grabbing a rabbit. I hoped my lipstick was still okay and gave him my Marilyn Monroe pout as I dangled my find in front of his face.
“I think you dropped this.” I said. His eyes opened wide then narrowed with restrained anger. I could almost hear his teeth grinding. I followed his cold stare, along with the rest of the tram, to the thing in my hand. The ‘hanky’ was a red lacy thong.
Bingo, Aunty Pat and the Wardrobe
It was all going well, until Bingo ate one of the mothballs. We’d found a likely wardrobe, pinched the twins’ fake fur coats to hang in it, and littered the bottom with mothballs like in the story. Me and Chrissy climbed in and Bingo jumped in too. Chrissy tried to shove him back out because the kids in the story didn’t have a dog and she said he’d like as not disrupt the ecological balance. Or something.
Anyway, Bingo started to whine and we heard Chrissy’s mum clomping up the stairs so Chrissy just said, “ Bugger Bingo,” and closed him in with us.
The three of us squatted there with the twins’ pink fluffy coats making us want to sneeze and Bingo wriggling about, the mothballs crunching nicely like they did in the story. Chrissy’s mum was just on her way to the toilet and didn’t come into the bedroom so we started to plan on where we’d go when we got to the other side. I said we ought to find the Beavers straight away but Chrissy said that Mrs Beaver reminded her of her Aunty Pat and she’d rather handle the White Witch any day of the week.
We were just starting to argue when Bingo made a noise like he was trying to cough up a walrus. He’d been licking the floor for a while and we suddenly remembered the mothballs. He sat up and struggled a bit more with the walrus. We shoved to one side to get away out of his line of fire. He gave an almighty heave, vomitted, and Chrissy put her hand over her mouth and lurched backwards. She screamed and disappeared behind the coats. There was a crash like wood splintering and an icy wind made me catch my breath. Bingo retched again, shook himself and bounded after Chrissy.
Mothballs crunched underfoot as I pushed past the coats. As I expected, the wardrobe had lost its back. I shivered and looked down—I was standing in Chrissy’s snowy footprints. Satisfied that it seemed to be working despite Bingo’s efforts, I turned and grabbed the twins’ coats. We might look like two sticks of candyfloss but it’s bloody freezing in Narnia.