Saturday, 2 May 2009

Folio 6 ~ A Dream-Parasol

The two elderly ladies watched the waiter disappear into the spectral mist of steam that swirled in the middle of the room. The waiter, rubbing the back of his head and bitterly regretting adding the extra ‘es’ to ‘premises’, nevertheless, walked with the jaunty air of a dog that had successfully bullied a rabbit into fleeing back down its burrow.

Gertrude looked a little crestfallen, but Clarice, aiming her ear trumpet towards Caroline’s ear, bellowed, “D’you know what the time is?”

Caroline, who was feeling relieved at not having to give a recitation of the Vicar of Bray after all, but also a little sad that Gertrude was so obviously disappointed, was determined to be as polite and helpful as she could be. And so she pulled out of her pocket the fob watch that the strange, dust-covered, ancient man had given to her in the park. Its hands still hadn’t moved. She shook it hopefully, but nothing happened.

“I am afraid it’s not working – it’s broken,” she told the two ladies.

“Well, which is it, child?” snapped Gertrude, a little sharply, “not working or broken? The two aren’t the same thing, you know?”

“Well it is with this watch,” Caroline answered, feeling the pilot-light of a really loud argument beginning to burn between her ribs.

“What does it say?” asked Clarice, leaning over the table and trying to read the face.
Caroline looked at it.

“A quarter past four,” she announced

“WE’RE LATE!!” yelled Clarice in alarm.

“But, it’s not WORKING!” Caroline replied. Her anger was now swiftly replaced with the blurred flutter of confusion (and a teaspoon full of amusement).

“We’re STILL late!”

“No,” Caroline tried to explain, “it said a quarter past four when the kind old gentleman gave it to me this morning!”

“And WHEN was that?” Gertrude asked, clearly in a state of agitation.

Caroline thought for a while... Well, she left her flat just before 9 o’clock and then she walked to the park (well ran – but running for Caroline is much the same as walking), sat on a bench and ate 2 whole Jaffa cakes (including some crumb scrunffling and licking of fingers) and then she met the strange gentleman who walked in his own cloud of dust. She wrinkled her nose (to show to the ladies that she was thinking really hard) and said, “Twenty-three minutes past nine.”

Clarice shrieked. It was a marvellous, glass-shattering, jaw-dropping shriek. It was a shriek that made even the lady singing Wagner temporarily falter (on a particularly high note).

“If it was a quarter past four at twenty-three minutes past nine this morning, we must be REALLY late now!” Gertrude gasped. Her face was ashen. She scrabbled for her handbag and a fox stole that was draped over the back of her chair. The fox winked at Caroline as it was wrapped around Gertrude’s (rather scraggly) neck.

“Come on Clarice!” she called, “get your bags. Waiter! CALL A CAB!!

The waiter, with a worried look on his face, hurried out of the door, followed by a flurry of ferocious, bombazine black. Caroline was rather relieved that her hosts had left. She was beginning to find their conversation a little wearing and so, cheerfully looking around the tearoom, she settled down to the last three pieces of Battenberg cake.

What is the perfect simile for happiness? Great writers have cast their lives to the fires of absinthe, sold their souls to the devil, and enrolled (at great expense) to ‘Horace Binn’s Correspondence Course for Aspiring Grate Authors’ to find that one, matchless description. That is because none of them had seen a Caroline contentedly munching Battenberg cake. It is, therefore, perhaps a shame that sitting opposite Caroline’s table was a struggling unknown writer. Readers will be gratified to know that, yes, he did wear a dusty black beret and he had a gloriously straggly beard and he wore a long shabby rain mackintosh with copious pockets. He looked up and quickly jotted down in a Moleskine notebook, ‘as happy as a small girl in a yellow summer dress and gumboots chomping on the marzipanny bit of a Battenberg cake’. The heavens were silent; Shakespeare was about to topple from his lofty perch as the greatest of writers. With an exultant ‘Hah!!’ the writer snapped the cap back on to his fountain pen, leaped to his feet, rushed out of the door and promptly lost his notebook. His name was Rainer Rilke.

*Readers’ Note*
Readers need not be too upset for him because I think he wrote some other stuff too (but, it has to be admitted, never quite as good as that).

Caroline was just pondering whether ‘the proprietors’ would take a 'dim view' of the licking of the plates, when she noticed in the corner of the room a tall distinguished gentleman smoking a nargile (a Turkish water pipe). He had one of those faces that was both pleasing and awful. Readers of cheap fiction would here be reading that his was a face of ‘cruel beauty’. Fortunately, you will be pleased to know, you are NOT reading cheap fiction. Oh no - far from it. The man had a face which was ageless and (note the wonderfully subtle and {incredibly clever} nuance I add here!) ... timeless. It was as if his skin was made of porcelain; cold, unreal, but devastatingly alluring. In fact, he had a face of cruel beauty. A thin pencil moustache sliced, glossy black, across his upper lip. His eyes, one green and one coal-black, were kind and distant and as fierce as my old maths teacher. However, what piqued Caroline’s curiosity wasn’t his appearance but the contraption from which the gentleman was smoking. It was made of gleaming brass and glass and some rather exciting snaky tubes. And so, shoving the last half slice of Battenberg into her mouth, she got up and thwap, thwapped in her gumboots over to where the he was sitting, legs crossed, upon a large plush-velvet cushion.

The man looked up and saw Caroline staring down at him with bulging cheeks and saucer-like eyes and he flinched. Now, I am not sure if I have clearly described this man. He was distinguished (military style), imposing (authoritative), and he had a face of cruel beauty. He was the type of man most would flinch away from – in other words, he would be the ‘flinchee’ rather than the ‘flincher’. But, nevertheless, in this instance he visibly flinched. Furthermore, he not only flinched, but he inadvertently swallowed (rather than exhaled) which resulted in a turmoil of smoke, bubbling and eye watering splutterings. Now, in his defence, it must be admitted that although Caroline had a VERY dainty mouth (she could probably fit only 4 marshmallows in it at one time), her cheeks did bulge rather alarmingly with Battenberg cake. Caroline watched all this with great interest; still munching away. The man took out a silk handkerchief from the pocket of his velvet dinner jacket pocket and wiped his smarting eyes with it. His fingers were long and bejewelled with ornate rings that sparkled with fire and colour.

An irritating tickle had lodged in the back of the gentleman’s throat and refused to budge, even after the most explosive of coughs. He dabbed at his eyes again (now very red). Caroline, not really sure whether what she was watching was normal behaviour when smoking a water-pipe, decided to open the conversation and so she gave a quick snuffle of her nose and said, “Excuse me. Is that your umbrella?” Bulging cheeks are one thing, but bulging cheeks and a snuffled nose (even a quick one) are an altogether different basket of thing-a-mees. The man proceeded to have another coughing fit, whilst simultaneously gurgling noisily and waving frantically with his hand.
‘How odd,’ she thought, ‘and how absolutely WONDERFUL’.
Caroline decided that smoking a nargile looked to be of immense fun and that she would have a go as soon as she got home.

The man wiped away something strange (and a little bit slimy) from the end of his nose and tried to recollect his impressive and distinguished demeanour. He looked at the little black silk parasol that was neatly furled on a very long, cane handle.

“Yes, it is,” he said, rather coldly and looking at the girl standing in front of him even more coldly.

“It looks a bit odd,” Caroline remarked, studying with a critical eye. Fully unfurled, it wouldn’t cover an area larger than a biggish dinner plate ('unfurled' is what we umbrella-ists call 'open').

“It is my Dream-Parasol,” the gentleman replied haughtily. He checked his thin black moustache to make sure that nothing untoward had lodged in it following the unpleasantness with the coughing fit. In some way, he found this young girl with sphinx-like eyes and yellow dress and gumboots faintly unnerving. It was a new sensation for him. And it was distinctly odd and distinctly NOT wonderful.

“Oh,” said Caroline cheerfully, “that sound marvellous. I think I would like a Dream-Parasol. What do they do?”

“Well this one is mine,” snapped its owner, “and it catches dreams of course. And then sets them loose again.”

“How?” asked Caroline.

“Don’t you do anything, but ask questions?” the man irritably retorted.

“Why?” asked Caroline.

“Oh never mind,” he sighed. He felt his strength sapping and his will to live curl up beside his resolve in the wicker dog basket of his soul. “Where is that damned waiter? I need a spot of tea to restore my equilibrium.”

“He went outside to get a cab for the two old ladies,” replied Caroline in her most grown-up and helpfullest of voices, “but I don’t think he would be of much use to you - he is a bloody philistine, you see?”

The man gulped and made strange jerking movements into his hankie.

‘That tobacco,’ thought Caroline, ‘must be incredibly strong.’ She looked at the glass bowl, that bubbled so gloriously, and blinked twice. She couldn’t quite believe what she saw...


  1. Very good writing, descriptive and engaging. And thanks for visiting my fiction site. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Absolutely BEAUTIFUL fiction writing!!! You have learned the craft well. :D

    Hugs, JJ