The Iron Writer Challenge #10
2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #10
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Dellani Oakes, Glenn Trust, Moira McArthur, Samantha Sargent
A Stove Top Hat
A Tse Tse Fly
A Half Dozen Eggs
Lawrence Chatterly clapped his stovetop hat on his head with one hand as he faced the wind off the river. He set a brisk pace, his impossibly long legs gobbling the distance from his flat to his office. The wind followed him through the outer door, along with a swirl of street litter. Closing it with a bang, he leaned against it, catching his breath.
His clerk, Perry Lyndon peered at him over his spectacles. “Late as usual, milord,” he droned.
Chatterly grinned and swept his hat off his head. He hung that and his overcoat on the rack near the door. “No worse than usual, Perry. Messages?”
His clerk gave him a handful of crumpled, ink spattered papers. He was just deciphering Perry’s cramped handwriting when the clerk tapped on his door.
“Lady to see you, sir.”
Lawrence came around the desk as she entered, beaming.
Theirs was a chaste kiss as Perry had left the door ajar. He took his role as clerk, and now chaperone, seriously.
“Hello, darling. I’m off to see Uncle’s new gyroscope at the museum. He’s invited you along.”
“I’ll grab my hat! I shall return subsequently, Perry.”
The new gyroscope hung suspended from the roof by a series of ropes and pullies. An impressive device, it glittered and gleamed as the light touched its burnished bronze surface. Nearly six feet in diameter, it filled the spacious, vaulted room. Even in its frozen state, it was a feat of mechanical genius. Lawrence could hardly wait to see it begin its movement.
Charlotte was greeted by her uncle, Boniface Pascal. The French scientist also greeted Lawrence enthusiastically. A photographer grouped Pascal and his team with the young couple, taking a formal photograph to commemorate the occasion.
Once the formalities of speeches and such were dispensed with, Pascal proceeded to the platform erected beneath the gyroscope. He pulled a tasseled cord and the gigantic pieces began to move. Faster and faster the pieces spun, humming with the buzz of thousands of tse tse flies.
The contraption shuddered, jittered and groaned. The path of the whirling hoops collided with the spinning rotor. With a disaster impending clang, the giant machine slipped free from its tresses and fell to the ground. Rolling wildly out of control, it continued spinning, the pieces clanging into one another with such force, sparks flew.
Lawrence swooped Charlotte out of the gyroscope’s erratic path. Chaos ensued as the metal monster writhed on the floor, crushing furniture and heavy equipment as easily as a child would crush a half dozen eggs.
“It could whirl indefinitely,” Lawrence gasped. “We must stop it, Sir Boniface.”
“Have you an idea, milord?”
With the help of a few brave souls, Lawrence surrounded the whirling gyroscope with tall bookshelves and metal cabinets. Together, they heaved the heavy objects onto the gyroscope, smashing it to smithereens.
The disaster averted, Charlotte threw herself into Lawrence’s arms. “My love, how brave you are!”
“For you, my sweet.”
“Why do things die?
Holding the small glass bottle to his eye, he squinted through it expectantly, waiting. Flashing with strobe-like intensity, lightning lit the porch and the boy’s face. He smiled and shook the little bottle in front of his eye.
“Look! The pee pee fly!”
The wicker creaked as he shifted in his chair and looked down. “It’s a tse tse fly, Bud.”
Grinning, the boy looked up. “I know. Mom doesn’t like it when I say pee pee.” He shrugged as if that were explanation enough. “Where did you get it?”
“You know where. Dad gave it to me. He brought it back from the navy.”
“Tell me again.”
And so he did, sitting on the porch in the dark, illuminated by the flashings of the gathering storm. Bright, yellow-green light intermittently showed them each other and the world, followed by the blackness.
The story told for the thousandth time, he settled back in the wicker, waiting for the next flash.
“Papa, why do things die?”
“Damn good question, Bud.” His eyes stared into the black night. “I don’t know. Everything just does.”
“Me too? Like the fly?”
Turning his head, he smiled gently at the boy. “Not for a long time, Bud.” He looked back into the night.
“You too, Papa?”
The light flickered, dim, then brighter until it lit the towering cloud from the inside, rising in the dark like a tall, puffy stove top hat. He waited, letting the question drift away in the night.
Carefully selecting from the bowl on the porch, the boy took one of the half dozen eggs he had gathered. He held it up, squinting, waiting. The lightning flashed.
“What about this, Papa? Is it dead?”
He looked down at the boy seated cross-legged on the gray porch planks. A sad smile crossed his face.
“It was never alive, Bud. Not really, anyway.”
“Never? Doesn’t it make chickens?”
He smiled again. The boy always made him smile. “Yes, it does. It’s kind of in between I guess.”
Multiple, rapid flashes lit the boy’s puzzled face. He wanted a better answer. The old man had none.
The clouds scudded and swirled, piling up on the horizon. The storm was close. The flashes showed them racing along, churning and whirling. He was like the clouds. Living, whirling fast at first, then wobbling, losing his spin, like a toy gyroscope about to topple over.
He looked at the boy. How could he be so young? They had grown up together. They were brothers. His brow furrowed. No, not brother…grandson. What was his name again?
The spring on the screen door creaked behind them.
“Storm’s coming. You boys need to come inside now.”
Standing, the boy cradled the bowl of eggs against his chest. Rain misted across the porch, dampening their hair. Thunder rumbled nearby.
Turning in the wicker chair, a question crossed the wrinkled face. Lightning flashed. She looked familiar.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Becky. Come inside, Dad.”
My usual thing, first day, is to walk alone around the largest oak tree three times and hug it at every circumnavigation – why, I don’t know. It’s certainly not a local custom and I do make sure that there are no people around while I’m doing it. And then having committed what is probably a Druid act, I go quickly through the Abbey to the Lady Chapel and light a candle for whoever I think needs guidance. Sometimes I fill in a slip of paper if there is someone I want a prayer said for.
I’ve never gone to a service in the Abbey. Maybe because it is the English church and I was brought up to think that crosses and candles in churches was ‘just not quite right’.
I feel guilty and said so to my Mum one day, and she said our Calvinist upbringing had a lot to answer for. She said it in the voice that usually said “I don’t like animals.” Which is why the only pets, my brother and I ever had was 2 goldfish and Dad was the one who brought them into the house. When they died, their replacement was won by me on brother’s behalf at a School Sports Day and Fete. Lived for ages. That’s probably why our girls had five rabbits, several goldfish and three cats. As a small protest.
Anyway, we’d normally walk down past the Abbey and past the Bell Hotel where there is a scrap of William Morris wallpaper on the wall in situ (behind glass now) and where there was an old settle that was reputed to be haunted and no-one sat on it without feeling a chill but has now been apparently turfed out by the new owners and replaced with one of those quiz machines!
Then down along the Mill Avon, where there’s a side road leading to an antique emporium filled with odd things like stovepipe hats and tse tse flies encased in amber, before stopping off at the Britannia Inn for a drink (opens around 10am) then into Somerfield’s for the shopping. Half a dozen eggs, milk and something for tea. Then its along the road to the Tudor Hotel for lunch and a wander around the town possibly stopping at JT’s tea shop for a cuppa before going back down the road and into the Berkeley Arms with its table legs all at different lengths to accommodate the Elizabethan flooring – its quite funny watching folk get up and stagger around like a gyroscope, only having had one drink because the floor slants and the roofline has to be seen to be believed. Its a bit curvy.
Anyway, because we’ve been coming down to Tewks for some number of years now, its our local and we are recognised and so we stop for another drink or possibly dinner if its a night when the kitchen’s open, and then several more drinks taking us to closing time and then, trying to remember if we’d bought any frozen or chilled items, we take our shopping back home. Its a nice life but somebody’s got to do it. And this year, getting there a few weeks later than usual and with our colds – it wasn’t us. But we did get to the Berkeley for drinks on one night. But mostly we went to the Bell which is easier to get a seat in and if one has a cold in the head it is sometimes nicer to walk across a floor that has been relaid since Elizabethan times and is flat.
Her world ended when the gyroscope stopped. Once, it had balanced on her string like an acrobat of the most delicate kind, despite its rounded shape. Only teetering when the world stopped spinning, unlike any other story she had ever heard of, and so it was her favourite toy.
She lived in the embracing warmth of the kitchen with all its windows flung open. It felt like freedom to her in her girlish ways, but there was always some figure of authority or other watching her, making sure her that her petticoats didn’t fly out of place, that her ankles never saw the blazing sun of this part of the world.
That particular day though, a man walked in from the backdoor. Emily was playing with her gyroscope and watching the cook whip half a dozen eggs into meringue for dinner. Entering from the back meant that he must have gotten lost and was not from Africa. Indeed, he was decked up like what they termed a ‘proper gentleman’, all tailcoats completed with a gleaming stove top hat. It seemed as though the world could not touch him.
Her mother was quickly called by the cook. Emily quickly stopped her gyroscope spinning as her mother entered. Her mother strode purposefully into the kitchen, skirts a swishing and regal as any queen, though she smiled when she saw the man.
“Oh Charles! You’ve come at last,” she said, looking quickly to Emily.
“I have indeed Martha, there’s business to be done, after all. Is your husband home?” he asked, then paused for a second, noticing Emily sitting at the counter. “Is this your… daughter, in the kitchen?” he interrupted himself, a note of disgust in his voice.
“Oh, erm, yes,” Emily’s mother stuttered a bit, “she’s a perfect little lady though, aren’t you Emily?”
“Yes,” Emily uttered, prim and proper as she could muster.
“Well, then,” the man in the top hat sniffed, “though, I suppose, there’s still some time.”
“Indeed,” Martha agreed, then turned to Emily, “you’re to be Charles’ bride once you come of age. You must always treat him with respect.” She looked for a nod from the girl, and Emily obliged, “Good. We’re going to the parlour now. Run along and stay out of trouble.”
The two left the room, though Emily could hear Charles muttering to her mother, “You give the child too much freedom, she should already be learning how to be a proper wife.” Emily knew her days were numbered.
Still, she set the gyroscope spinning with the string in her hands once again and balanced it on the tip of her finger. What she hadn’t noticed was that on its tip rested a tse tse fly, flown in through the window; the kind all the locals said carried disease. As it bit her she felt fatigued, but knew that as she fell off the stool and the gyroscope crashed to the floor, that it was perhaps better that princes didn’t truly wake princesses, for she could never call Charles that.
Toys were better than boys, after all.