September 23, 2016

The Stories in My Head Again

        Last post I mentioned my childhood habit of crafting fictional narratives to accompany my ordinary life.  Just for fun, here’s a short story I wrote in high school (c. 1991) illustrating that habit as it might accompany a walk home from the library on a winter’s afternoon.

        It took all of her strength to keep her hand from trembling with nervous excitement as she handed her card to the man behind the bare grey counter.  The thin-lipped man peered suspiciously over frameless spectacles, then stamped the papers and handed them back.  “You’ve got two weeks with these,” the man said, and looked to the next person in line.  Putting her papers carefully away in her bag, she thanked providence that she had not been recognized — but only two weeks?  She had only fourteen days to arrange the escape of an entire family and smuggle them to safety?  She smiled faintly.  She had rescued others in the face of even greater adversity, but she would have to work quickly.  She hurried to the door and resolutely walked out.
        Out, out into the cold!  The door closed firmly behind the poor maiden and she trudged reluctantly away through the snow.  Darkness was falling with the powdery flakes.  Warm, well-kept carriages dashed past in the street, but the waif was quite alone on the wet pavement where she walked.  If the warm, well-kept owners of the carriages had stopped to look more closely at the ragged figure by the side of the rode, they would have seen the radiance in her beautiful eyes despite her destitution.  But no one even slowed down, and the lovely maiden waited unnoticed for a break in the traffic.  She pulled her ragged scarf tighter against the bitter cold.
        With the collar of her dark trench coat pulled up around her chin and the brim of her fedora pulled low over her face, she knew that she would never be recognized by the drivers of the long black cars that roared by the corner where she waited.  She leaned her shoulder against the post of the dim streetlight, and the swirling snow obscured her figure almost as effectively as the wreathing mist that was usual in such scenes.  She pulled the secret document from an inner pocket.  Not one of the police experts had been able to decipher the cade, but she hardly glanced at it before she knew its secret.  They had all expected the decoded message to be in English, but she, with her fluent command of a dozen languages, instantly recognized what it said.  The traffic light turned yellow as she swiftly decoded, “Après moi le déluge, soupe du jour.  Bonjour, je ne sais quoi.”  She smiled grimly under the brim of her fedora.  “So the criminal mastermind thinks his big shot will deliver him the stolen goods.  He’s in for a disappointment.  I’ll catch him like a fly on fly-paper!”  And she snapped her leather-gloved fingers triumphantly.
        At the snap of her imperious fingers, the crowds that had surged forward held back, leaving her a space in which to cross.  “I need a dozen Raleighs here at least,” she thought as she stepped daintily but firmly from the curb into the slush of the street.  She walked regally, nodding graciously to her adoring subjects, and the air was filled with the white confetti these adoring subjects threw in her path.  Amidst the roared cheers of the joyous crowd, she came to the steps of her palace and stepped out of the street.
        Her feet sank deep in the drifted snow, and she took out her compass and studied it a moment.  She knew that she had nearly reached the South Pole, and when she was there she would be the first human ever to complete that cold and perilous journey.  The snow swirled madly and the intrepid explorer had to push against the gusts as though they were walls of ice.  All the others with whom she had set out on this polar expedition had long since perished, and now she knew herself to be utterly alone at the bottom of the earth.  Then she saw the light hanging over the door.
        She hurried toward the house and went in.  At the sound of the door her mother called out from the kitchen, “Who’s there?”
        “It’s me.”  She pulled off the arctic boots and unwound the ragged scarf.
        “Good.  Come set the table for dinner.  I thought you’d never come home from the library.  Find anything interesting?”
        “Yeah.”  She unbuttoned the trench coat, and hung the crown on one of the hooks.  Then she went into the kitchen, closing the entryway door behind her.

[Pictures: Reclamation, linocut by Deborah Klein, 1996 (Image from Deborah Klein);
Paduan Matron, wood block print by Cesare Vecellio from Habiti antichi et moderni di tutto il Mondo, 1589.]

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