Fiction Friday – 7 September 2007

This Week’s Theme: A character gets three wishes…

“That was a really lovely dinner Al, we should go out more often, just the two of us.”

“Mmm hmmm” I mumbled in agreement as we rounded the block. Almost home now. “It’s good to get away from the kids for a little… while…” My voice trailed away as I pulled up outside our home. What used to be our home anyway. Where before used to stand a lovely two storey home, with a lush green lawn and white picket fence now stood…

I don’t even know how to begin describing it. Pink. Very pink. And squishy. Yeah, squishy is probably the best word for it. My wife got out of the car and sighed. Then sniffed. “Is that… is that marshmallow?”

I nodded, and walked towards the… door, I guess. Sat on the doorstep was my son. I think. It had my son’s body anyway, but not his head. His head was, well, you’ll find out. It looked up at me, not with sad eyes, but more bored than anything. “Let me guess, you’re a poo-poo head?” It nodded. I shook my head and went in through the foamy doorway. My wife followed, leading our smelly headed son in with us. As we sank into the jelly floor of the hallway, she smacked the back of my head.

“I told you not to leave that thing lying around.”

She’s right of course, it should have just stayed buried. What can I say, I have problems letting go of the past.

I stumbled my way up the stairs, almost falling through the fudge stairs, and grasping hold of an oversized lollypop stick for support. I hauled myself through the candyfloss carpet of the upstairs hall, and came at last to the door at the end. I stood up, and walked in. There she was, surrounded by giant gummy bears, the lamp sitting in her lap, grinning mischievously.

“Young lady” I said, in the best booming voice I could muster. “You wish everything back the way it was this instant or no supper for you!”

The grin faded from her face and she hung her head. “Yes daddy” she whispered. As the house melted back to normality, I lifted her up and gave her a hug. “There there pumpkin, it’s OK. But you know you’re not supposed to play with daddy’s wishing lamp. Not until you’re older.”

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I’m sorry Piglet, I didn’t mean it…

So, my little piece for Friday Fiction has gone down very well (see the comments).

One of the rules is that you aren’t allowed to go back and edit it – so the inner critic is chomping at the bit, pointing out the flaws – I used the phrase “truth be told” twice in as many sentences, which rankles, and the tense of a verb is wrong.

But I’m glad that people liked it. And I enjoyed writing it. I had intended to take part in last Friday’s Fiction Friday, but ran out of time. The theme was to create a character in a genre you normally avoid. Since none of my stuff can generally be called “child friendly”, I was going to go with a children’s story. I guess that influenced my decision to use a children’s book for the Dirty Little Secret theme…

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Fiction Friday

This Week’s Theme: Dirty Little Secrets.
Pick a famous fictional character and give them a secret vice – at the very least it should be distasteful if not outright illegal. Now give the character’s rationale in their own words. Example: Have Santa explain why he looks through women’s drawers during his rounds.

I shouldn’t feel guilty about it. No, I don’t feel guilty about it at all. Why does he get all the attention anyway? That fat idiot. He gets all the attention, while we’re all relegated to bit players. Well, I’m tired of it. No more meek little Piglet. Mr Milne said that the book was all about me, not that overstuffed, brainless bear.

He was always there, sponging off the rest of us, contributing nothing. “Oh Piglet, I wouldn’t mind a little smackering of something, oh Owl, would you by chance have any honey?” And did he give anything back? Of course not.

It started innocently enough I suppose. It was more an accident than a deliberate plan to do Very Bad Things to him. Kanga gave it to me. I thought it was just the bottle of malt she gives to Roo. But she said it always helped her to calm down, then winked at me. I didn’t think much more of it until I got home and poured it into the honey. I only wanted to knock him out you see. He can be so infuriatingly tiring when he gets going.

Right on clockwork, the Bear of Little Brain arrives at my door, chancing his arm to see if he can get a free meal. “Oh yes Pooh, I have some honey right here” – and he eats it. All of it. The greedy swine. And that’s when I really look at the label on the bottle. It’s not malt. It’s opium…

That whole Heffalump chase incident? Yeah, wandering around a forest in circles chasing imaginary animals in a fugue of opium. The only thing you can do with him then is play along, or he gets spooked. The highs were funny – for a while. But the come downs… let’s just say that his temper is something that Mr Milne never wrote about! And of course, one pot ceased to be enough for him, he demanded more and more, to feed his dual addictions. The waist-expanding honey addiction, and the mind-expanding opium addiction. He ate so much once he got stuck in Rabbit’s doorway, and when we finally got him out he claimed he saw all of Rabbit’s Friends and Relations pulling on him. Honestly, it was just Rabbit and me, he hallucinated the rest.

So now of course we have a quandary. What to do with him? Keep him doped up? He had precious little Brain to begin with, now he just sits and drools. We can’t get him to go cold turkey – the last time he did well… let’s just say we haven’t seen Tigger in a long time. Kanga can’t keep getting hold of the stuff for us. She’s not as young as she used to be, and let’s just say that doesn’t get as much for her company as she used to, if you know what I mean…

I think the best thing we can do is take him to the Enchanted Place and be done with him. Like we did with Eyeore.

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A Poe Puzzle…

I guess I was caught up in the moment of writing about the Poe Toaster in my previous blog entry, that I completely forgot to mention a little personal Poe trivia.

I mentioned a leather-bound compendium of Poe’s works that I grew up with. The book belonged to my mum and dad, but as with a lot of their books, I always considered it “mine” more than “theirs”.

I loved that book. Reading it was an experience, not only for the contents, but the look and feel of the book. I could imagine that it was some old, dusty tome that I was the first to discover in decades, that I had discovered it huddled away in a corner of some dark, deserted antique bookstore, or in a private library of some crusty old aristocrat.

Those who went to school with me might remember that book. In my final year at high school I (briefly!) took SYS English, and my dissertation was going to be on Poe and his concept of “the perverse”, so the book was never far from me in my late teens.

Then, the book vanished. Not lost, this much we are certain. Vanished. When I dropped out of that class, I remember returning the book to its home on our bookshelf. Then, one day, it was gone. Not only was the book not there, there was not even a “missing volume of Poe” void left behind. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the other books in our collection abhorred the gap left behind, so shuffled together to close the gap. Poe, the leather, the gilt-edge – all gone.

It was not the sort of book that we loaned out to people – it was far too good for that. I was the last person to read it, and not only had I returned it, I remember seeing it on subsequent occasions before it disappeared.

This was not the first instance of a vanishing Poe in our lives. I had a children’s adaptation of some of his best stories. Had being the operative word. My brother bought a paperback collection of Poe’s stories for his wife. This was to replace her previous copy, which had mysteriously vanished. To be followed by the replacement copy.

I now own a new, leather-bound, gilt-edged, hardback collection of Poe’s short stories and poems, a birthday present from my in-laws. It lives on the second bottom shelf of my bookshelf, with other hardback books, but just above the oversized books. Every other day, I have a quick look at the shelf. Just to make sure that the book is still there.

I’m sure someday, somewhere, someone will tear down a wall of a house, and discover piled up behind there numerous copies and adaptations of Poe’s work, quietly gathering dust, waiting to be claimed. They’ll be sitting right beside the sherry…

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A slight change in tact for this posting. It’s not a story. And it’s not about my writing. It’s about another story, one that isn’t written down but is acted out once a year. A wonderful, touching story, but one that may, perhaps, be just another work of fiction.

There are writers whose work I enjoy and who I hope influence my own work. One of these, and possibly my favourite writer, is Edgar Allan Poe.

I grew up with Poe. My parents had a large, hardback, leather bound, gilt edged compendium of all of Poe’s stories and poems. I can remember from a very early age, holding this tome in my hands, running my fingers around the embossed image of a raven on a skull, in gold leaf on green leather. Smelling the leather binding, the crisp pages. The weight of the book. Even before I could understand the stories, the book itself was a thing of beauty. It is the first book I actually remember. And the stories themselves! The Telltale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter (detective stories to rival Conan Doyle’s work) and my favourite, The Imp of the Perverse. Not to mention the oft-parodied The Raven, and my favourite poem, Eldorado. These are the tales of my childhood and adolescence.

If people wonder why so much of what I write myself is strange, bizarre, weird, perverse, then it is the influence of Poe, and latterly Lovecraft (himself hugely influenced by Poe).

Which brings us to the tale of “The Poe Toaster”. In brief, each year on the anniversary of Poe’s birth, a mysterious figure is spotted stealing into the Westminster Presbyterian Church graveyard in Baltimore, to lay three roses and a bottle of cognac by the writer’s grave. Described as a “Poe like figure”, the visitor has been spotted, but never spoken to. On rare occasions, he has left notes to indicate that he is not the original Poe Toaster, but someone carrying on the tradition, and that the original Toaster had died. Is he a fan? A distant relative? Is he some spectre, the ghost of Poe? Whoever or whatever he is, his actions are a labour of love, a tribute to a literary genius, that has happened every year since 1949.

Or perhaps it hasn’t. If Sam Porpora is to be believed, the whole thing is a hoax, a publicity stunt to garner attention to Poe’s final resting place. Porpora admits that someone has, based on his story, subsequently become the Poe Toaster (an example of an urban legend becoming true, known as pseudo-ostension). One of his tour guides? Porpora himself? An anonymous citizen of Baltimore? Perhaps even a tulpa, created by the expectation of seeing this mysterious visitor.

Yet controversy remains. A newspaper article from almost a quarter of a century before Porpora claims to have invented the story makes reference to an annual visitor to Poe’s grave who leaves a bottle of cognac. Porpora’s story is inconsistent, variously claiming that he made up the story and told a journalist in 1967, whilst the newspaper story he is referring to dates from 1976. Where is the truth? Porpora’s claim only muddies the water, and leaves us no closer to knowing who the Poe Toaster is.

And to be honest, I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know that this was all a hoax. I don’t want to know that this was all a mere publicity stunt that has been carried on into the public domain by enthusiastic individuals. I want this to be a quiet tribute by an anonymous person, for personal reasons. A solemn remembrance of a tragic figure. A romantic idea, a recognition of a writer gone but not forgotten, visited by a shadowy figure, someone that Poe could have written himself.

Sometimes a lie is more beautiful than the truth. That is what fiction is. Beautiful lies, lies that we want to believe, even briefly, because believing the lie has beauty and purpose. If the lie does no harm, and the truth is less inspiring, then why not perpetuate the lie?

An actor dresses in a frock coat and goes through the motions of laying flowers in order to attract the tourists. Is that the truth? If it is, do you want to believe it?

I prefer to believe the tall tale, of an unknown person, who steals into a graveyard unnoticed and unchallenged in the dead of night, to lay a tribute whose true meaning we presume to know, for reasons we can only guess at. That has meaning. That has purpose. That has beauty. On this occasion, I don’t want to find out the truth, ever. Call it Poe’s last great mystery. And leave it unfinished.

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