Semple’s Muse – Part 5

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On Sunday afternoon Semple sat before the laptop and dialed Wrenna on Skype. The older of the twins—by all of 73 seconds—Wrenna worked for an Internet security firm in Germany. When it came to fulfilling the promise of maintaining contact with her father, she was more faithful than Maisie.

However, the girl’s kaleidoscopic lifestyle always caught him off guard. Every time Semple and Wrenna spoke she sported a different hair color and style. In addition, the recent declaration that she was “non-binary” was a head-scratcher.

“Father!”

Semple smiled, taking care not to critique the spiky, silver and electric blue hair that crowned his daughter’s head. “Hullo, darling. Are you well?”

“Oh, yes. Herr Klemperer says I will be one of the staff that accompanies him the next time he visits the New York office.”

“Well done! I am proud of you.”

Coming closer to the screen Wrenna peered at her father. “Is anything wrong? Are you having trouble with the novel?”

After hemming and hawing a bit Semple described taking on Miss Hegyi-Virág and cataloged her curious habits. Wrenna looked relieved.

“The woman is only a housekeeper, Father. Who cares if this Miss H-V is more often invisible than visible? Leaving alone the things in her room alone seems a bit queer, especially the money, but if she discharges her duties so well, I wouldn’t give her the boot. Do you need me to come home and check her out in person?”

“That won’t be necessary, love. I can handle the situation.”

“Just the same, I’ll conduct a little online sleuthing to see what I can uncover regarding the mysterious Miss Hegyi-Virág. What’s her Christian name?”

It embarrassed Semple that he did not know the housekeeper’s first name but that wouldn’t deter Wrenna. She promised to text her father once her information-gathering foray was complete. After the conversation ended he felt more at sea than he had before unburdening himself. Ought I accept Miss H-V’s quirks solely because of her redoubtable culinary skills?

*     *    *

Having left a note on the kitchen table informing Miss H-V that he would be dining out that evening, a few minutes after six Semple walked to The Red Lion. The weather was comfortably warm and he breathed in scent of roses, carnations and other flowers blooming in the neighbourhood’s tiny front gardens.

The pub, though busy, had a peaceful atmosphere that was balm to Semple’s troubled mind. He exchanged greetings with Gerald Bronwell, who took his meal order and pulled the customary brown ale. The publican watched a young couple take possession of the corner booth.

“I can ask them to move, Mr. Semple.”

“Don’t bother, Mr. Bronwell. There is no Blue Plaque on the booth, and I’m sure Emma won’t mind sharing it now and then.”

He took a table near the kitchen and was sipping his drink when the server brought his food.

“Is this the only dish of ours that you like? It must make for rather boring nights out.”

Fork in hand, Semple considered the bangers and mash before him. Tacy Bronwell’s venturing an opinion regarding his choice of entrée struck a nerve.

“There’s nothing wrong with knowing what I prefer, when dining out. The housekeeper I recently engaged is an excellent cook. Indeed, I am certain someone like you would gain from experiencing her artistry.”

Damn! Why did I let pride get the better of me?

            Tacy grinned. “That sounded suspiciously like an invitation to experience her artistry, Mr. Semple. I am happy to accept your offer.“

“Well, uh, it all depends on how—that is, if—your schedule and mine mesh. I am a very busy man . . .”

“Let’s figure it out later. I’ll bring the pudding when I see you are ready for it.”

Semple walked home at a measured pace. In the year since Emma’s death he couldn’t recall ever giving thought to entering into a relationship with another woman. Not that there hadn’t been opportunities: soon after the funeral his wife’s friends from the Oxfam office made overtures about meeting “nice ladies” for tea or a trip to the cinema. Semple appreciated their consideration but he politely turned down all offers.

Back in the house Semple went to the kitchen for a glass of water, looking out the window as he drank. Miss Bronwell’s sense of humor, sparkling eyes and luxuriant hair had the unsettling potential of rekindling feelings he hadn’t felt for a long time. However, it was wrong of her to twist his remark about Miss H-V’s cooking into an expectation of being invited to eat with him.

What he saw when he turned from the sink exasperated him: a covered earthenware dish sat in the center of the table. Why has she ignored my instructions? Removing the cover revealed . . . bangers and mash! A message was appended to the note he’d left for Miss H-V.

Nothing compares with this. And do me the kindness of staying out of my room.

[© 2018 Robert Edwin Stone, II]

“Put ‘er there!” – Part 2

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Two months ago I posted a blog on the subject of thanking people – all manner of people – for the services they perform and the help they provide to ease my path through daily life. This is a brief reflection on how such folk have reacted to the practice, and what I’ve learned from it.

What varieties of people have I thanked? Among the women and men there have been restaurant servers, grocery store checkout persons, a plumber, a drywall repairer, an auto mechanic, vineyard tasting staff, a librarian, an engraver and a UPS counter person. Whew!

And how have these fleeting encounters played out?

For the most part I’d say pretty well. With rare exceptions, those to whom I’ve extended a hand have been pleasantly surprised. True, the tendency to combine an “I-can’t-quite-believe-this-is-happening” expression with a tentative shake wasn’t uncommon but the gesture was never dodged, let alone refused outright. (Interestingly, no one asked why I wanted to shake their hand.)

What do I think about this experiment in positive social interaction? Admittedly, I did not make it a point of shaking hands with every person I met. Sometimes I forgot, or was in too much of a hurry. My backstop for these omissions was the desire to thank people thoughtfully, not by rote. In that dimension I believe I’ve done a pretty good job over all.

Does shaking hands with strangers that might otherwise be invisible to me make me feel better about myself? Perhaps, although the goal is for those souls to feel good about being noticed as individuals, not as mere cogs in the machinery of commerce.

Have any of you taken up this practice? If so I would like to hear from you. If not, I challenge you to give it a try!

 

 

Semple’s Muse – Part 4

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*     *    *

The days settled into a rhythm as Semple made good progress on Allith, Mountain Flower Dragoness. In the afternoon Miss H-V silently left tea and biscuits in the hall outside the aerie; entering the kitchen at mealtimes, on the table Semple found a single place laid, a carafe of wine and appetizing dishes—but no cook. Was Miss H-V trying to avoid him?

Once he lingered after lunch but she didn’t come to clean up or eat by herself. Semple decided to make a quick search the house for his mysterious employee. Invisible though Miss H-V might be, 3231 Wisteria Lane’s spic-and-span appearance attested to the young woman’s skill. How did she manage it? I’ve never heard the vacuum, the clothes washer or dryer or the sound of meals being prepared. No cosmetics, perfumes or scented soap occupied the lavatory counter.

Semple saved Miss H-V’s room for last. He rapped twice and listened but no answer came from within. Finding the door unlocked he pushed it open. Towels, sheets and pillowcase were stacked at the foot of the window-side bed, exactly where he’d placed them the evening before the housekeeper’s arrival. Casting propriety to the wind, he explored the dresser and nightstand drawers, which were empty. Clothes, shoes and luggage were absent from the closet.

The only item present in the otherwise immaculate space lay on the dresser. Unlike anything Semple had ever seen, it was crafted from a six-inch fragment of antler, polished and inlaid with gold. A curved silver pick was set into one end of the beautiful object. Uncertain what the thing was, he decided to call it a “backscratcher.”

Examining the backscratcher, Semple realized that what he’d taken to be a decorative inlay was actually something written in an unrecognizable script. A glance at his watch told him that his afternoon’s writing hours were slipping away. Returning the object to the dresser, Semple went to the aerie.

He turned on the computer, clicked on BBC Four and opened the manuscript. Coming to the end of the file, Semple’s eyes narrowed. He calculated the manuscript to be five pages longer than before!

Only one person could have done this but how the hell did Miss H-V know his login password? Semple dutifully changed his password at regular intervals, keeping a list of them hidden in the N-Z volume of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

Semple read the additional text before deleting it. He acknowledged that Miss H-V advanced the plot of Allith in a direction that hadn’t occurred to him. The young woman’s style and vocabulary so closely mirrored his that it was difficult to distinguish between them. After stabbing the Delete key Semple changed the login password.

He did not record the new password on the paper in the OED.

*     *    *

The phone alarm sounded at three o’clock, breaking in on the account of Lord Creswel’s plot to rob his widowed sister-in-law Lady Allith of her lands and treasure. Semple figured Miss H-V would be preparing dinner, and he was determined to have things out with her.

He went downstairs, avoiding the creaky fifth tread from the bottom. Entering the kitchen Semple saw the housekeeper at the counter, facing away from him and dicing vegetables on a white plastic chopping board. An enticing aroma issued from the oven. Miss H-V was wearing her starry blouse and long green skirt. She spoke without turning around or pausing in her task.

“Must you interrupt me, Mr. Semple? What is it you want?”

Semple’s dammed-up anger and frustration broke forth. “What I want to know is how you found the house key; why you seem to never be around; why none of your belongings are in your room or the lav, save for that backscratcher; and most of all, what gave you the right to touch my novel!”

Once the verbal storm subsided the housekeeper faced her interrogator with a faint grin that showed in her blue eyes and freckles. “A backscratcher? What on earth are you talking about?”

“Never mind that: if I don’t get answers you risk being sacked.”

In a matter-of-fact tone Miss H-V addressed each question in turn. “One: I found the key behind the fairy door. Two: where I go and what I do or do not keep in this house are none of your business. Three: if you leave I can get food on the table.”

Semple retired to the parlor, where he tried reading the evening newspaper. Throwing it aside after a couple fruitless minutes, he sat back and closed his eyes. Awakening an hour later he went to the empty kitchen, where the usual palate-delighting meal awaited him.

Digging into the steaming cassoulet Semple recounted his confrontation with Miss H-V. Why had he forgotten to call her to account for breaking into his computer, let alone adding hundreds of words to his manuscript? Shouldn’t he dismiss her?

Something else nagged at Semple. Rising after he had sopped up the last of the cassoulet gravy with a piece of bread, he caught a whiff of something. He knew the smell but its name eluded him.

[© 2018 Robert Edwin Stone, II]