I’ve been working on what I once described as an artist statement, but which has grown in such scope that the label doesn’t suit it any more. Now weighing in at over 25,000 words, it is now best described as a sort of collected musings, diatribes, polemics and suchlike, centred around my art practice. It’s an unknown number of edits away from being anywhere near presentable so in the meantime, here is something I came up in the aftermath of our moving out of the slug-infested cottage. These bits are greatly embellished sections that may or may not have been cut from letters to a former landlord, landlord being, of course, not necessarily gender specific.
I’ll have to digress with one technical note before, though. This is the first time I’ve used footnotes on this blog, and I hope they work. The footnote marks within the text should link directly to the specific note at the bottom of the page. And at the end of each footnote there’s a little mark to take you back to where you started from in the text. The mark looks like this: ^. The stories don’t require the footnotes, which is why they’re not integrated into the text, but they add a certain richness to the experience. I wouldn’t skip them. I stole the methodology and basic code from John Gruber, who writes a Mac OS-centric technology blog called Daring Fireball. It’s an excellent read, if you’re interested in that sort of stuff.
And now, without further ado,
Four Petty Fictions
petty | of little importance; trivial
• (of behavior) characterized by an undue concern for trivial matters, esp. in a small-minded or spiteful way : he was prone to petty revenge on friends and family.
ORIGIN late Middle English (in the sense [small in size] ): from a phonetic spelling of the pronunciation of French petit ‘small.’ Compare with petit.
fiction | literature in the form of prose, esp. short stories and novels, that describes imaginary events and people.
• invention or fabrication as opposed to fact.
ORIGIN late Middle English (in the sense [invented statement] ): via Old French from Latin fictio(n-), from fingere ‘form, contrive.’
Source: New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition, as bundled with the Mac OS X built-in dictionary program.
The stories which follow are works of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons—living, dead, or of questionable judgement—is pure coincidence. No representations are made by the author as to the veracity or accuracy of any statements or research contained herein, nor are any claims made as to the fitness of these stories for any purpose. May contain additives, preservaties, cholesterol, exaggerations, fabrications, and questionable grammar. Reader beware, and continue at your own risk.
1. The Plumber and the Shower Pump
The shower pump broke. The Landlady told the Tenant that it had been newly installed last year, and that it should be working just fine. Reality—taking on the guise of straining motor noises, sparks, smoke, and an absence of water pressure—told the Tenant that the shower pump was, in fact, in need of repair. The Tenant dutifully passed on Reality’s message to the Landlady, who had the Tenant call her plumber and arrange for the pump to be repaired. At some point during the work, The Plumber mentioned to the Tenant that contrary to the Landlady’s claims, the pump had in fact been installed three years ago, not one, and he had been the one to do the installation. As he was leaving—having finished the work—the Plumber commented on the Landlady’s “pathological aversion to spending money,”1 rendering the Tenant speechless, though unsurprised.
2. The Neighbour and the Tortoise2
Once there was a Woman who, when she wasn’t renting her cottage out, would make the cottage her home. Or, more precisely, she would rent the cottage out when she wasn’t planning to live in it. While resident, the Woman would sometimes go on trips. Before one such trip she arranged to have a Neighbour look after her pet tortoise. The Tortoise was installed in the Neighbour’s sitting room, complete with surrounding aquarium, water heater, and other accoutrements.
As luck would have it, the Neighbour and his family were also planning to be away—for a long weekend, perhaps no more than four days—during this period of tortoise care. They called the Woman to inform her that they would be away, but not to worry as a Friend would be stopping by daily to attend to the Tortoise and to the needs of their pet cat. The Woman—it’s not clear whether she had planned to return that weekend, or whether the Neighbour’s call had prompted her to action—went to the Neighbour’s house and observed the Tortoise through the window in the front door. Feeling that the Tortoise was the victim of neglect, she forcibly entered the Neighbour’s house to retrieve the Tortoise. It’s not clear whether this action was immediate or if the Woman enlisted help for this enterprise. Sometime during the rescue operation, the neighbour’s Friend arrived to feed the animals, only to discover that care of one of her charges was in the process of being pre-empted. In the ensuing confusion, it is not known whether fisticuffs were involved, but it can be assured that no one was mortally wounded. And although it survived, the Cat has remained silent—or at least inscrutable—about the events that transpired in that living room on this particularly grim day.
3. The Owner and the Letting Agent3
The Tenant was in the market for new accommodations, his current lease being for a short term and not subject to renewal. The tenant, having found a suitable property and a willing Letting Agent, the conversation came to letters of reference. The Tenant identified his current domicile and the person—for this story identified as the Owner—from whom he was renting. Something about the Tenant’s circumstances nudged the Letting Agent’s memory, and he told the Tenant that he thought he knew the Owner.
Time passed, and paperwork was seen to. When the Letting Agent and the Tenant next met, the Letting Agent confirmed that he did, in fact, now remember the Owner, the two having had dealings in the past. The Letting Agent told a story about having managed a property nearby the Owner’s. The back wall of the managed property was directly adjacent to the Owner’s yard. Weather being as it is in the British Isles—that is, rainy—and eighteenth-century British cottages being what they are—that is, damp and crumbling—there arose the question of repairs to the gutters of the managed property.4 The only access to said gutters was through the Owner’s back yard, which was only legally accessible through the Owner’s cottage.
It is said to have been nigh impossible to get permission from the Owner for workmen to enter the back yard in order to do the necessary work on the managed property. It is also said that at some point in the negotiations for access, it became necessary for the Letting Agent to throw the Owner out of his office due to unreasonable behaviour on the Owner’s part.5 Said unreasonable behaviour remains the secret of the Letting Agent and the Owner, as does the knowledge of whether anyone came to blows in the incident. Neither the Letting Agent nor the Owner bears any visible disfigurements that could be directly attributed to such a coming-to of blows, nor to the eviction of the Owner. Though one can speculate about whether the Owner was once taller in stature.
4. The Customer and the Barista6
One sunny market day,7 around lunchtime, the Customer was meeting her Former Tenant at the Wholistic Vegetarian Restaurant and Coffee House where she had asked him to come so that they could transact some business.
The Former Tenant arrived as the Customer was placing her order at the crowded service counter. There was an exchange of words between the Customer and the Barista, in which the Customer explained that she had accidentally dropped twenty pence on the floor, and had been unable see where it had fallen and thus was unable to retrieve it. Upon being given her drink, the Customer paid the Barista, minus the twenty pence, explaining that the Barista could make up the difference from the coin the Customer had dropped on the floor. The Barista, having significantly less force of will than the Customer, grudgingly grunted her understanding, and proceeded give her attention to the next clamouring voice from the seething mass before her. Happily for all involved, upon returning to her table the Customer found the coin in question and did, in fact, give it to the surprised and overworked Barista.
- In this case, “spending” should be read in its verb form, “paying out (money) in buying or hiring goods or services,” as opposed to the noun phrase “spending money,” which refers to money available to be spent on pleasures and entertainment. Again, definitions are courtesy of the New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition, as bundled with the Mac OS X built-in dictionary program. ^
- Giant sea turtles—also known as tortoises—were once very popular with sailors. Being large and slow, they were often caught in the tropics and taken on long sea voyages. Because they were large and slow, they were easy to catch. Not only was their locomotion slow, they were slow of metabolism and to keep them alive seldom required more than the occasional splash of sea water as it leaked into the ship’s hold. In those days—the era before mechanical refrigeration—they were butchered as needed, and provided a welcome break from the sailors’ usual diet of salted meat. Their smaller domestic brethren, while less commonly used in western cuisine, are nonetheless similarly tolerant of neglect. ^
- In the United Kingdom, a Letting Agent is equivalent to what Canadians call a Property Manager. It is the Letting Agent’s role to advertise properties for rent—in the UK it is called “to let”— as well as to screen tenants, collect rents, arrange for building maintenance, and all the other duties that come with managing a property on behalf of a landlord in exchange for a fee. ^
- Gutters is British—and probably everywhere-outside-Canada-ish—for eavestroughs, eh. ^
- The expression “to throw out” should be taken figuratively, no matter how appealing a literal interpretation might be. ^
- Barista is a fancy name for someone who serves in a coffee bar. ^
- Market days are occasions for greatly increased traffic through an English town. The marketers who set up their stalls in the town square greatly expand the local shopping choices, and often stock items that are unavailable in the shops. This brings out the townsfolk, as well as inhabitants of the surrounding towns, villages, spiritual communities, gypsy caravans, and so on. The usually quiet streets teem with people. The crowding is especially evident in the eateries, and given recent trends, even more so in any establishment that can be described as wholistic and/or vegetarian. ^
Hi again, Ed.
Welcome back, and welcome back.
Tales of your stellar nutritional exploits have reached me through Another, and may I offer my congratulations and sincere thanks. People who prepare and serve sustaining food deserve the highest honours.
Four Petty Fictions is a delight. Thank you. You portray vividly the colour and flavour of living in an English town. Especially I enjoyed the footnotes, and of those footnotes 6 and 7 were the high points.