I Heart Indies

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Kenyon Day 3

We were given a list of last lines and told to write two brief stories, one about 250 words, one about 400, ending with those lines.  I'm afraid I went for cheap laughs.  The second one is partly inspired by Amy Vanderbilt's How to Shop, in the Amy Vanderbilt successful housewife series:


Rainsford stepped into the Hampstead Club, to all outward appearance, the same swaggering rascal he’d always been, face tanned, moustache neatly waxed as if it had been painted under his nose, elegant ivory cane making the fifth beat of the five-part rhythm of his stride – click, slap, click, slap, tick - trademark red carnation is his buttonhole, but Reginald saw a look, so subtle, only a bartender would notice, of fear.   Something told Reginald, Rainsford was in a predicament of no common order.
Outside rain fell, and luminous headlights playing over shiny London streets.  The other customer, a gargantuan gentleman, had occupied three stools by himself at the end of the bar since before Reginald’s shift, a fedora bigger than a sombrero pulled down, his trench coat collar turned up, concealing his face save for one sad eye in a swirl of wrinkles.  He showed no inclination to touch the club soda before him, and Reginald’s inquiry, “Would you care for anything?” received a huff of negation in reply.
“Gimlet, Mr. Rainsford?” Reginald offered.
Rainsford started as if he’d been addressed by one of the stuffed heads  staring from the walls, before recovering himself, “Yes, yes, yes.  Gimlet, old man.  Why not?”  Putting aside his beloved ivory walking stick with an uncharacteristic shudder, Rainsford leaned forward as Reginald poured gin and Roses into a shaker, his tone quiet and confidential.  “Say, Reginald, old chap, do you know a word njohera?”
“I can’t say I –” Reginald began, pouring the chilled mixture in a frosted glass, but before he got further, a voice at the end of the bar spoke.
“It’s Kikuyu,” the voice supplied, as soft and carrying as Serengeti thunder.  “There’s no exact translation, of course, but it means something like... ‘revenge.’”  Rainsford’s eyes were horrorstruck, and a ghastly sheen covered his face.  The other customer stood from his stool, his manhole-sized fedora sliding to the floor, and in the moment of strange lucidity that breaks on us just before madness, Reginald realized it was an African, because its ears, opening like enormous wings were too big to be an Asian.
Later, speaking to disbelieving police, this was all Reginald could recall, this, and the elephant’s parting words , his long gray trunk unfurling from within his trench coat to the ivory cane, retrieving what had once been his and now was his again: “Elephants never forget,” he said, “and now you know why.”


                She lived neither in slovenly Ashford Park where people leave their cars in the street nor snobbish Shirley Hills, but good sensible Brookhaven.  A credit to her husband, witnesses agree, Junior League, altar guild at First Presbyterian.  But one afternoon, her white gloves were dirty and she chose to put on the black ones to do the shopping.  Why she didn’t wait until Thursday, who can say, but she made her choice and had to live by the consequences.
                Once she pulled on those slimming black gloves that reached to her elbows, she had a moment of doubt.  “I’m really overdressed,” she thought.  “I’m not Jackie Kennedy.”  Then she could have turned back, then it was still not too late.  But did she heed that inner voice that is a woman’s best guide?  No.
                What ensued can only be described as an orgy of dissipation.  She did not know clearly what she wanted to buy.  She failed to shop early in the day or early in the week.  She left the cart in the line while she went to get more items.  She pinched the fruit and poked the vegetables.  She did not ask for new products when she didn’t see them.  She wheeled the cart out and abandoned it a couple of blocks down the street where she was parked.
At home, she removed the long black gloves and instantly was seized by paroxysms of remorse and hot self-crimination.  But the damage was done.
Now nobody talks to her.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting exercise. Many years ago the "New Yorker" held similar contests, where they would give a last line and readers would submit poems ending in the line given. One last line I remember was: "The bloated cadaver of poor Mrs. Haines". The four or five winning poems (printed in the next issue) were absolutely delightful.

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